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TAI CHI CHUAN

No shape, no shadow
Entire body transparent and empty
Forget your surroundings and be natural
Like a stone chime suspended from West Mountain
Tigers roaring, monkey screeching
Clear fountain, peaceful water
Turbulent river, stormy ocean
With your whole being develop your life

SONG OF THE REAL MEANING OF TAI CHI

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Yang Tai Chi 24 Forms
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Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) is a relaxing and natural form of mind-body fitness, and an internationally recognised health meditation exercise. This mystical and ancient combination of Qigong and Martial Arts can prevent and ease many diseases and ills of aging, and could be the perfect exercise for the rest of your life. Tai Chi is the physical interpretation of the philosophy of Tao – the way of health and harmony with nature, which is based on the principles of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements. In China, Tai Chi is regarded in as an internal art that legends say was created in a monastery by Taoist monks over 1500 years ago as a spiritual practice for health and self-defence.

The value of Tai Chi is in its abilty to help us develop our relationship with universal energy and the Tao and the potential to strengthen and repair the physical and energetic body, which in turn has the potential to prevent and cure diseases. With regular practice Tai Chi keeps blood and energy circulation smooth in the entire body, and prevents disease. Once you have learned the external movements, the aim is to regulate the mind, body and breath, harmonize them with internal energy meditation (Qi) and begin to understand how to unite your Qi and spirit with the Qi of nature. It takes a lot of regular practice to develop this kind of sensitivity, or self-realization.

After as little as 12 weeks of practice changes begin to take place as your mind, body and nervous system become remodelled. New nerve-currents, new cells, new vibrations, new avenues and new channels are awakened. You will have a new mind, a new heart, new sensations, new feelings, new mode of thinking and acting and a new view of the universe. With these insights you begin to perfect yourself as a human being, purifying your thoughts, speech and actions, and healing yourself on all levels; mental, physical and spiritual. This is not just in the classroom, but also making gradual changes that have positive effects on your health, personality and lifestyle, transforming your anger, hatred, greed and worry into loving kindness, wisdom and compassion. This is the deeper wisdom of Tai Chi as a spiritual practice and the ultimate goal of uniting with the Qi of nature by defeating your greatest opponent – yourself. This is the way of the Tai Chi warrior.

So, what is it in taijiquan that gives it this “magical” power? Physically, the slow and relaxed condensing and expanding movements provide a total body exercise. As the muscles are allowed to relax, blood circulation can be improved. This total body exercise is not limited to the arms and legs. It also refers to the ribs, spine, and internal organs. The gentle movements loosen up the spine and ribs, as well as the organs. By “massaging” the organs, you can loosen up the tension around them and increase the blood circulation.

Many life-threatening diseases occur from problems associated with the organs, so why not “massage” the organs and keep them healthy? The slow movements allow the body to move with less tension than high-paced movements, which require fast muscle contractions. The slow movements of taijiquan allow the lungs to be more relaxed and to increase the intake of oxygen. Taijiquan helps release tension created by a hard day at work. Mentally and energetically, tension is released from the head and other areas, where energy stagnates.

Modern science has documented that each section of the brain does a specialized set of tasks. Over the course of a day, week, month, or year, we may be over stimulating one section or another of our brain. This overstimulation often creates excess tension that is unable to dissipate from the head. When this happens, we may not be able to think as clearly. We may lose our temper easily or even get headaches. Taijiquan exercise helps to redistribute energy in our bodies by leading excess energy from tense areas, so as to regain balance.

Performing taijiquan early in the morning clears the mind and prepares one to tackle any task during the day. That is one of the reasons, to the amazement of many foreign visitors in China, that millions of Chinese practice taijiquan in the park every morning before work. After all, what is disease (dis-ease) but a lack of ease? By learning to live with ease, one prevents disease.

