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Fitness is different to health. Being fit entails a wider range of concerns e.g. increased flexibility, suppleness, strength, cardiovascular health/fitness, agility...
These considerations are addressed at length in the tai chi syllabus.
There are 3 areas of fitness:
In order to exercise the body
properly, you need to gain aptitude in all 3 areas.
Many people can lift heavy weights but they are not flexible/breathing hard
after mild cardio.
This is not good enough for martial arts training.
Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. The muscles in your lower body are turned off. And after two hours, good cholesterol drops 20 percent. Just getting up for five minutes is going to get things going again. These things are so simple theyre almost stupid.
The drawbacks of exercise
Not all forms of exercise are necessarily good for you. For example, running may improve cardiovascular health but is also very hard on the joints.
Lifting heavy weights can cause significant tension to accumulate and - if the muscles are large enough - adversely affect the skeleton. Most forms of exercise have pros and cons; especially sport.
Ideal form of exercise
According to the book The Blue Zones it is important to think of exercise in terms of what you can reasonably do long-term.
The ideal form of exercise is moderate enough that you can do it for the rest of your life. It needs to be joint-friendly, provide a gentle workout and be sustainable.
This sounds rather like tai chi, doesn't it?
Not everyone wants to learn a martial art nor are they seeking to address health issues. But they do want to get fit without any risk of injuries.
The syllabus includes:
Standing qigong (various)
Moving qigong (4 sets)
Long Yang form
Balls & grips
Leg stretches (2 sets)
Psoas exercises (4)
Beyond the beginning
If you want to become more than a beginner, it is important to recognise that the training will become increasingly harder.
At some stage you pass through a capacity barrier and it will no longer feel difficult. But that may well be years away.
It will not get easier. If you are lazy now, expect difficulties ahead of you. We are expecting your fitness level to improve as you move up the curriculum.
This should happen naturally. You grow stronger, fitter and far more capable. But it will not happen by itself.
Being in condition entails:
Increasing your strength
Improving your ability to last (endurance)
Being more efficient in your body use
Being more capable
Set aside talk about relaxation, qi, softness and other concerns... Your body is flesh and bone. It is moved by muscles.
In order to be strong, agile, flexible and adaptive in combat - you need to strengthen your body.
Sifu Waller's approach to exercising is to offer modules; each lasting 5-10 minutes approximately. They are intense and focussed. The aim is to avoid complacency and boredom.
It is OK to train a wide range of exercise methods without ruining your tai chi. The key concern is moderation. Avoid over-doing it: over-stretching, straining or exerting.
Be mindful of posture, poise and tension.
Tai chi is not going to fix you up. It was never intended (or designed) to be something employed for repair. At best, it may be seen as a tonic.
It helps to keep you fit, healthy and vital. It is a preventative measure, not a fix.
Do it every day
A tonic is a medicine taken daily in order to maintain and invigorate the body. It may significantly improve your fitness.
However, you should take note of the small print, the conditions of use:
It must be administered every day
When you stop taking it, the fitness benefits go away
This is something to really think about. Re-read the
paragraph if you need to.
Most people are not used to training at home. The key to home training is to work into it gently. Try doing a small amount every day. Nothing ambitious.
Exercise with care
People who do a lot of body building and gym machines usually fail to stretch enough.
Their muscles remain over-contracted and become chronically tense. This reduces the length of the muscles and limits their functionality.
Stretching is vital
'Stretching' covers a wide range of approaches. A good tai chi class should offer a varied and versatile selection of stretching methods.
Take it easy
Instead of hammering and punishing your body, you treat it with respect and care. Your body must last you a lifetime.
18 April 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023