What is Shaolin Tai Chi?
Shaolin Tai Chi is the practice of breath, qigong, and gentle martial movements to improve overall health.
Often we are not even aware of our breathing!
It happens automatically throughout the day, at work or school, and when we're sleeping.
If we observe our natural breathing, we find it is not optimal.
Thus by practicing controlled and full breaths, and by developing new breathing techniques, we can bring in more oxygen into our bodies and have more energy.
The practice of the breath belongs to the the domain of qigong. When we use qigong in Shaolin Tai Chi, we also bring in the many benefits of relaxation and stress-relief.
By using gentle martial movements, we learn and practice interesting movements that could be used in self-defence (you need to learn how to move quickly but relaxed in order to be effective).
It is the combination of all these components that make Shaolin Tai Chi so compelling, enabling enhanced cirulatory systems and thematic exercises to heal and nourish the body and mind in different ways.
And hence the phrase "Let your breath flow with your body, mind, and spirit!".
The Origin of Shaolin Tai Chi
Shaolin Tai Chi was conceived by Master Dao in 2014.
At that time, he wanted to offer Shaolin martial classes that anyone could do, including the elderly and people with mobility issues and even disabilities.
He asked his master, Shifu Guo Song, for advice and his master taught him a special form called Shaolin Gentle Fist (Rou Quan).
Shaolin Gentle Fist is an ancient form that is over 500 years old, which means it predates all other Tai Chi styles today.
Chen Style Tai Chi is around 400 years old and widely known to be the oldest form of Tai Chi and predecessor of many other styles such as Yang and Wu. Could it have evolved from Shaolin's Gentle Fist? There are striking resemblences in many of the movements and stances but there is no way to know for certain.
Master Dao opened a new class called Shaolin Gentle Kung Fu which centered the program around the Shaolin Gentle Fist form. It involves many elements, techniques, and philosophies that can be found in other Tai Chi styles. Some examples of commonality are "Cloud Hands", "Silk Reeling", "Yin Yang", "Softness vs Hardness", "Grounding", and "Striking Methods".
Eventually this class was renamed to Shaolin Tai Chi to better reflect the nature of the art form and to make it easier to understand.
Tai Chi vs Chi Kung and Qigong
The Wade-Giles phoenetic system was developed in the mid 19th century to help native English people to learn Chinese. The system is has many flaws and did not accurately reflect the pronunciation of Chinese words. As a result, the Pinyin system was created to overcome this and is now the standard.
Many words we now accept in our English vocabulary today are based on the Wade-Giles system. For example, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, and Kung Fu. In Pinyin, this should be "Tàijí (太極)", "Qìgōng (氣功)", and "Gōngfu (功夫)".
Upon closer inspection of the Chinese Characters, you would discover that the 'Chi' in Tai Chi is a completely different word and meaning of the 'Chi' in 'Chi Kung'.
As a result of this, many people think they are practicing Qigong when they are doing Tai Chi when in fact they are not. Some styles of Tai Chi include specific breathing so you could say that there is at least basic qigong incorporated.
To further the confusion, many Tai Chi styles we see today involve a group of people (usually elderly) moving slowly together for exercise.
This is an adaptation of the martial form called Taiji. It is much more difficult to learn and practice (and to find a proper instructor!) because it requires specific teachings on how to move quickly, spar, and apply many Taiji philosophies.