Tai Chi might be the perfect system for personal training
A good system of health and fitness should include a large amount of general movement exercise, as well as have specific tools for building strength and stamina.
Traditional, martial arts focussed Tai Chi incorporates an incredibly wide array of exercises, training methods and drills, to keep you fully engaged and excited about the training process. Each training session will work your body and mind on all levels, leaving you feeling very energised.
‘Tai Chi’ is the name of the circular Yin and Yang symbol. It literally means ‘supreme ultimate’ and is a reference to the philosophical ideas of Taoism, and a state where the two fundamental building blocks of all universal matter do not separate. The martial art is ‘Tai Chi Chuan’. The last word means fist, or by extension boxing/martial art. Most people no longer practice it as a boxing system/martial art – though I teach it this way as there are far more possible benefits to be had.
Though it is a ‘system’ in as much as there needs to be an organised and systematic method to cultivating certain qualities and skills, the art does and should go beyond the ‘system’ and simply produce training methods and lifestyle patterns that are natural, ultimately effective and in full accordance with deeper realities. The Tai chi theory is about working effectively with the most fundamental truths, whether this is in training, conflict resolution etc. So it’s a great foundation paradigm in health, fitness and martial arts and helps get you beyond being subjected to fads and fashions.
Benefits of my Tai chi personal Training
My Tai Chi personal training system is designed to produce a very fit, healthy and lean practitioner, who is effective in physically demanding situations. However there are also the ‘Yin’ elements of the art which are designed to balance the other tougher training methods and enhance the health of the practitioner on all levels.
Tai chi works with the mind, enhancing focus, awareness and clarity. By including awareness practices and different ‘meditative’ elements within the art, you can very quickly and effectively reduce stress and anxiety and increase feelings of well being. This spills over to become a generally more positive and confident mindset, which will lead you to adopt more ‘virtuous’ lifestyle choices. The traditional Tai Chi essays state ‘first in the mind, then in the body’ – and they were quite right. By getting your state of mind positive, calm and focussed the rest of the personal training process can be very much enhanced.
Tai chi develops the strength and efficiency of the circulatory system through ingenious full body exercises and movements that draw oxygenated blood to all areas of the body. The heart and lungs receive significant conditioning and development through other higher intensity methods (including traditional methods of interval training).
Body awareness, posture, and coordination are developed to the highest levels in Tai Chi personal training, through a systematic approach to training ‘form’. these are sets of movements done initially without weapons, but then with a variety of classical weapons (the movements are very different). The barehanded forms, the sword, the sabre and the spear each exercise the body in very different ways, giving the practitioner many tools for developing the precision of their skeletal alignment, limb control and quality of movement. these forms are learned in ‘mirror image’ to further challenge and develop skill, and then at the highest level are practiced in reverse. This trains the capacity of the mind to visualise and carry out all movements in a true three dimensional way – leading to movement mastery.
In my Tai chi personal training muscles, bones and tendons are strengthened using a wide variety of ‘pile stance’ exercises, also known as ‘standing practice’ from the Internal Strength system. There are also various methods of resistance training used, such as hand stands, heavy spear work and weight exercises designed to fully round out your strength development.
Flexibility is developed throughout the body, in all aspects of the art.
For people interested in self defence and martial arts skills, Tai Chi personal training sessions can be designed to incorporate all manner of unarmed and armed fighting drills and technical development exercises. This is old school, martial training that is designed to get you skilled in the use of very practical combat moves, from the traditional Tai Chi syllabus. Some people just enjoy this type of training without being overly concerned with self defence or fighting skills – it’s challenging and therefore enjoyable.
My approach to Tai Chi personal training includes the following elements;
Body alignment and movement skill work: this is using the techniques of the classical forms to develop expert levels of structural alignment. Quality of movement is developed and continually enhanced and refined.
Tai Chi strength and conditioning: Using a wide variety of training methods to build strength, power and stamina
Partner drills for building movement skill and martial skills: These elements are often called ‘pushing hands’ but the original name was sensing hands. These two person drills build fitness, movement skill and coordination and condition you to respond to opponent in intuitive highly intelligent ways.
Fighting technique development: This element includes all the training necessary for you to become skilled with a wide variety of fighting techniques (including wrestling) and to be able to effectively use them against an aggressor. This element includes partner drills, movement drills, pad work, bag work etc.
Internal Strength: This is for more advanced students who want to take their skills to the next level. Internal strength, called neighing in Chinese, includes a variety of ingenious exercises designed to strengthen the body internally as well as externally. This means the organs and connective tissues covering them are strengthened, breathing patterns are refined, meditation techniques are incorporated. In essence it’s a perfect daily training method to keep your body extremely well conditioned, your mind sharp and tranquil and your technical level high.
Weapons work: This element teaches you how to use weapons to develop your technique and movements skills as well as your fitness. Heavy weapons work (spear and sabre) is traditionally designed to develop very high levels of functional power and strength. You can also practice drills and exercises so that you can effectively use the ideas and movements in self defence with every day weapons. You also learn how to defend effectively against weapons.
Tai Chi nutrition and lifestyle
If you want to reap the full benefits of Tai Chi Chuan as a personal training practice, you need to incorporate the deep wisdom of the Taoists who developed the ideas and theories the art is based on. I encourage my PT clients to adopt the fundamental ideas of theses naturalists, who advocated that living outside of the patterns of nature leads to inner disharmony. Fundamentally this means you should focus on developing good sleeping patterns, that are in tune with nature – so getting to bed early and sleeping a good amount. Science now knows a lot about circadian rhythms and the importance for your health of working with the cycles of the sun and moon. You can work around it. You also need to expose yourself to plenty of daylight. These are all old Taoist ideas.
Nutrition has to become very natural and unadulterated. no processed foods, only the highest quality natural ingredients. When you are training intensively in Tai Chi personal training sessions, you will need excellent nutrition to optimise the benefits. Nutrition is a highly contentious subject these days, with many different advocates of all kinds of approaches. The Waist/Tai chi approach would recognise that firstly food needs to be natural and unprocessed, second it needs to be appropriate to the individual – and we all have slightly different requirements. At higher levels of practice, Tai Chi/Taoist nutrition should be highly intuitive, with practitioners thoroughly in-tune with their personal needs at that particular time.
Who can do it?
The beauty of Tai Chi as a personal training system is that anyone can do it. Older or less fit people can initially start with the more ‘yin’ elements of the training, whereas somebody who ids young/fit/tough/ can find things that will challenge and develop them to their maximum in the ‘yang’ elements of the art – designed to condition full contact fighters.