Tai Chi in Heaven’s Palace

One of the most renowned martial arts practices in China is Tai Qi, or 太极拳。 Tai Chi is generally practiced by the elderly seeking to increase self defense skills as well as receive some of its health benefits, such as longevity. Having studied some Tai Qi in both Professor Shao’s and Professor Shen’s Chinese culture classes, I was ecstatic when I found out that we would be learning Tai Chi from a Tai Qi master throughout our stay in Beijing. Our one hour class was to be held the morning of our visit to Heaven’s Palace.

Before practicing Tai Qi, our Tai Qi master taught us how to properly salute student to master. “As a way to show respect to each other, you must make a fist with your right hand while keeping your left hand open. With your left hand, make a 45 degree angle and then have your right and left hands connect.  Once all is done, you bow slightly as a sign of respect.”

Hand formation

Hand formation

After we had all properly greeted our master, we proceeded to our lesson.  Our first Tai Qi lesson involved controlling our breathing, sense of balance, and cultivating and controlling our qi (or ball of energy around us).  For this lesson, we had to inhale as we cultivated qi from our stomachs and then exhale as we  pushed the qi in front of us. We took several turns practicing these motions in order to familiarize ourselves with them and proceed to the more advance stages.  After the instructor noticed that we had grasped the concept of breathing and cultivating qi fairly well, he incorporated a new element to our practice, motion.  Now, we had to navigate our energy ball while incorporating a step forward.  This made the lesson harder since we had to coordinate our forward motion with our breathing and energy ball movement.  After practicing this motion for over 30 minutes, we still could not properly perform the technique.  Seeing our frustration, our master called for us to gather in a group and decided to teach us why mastering this technique was so important.

“The reason why I have taught you this technique is to show you the power of momentum” our Tai Qi master said.  “This technique is the starting point to how we Tai Qi masters are able to use the energy and balance of our foes against us.  For example, knowing how to react based off of your opponent’s movements lets you turn an unfavorable situation into a favorable one.  Tai Qi is all about balance, Yin and Yang.”

So far, I have learned how to apply the principles of Yin and Yang in Feng Shui.  When applying Feng Shui to a home, there are various elements that represent Yang energy (active energy) and Yin energy (passive energy).  A good Feng Shui master must know how to balance both energies in order to maximize the Feng Shui in a particular place.  In Tai Qi, however, we learned from our technique that  Yin and Yang exist not only in our energy movements, but in the stances themselves.  Furthermore, if you have too much Yang energy and not enough Yin energy, you can easily be overpowered by your foe.  For example, if you over-extend yourself which requires you to put more energy on your front foot, then your weakness is the back foot, where your foe will probably strike at you, since not as much energy and effort is being put into.  This will most probably end up in you losing your sense of balance and falling to the ground.  Thus, once again, balance is the key.

While The Great Wall of China and the Terra Cotta Warriors were the highlights of our trip to Beijing and Xi’an, respectively, learning Tai Qi was, in my opinion, as unique of an experience.  While Tai Qi requires a lot of coordination and concentration, it is not that laborious of a practice.  Even though it is most common to see elderly practicing Tai Qi, any one is capable of learning if one commits the time to learn.  Moreover, it is a great and healthy way to exercise and it promotes healthy habits.  Tai Qi can also be practiced anywhere since it does not require a large amount of space!  While I do not see myself pursuing the career of a Tai Qi master, I might continue to indulge in some of its practices.