WHAT IS TAI CHI?
I think one of the biggest obstacles to overcome when trying to grow and spread Tai Chi in the UK is that most people don’t really know what it is. They’ve all seen the footage of older people in China waving their arms about in slow motion, but few understand that there’s so much more within the movements than just doing things slowly.
I’ve tried for years to come up with an analogy or metaphor that can illuminate people as to what Tai Chi is, and so far this is the best I’ve come up with.
TAI CHI IS LIKE A LANGUAGE
Imagine you lived in a world where there was no such thing as a written language. No one had ever written language down, it was only spoken and purely sound based with no relation to shapes drawn on a page.
In this world, you create a written version of your language. To most people, the letters on the page just look like random doodles – a very basic form of art. They wonder why you would spend your time just drawing random shapes on a page when you could, if art was what you’re interested in, spend your time creating much more elaborate or beautiful art works.
What they don’t understand, as most people don’t with Tai Chi, is that they aren’t just doodles. They aren’t random shapes on page, and neither is Tai Chi just slowly waving your arms around. When you form the shapes correctly, they make letters, and letters make words, which in turn create whole sentences, paragraphs and indeed books! There’s meaning in those shapes, they convey feelings and knowledge, they can expand your mind and your awareness, even your capabilities. There’s meaning in the movements of Tai Chi as well; there’s energy. It’s a movement art form that expresses energy.
When you first start learning to write, it’s important to practice making the shapes of the letters, then you will learn how to form words and how grammar works. But once you’ve learned how to write, it isn’t as important that you stick to the exact shapes you used to practice in the beginning. Just as everyone has their own handwriting style, everyone develops their own movement style in Tai Chi as well. It still needs to be legible, of course, and those foundations will stay with you always, but once you’ve learned how to write, you realise the point isn’t writing as a physical act in and of itself, it’s about what you write and how you write. This is the true essence of Tai Chi, it’s like writing Shakespeare. It’s not an exercise in correctly forming 26 shapes in a variety of combinations, it’s about what those shapes can mean and how you can be affected by them.