I don’t live in the US, and I don’t make money from teaching Tai Chi – so I’ve no axe to grind here. When it comes to this art that I love, I have a tendency to be blunt and direct.
What has been posted so far about Tai Chi here is a load of codswallop. I am part of a Tai Chi organisation that welcomes people of all ages, and for whom Tai Chi addresses the full range of interests from simple mobility and therapy through to those who wish to fight full contact.
Tai Chi Chuan is first and foremost a martial art. Forms DO change and evolve over time – as is completely natural and to be expected in a human discipline passed down by physical demonstration, practice, correction, and oral transmission.
Tai Chi Chuan is a full martial art – which means that it contains boxing, kickboxing, throws, locks, holds, and weapons (Spear, Jian (straight sword) and Dao (single edged curved sabre). The purpose of the Tai Chi form is to teach a mnemonic for remembering all the techniques in the martial art – which have typically poetic Chinese names – “White Crane Flaps its Wings”, and “Grasping the Bird’s Tail” and so on. The form is ALSO a calisthenic exercise that one can practice at any degree of exertion – high short stances for gentle practice – long, low stances for greater exertion.
We practice all the techniques in the art – slowly and in a choreographed manner at first – then faster, and eventually in full contact sparring (that bit isn’t for everyone).
There is a set of two person exercises called “Pushing Hands” – which are a set of choreographed drills for embedding particular Tai Chi concepts into the body. They are also a good set of calisthenic exercises in themselves. In a martial sense, they are an introduction into grappling – which we practice at full speed and intensity amongst those of us who wish to learn the full art.
We practice Qigong and Neigong. Contrary to what many will tell you – these are simple, practical calisthenics – the former less challenging than the latter – but the latter delivers a much greater health benefit (as one would expect – one exerts more effort during practice).
We practice weapons forms, drills, and techniques.
The forms are very beautiful to watch. But there is an immediate visible difference between a form performed by someone who knows the art, and someone who claims that the art is for health only, and who has never learned the martial side. It is entirely possible to be an excellent Tai Chi practitioner and have had no interest in full contact fighting. However, it IS critically important to have learned the techniques and all the subtle relationships between them. “Teachers” who don’t know these details will have “empty” forms. Their postures and movements are likely to be wrong and incorrectly structured. They won’t understand pushing hands. They’ll say idiotic things like “you shouldn’t sweat when practicing Tai Chi” (What? Perform physically demanding exercise and not sweat?), or “You shouldn’t use muscular effort when practicing Tai Chi (What? The human body cannot move without employing muscles).
Techniques came before the form, so the form should be informed by a practical understanding of technique.
Tai Chi is a fighting art, that happens to also have health benefits.
Anyone who declares that Tai Chi is for health only – and not for fighting hasn’t the first clue what Tai Chi is.
There are a number of lineages of Tai Chi – and these are clearly explained on Wikipedia. To find a good teacher – start there. Seek out groups on Facebook, and deliberately seek out a teacher who comes from a lineage that has a martial pedigree. They’ll be happy to teach you just for health – and you’ll get a far better experience, with far better results, and a far, far more interesting engagement with a wonderful art.
I practice Practical Tai Chi Chuan – and my teacher is Dan Docherty. We’re based mostly in Europe – so we’re no use to the person who posted.