REVIEW: Chen Taijiquan Illustrated, by David Gaffney & Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim

Chen Taijiquan Illustrated is an exploration of pretty much everything that makes up Chen Taijiquan, from principles, and body methods to practical usage and philosophy. But the most notable thing about this Taijiquan book, and the place where we should probably start, are the illustrations, because they are what really separates this book from others of its ilk.

Almost every page here (and there are over 200) has some sort of detailed drawing on it that adds context to the text surrounding it. In fact, the whole book takes the form of a visual notebook, as if you are discovering a secret copy of the best-looking training notes you’ve ever seen. Surrounding the drawings are quotes from the most iconic practitioners in the Chen lineage, past and present, as well as explanations of principles, concepts and requirements of Taijiquan. Take a look and you’ll get the idea:

As you can see, the drawings are mainly done in a stylised cartoon way, which is actually very effective, and it’s pretty clear that these are photographs that have been traced over digitally, to produce the illustration, rather than drawn from scratch. The overall effect is really nice, and refreshingly modern and accessible. 

Because a Taiji master’s posture takes years to develop and is a reflection of their skill, you can learn quite a lot from just looking at it. So, having a drawing based on a real photo gives you the best of both worlds – you get to see the genuine skill of the practitioner on show mixed with the accessibility and visual appeal of an illustration. 

In fact, in a lot of cases you can guess the famous master that the drawing is based on. For example, the book cover shows, I believe, a digital tracing of a photo of Chen Xiaoxing, brother of Chen Xiaowang.

It should be pointed out that not all the illustrations in the book are done to the same high standard, but there are only a few where the quality dips significantly.

Chen Taijiquan Illustrated is split into three sections – Section 1, Body Rules (Shape and energy), Section 2, Practical use/Application and Section 3, Philosophical Roots. Section 3 on philosophy is tiny compared to the massive section two, which consists of a catalogue of pretty much all the practical methods found in Taijiquan – peng, lu, ji, an, listening, sticking, neutralising, push hands, hand methods, leg methods, stepping, chin na, etc. Pretty much everything to do with the Chen style is here!

The initial section on body requirements is very good, and something you can keep coming back to and the book goes into much more detail than you’d expect to find in a basic beginner’s book, which makes me happy. The explanations of the concepts and techniques in the second section can sometimes err towards being more of a catalogue of techniques than an in-depth ‘how to’ of each one, but there is always going to be a limit on how much can be achieved in print, and the illustration of various masters doing the method being discussed speaks volumes in itself, and adds a lot of depth. It’s also nice to see the martial methods of Taijiquan being discussed in detail, something that is also rare to find in a Taijiquan book.

Let’s talk for a moment about what the book doesn‘t include. For a start, there is no attempt to teach a form in this book, which is probably a good thing, as Chen style in particular would be hard to teach in a printed book due to its intricate nature and complex, spiraling movements. Also, there is no history section – personally I’m glad about that, as it’s a massive subject and would require too much space to do it justice, and frankly, it’s been done to death elsewhere, and matters not a jot to your actual practice of the art. If you want to discover the key to “internal movement” then you’ll find good pointers here, but if you really want to delve deeply into subjects like peng, groundpath and internal body mechanics then I’d say you should check out Ken Gullette’s book on the subject. Finally, there’s no mention of weapons here, which are obviously a huge part of the Chen art. The emphasis here is on body methods and bare hand methods only.

Taijiquan is a practical, doing art, not the sort of practice that benefits from too much intellectualism, and the visual nature of the book is great at reminding you of that fact, grounding the concepts and principles in practical reality.

Overall, I think this has to be one of my favourite books on Taijiquan ever produced. This is really one of the most comprehensive collection of training notes you’ll ever come across. And because everything is fitted around pictures, there are no long, boring, passages of text, meaning you can dip in and out at any point. In fact, just picking it up, flicking to a random page and starting to read for a few minutes can easily give you inspiration for your practice that day.

Highly recommended, and while obviously best suited to Chen style practitioners (there’s a lot of discussion of silk reeling), I think a Taijiquan practitioner of any style would get a lot out of it. I certainly did.

The power of connection, with Henry Akins

I like it when you can find those rare moments where martial arts seem to cross boundaries and blend into each other. I came across this video recently of Henry Akins explaining the concept of connection in BJJ, as taught to him by Rickson Gracie, and it doesn’t half remind me of Tai Chi…

There’s a lot of talking at the start, but he gets down to action at around the 4 minute mark and starts demonstrating rooting – something that you’ll find being practiced in most Tai Chi classes. These are what you’d see described as ‘simple jin skills’ or ‘jin tricks’ by a lot of Tai Chi experts. And they are what you are supposed to be doing in Tai Chi all the time, when you practice the form and when you do push hands. They’re the root (ha!) of classic phrases from the Tai Chi classics like, “4oz defeats a thousand pounds”.

