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When people think of 'tai chi' they don't think of the art as being cardio. And for most people tai chi is not a cardiovascular workout.
Typically, circulation will be notably improved but the student won't be breathing hard or sweating (unless they are extremely unfit/unhealthy).
Taijiquan is another matter. It is a martial art. One way or another, a martial artist must become fit, and this always includes cardio work.
The Long Yang form is usually performed in a slow, gentle manner. There's no rigorous movements. The form teaches balance, coordination and stamina. It is not a cardio workout.
There are 4 more forms to learn after the Long Yang form, and these do not have to be performed slowly. They can be practiced as quickly as you like.
3 of the forms feature weapons and the weapons are not necessarily lightweight. Moving rapidly through a physically challenging sequence of movements whilst holding a sword at arms-length is quite a workout.
Agility and nimbleness
The Tai Chi Classics require the exponent to be light, agile and nimble. This is not as easy as it sounds. Deft stepping is a skill; especially when done quickly.
Inexperienced students become tired quite quickly. In taijiquan, there are numerous stepping drills and partnered exercises designed specifically to make the student move their feet. It is akin to running.
Unfit students who start martial arts classes often find themselves breathing hard. This is inevitable and to be encouraged. The challenge will make them stronger.
An actual fight can last for minutes, so breathing hard after mild cardio work is not desirable. The exponent needs to get fitter.
Physical tension in the body prevents the joints from moving freely and naturally, and burns energy needlessly. This is tiring and leads to fatigue.
A strong, relaxed, toned body can move spontaneously and comfortably. This is what we are training.
Taijiquan partner drills are designed such that they become harder the higher up the syllabus you climb. The more skilled you are, the more you can handle, and therefore the harder the challenges...
The aim is to gently tax the body without causing injury. We want to challenge the body, not force it.
The most confusing and tiring combat scenario involves multiple opponents. If your cardiovascular fitness is poor, you will not last very long and you will probably get beaten up.
Your body will tire rapidly, you will breath hard, become clumsy and resort to using muscular tension in a desperate bid to regain control.
Taijiquan training involves 'games' - these are non-martial but rigorous. The aim is test resolve, nerve, courage and cardiovascular stamina. The student needs to move quickly and suddenly.
This is like sprinting. Poor cardiovascular fitness is immediately apparent.
Fitness in combat matters a lot. And cardiovascular health is crucial. It is naive to believe that you can fight successfully when unfit. Yes, you may get lucky, but this is not a good approach.
There are 2 sets of cardio exercises in our syllabus. We teach them in the taijiquan syllabus and the tai chi for fitness curriculum. Both sets of exercises require sustained activity for a short span of time.
Use it or lose it
Unfit students in our school experience a significant improvement in their cardiovascular health quite quickly and soon find that they can perform all of the exercises without breathing hard.
Then we make things a little tougher for them...
18 April 2005
Last updated 02 September 2019