ANCIENT CHINESE ART AT THE SERVICE OF UN STAFF HEALTH
ANCIENT CHINESE ART AT THE SERVICE OF UN STAFF HEALTH
Recently, interest in Taiji Quan gymnastics has increased dramatically
all over the world.
LIU DE AND TATIANA LIU
The invigorating effect of the practice is why people value Taiji Quan and wish to study it. Moreover, it has also drawn attention in scientific medical circles. As the statistics over the last decades have shown, Taiji Quan exercises improve microcirculation in cases of diabetes, and generally improve health in the treatment of chronic diseases like neurasthenia, insomnia, neuralgia, hypertension, gastritis, ischemic disease, arthritis and the painful manifestations of osteochondrosis.
The main principle of Taiji Quan is “a quiet, serene heart plus a concentrated mind”, which allows the entire nervous system to relax. Relaxation of the whole body, deep and natural breathing, smooth circular movements originating in the waist and controlled by thought all lead to impressive results: harmony of “the outer and the inner”; cleansing of the channels, blood and lymphatic vessels; improvement in conditions of the bones, as well as the muscular and digestive systems.
Taiji Quan is part of the Chinese martial arts. Tradition attributes the creation of Taiji Quan to a Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng (born 1247), whose birthday is celebrated as World Taiji Quan Day. A small mystical text written by Zhang Sanfeng (“Wugen shu” or “The rootless tree”) has survived until today. Concealed from those uninitiated, it contains a guide on psycho-techniques giving a metaphorical description of the two streams of energy Qi – one descending and one ascending –that form a closed circle.
The development of Taiji Quan spans more
than eight centuries. Five schools or styles are
among the most influential today: Chen,
Yang, Wu, Wu (Hao) and Sun. All branches
of Taiji Quan, despite the style-related differences,
are similar in one main aspect: the
relaxed movements create a certain softness,
which accumulates and then generates internal
About hundred years ago in China, the role of hand-to-hand combat began to decrease and a new slogan appeared: “The supreme goal of Taiji Quan is to support health and prolong life”. The transformation of Taiji Quan from an art of combat to a system of health-improving exercises had begun. Now it has become a method of tempering physical and spiritual health, as well as a means of perfecting personality and cognition. The purposes of studying Taiji Quan are various:
Firstly, to improve health. As a result of correct,
regular practice, serenity is achieved
and the person becomes master of his body
Secondly, to control the internal energy Qi.
Thirdly, as a means of self-defense. At the superior stage of mastering the technique, Taiji Quan can be used to defend oneself.
In 2008, the International Olympic Committee
decided to organize a special Wushu
(Chinese martial arts) competition within the
Olympic Games in Peking (August 21st-
24th). Thereafter, the question of inclusion of
Wushu in the program of the Olympic Games
will be considered1.
Our experience as instructors of Taiji Quan in Europe covers more than thirty years. We began teaching at the United Nations in Geneva in 2007. Our program consists of practicing Taiji as gymnastics, even though the primary objective – perfecting health – is, of course, a priority. We also teach the philosophical and theoretical principles of Taiji Quan, including the use of these principles in various situations of everyday life.
During the first year of training according to our program, the trainees master the twentyfour simplified-posture form, also known as the “Peking” form of Taiji Quan. It serves as an “ABC primer”, and beginners, while working through the stances, are trained to walk anew according to the principles of Taiji. After mastering the twenty-four posture form, the student needs to obtain maximal stability and good spatial orientation of the body. Later on, the practitioner can pass to the forty posture form, the forty-eight form, the forty-two form (the forty-two being an Olympic form); then Taiji with the narrow sword (thirty-two form and forty-two form), Taiji with the broadsword, Taiji with the fan, Taiji with the pole and Taiji with the stick. We teach four of the five styles of Taiji Quan: Yang, Sun, Wu and Chen. Moreover, we also teach the Wudang Taijiquan style. Each style contains a shorter (more modern style) and a longer (ancient style – laojia) form, with or without a weapon.
At the end of the first year of training, the students master the basic Tuishou exercises (“Pushing hands”). Qigong exercises are conducted concurrently. We teach two of the five basic domains of Qigong: the therapeutic (since we are both doctors) and the Taoist (for longevity and good health). Our program embraces all features of Taiji Quan already at the initial stages: the modern sports (twenty-four and forty-eight forms), the Olympic (forty-two form), and the traditional (forty form). The choice of any of these directions depends on the wishes and internal readiness of every trainee; nonetheless, the motivation of our school, even at an amateur level, implies a very good mastering of the technical and energy aspects of Taiji Quan.
1 Wushu consists of two disciplines: Taolu (a section of Wushu competitions where the sportsman carries out a solo program with or without a weapon) and Sanda (free combat with full contact). In turn, Taolu are subdivided into such disciplines as Taijiquan (often pronounced “Tai chi chuan”), Taijijian (Tai chi with the narrow sword), Nanquan (the Southern fist style), Gunshu (the pole), Daoshu (the broadsword), Jianshu (the spear), and Duanlian (the sparring).