TAI CHI CHUAN SIMPLIFIED 24 FORMS

Photos by TAIJI.DE

Simplified Taijiquan 24 Forms was compiled by the Chinese Sports Commission in 1956 with the goal of standardizing and popularizing taijiquan for schools, hospitals and competitions. Rooted in Tao philosophy, health and self-defence, it is a great low impact exercise for improving the flow of energy throughout the mind, body and spirit, leading to an overall sense of well being. The Simplified Taijiquan 24 Forms has become the most popular of all Chinese martial arts, loved by millions of practitioners around the world, and is now an internationally recognised health meditation exercise. Because this sequence is based on Yang Style Taijiquan, the training guidelines and principles of the Simplified Taijiquan 24 Forms follow the characteristic “flavor” of the Yang Style and described in the Ten Essential Points of Yang Chengfu (See below). It is never an easy task to learn from a book or DVD, (even if they are presented with as much relevant information as possible). It is best to learn from a qualified and experienced instructor who has a deep understanding of Qigong and Tai Chi Chuan and can avoid passing on bad habits and amateur mistakes. For beginners, there may be too many details to assimilate at one time. Training starts by learning the external physical movements, and then learning the internal structure meditation. Remember, you are looking for efficient energy flow. In classroom instruction, the instructor often tells students to pay attention to only one or two aspects of the sequence at a time. The entire 24 Forms sequence should be performed at an even pace, with no abrupt changes in the transition. When you begin to learn the postures, don’t be overly concerned with coordinating your breathing with the movements. Once your movements are smooth, start to pay attention to your breathing. Then reread the principles described in the Ten Essential Points of Yang Chengfu and try to incorporate them into the entire sequence.

THE TEN ESSENTIAL POINTS OF YANG CHENGFU

Transmitted Orally by Grandmaster Yang Chengfu, Recorded by Chen Weiming, Translated by Jerry Karin

The Yang school of Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) was originally founded by Yang Luchan. His famous grandson Yang Chengfu developed the style, the movements became slower, bigger and more open. Characteristics are the steady flow, the harmonized connection between body and mind and a strong internal energy. Yang Chengfu said, Tai Chi Chuan is an art, in which the slow and soft movements contain a strong internal force like a needle concealed in cotton.

1. Empty, Lively, Pushing Up and Energetic
‘Pushing up and energetic’ means the posture of the head is upright and straight and the spirit is infused into its apex. You may not use strength. To use strength makes the back of the neck stiff, whereupon the chi and blood cannot circulate freely. You must have an intention, which is empty, lively (or free) and natural. Without intention, that is empty, lively, pushing up and energetic, you won’t be able to raise your spirit. Note: This four- character phrase is probably the most difficult one in all of Tai Chi literature to translate. I have chosen to regard each of the four words as filling the function of a predicate or verb-phrase. Another fairly obvious approach would be to take the first two as adverbial and the last two as subject- predicate:“Empty and lively, the apex is energetic.” Many other interpretations are possible.

2. Hold in the Chest and Slightly Round The Back
The phrase ‘hold in the chest’ means the chest is slightly reserved inward, which causes the chi to sink to the dantien. The chest must not be puffed out; if you do so then the chi is blocked in the chest region. The upper body becomes heavy and the lower body light, and it will become easy for the heels to float upward. ‘Slightly round the back’ makes the chi stick to the back. If you are able to hold in the chest then you will naturally be able to slightly round the back. If you can slightly round the back, then you will be able to emit strength from the spine, which others cannot oppose.

3. Relax the Waist
The waist is the commander of the whole body. Only after you are able to relax the waist will the two legs have strength and the lower body is stable. The alternation of empty and full all derive from the turning of the waist. Hence the saying:
‘the wellspring of destiny lies in the tiny interstice of the waist. (In Chinese thought, the waist tends to be regarded as the lower back rather than a circle girdling the middle of the body. Whenever there is a lack of strength in your form, you must look for it in the waist and legs. Jerry Karin)

4. Separate Empty and Full
In the art of Tai Chi Chuan, separating full and empty is the number one rule. If the whole body sits on the right leg, then the right leg is deemed ‘full’ and the left leg ‘empty.’ If the whole body sits on the left leg, then the left leg is deemed ‘full’ and the right leg ‘empty.’ Only after you are able to distinguish full and empty will turning movements be light, nimble and almost without effort; if you can’t distinguish them, then your steps will be heavy and sluggish. You won’t be able to stand stably, and it will be easy for an opponent to control you.

5. Sink the Shoulders and Drop the Elbows
Sinking the shoulders means the shoulders relax, open, and hang downward. If you can’t relax them downward, the shoulders pop up and then the chi follows and goes upward, causing the whole body to lack strength. Dropping the elbows means the elbows are relaxed downward. If the elbows are elevated then the shoulders are unable to sink. When you use this to push someone they won’t go far. It’s like the ‘cut of’ energy of external martial arts. (External martial arts are thought to use energy from parts or sections of the body, as opposed to the ‘whole-body’ energy of Tai Chi. Jerry Karin)

