With millions in the east practicing tai chi along with a rapid surge in popularity in the west, this ancient martial art is cementing its place as one of the most prevalent forms of exercise. Literally translating to ‘ultimate shadow boxing’, tai chi chuan (or just tai chi) originated centuries ago as a style of self-defense.
Its health benefits exceed merely keeping the body physically fit – tai chi is also widely praised for its meditative aspects as well as regulating stress and mood levels. When combined with a relatively gentle learning curve for beginners of all ages, it’s no wonder that tai chi has taken the world by storm.
History: From Qigong to Tai Chi
Tai chi inherits core principles from of its ancient Chinese ancestor, qigong (pronounced ‘chi gung’), which dates back over 4,000 years. Paramount to qigong is the cultivation and balancing of life essence, known as qi or chi. Spiritual equilibrium is achieved through simple techniques focusing on physical movements, controlled breathing or meditation.
Several forms of qigong have emerged throughout the millennia, each varying in degrees of body, breath or mind. And making its debut in the late 16th century, tai chi is considered a relatively new offshoot of qigong.
Tai Chi as a Martial Art
While it still retains the underlying concepts of its predecessor, tai chi was founded as a martial art for self-defense purposes. Therefore, meditation and healing are secondary to physical movements which favour strength and flexibility. Much like how Mr. Miyagi’s wax-on/wax-off and paint the fence movements in The Karate Kid translated into martial arts moves, tai chi’s cloud hands and part the horse’s mane are used to block the opponent’s strikes.
Unlike qigong, where actions focus on a specific part of the body, tai chi allows chi to flow throughout the entire body. Movements are more complex, utilizing both the lower and upper body while moving in rhythm with the individual’s breathing patterns. Harnessing the power of water, Tai chi is also in constant motion, gracefully transitioning from one movement to the next. And because the four limbs are in constant motion, it requires the practitioner to develop and maintain physical equilibrium.
Schools of Tai Chi
There are five primary schools of tai chi, each named after its Chinese family of origin. Similar to the different forms of qigong, each emphasizes varying amounts of body or mind.
Founded in 1580, Chen style is the original form of tai chi which highlights the quick movements of a traditional martial art. Because strength and agility are required to perform explosive punches and jump kicks, Chen style can prove to be more challenging to beginners.
Chen style was passed down exclusively within the family over the following two centuries, until a man named Yang Luchan became its first outside pupil. In 1799, he created the second style of tai chi which is the most popular form we see today. Compared to Chen, Yang style features slower, graceful movements which promote flexibility as well as the internal benefits of tai chi.
Benefits of Tai Chi
Regular practicing of tai chi can yield a myriad of benefits:
- Decreased stress
- Improved mood
- Enhanced flexibility and balance
- Improved muscle tone and strength
- Better sleep patterns
- Reduces risk of falling for the elderly
Learn Tai Chi aboard a Heritage Line cruise
We think there is no better backdrop than the stunning river and bay scenery of Southeast Asia to do some revitalizing morning exercise to start your day of adventure!
Guided tai chi sessions are held daily on each of Heritage Line’s boutique luxury ships. Our fascinating cruise destinations include:
- Lower Mekong River (Vietnam & Cambodia)
- Halong Bay (Vietnam)
- Lan Ha Bay (Vietnam)
- Upper Mekong River (Laos)
- Ayeyarwady River (Myanmar)
- Chindwin River (Myanmar)