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sport talk:
Trying Tai Chi

Many expats come to Shanghai with the intention of joining a sports team. It keeps you in shape and helps you meet a new bunch of people from different parts of the globe. For many, the logical decision is to stick with what you know, perhaps playing football or joining a running club. Yet, with 2011 still in its relative infancy, how about engrossing yourself in the local culture and do something you wouldn’t even dream of doing back home?

The ancient practice of taijiquan translates directly as “Supreme Ultimate Fist”, but is best known as tai chi to Westerners. To the untrained eye, this slow-moving martial art looks a little bit like a strange tribal dance. Nonetheless, the practice seems to be slowly building credence worldwide as people learn about its value as a form of defence training, as well as the noticeable health benefits that go with it.

Most modern styles of tai chi trace their roots back to one of the five traditional schools from the last half millennia. The practice evolved in harmony with many Chinese philosophical principles, including both Taoist and Confucian values.

Tai chi involves three aspects – health, meditation and martial arts. Initially, it focuses on lessening the physical effects of stress on the body and the mind. The meditative aspect is intended to maintain a focus and calm that results in optimal health. Using tai chi as a form of self-defence is a way of helping students understand the art. For these reasons, the sport is referred to as an internal martial art, distinguishing the skills, theories and applications involved from the Shaolin grouping of martial art styles, considered “hard” or “external”.

There are a number of health benefits from practicing tai chi, the most immediate of which is a clearer and more relaxed mind.

“I became interested in tai chi when I was 16, and began teaching in 2006,” said Tara Dai Chen, an instructor at Pure Tai Chi. “Practising tai chi helps you both physically and mentally. You have to concentrate on your breathing and your posture all the time, so it helps you to empty your mind from the stress of everyday life.”

People have recounted greater strength, stamina and suppleness as a direct result of practicing tai chi. In China, there is also a belief that inactivity brings physical and emotional damage to people; tai chi can therefore be used to combat depression. Other health benefits include improved working of internal organs, better breathing and healthier sleeping patterns. This is believed to be the result of the slow repetitive work involved in the process, which is said to open up internal circulation.

“Currently at Pure Tai Chi there are more foreign members than Chinese,” Dai Chen said. “I teach over ten classes per week, with an option of both group classes and a one-on-one class.” 

Most importantly, tai chi is not exclusive. Despite the fact grandparents seem to be the most common tai chi practitioners with their dedicated group classes in parks around town, the martial art is open to all ages. It is often described as “meditation in motion” because the movements involved are often circular and never forced; muscles are relaxed; joints are not fully extended. As a result, tai chi can be adapted for anyone and you can get started no matter how fit you are.

Pure Tai Chi. Lujiazui Centre: 402 Onelujiazui Building, 68 Yincheng Zhong Lu. Jing'an Centre: 201, Building 12, 470 Shanxi Bei Lu. Tel: 5010 6707. Web: 


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