6. Use Intent Rather than Force
The Tai Chi Classics say, “this is completely a matter of using intent rather than force.” When you practice Tai Chi Chuan, let the entire body relax and extend. Don’t employ even the tiniest amount of coarse strength, which would cause musculoskeletal or circulatory blockage with the result that you restrain or inhibit yourself. Only then will you be able to lightly and nimbly change and transform, circling naturally. Some wonder: if I don’t use force, how can I generate force? The net of acupuncture meridians and channels throughout the body are like the waterways on top of the earth. If the waterways are not blocked, the water circulates; if the meridians are not impeded the chi circulates. If you move the body about with stiff force, you swamp the meridians. Chi and blood are impeded, movements are not nimble; all someone has to do is begin to guide you and your whole body is moved. If you use intent rather than force, wherever the intent goes, so goes the chi. In this way, because the chi and blood are flowing and circulating every day throughout the entire body and never stagnating, you will get true internal strength after a lot of practice. That’s what the Tai Chi Classics mean by “Only by being extremely soft are you able to achieve extreme hardness.”Somebody who is really adept at Tai Chi has arms, which seem like silk wrapped around iron, immensely heavy. Someone who practices external martial arts, when he is using his force, seems very strong. But when not using force, he is very light and floating. By this we can see that his force is actually external, or superficial strength. The force used by external martial artists is especially easy to lead or defect; hence it is not of much value.

7. Synchronize Upper and Lower Body
In the Tai Chi Classics ‘‘synchronize upper and lower body” is expressed as: “With its root in the foot, emitting from the leg, governed by the waist, manifesting in the hands and fingers – from feet to legs to waist – complete everything in one impulse.” Literally “one chi.” This could also be rendered as “one breath.” When hands move, the waist moves and legs move, and the gaze moves along with them. Only then can we say the upper and the lower body are synchronized. If one part doesn’t move then it is not coordinated with the rest.

8. Match Up Inner and Outer
What we are practicing in Tai Chi depends on the spirit, hence the saying: “The spirit is the general, the body his troops.” If you can raise your spirit, your movements will naturally be light and nimble, the form nothing more than empty and full, open and closed. When we say‘open,’we don’t just mean open the arms or legs; the mental intent must open along with the limbs. When we say ‘close,’ we don’t just mean close the arms or legs; the mental intent must close along with the limbs. If you can combine inner and outer into a single impulse, then they become a seamless whole.

9. Practice Continuously and Without Interruption
Strength in external martial arts is a kind of acquired, brute force, so it has a beginning and an end, times when it continues and times when it is cut of, such that when the old force is used up and new force hasn’t yet arisen. There is a moment when it is extremely easy for the person to be constrained by an opponent. In Tai Chi, we use intent rather than force, and from beginning to end, smoothly and ceaselessly, complete a cycle and return to the beginning, circulating endlessly. That is what the Tai Chi Classics mean by “Like the Yangtze or Yellow River, endlessly flowing.” And again: “Moving strength is like unreeling silk threads.”These both refer to unifying into a single impulse.

15. Seek Quiescence within Movement
External martial artists prize leaping and stomping, and they do this until breath (chi) and strength are exhausted, so that after practicing they are all out of breath. In Tai Chi Chuan we use quiescence to overcome movement, and even in movement, still have quiescence. So when you practice the form, the slower the better! When you do it slowly your breath becomes deep and long, the chi sinks to the dantien, and naturally there is no harmful constriction or enlargement of the blood vessels. If the student tries carefully they may be able to comprehend the meaning behind these words.

THE TEN ESSENTIAL PRINCIPLES EXPLAINED

By Dave Barrett based on interviews with and quotes from Grandmaster Yang Zhenduo

Professor Cheng Man Ching, disciple of Yang Chengfu, states that Yang Chengfu constantly emphasized the Ten Essential Principles. Each time Yang Chengfu spoke of them, he exhorted us saying, “If I do not mention this, then even if you study for three lifetimes it will be difficult for you to learn.” Yang Chengfu’s son, Yang Zhenduo said: “In China we have a proverb, ‘If you don’t go according to the rules, you will not fnd the squareness and roundness of the form.” Follow these rules if you want to practice the entire form well, you must start from the root, start from the basics. You must do this if you are to receive the benefits of the good fundamentals and receive the benefits of practice. Also it is easier to raise the level of technical proficiency. In this process, you focus and ask yourself: Have I done all the fundamentals in each movement? Have I done the basic refinements? Only you know in your heart.

The Ten Essential Principles provide a framework for a lifetime of comprehensive study. In many ways they are like a formula or recipe for correct practice. Rather than a series of abstract concepts, the Ten Essential Principles are the summation of generations of inquiry into the nature of mind, body, and motion. Each principle is dynamically linked to a practical result, and when all the points are accurately represented, the outcome is the marvelous expression of grace, power and balance present in Traditional Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan.

