Wu Style Tai Chi Short Form
Tai Chi Styles for Bad Knees and Backs
Although the typical progression was from large to small style when learning tai chi or teaching another, physical condition must come into consideration. Some very common physical issues that occur in the West are bad knees and bad backs. They seem to be part of the Western way of life. They’re everywhere.
Why? Many people engaged in sports too enthusiastically (or radically), maintain bad posture and/or have had falls or other injuries, etc that limit their range of motion or have chronically damaged their body. A large percentage of the population will experience back or knee pain as they age. In fact, many people will get knee and back injuries when they’re still quite young.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics report, Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans 2006, Special Feature: Pain, back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans under 45 years old. In 2006, it was estimated that approximately 26 million Americans between the ages of 20-64 experience frequent back pain.
For people with bad back or bad knees, tai chi movements done in a large frame with long, low stances may actually aggravate their condition or make it worse. Large styles can put too much strain on the system, specifically the knees, by emphasizing postures that are too big. Even those who are otherwise healthy despite being prone to weak knees might experience harm from practicing too large of a style. A smaller style with higher stances would not put the same pressure on the knees, and would actually be better for such cases.
Tai Chi Styles for Healing
In 1982, I had a car accident where my back was broken; the diagnosis was several cracked vertebrae in the spine. Before then, I had done all of the big and medium styles. The Yang style, which was a classic large frame of tai chi, was able to heal my upper back and neck, but it could not heal my lower back. It put too much pressure on my back when I did the form.
By this time I was already what people call a “master” of tai chi, so the issue was not that I was unable to perform the movements correctly. It was simply the wrong form to be practicing at that time; it was like trying to use a saw to pound in a nail. The Wu style of tai chi was the right tool and I used this daily to heal my lower back. Why did this work? Because, being a smaller frame, it put less pressure on my back.
“Do not overdo or underdo. Yield to a curve, as well as follow an extension.”
Tai Chi Classics
This process of finding the right size movements for the right situation has occurred throughout the history of tai chi. The founder of the Yang style created his form by modifying the movements of Chen style tai chi when he came to Beijing. He removed many of the jumping kicks and powerful stomps from the form.
Why did he do this? Because while younger people might have enjoyed and benefited from the form, and may continue doing so even in modern times, older people were literally breaking their bodies. So he simply modified the form so that an older person could get the same benefit from the art as someone who was young, but could do so without harming themselves. He also modified the form because the original Chen style was designed to be done while wearing heavy armor in the battlefield, but with the invention of the gun this became less of an issue.
The quality of your tai chi form matters, both in how it treats your body physically, but also in what it does to your energy and mind. Once you understand these major physical aspects of tai chi, you can begin to grasp the sophistication with which tai chi movements are done. This is where a lot of the benefit for your health and stress reduction comes from. Now, let’s talk about where tai chi can go from here.
Tai Chi to Develop and Move Qi
After you learn the external moves of tai chi you start going to the next stage of the game, where you have sophisticated movements as a container for internal power or neigong. All of the main styles are containers for these energetics.
You begin moving energy inside of your body, using the container that you have built through the tai chi form. At this stage, the 8 energies of tai chi, four of which are peng (ward off), lu (roll back), ji (press forward) and an (push downward), become a living experience in your practice, and you can combine neigong techniques such as opening and closing with these energies. It ceases to be an intellectual exercise and becomes real.
“Circulate the qi as if breathing through the pearl with nine crooked channels, leaving no nook or corner unreached.”
Tai Chi Classics
But this too is just a stepping stone for the next level. Once you know how to move energy in your body and use your qi to start to completely reform your nervous system, you can begin to investigate the nature of how your mind works so you can think more clearly. When you do this it can smooth out your emotions to an incredible degree. Once you reform your nervous system and see the nature of your mind and emotions, even more possibilities open up. There are endless layers within tai chi practice. Mastery is a life-long process.
Tai Chi – The Next 10 Years
If you are currently practicing tai chi, regardless of your form or style, you are doing what I think will be one of the most popular exercise systems in the West over the next few decades. As the average age of the population gets older, more and more people are going to be turning to this gentle yet powerful exercise for health and healing. If you are an external martial artist or have had injuries in your body through sports or accidents you may also want to consider practicing tai chi to reverse any damage that you may have created.
With the recent release of the Tai Chi Zero movie and more articles being published it seems like in the next few years there is going to be a lot more publicity around tai chi. Keanu Reeves will also be releasing a big tai chi production next year. So my hope is this will continue to raise the level of awareness of tai chi. With this increased general awareness it would be good to see the public is shown all of the possibilities that tai chi offers, and that the styles of tai chi being taught around the world remain pure and true to their roots.
The West needs people who really understand all of what tai chi has to offer. If you are just starting out for your own personal practice then pick a style and teacher that suits your own body and needs. If you are learning tai chi to become an instructor then I encourage you to learn a style that matches the people that you want to teach and what you want to teach for.
The deeper you go into the tai chi the more it will give back to you and those you teach.
For many instructors-to-be, learning both a large and a small style is a good idea to have multiple options when teaching. Almost all of those I know that teach tai chi do so to be of help and service to their community. If you are already a practitioner, then I hope this article will be useful in providing a context for what tai chi can do and where you can take it in your practice.
If you are new to the blog please click here to sign up on our email list for new posts and events.
*My Tai Chi Lineage – An Abbreviated Version from my book The Power of Internal Martial Arts and Chi
I began the study and practice of Tai Chi in New York during the mid 1960’s.
In 1981, I became the first American certified by the Peoples’ Republic of China to teach the complete system of Tai Chi throughout the whole of China. Over the years of learning Tai Chi, I studied with many masters in the Yang, Wu, and Chen styles of the art.
In the Wu style, I studied with Liu Hung Chieh, who was actually an indoor student of, and lived in the same house with, the man who founded the Wu style.
From the Yang style, I was taught by Chen Man Ching, and then later by his student, T.T. Liang. I also studied with Yang Shou-Chung, the great grandson of Yang Luchan, the founder of the Yang style and the man after whom it is named. Aside from that, I also studied with Lin Du Ying, who was very close to the originators of the lineage.
In my study of the Chen style of Tai Chi, I learned from Feng Zhiqiang, who himself was a student of Chen Fake, the man who brought the style out of Chen village and into Beijing. When I was in Beijing, Feng Zhiqiang was considered to be one of the best Chen style practitioners, and before his passing Master Feng was the head of Tai Chi throughout all of China.
Article take From Taichimaster.com