What is Tai Chi Chuan ?

Tai Chi Chuan is best known by the hand form, a set of continuous and flowing movements. These movements were originally developed as part of a martial art training, although forms are practiced by millions around the world for the purpose of health and relaxation alone. Regular daily practice can improve co-ordination, concentration, confidence, self awareness, general fitness and health. However, Tai Chi Chuan offers a far greater agenda for those interested in martial application and self defence.

Tai Chi requires relaxation during practice, important to effective application, but also recognised as beneficial to health with regular and prolonged practice. Tai Chi Chuan is based upon Yin Yang theory (for example, soft overcoming/blending with hard) and seeks balance in body and mind.

The origins of Tai Chi Chuan are not entirely clear, and reportedly date back over 2000 years to a Daoist monk, Chang San Feng. Modern day Tai Chi emerged over the late 19th /early 20th century, the best known styles being developed through family lineage in the Chinese tradition of martial arts - Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun, Hao

An Introduction to the Glasgow class

Students begin by learning the Hand Form (Wu style) , firstly in a broken down “square form”, and progressing to the round form. This is a “long” form, typically lasting around 20 - 25 minutes during normal practice, and is the foundation of Tai Chi learning. A number of standing exercises are also introduced early in classes.

Students are progressively introduced to the eight styles of pushing hands exercises. Push hands partner exercises develop the use of tai chi principles, and improve body movement. Additionally they support martial learning (eg footwork, distance, first touch, weight distribution, centre of balance, soft approach). For those interested, self defence and practical application are normally studied after gaining some competence in push hands.

Beyond hand form, progress is made to weapons forms, Spear, Broad Sword & Straight Sword, and to Nei Kung.

Classes are typically made up of a wide range of experience (and age range from about 20 to 65+), and beginners are welcome with or without martial experience or interest. Where beginners wish to focus only on forms (eg for reasons of fitness) then that is where the focus is directed, although push hands partner work is encouraged to develop a more rounded understanding.

The five aspects of Wu  - Cheng Tai Chi Chuan training


The Hand Form

Perhaps the most widely practiced part of Tai Chi Chuan, the hand form teaches correct posture, co-ordination, proper breathing, focus, continuous movement and relaxation. Each posture relates to at least one martial application.

The Hand Form is often associated with offering therapeutic value,  and in fact many people practice for this reason alone. The calm, relaxed and rhythmic movements help to reduce tension which in turn can help lead to a better state of well being with practice. (There are a number of recent studies into the benefits of practice of Tai Chi eg The Harvard Medical School’s recent publication).

To practice Tai Chi is to try and achieve the balance between Yin and Yang, it is the principle in action. Inner calmness and outer movement, soft external appearance with an internal firmness are examples of the balanced state of Tai Chi. Variation in application arises through understanding the principle in action.

Pushing Hands

Pushing Hands exercises are generally intended as two person training. The main purpose is to develop sensitivity of touch, understanding of distance and weight shift, centre of balance, and footwork.

There are eight major styles of pushing hands and open the first step to using Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, as well as forming part of regular training. The intention is to touch,deflect and counter as one body movement, using softness and technique as opposed to hard muscular strength, and again these exercises should be practiced in a relaxed manner.

The Tai Chi Classics refer to the hand form as a vehicle to ‘knowing yourself’, and push hands as ‘knowing others’.

Self Defense

Each posture in the Hand form has at least one practical application. Following on from Pushing Hands, the same principle is used in self defence, where an attack must be met with softness (relaxed)  and countered with the appropriate technique and power. The system also teaches various drills to build tai chi technique in application,  and conditioning techniques for those wishing to spar.


The traditional weapons of the imperial guard the sabre, straight sword and spear, are taught in Five Winds.

The sabre is a short range circular weapon with a single cutting edge, allowing it to be used close to the body for defensive purposes. It is identified with nurturing shen (spirit).

The straight sword is double edged and is a far more delicate weapon which employs a much more subtle technique. Reputedly the most difficult to master, it is associated with the development of chi.

The spear form is the shortest of the weapon forms with only fifteen styles, and is traditionally associated with wisdom.

Each weapon must be seen as an extension of the body so that the practitioner and the weapon become one. In this way all forms, whether weapons or hand form, inform each other, and together build understanding of Tai Chi principle generally. 

In practical self defence terms, these weapons  can be substituted with a walking stick, umbrella, brush pole, etc   

Internal Strength - Nei kung

The internal strength of Tai Chi consists of two sets of twelve exercises, one Yin

and one Yang. The purpose is to build the intrinsic strength so that the body (and mind)

becomes more resilient and is the internal firmness that balances the outer softness.