In fact, a lot of people seem to think that these jin skills alone qualify something as being internal, which is why you see the descriptor, “internal”, being added to the name of a lot of martial arts, like ‘internal Wing Chun’ or ‘internal Karate’.

My take would be that, sure, these are an essential part of the internal package, but they’re not the whole enchilada. For instance, Henry is not doing anything particular with his dantien, and indeed, you don’t need to do anything in particular with your dantien to do these things. But these are still the first few steps to being an internal art.

As you know if you’ve read my blog for a while, I’m a BJJ practitioner myself, so it’s great to see somebody like Henry applying these principles to BJJ. I see it as a path to a version of the art that you can still do as you get older. I don’t think you’re going to be winning any competitions if you dedicate yourself to practicing these jin skills (the power and aggression of youth is pretty darn overwhelming to fight against in competition, particularly if it’s being done by dedicated athletes who train to a level the average guy with a job and two kids can only dream of). All I’m after is something that gives me the edge in friendly, hobbyist rolling and enables me to stay in the game and on the mat for as long as possible. “Do not go gentle into that good night”, as Dylan Thomas put it.

Push it, push it real good

In particular, Henry deals with one of the favourite subjects of Tai Chi – pushing. Henry pushes Bernardo, using power from his legs, not his arms – this is Tai Chi 101 – and then shows how to receive a push by aligning his body so that the push goes into the ground. He, (dare I say it?) tucks his butt, so that the force goes down his legs to the ground, rather than knocking him backwards. This is what you need to be working on in push hands when people push you. N.B. Tucking your butt does not mean adopting a forced and unnatural posture, it just means flattening the lower back and aligning the lower part of your spine with the upper, so that your bum doesn’t stick out.

What I like about this clip is that Henry, coming from a non-Chinese marital art, doesn’t use words like Jin and Qi – he just talks about alignment, relaxing and using the legs and ‘using the ground for support’. It seems much less mystical than the way it is typically presented in Tai Chi, and it goes to show that you can explain a lot of Tai Chi things without having to use words that are nebulous or hard to grasp for the Western mind.

But it’s really the concept of connection that Henry is teaching. As he says, a lot of the time in grappling what you want to do is connect to your opponent to use your techniques, and then learn how to disconnect from them when they try their techniques on you. He sees connection working in three main ways – and this is where I think Tai Chi teachers can benefit from his teaching –

  • Connecting within yourself,
  • Connecting to the opponent
  • Connecting to the ground.

That’s not a bad way to look at grappling at all, and I think it is a good way to help people understand that, when doing push hands, you can’t apply no force at all to the other person in a sort of noodle arms-display of rooting into the ground, because then you have no connection to them. If you move, they don’t move. Instead, you need to apply enough force at all times so that you are connected to their body and through listening (ting) you can feel when it’s time to break this connection too. Think of it a bit like an insect using the surface tension of the water to stay afloat.

Great work Henry, I would buy your instructional on Connection, if only it wasn’t almost $300. 🙂 But thanks for sharing that video above for free. I’ll have to wait for it to come into the ‘daily deal’ section of Fanatics, where they reduce the price. Osss!

If you haven’t already, check out my post on Jin Tricks and Mike Sigman explaining Jin. Both worth a watch.

If you haven’t checked us out on Facebook then please do, and why not give our Instagram page a look too, and our YouTube channel?

What came first in Tai Chi – the philosophy or the techniques?

It’s no secret that Tai Chi is a series of circles. The body opening and closing using circulation motions, like a yin/yang symbol in action. But when you look at a Tai Chi form, you’ve got to wonder, what came first, the techniques or the philosophy? Was Tai Chi created in a moment of philosophical purity and clarity, or was the philosophy simply bolted on to existing military or self-defence techniques (or popular movements from theatrical or religious rituals) that were already as old as the hills?

What I’m wondering is, was there at some point a founder of the art who decided, as a starting point, that he was going to purposely create a martial art based entirely on a philosophy based on the Tai Chi symbol, which would be both the overarching principle and the raw material, out of which martial applications would be fashioned?

Or did the idea of doing things in circles come later, and get added to existing martial techniques, and in so doing, alter them forever?

Well, let’s look at what we know as fact.

Fact 1: Tai Chi does indeed contain nothing but circular movements. I’m sure somebody somewhere can point out a movement in a form that looks linear, but it’s quite possible that the movement is actually being created in a circular way, or it has degraded over time into something else. All we can do here is talk in broad brush strokes. If you look at a Karate form, or a Tae Kwan Do form you see lots of examples of linear movements, that are usually lacking from Tai Chi forms. From this we can conclude that some sort of philosophical idea must have been involved in its creation.

Fact 2: The techniques in Tai Chi forms look a lot like other techniques in other Chinese martial arts forms, so are not in any way unique. If you look at a lot of forms from the Shaolin Temple, or village styles from all over China, you see postures and movements that are very similar to the techniques found in Tai Chi. In a way, there is nothing new under the sun.

When solving a murder, detectives look for two things first – opportunity and motive.

