In my two books on the martial arts, I shared how my early focus on taijiquan benefited me on multiple levels. I also shared how my related success led to pain from sitting with a computer for hours on end. My focus on taijiquan helped to create my success, and that success lead to the later pain. That same pain lead to my intense study of baguazhang and hours of circle walking every night.
The lesson I learned is that taijiquan alone is not a replacement for other physical movement. Despite the decades of teachers promoting taijiquan as a superior form of physical exercise, it is not. The general effects of taijiquan are the same as taking a brief walk, and that is only if you practice a long traditional form and include supplemental exercises with your practice.
If you want good health, you would be better served with a thirty-minute brisk walk, thus my better experience with baguazhang for my health. If you have stuck with me this far, you might think why bother with taijiquan at all? And to be honest I have thought the same. Circle walking is so simple, the forms so easy to learn, and the basics so easy to get right, that the extra effort needed for the detailed and extensive study of taijiquan seems like a waste a time.
If you will not take the time to do the supplemental exercises of taijiquan it is a waste of time. Also, some styles of taijiquan are better than others for general fitness and I will talk about that in other posts. The purpose here is to discourage you from starting taijiquan practice as a superior form of fitness. Don’t buy into that myth, because it is a myth.
First, that myth is based on the superstition that qi is a mystical, still undetermined force that can be generated to improve health or even cure disease. And second, the promoters of this myth will blame you if you do not experience better health from your taijiquan practice. The premise is that you are “doing it wrong.”
Let me start with qi. Qi is a difficult concept to define when discussing martial arts or Chinese medicine because it is associated with a mysticism that causes many rational people to dismiss the discussion entirely. Qi is not magic. Qi is not electromagnetism or a variant of electromagnetism that acts as a magic force on the world around us. Qi is not the force from Star Wars. Qi is just a term used to define and classify all those invisible forces that made the world around the observer function. Today, we know what those forces are and how they work. Science is a very good thing.
Taijiquan is physical movement and if you move little in your day, it can have some benefit. Movement is a good thing. But, the notion you are not getting continued benefits from your taijiquan practice because you are “doing it wrong” is hogwash. Taijiquan is not a spell. Moving your arms and legs a certain way does not induce a secret power that improves your health.
When done with focus and approached with a meditative mind, taijiquan is very rewarding. When I teach taijiquan to someone that does very little exercise I am always amazed at how difficult it is for them to recognize the left and right sides of their body. If that is your baseline, then learning a complete eighty or one-hundred posture sequence is a wonderful achievement, and being able to approach that experience daily is the reward.
Before you start traveling the taijiquan rode, you need to know that it is not easy. Taijiquan requires focus and commitment and if stumbling on either of those would cause you to stop seeking better fitness, than don’t choose taijiquan; take a walk instead. If you do start taijiquan, I need you to realize that you still need to take that walk. I know I will.