On any given morning, the small parks that dot the landscape of Taipei are filled with mostly elderly members of the public practicing a martial art that dates back centuries, the healthful properties of which are only beginning to be recognized in the West. Larger parks serve as perfect settings for the contemplative early-morning exercise, the open spaces providing a good view of the rows of men and women engaged in tai chi.
But on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5, the openness of the parks will be exchanged for the inner shell of the Taipei Arena, when the National Tai Chi Chuan Association (中華民國太極拳總會) plays host to the First World Cup Tai Chi Chuan Championship 2006. Teams and individuals from over 20 countries will descend on Taipei to compete in the fixed push hands, moving push hands and routine competitions. Solo routines, known as forms, will not be a part of the competition, though practitioners can apply to demonstrate their maneuvers.
“Last year we had a similar venue that attracted over 8,000 people. This year we hope to surpass 10,000,” said Chan De-sheng (詹德勝), chairman of the National Tai Chi Chuan Association, Taiwan.
Himself a practitioner and teacher of tai chi — he taught Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) 13 forms — Chan first started to study the popular martial art of Shaolin kung fu, a style popularized in countless novels and movies, when he was 17. But his master soon encouraged him to study tai chi, and so at the age of 20 he duly began to practice forms. Today, in addition to teaching students he also instructs people how to become teachers of the martial art.
History of a martial art
Literally meaning “supreme ultimate fist,” tai chi is considered a soft-style martial art because it can be practiced with deep relaxation as opposed to hard martial arts that require a degree of tension in the muscles, such as Shaolin kung fu.
What: The First World Cup Tai Chi Chuan Championship of 2006
Where: Taipei Arena (台北小巨蛋), 2 Nanjing E Rd Sec 4, Taipei (台北市南京東路四段2號)
When: Nov. 4 and Nov. 5
Information: For more information, visit www.cttaichi.org (English and Chinese) or call (02) 2579-2388 for Taipei Arena and (02) 2778-3887 for the National Tai Chi Chuan Association
As some tai chi theory and practices evolved along with principles of traditional Chinese medicine, the martial art is sometimes called moving meditation. For beginner and intermediate practitioners, tai chi helps maintain health and is a good form of stress management.
“When people are young, they can practice martial arts like Shaolin kung fu, which require muscle strength.” But because tai chi isn’t as energetic, “when you reach the age of 60 or 70 you can still practice it without damaging your body,” Chan said.
According to Chan, the physical training of tai chi is characterized by the leverage of joints, rather than muscular tension, to neutralize or initiate physical attacks. The slow and repetitive nature of the moves — sometimes the same posture will be repeated over many weeks or months — gently and measurably increases blood circulation.
Taiwan has over 1,000 instructors of tai chi teaching various levels of the art to over 100,000 students. Chan estimates that at least half a million people regularly practice in parks, on rooftops, in their offices, and on their lunch breaks throughout Taiwan. Outside of the country, it’s difficult to determine how many people practice the art as there are no reliable figures. However, it is apparent that more and more people are taking an interest in tai chi because of its health benefits.
Although five major styles of tai chi existed historically, today there are dozens of hybrid forms. Chan has a style named after him.