This article will focus on providing a framework for the Tai Chi student to organize and work on the Ten Essential Principles. Each principle results in a practical refinement that gives a special quality to the performance. Rather than explaining the meaning of each point, these refinements in posture, motion and mental activity will be examined. What is of importance is that the principles enter one’s practice and affect the performance of the forms.

The main point for practitioners is to follow the basic principles in a way that they are dynamically expressed in the whole body. They cannot remain disembodied ideas. Without these principles you will not succeed. Especially for the beginning student, this can seem a daunting task. Turning theories into practical experiences can take years of practice. Patience, perseverance, and an organized study plan can help with the complexity of Tai Chi’s many theoretical requirements.

Yang Chengfu’s important points can be grouped into three main topics:
1. ARRANGING THE BODY FRAME
2. COORDINATING THE MOTIONS
3. HARMONIZING THE MIND

All students can use this framework to evaluate their progress and improve their skill level. In the beginning, normally, the student just imitates and moves from frame to frame. In the second stage, after having learned the principles, the student tries to make the movements and the principles become one. In the first stage, you just put the hands out but in the second stage you should know how and why the hands are put out. Once you understand this it takes a long time to go through it. In the third stage, the principles and applications are combined into one and that becomes the essence. It means that the movements have intent and are no longer empty.

1. ARRANGING THE BODY FRAME
The principles in this category are:
• Empty, lively, pushing up and energetic. (pushing up the top of the head)
• Relax the waist.
• Hold in the chest and slightly round the back.
• Sink the shoulders and drop the elbows.
These four requirements establish important guidelines for the torso, arms and hands. As with all the principles, they work together to promote the optimal patterns for energy to fow freely through the body. Balance pushing up the top of the head with relaxing the waist, the spine is elongated and a strong feeling of central equilibrium is established. The upwards energy and sinking center of gravity will align the back, which forms a center point for rotating the entire body frame. By keeping the waist relaxed the frame rotates flexibly and freely with a minimum of applied energy. Holding in the chest, slightly rounding the back, sinking the shoulders, and dropping the elbows create a sense of relaxed extension through the upper back all the way to the fingertips. Allow the ligaments and tendons to extend and the big muscles of the chest and shoulders to loosen. This is done by sinking the sternum slightly inwards and causing the back to become gently rounded. This rounding of the back is carried through to the fingertips by dropping the elbows, sinking the shoulders, seating the wrists and extending the fingertips. In this way the large, open postures are anchored in the spine and the intrinsic energy issues freely from the back to the extremities. The practical result is a frame that is open and relaxed, yet connected and rooted to the motion of the lower back and waist. As soon as you have the elbow pull the shoulder, your chest will naturally sink. As soon as the elbow pulls the shoulder, your chest becomes concave. As soon as your chest is sunk, your back becomes naturally rounded and arched. And as soon as your back is rounded and arched, your waist and hips become relaxed and this is all interrelated from one point to the other. If you do not have the sinking elbow, and wrist and fingers extended, you do not give the opportunity for the sunken chest, rounded and arched back, and relaxed waist. Although your waist can control your whole body, if your arms do not give it the opportunity by following the basic requirements, then the waist will not have the power and the ability to control the body. There will be no way you can bring the energy out. Therefore we say only when you follow the principles will your waist then be used correctly. We require everyone who practices Tai Chi Chuan to emphasize these points over and over again.

