Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Form?

Tai Chi movements are distinct martial movements strung together in a sequence known as the Long Form. There are three main varieties of Tai Chi, and each has its own Form, but there are many similarities; the Yang Style and the Wu style have almost identical names, but different interpretations of the same movements. I teach a Wu Style Short Form to Beginners, (actually the first section of the Long Form) in 3 modules over roughly 5 months. They have the option then of learning the whole Long Form.

What is the difference between the Yang and the Wu Styles?

Although all Tai chi styles have the same objectives-opening and aligning the body, internal co-ordination, relaxation, settling the mind, chi development, internal power and self-defence-all styles have different areas of emphasis, and their own particular strong and weak points…

There are two main differences between the Wu and the Yang styles:

1) Soft versus hard energy:

The Yang style builds physical power, as it aims to develop internal energy that is half-hard, and half-soft, (or half Yang and half Yin), from the very start. It is particularly useful for martial purposes. However, it should only be practised by people in good health, as hard energy can aggravate illness or injury.

The Wu style is better for healing, as it promotes the development of soft internal energy (a healing energy for both mind and body). Hard energy comes later, produced by the soft energy. In other words, the Wu style starts with the production of Yin, which, when it reaches fullness, naturally produces Yang.

Soft energy is especially good for spinal or joint problems. It is effective for longevity, healing injuries and internal diseases, and making a weak constitution strong. Soft energy releases stress, and is therefore ideal for people with high-pressure and / or sedentary jobs.

2) The motions:

The Wu style is composed of compact motions, and compared to other Tai Chi styles, has relatively high stances. The high stances, and shorter steps, of the Wu style are better suited to Westerners, whose knees are generally not as flexible as those of most Orientals, primarily because we don’t squat anymore.

The Wu style has much less external motion than the other styles (up to a tenth of the size of typical Yang style movements.) The main emphasis is on moving internal energy and the muscles below the skin level. While this may not look as visually attractive, the small movements are easier for beginners to pick up. Later, the motions become more intricate and complex, and the subtlety of the style emerges.

In spite of its emphasis on healing the body and relaxing the mind, the Wu style is still good for fighting and pushing hands.

What do I wear?

Loose clothing and flat shoes are fine. Silk pyjamas and kungfu slippers are also fine, but are usually reserved for competitions and photo ops.I do not believe in importing ideas about Chinese garb into Ireland.I live in Ireland, so I should dress like one. Westerners in Chinese outfits look fake.

Do I have to learn about fighting?

No, is the answer.  All movements in the short form have a martial function; however, I only show students what their hands are doing; this information helps to make the movements easier to remember, and it also gives them a purposeful meaning; you are not just “waving your arms about”.

When and where can I practise?

 Anywhere and anytime, although mornings and evenings are best, because they are not so busy and noisy. It is best done in loose, comfortable clothing in a well-ventilated room, or in a garden or park if you have time. But realistically, if you are short of time, it can be done in your office behind closed doors in less than five minutes.

Can I learn from a book?

No is the short answer. You can learn many things from books, but not physical movements, yet many Tai Chi books insist on putting in diagrams. This is ONLY useful if the reader is a student of the writer, and requires a broad diagrammatic mnemonic to assist in what has been been learned in class. This is how I teach. My photo notes are only designed as aids. They cannot replace hands-on teaching. Ditto for videos.

Do I have to learn Chinese, eat with chopsticks and meditate?

No. I rarely talk about the Chinese names, only with senior students if they are interested. Most of the names are poetic, designed to lull people into thinking that Tai Chi is exclusively pacific, like “White Crane Flaps its Wings” when in fact “Rip Shoulder under Arse” would be more appropriate. However, I understand the PR value of poetic names. Meditation I shall cover in another section. Chopsticks are optional, but if you like dim sum, they are mandatory.

What is NOT Tai Chi?

A lot of misleading information is circulated about Tai Chi; to know what something is, it helps to know what it isn’t. Tai Chi isn’t: A dance done under cherry blossom trees / Waving your arms about in silk pyjamas / Only for pensioners who can barely shuffle / A girlie wiggle / An alternative to Yoga. No, wait… / A useless martial art / An invincible martial art (think “guns”) / Vogueing at 33rpm / Easy to learn

How DO you pronounce it?

“Tie Chee”, or “Tai Jee” , NOT “Tie Chai”, or “Thigh Cher”

Tai-What…?

Not to be confused with: Tae Bo, Tai Dye, Thai Boxing

Which martial arts are related to Tai Chi?

Ba Gua Zhang, a Daoist martial art based on the I Ching, the Book of Changes (see the Ba Gua page for more details), Also Xing Yi, a ferocious internal art which is a good transition from the hard styles for sceptics of soft power. Of the three, Ba Gua is the most powerful because it is the most flexible and dynamic.

Can you recommmend any books?

“The Big Book of Tai Chi” and “The Power of Internal Martial Arts” by BK Frantzis, anything by TT Liang, Wang Peisheng, or Bob Boyd. Dan Docherty’s book has a useful history section.