What is Tai Chi & Qigong about?
Both Tai Chi and Qigong are types of Chinese exercise, which combine meditation, martial arts, energy medicine and gentle physical regime into one. Both are done standing (although there's also Qigong for sitting and lying), and involve a bit of moving around the starting point. There are many different styles of Tai Chi and Qigong, and each style usually has got a number of different forms within that style. Each form contains a set number of movements, which are done in a specific way. Each movement has got a name and a purpose - quite often more than one purpose (e.g. on the inside activating specific meridian channels and bringing Qi or vital energy to specific internal organs, while at the same time providing martial art use on the outside). Most people practise Qigong and Tai Chi to increase their overall health and wellbeing.
Why should I start practising, what are the benefits?
Remove or at least reduce the amount of stress in your life; improve concentration and focus; learn to meditate while moving; improve health and wellbeing; calibrate your inner and outer self and life; improve sleep quality; get rid of aches and pains; become more rooted and grounded, resulting in responding better to challenges and changes; become more strong and flexible; learn a wonderful self-healing tool to bring with you wherever you go; boost immune system, reduce the amount of colds; increase spine mobility; say goodbye to headaches and neck, shoulder and back pains; increase self-awareness and self-confidence; meet like-minded people; learn about Chinese culture and Chinese Medicine; learn how to tune in and explore the mind-body connection; become more sensitive to body's wisdom, resulting in making better decisions about your health and wellbeing.
Is it difficult?
Yes. It depends. It's good to keep in mind that especially in Chinese Arts the word "basic" doesn't mean the same thing as "easy". Qigong forms are generally speaking easier to learn compared to Tai Chi forms. Most Qigong forms are shorter and use simpler movements, as opposed to longer and more intricate or detailed Tai Chi forms. So one gets the benefits faster from Qigong. Then again, Qigong forms - especially the more static ones - might not be as effective in terms of balance and coordination improvement, as compared to a Tai Chi form. So it depends on what your aim is, what you want to achieve. As the masters sometimes say, "If it were easy, it wouldn't be worth doing it."
What does the black and white yin-yang symbol mean, how is it connected to Tai Chi or Qigong?
The so-called taijitu symbol with two equal-sized drops or spirals interlocking and melting into another, symbolises duality and polarity, and the interplay and coexistence of opposites. Taijitu is preceded by wuji, oneness or state of non-division or non-duality. The black side of taijitu represents yin (feminine, slow, soft, withdrawing, inhaling, internal, night) while the white side of the image represents yang (masculine, fast, hard, expanding, exhaling, external, day). One couldn't exist without the other. In Tai Chi and Qigong, both yin and yang are in constant exchange and flux - just as we inhale and exhale, during one movement we withdraw and with the next movement we expand. All Tai Chi forms contain both soft and hard, slower and faster movements, so yin-yang / taijitu is constantly present, and one could say it actually creates the Tai Chi form. It's present even in all Qigong forms, because we constantly inhale and exhale.
I'm already XX years of age, am I too old to begin?
No, you're not.
I've got MS / Parkinson's / heart problem / high or low blood pressure / knee, hip or back injury. Can I practise?
Yes, you can. Both Qigong and Tai Chi aim at improving our health and wellbeing. It's not unusual for a Chinese Medicine practitioner to recommend either Qigong or Tai Chi or both for their patients. Many famous martial art masters have had a serious illness or health problems in their past, before taking up Tai Chi or Qigong classes, and gradually regaining their health. Regardless of the style or form, all of the movements should be adjusted to suit one's capabilities and condition (e.g. one can use a higher and narrower stance instead of a lower and wider Mabu / horse stance). As long as you feel comfortable and relaxed enough while practising, there's nothing to stop you from learning and doing the movements. If you do require a wheelchair or have difficulties with balance, there's always sitting type of Qigong. Also, both Qigong and Tai Chi directly affect balance and coordination, so with continuous practise you'll become more stable and balanced. The great thing about these Chinese Arts is that they are very adaptable, they can be used in a number of ways. There are Qigong forms even for those who are bedridden.
I'm pregnant, can I practise?
I advice not to practise during the first trimester. Also, my advice is to avoid any dynamic forms or movements during the last month.
How often should I practise?
Ideally, on a daily basis. For most people, it comes down to a couple of times per week, or just once. Just like with everything else, the more you practise, the more results you get. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts. If you can, try to practise at least half an hour three times a week.
Should I listen to music while I practise?
You can, if you want to. There are some specific traditional Chinese music pieces for Tai Chi and Qigong, which can be used, or you can use anything you like. Traditionally, guqin music has been used. It's also good to practise without music, even if you'd normally always have something playing in the background. Sound of traffic or noisy people, or children screaming or dogs barking, can also provide a music of sorts (and a little challenge, too). As long as the music adds something, instead of taking away something, then I don't see any problem with it.
