Chen Style, Laojia form
Tai chi is a gentle, slow-motion martial art from China. It has three main strands to it: it is a form of meditation in movement, it is an exercise that enhances well-being, and it is a martial art. It has a long, rich history and many layers so you never stop learning when you start Tai chi.
How does Tai chi Benefit your Health?
The slow, soft movements relax the body and calm the mind, providing relief from stress, anxiety and insomnia. Moving slowly improves balance and strengthens the legs - there is an old Chinese saying "strong legs, strong body". You learn to "sit" as you stand, so your back can rest. With improved posture and joint mobility comes relief from aches and pains.
Central to Tai chi is the concept of "Qi" (pronounced Chi), which means life force or energy. Practising Tai chi develops and enhances your Qi, which has a beneficial effect on your whole being, improving your resistance to disease and increasing your vitality.
Principles of Tai chi
Chen Xiaowang says the main principle of Tai chi is that "When the Dantian moves, everything moves. When the Dantian stops everything stops". Your Dantian is your centre of gravity, in the centre of your belly. You move from your waist. You can imagine the Dantian it as a ball rotating inside you, or as a sphere surrounding you, or as a tiny dot, a single point right at your very centre. In Tai chi you learn to co-ordinate your movement through your centre. This in turn makes you more centred, more balanced.
The style of Tai chi we practise is chen style, which is the oldest style, and goes back to 1580s. The form we study is called the Laojia form, or 'old form'. The Chen lineage has been passed down through the Chen family for generations. The current Chen style grandmaster is master Chen Xiaowang, who teaches my teachers, Karel and Eva Koskuba of the Chinese Internal Arts Association (CIAA).
Chen Xiaowang's nephew is Chen Ziqiang, who is the international Chen style instructor. He is the teachers of my other teachers, Tom Collingridge and Helen Kingdon from Exeter School of Tai chi Chuan.
The Laojia form is made up 74 sequences joined together into a continuous movement. It is divided into four parts, which helps with remembering it. Many of the sequences repeat, for example, Wave Hands Like Clouds occurs four times, Buddha Warrior Pounds Mortar four times and Single Whip 7 times. Altogether the form takes about a year to learn but this varies from person to person.
There is a set of silk reeling exercises that help you to co-ordinate the hands and the whole body movement coming from the centre or "dantien". These are demonstrated in the "Silk Reeling" playlist on the NInja Granny youtube channel. Click on this link for the exercise called double handed silk reeling.
The chen style fan form we study was created by my teachers, Eva and Karel Koskuba, It has 22 sequences and so takes a relatively short time to learn. The great thing about doing Tai chi with a fan is that it gives you a sense of how you extend your Qi or energy, further than your hand. The sequences are based on the Laojia form and so if you know the Laojia form, learning the fan form is relatively easy. This link will take you to a video of me doing the fan form at St Neot Community Garden.
We practise fan form on Wednesdays at the end of the Upton Cross class (2.25 - 3.45pm) and on Sundays in Westbourne Gardens after the class from 11-12 noon.