Authentic Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) and Qigong (Chi Kung)

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Frequently Asked Questions - Elemental Tai Chi

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Tai Chi Chuan?
Also known as taijiquan, literally translated as "Grand Ultimate Fist".  One of Sifu Napier's favorite characterizations is from Yang Cheng-fu:  "Taiji is the art of concealing hardness within softness, like an iron bar wrapped in cotton."

Taiji is best known for its slow, smooth, gentle movement.  Practiced by most people in the world today for its impressive health benefits, it is equally impressive when utilized as a martial art.  Its martial arts roots go back to at least the late Ming Dynasty.  For more information see the Background page.

What is Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan?  How is it different from regular Yang taiji?
Yangjia simply means Yang Family.  All Yang taiji derives from the systems created by Yang Lu-chan (1799-1873) who is the founder of Yang Family taiji, and by his sons and grandsons.  Although Yang taiji is constantly evolving, it all references the systems, forms, and techniques created among those three generations.

YMT is one of Yang Lu-chan's earliest systems, and one of the best-kept secrets until the last half century.  This is because until 1949, YMT was taught under the tradition of each master passing the system to only one student.  Thus the lineage and the system was transmitted intact, without fundamental changes in approach.  Sifu Napier is a 6th generation lineage holder of YMT.  His lineage is:  Yang Lu-chan, Yang Jin-hou, Zhang Qin-Lin, Wang Yen-nien, Hu Ling (George Hu).  Grandmaster Hu is actively teaching YMT to select advanced students, many of whom are themselves active teachers.

What prior training do I need to practice Tai Chi?
None at all.  We will teach you everything you need to know.

What kind of physical condition do I have to be in to practice Tai Chi?
If you can stand up unassisted, you can practice Tai Chi.  We work with students of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.  If you have an injury or disability, we can help you work within and grow beyond that limitation.  Within the class setting we tailor each student's training to his or her own abilities and goals.  As a student we encourage you to benchmark your progress not against what others can do, but what you have achieved for yourself.

Am I required to wear a uniform?
No.  From time to time class T-shirts may be available to purchase if you wish to wear them in or out of class, but they are optional.

What should I wear to practice Tai Chi?
Loose fitting clothing without a belt or jewelry.  Footwear is fine, except that we recommend you choose footwear that is flat-bottomed and not slippery.  Leather soles are not a good idea, and leather in general is a bad idea, with the exception of rubber-soled leather sandals.  Footwear should fit snugly without squeezing unnecessarily.  Do not go barefooted; wear gym socks at least, to protect your feet.  We will be practicing on a wooden deck or some other surface that is not completely comfortable for bare feet.

Blouses or shirts do better if they are not tucked in, and not too long, and not too tight fitting.  Pants should be extremely loose around the hips, thighs, and calves.  Leotards are OK if they fit comfortably, but they reveal all your mistakes, so watch out!  Same for shorts, which are particularly good in the summer.  Dress to stay cool until it is time to worry about being cold.

Do I need any special gear for class?
No, although for Chi Kung class you may wish to bring padding to sit on.  We meditate not on pads on the ground, but on Western style seating that allows you to place your feet flat on the ground, but the seats may be more comfortable with a little padding.  A pillow or blanket folded over should work fine.

What does it take to earn a Black Belt in Tai Chi?
There is no such thing as a black belt in taijiquan or any other Chinese martial art.  In recent years China has introduced a nine-level system for measuring ability in Tai Chi and various external ("kung fu") martial arts, but we do not use it in YMT. Progress is measured by increased health, vitality, strength, flow of chi, fluidity of movement, and self-defense ability, using our own past as a benchmark.  An experienced teacher can tell a person's level of ability through simple observation of his/her movement.  

What is Chi?
This has been a subject of discussion for centuries, if not millennia.  To call it breath would not be far off, although it is sometimes characterized as bioelectric energy that flows along pathways known as meridians.  Chi (qi) is recognized, named, descrbied, and experimented with by spiritual traditions around the world.  The Indian word is prana; the Japanese call it ki.  Many health problems are often seen as the irregular and weak, rather than smooth and strong, flow of chi in the meridians.   Chi can be felt but not seen; experienced but not shown.

What is Chi Kung?
Chi kung (qigong) is a wide variety of movement exercises that are similar to small portions of a taiji form, with similar purpose and characteristics. Qigong is designed to cultivate chi -- to strengthen it, to smoothen the flow, to control it, and even, eventually, to discharge it.  The discharge can be used for either health benefits or detriments.  Taiji is a specialized type of qigong, but most types of qigong are simpler and easier to learn than taiji.

What is Nei Gong Meditation?
Nei Gong (neigong) is an active form of meditation like qigong without movement:  it is entirely  internal.  Rather than sit quietly and blank out your mind, you actively engage your mind to cultivate your qi and reach higher spiritual states.