Could you recommend some good books for a beginner?
For Tai Chi:
The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi by Peter M. Wayne & Mark L. Fuerst
Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain - The Essence of Tai Ji by Chungliang Al Huang
The Inner Structure of Tai Chi by Mantak Chia & Juan Li
A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook - Spirit, Intent, and Motion by Martin Mellish
Taijiquan: The Art of Nurturing, The Science of Power by Yang Yang
T'ai Chi Ch'uan & Meditation by Da Liu
The Way of Qigong - The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing by Kenneth S. Cohen
Simple Qigong - Exercises for Health by Yang Jwing-Ming
The Root of Chinese Qigong - Secrets for Health, Longevity, & Enlightenment by Yang Jwing-Ming
Daoist Nei Gong - The Philosophical Art of Change by Damo Mitchell
Chinese Qigong Therapy by Zhang Mingwu & Sun Xingyuan
Qi Gong for Total Wellness by Dr. Baolin Wu & Jessica Eckstein
A Brief History of Qi by Zhang Yu Huan & Ken Rose
Tai Chi and Qigong, does it have something to do with religion?
It can have, but it doesn't have to. Just like with Yoga, you don't have to be a Hindu to practise Yoga, and yet many Hindus do practise Yoga. Same with Tai Chi and Qigong; many Daoist priests practise Tai Chi and Qigong, but one doesn't have to be a Daoist in order to take up these Chinese Arts and enjoy them.
How long does it take to learn / master one Tai Chi form?
Forever. A lifetime. It depends. Chinese mindset is quite different from the Western one. Also, there's a difference between learning something and mastering something. Say with Yang Tai Chi 24 Form, if you practise once a week for an hour, you could learn the entire form in anywhere between three months and a year. But that's just the outer form, the external side. To truly master the form (making the form your own, understanding how Qi circulates in your system and with the movements, memorising the names and understanding the martial art applications, having the entire form integrated deep within your being so that it becomes part of you) will take many years.
Do you teach Dim Mak?
No, I don't.
What's your favourite Tai Chi / Kung Fu movie?
Pushing Hands (Tui Shou), directed by Ang Lee, and Red Cliff, directed by John Woo.
Can you really learn to fly like they do in Wushu films?
Maybe, if you practise really hard.
Where have you studied and do you have a master?
I began learning Taiji and Qigong in Finland at Guilin Taijiquan with Sifu / Master Liu Shaohua (1958-2021). Under his direction I was taught Chen style Taiji (Xinjia Yilu), Chen Sword and Saber, Qigong and also Yang style Tai Chi. Liu's Sifu was Grandmaster Ma Hong (1927-2013). At Guilin Taijiquan I was also taught by Martti and Anu Nevalainen, and John Hacklin. In Finland I've also studied with Helena Hallenberg, whose knowledge of Chinese Medicine and Qigong is staggering. In Wudangshan, China, Zhong Xue Chao or Bing Sifu is my Sifu, with whom I've studied various Wudang forms and styles. In Wudang I've also studied at the San Feng Academy under the direct supervision of Grandmaster Zhong Yun Long. Li Si Ming (Derek) has taught me Daoist philosophy and practises there, too. I'm also indebted to Suzanne Robidoux, who has helped me greatly with Qigong, TCM and Classical Medicine theory and practise. I'm not a Sifu (Master) myself, and I don't allow any of my students to use that title when addressing me. "Teacher" or "instructor" is fine, I prefer my first name Tero or Beihai.
What's the difference between Chi Kung and Qigong, and Tai Chi and Taiji?
They mean the same thing. "Chi Kung" uses the older, Wade-Giles transliteration system, whereas "Qigong" uses the newer, Pinyin system. It's just two different ways to spell the same word. Same with Tai Chi, T'ai C'hi and Taiji - all refer to the same thing. Sometimes the character 拳, "quan" for fist or boxing, is added to the word (taijiquan), to emphasise martial art aspects.
Is Tai Chi actually effective as a martial art - it doesn't look like it?
It can be, depending on many factors: how skilled is the opponent / attacker, how skilled are you; is it about sparring or a real life situation; luck; situation where the fight takes place; general condition (alertness, physique, stamina, reaction time, not panicking, etc.) of both individuals; etc. Tai Chi isn't very effective against a bullet. Excluding guns, if you've been practising for a long time (= 10+ years), and you know you're good, then yes, Tai Chi can be effective against an opponent / attacker. The basic idea is that practising the movements slowly will enable you to use them fast and effectively, if need be, providing you know what the movements are for in terms of martial art applications. If you need to think, at all, which movement or application to use against the attacker, it's already too late. So Tai Chi - not just the form but the essence of it - needs to be ingrained deep within your being; how you move, how you respond, how you react. In regards to this question / topic, I warmly recommend reading Meditations on Violence by Sgt. Rory Miller.