The 3  Principles of Chen Tai Chi

What is Chen tai chi?

Chen tai chi is a martial art based on the theory of traditional Chinese medicine and the concept of balance of all the complementary forces found in the universe (known as Yin and Yang).

What is the meaning of tai chi chuan (taijiquan)?

The complete name of this art is tai chi chuan (or taijiquan). It translates as “Grand Ultimate Fist”.  It was created by General Chen Wangting (1580 – 1660) from Chenjiagou, or Chen Family Village, a small farming community in northern central China (Henan province).

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Tai chi was created by General Chen Wangting

General Chen combined his family’s martial art with his knowledge of classical medicine and philosophy to create Tai Chi, a martial art (self defense art) and health exercise based on the balance of Yin and Yang.

The two main functions of a martial art

Because Tai Chi is a martial art, it must fulfill two functions:

  1. It must offer benefits for good health and healing for your whole lifetime
  2. It must be effective for self defense for your whole lifetime

The 3 principles of Chen tai chi

There are three unique elements, also known as “The 3 Principles of Chen Tai Chi”. These elements make tai chi effective for self defense and offer many wonderful benefits for vibrant health and healing!

Below is a description of each of the three elements, and how they function together harmoniously:

The 3 principles are:

  1. Use intention to guide your movements, not external force

The most important of the 3 principles of Chen tai chi – “use intention, not external (superficial) force”.

When practicing tai chi, the mind directs the qi (vital energy) and the qi moves your body. One should always follow this principle and never resort to the use of blind brute strength.  In this way, our movements become more and more refined.  

Any physical motion that we make starts as a thought about that motion.  The movements that we make in our normal daily activities have become so second nature that we barely think about them, and usually we are thinking about other things at the same time.  

For example, how much attention do you pay when brushing your teeth or opening a door?  Probably not a whole lot!  

During tai chi practice, our intention is engaged fully on exactly what we are doing in each moment.  Whether we are raising our hands up, stepping, kicking, or turning our waist, it is the same – we are fully focused on every tiny detail of that movement.  In this way we are forging the strongest possible connection between body and mind.  

With time and practice, we transform more and more, and our movements become more and more internalized.  This is something very difficult to describe in words and must result in consistent training over a long period of time.  It is through the repetition of the seemingly simple movements of Tai Chi that this transformation takes place.

  1. Letting go of tension

In the practice of tai chi we always strive to have the least amount of tension in our body.  This allows the qi (chi, or vital energy), to circulate naturally, so the body can express its full potential for health and power.  

The more tension we have in our body, the more energetic blockages we will have, and the more out of balance we will be.  This causes us to be weak, and, in traditional Chinese medicine, is considered to be the cause of pain and sickness. 

Emphasis must be placed on correct structural alignment (ie- in line with gravity), as this is what allows us to relax. (See article on…)  During practice, we must pay full attention to each separate part of the body, as well as all of the parts connected as one whole, constantly monitoring it to eliminate even the slightest bit of tension anywhere.  

Whether practicing tai chi for health or self defense, it is the same.  Always pay attention (take inventory) to every part of your body. Do you feel tension in your shoulders?  Stomach?  Lower back?  Legs?  Fingers or toes?  Cultivate your awareness of where you are holding tension, then relax these areas with your full intention.

Anywhere that you have tension in your body, let it go!

  1. Silk reeling force

This is tai chi’s continually spiraling movement of your whole body – arms, torso, and legs.  Qi (vital energy) moves within the body in spirals, and enhances circulation.  

Used in self defense, silk reeling neutralizes outside force and dissolves it into nothing.  When a force is applied to our bodies, silk reeling at that point does not give that force any place to exert pressure.  

Silk reeling unifies the whole body and brings fresh qi and blood to all tissues, especially tendons and ligaments, and therefore enhances the healing of strains and sprains. 

Silk reeling is the healthiest way to exercise our joints (spirals and circles rather than straight lines and angles), and so assists in healing joint injuries and restoring range of motion to stiff joints.

In Closing

The 3 Principles of Chen tai chi form the basis for the practice this subtle, internal martial art – for foundation training, solo form, training, partner training (Tuishou or Push Hand and self defense applications).

During practice, we strive to cultivate these 3 principles every moment.  We should never allow our practice to become just another mundane daily task!  In this way, our skills will grow daily, and we will be blessed with vibrant health and a long life.

These skills come with time and practice under the guidance of a good teacher.

 Study well!

Our next article will discuss Rule # 1 which relates to Chen style tai chi’s concept of controlling oneself rather than another person.

To look deeper into the principles of Chen tai chi, click here .

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