Most of what people know about Tai Chi, they get from the movies: ancient wisdom, invisible lines in the body, old ladies waving their arms around in the park. And all of this is true. Only, that’s not all Tai Chi is about.
Taijiquan (also known as Tai Chi Chuan) is what’s known as a Chinese Internal Art. And what this means is it teaches your body to work as a single unit from the inside out. It’s a little more complicated than that, but if you think about pushing a refrigerator with the force of your entire body going through your arms, then you won’t be far off the mark.
Taijiquan is about four things: breathing, balance, posture, and relaxation. Each element works with all the others, with the main goal and the main benefit being relaxation. That’s why all the techniques require you to move slowly.
But Taijiquan isn’t just slow. Not all the time, anyway. It’s a martial art that dates back hundreds of years, particularly Chen Taijiquan—one of the oldest styles of Taiji.
“Chen Taijiquan is a martial art that can be practiced as exercise for health, exercise for fitness, and exercise for combat,” says Jonathan Ilagan. Ilagan is the sifu (teacher) and owner of the Ilagan Martial Arts Club, a school that teaches both Chinese and Japanese Martial Arts.
Training in Chen Tajiquan starts with learning the basic forms, and slowly at that. Progress takes a while, but when you get the movements down, that’s when the real learning starts. Gradually, the school teaches the underlying martial principles behind each move, which can then be used in explosive real life applications (like punching things). The short of it is that this is an exercise that’s also useful if you happen to end up cornered in some alley.
Still, Chen Taijiquan isn’t only about fighting. The efficiency you get from your body being relaxed can be used for most other things—driving, athletics, even walking. “Less is more,” Ilagan likes to say. “You use the minimum amount of force to obtain the maximum result.”
After returning to the Philippines from Washington, D.C., Ilagan began teaching Taijiquan to a few students in the country, representing the Chen line. He learned the art in the U.S. from sifu Rick Smith who, in turn, learned it from grand master Chen Xiaowang and grand master Chen Zhenglei—the 11th-generation successor of Chen Taijiquan and one of the top ten martial artists of modern China.
Aside from the barehand forms, Chen Taijiquan also trains students with weapons, including the jian, which is a double-edged Chinese straight sword. It’s got a lot of teeth, for an art that’s been called “moving meditation,” and people looking for a fitness routine that doubles as self-defense might want to give Taiji a second look.