2. COORDINATING THE MOTIONS
The principles in this category are:
• Separate empty and full.
• Synchronize upper and lower body.
• Practice continuously and without interruption.
These points present a formula for the waist, legs and footwork. The ability to distinguish the amount and direction of body weight supported through the legs is a fundamental skill in Tai Chi. Cleanly separating empty and full in shifting the body weight promotes agile stepping and increased balance control. Blending empty and full by balancing the pushing and receiving energies in the stance work stabilizes the frame and roots the entire body structure.
In the Ten Essential Principles it says you have to coordinate the upper and lower body. In reality many people are not doing that because they bend the knee so fast that they don’t have a chance to put the energy into the knee, and thus the upper body has no force. If you bend your knee too quickly, the whole body is not used and the waist movement is empty. There is not a unified force. The refinement of synchronizing the upper and lower parts of the body means that the waist acts as the pivot and the following coordination ensue: the hips move with the shoulders, the elbows move with the knees, and the energy arrives at the palms and feet simultaneously. The body has an expansive feeling that manifests in an end position that is fully realized from the feet, through the legs, controlled by the lower back and expressed through the limbs and the fingertips. A total body motion. As long as your movement starts with the waist and all the other conditions correctly create the condition for the waist to move in this way, then the waist has the ability of being the body’s central pivotal force. If you don’t coordinate the upper and lower limbs through the waist, and the lower legs are empty, then the waist is not moving. If the structure is lifeless, then the waist doesn’t have anything to do. If however, you practice with the hand in a position where it has intrinsic force and the legs have strength and the waist is used correctly, then they can be coordinated. Then these movements are all part of the waist movement. Normally, people just locally move their arms. They are not using the waist to move their arms. Continuity without interruption provides a crucial element in blending stillness with activity: linking the forms together, yet clearly distinguishing between end positions and transitional motions. Yang Zhenduo has said that the most important phase in continuing the form occurs when the motion changes direction from forward to back or from up to down: to be specific, at the precise instant when the kinetic potentials reverse. Consider the motion of a child’s swing on the playground: as the swing reaches its highest point before it plummets backwards there is a slight pause, a brief instant when the weight and forward motion suspend. Yang Zhenduo points to this instant as the most crucial time to pay close attention to the motion changing. Link the large circles together by creating this sense of paused suspension, when a very slight motion of the lower back leads to an elliptical transition expressed arc-wise through the body. If the truth were told, the shape of these slight elliptical links is the familiar fish shape that occupies half of the yin-yang symbol. These slight transitional moves lead into the next larger motion without breaking the thread of the performance.

3. HARMONIZING THE MIND
The principles in this category are:
• Use intent rather than force.
• Match up inner and outer.
• Seek quiescence within movement.
This category illuminates the inner life of the Tai Chi Chuan system. The points offer a key to the transcendent nature of the exercise, leading the student beyond the boundaries of mechanical imitation of motions into a realm of freely expressed energy and spirit. The primary refinement in harmonizing the mind is to focus on matching the specific technique with the actual application of force. This creates an inner sense of engagement and participation in the offensive and defensive character of the motions. Linking the slow motions to the actual applications of technique is a very delicate process. Great care should be exercised not to get carried away by the pursuit of strength and power. Every motion has its purpose and the purpose should be coordinated with your thoughts, your mind, and finally, your spirit. What you think in your mind and what you do with the body should be very naturally coordinated… If you practice and follow the principles and don’t consciously think about power, then you will have the energy and the power. But if you concentrate only on the energy and the power then your mind will be limited. The last of Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essential Principles is the natural result of the combined points. Quiescence or tranquility is the key quality that distinguishes this art form from mere martial exercise. In following the Tai Chi Chuan paradigm there needs to be a balance between tranquility and activity. There are many ways to calm the mind.

In the Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan system the Ten Essential Principles provide the method. If you concentrate on the main principles, then you are not thinking about anything else. There is no room to think of anything else. But if you don’t understand the concept of where you move and how you should concentrate, and what the principles are, then you cannot control and focus your mind. You must remember, Ten Essential Principles and apply these important principles. You want to harmonize them with the specific technique. When you have something else on your mind, you can control your mind by directing it to implement the important principles in each movement. This is one of the methods to regulate your mind. This is a very different approach to regulating the mind than meditation or qigong. In some qigong methods they have meditation methods to get into a very quiescent state. This is not quite the same as the quietness in Tai Chi Chuan. In Tai Chi Chuan you want to be calm and collected, so you have focused attention on what the opponent is going to do to you. Within that quietness you are ready to spring. You are ready to move. So the quiescence and movement go hand in hand, working together.

The paradox of effortless action should fascinate and mystify the student. This in turn may lead one to wonder why Yang Zhengduo motions possess an indefinable quality of excellence, an elusive brilliance that is easy to see yet seemingly impossible to achieve. Fortunately for us, the Yang family has shared their research in the hopes that everyone may benefit from this wonderful practice. Take your time, work principle by principle. Don’t just practice. Day by day, work on certain points. For example: one day focus on lifting the top of the head. The next day concentrate on the shoulder, elbow, wrist and palm requirements. Gradually the points will add up and your skill level will increase. The basic requirements and principles we have talked about are very important points. But it is like many things. You can know it but sometimes you cannot carry it out. You may not be able to do it. You may need a long time to train yourself, slowly, slowly accumulating experience.

TRADITIONAL LONG FORM OF YANG CHENGFU

Drawings by Matthias Wagner