When Tai Chi first appeared in Beijing in the late 19th century it was promoted along with the idea that it had a founder, an immortal Taoist called Chan Sang Feng who had created the art based on his observation (or a dream) of a fight between a crane (or possibly stork) and a snake. And while certain groups (see my last interview with George Thompson) on Wudang mountain still take this story very seriously, and possibly literally, modern scholarship has tended towards the idea that it was a fighting art from the rural countryside (Chen village being the most popular choice for origin) that found its way to Beijing via a young Yang LuChan, who taught it to those at the highest level of influence inside the Forbidden City.

Of course, the shadowy figure of Yang LuChan is never adequately explained, and since he was an uneducated nobody – a rural rube – nobody really made a record of his existence. The story everybody, including all the heads of the various Tai Chi families, follows, (because it’s the story the Chinese government approves of), is that he learned the art in Chen village. But I always wonder about that time in the 1860s when Yang and the very well educated and important Wu brothers were in Beijing, as being a time when Tai Chi could have been invented. The Wu brothers would have known the philosophy on which to hang it, and Yang would have had the martial skills to make it work and turn it into something that could bring the fractured court of the late Ching Dynasty together, bonding over something that was essentially Chinese in the face of constant threat from foreign powers. Yang and the Wu brothers together had both opportunity and motive, and regardless of whether you accept that interpretation of history or not, Tai Chi has been used as a political football ever since, especially by the current government to whom Tai Chi (the world’s most practiced marital art!) represents the ultimate form of soft power, spreading Chinese culture and influence the world over.

T’ai Chi magazine, AI and punching bags

Sometime back in the early 2000s I had an article published in what was, at the time, the premier Tai Chi magazine, T’ai Chi Magazine. It was American, but you could find it in the UK in newsagents like WHSmiths and in martial arts shops. I was reminded of it recently and dug it out of my archive. Here it is! I looked a lot younger back then…

I remember being really excited that I got this article published. It’s hard to imagine now, but beyond your instructor or random seminar big wig in your town, T’ai Chi Magazine was one of the only ways to get information about Tai Chi before the Internet took over everything. It was run by its Editor, Marvin Smalheiser, who sadly passed away in 2016.

Whenever you dig out something from the past it’s a good opportunity to reflect on how things have changed. T’ai Chi Magazine was run to a pretty high standard, the images it published were always good, and many of them were in colour. The articles were generally of the interview type and provided a little glimpse into the T’ai Chi world for fanatic followers, who would look at the articles for hours, trying to work out what a particular pose could be for, or how the featured practitioner was doing something. Then VHS video came along and made still images irrelevant, since you could actually see the applications being done (a lot of the pages in T’ai Chi Magazine were dedicated to advertising VHS videos of forms and styles, mainly from China). And later online video sites like YouTube came along and made VHS look antiquated.

Considering the latest developments in AI it looks like our future will consist of an AI-generated person teaching us Tai Chi forms with no credit to the sources it stole it from, and probably teaching the moves wrong anyway. I’m not sure that technology is always moving us forward. You can imagine the fear that the first Tai Chi instructors had that if they put images of their form in a book it could be stolen from them. These days, it’s not only going to be stolen by AI, but it’s going to be manipulated into something else entirely!

You can imagine the prompts now:

“Alexa, teach me a Tai Chi form that lasts for 10 minutes and exercises all my major muscle groups”.

“Sure, here you go Graham.”

A video (or hologram?) of Alexa will then start teaching you some ‘follow along’ series of Tai Chi movements it’s magicked up out of thin air, with no credit to where it got them from, and slightly wrong.

And the worst thing will be, it’s probably exactly what people want.

Making your own form

“If correct timing and position are not achieved,
the body will become disordered
and will not move as an integrated whole;
the correction for this defect
must be sought in the legs and waist.

When you’ve been practicing Tai Chi for a while – a few years maybe – you’ll get to the stage where you start to think about making your own form. Something that puts all the bits you really like together, and is either shorter than what you usually do, or longer, or uses less space, or fits into your garden better, or… something.

It’s potentially driven out of a need to make your own mark on the world; perhaps a sense of ego. You want something that is yours! Or maybe it’s just that you are a creative person and you have a need to continually create. Or perhaps it’s just to bring a sense of aliveness and play back into your Tai Chi…

What will then happen is you’ll start making a form, and then you fiddle with it, and fiddle with it and fiddle with it… and years pass and you’re still fiddling with it.

Ultimately, you’ll realise that this process never ends, and that your form will never be “finished”. Just when you think you’ll got it finished, you’ll notice a part of it isn’t quite right.

Whenever I mentioned to my teacher, over the years, that I’d made my own little form he was usually completely nonplussed. I mean, he asked to see it, but I could tell it wasn’t setting his world on fire 🙂

As I was pondering on my millionth version of my form this morning, another thought occurred to me. An obsession with creating your own form is probably an indication that you are getting a little too concerned with the external aspects of Tai Chi.

Switch your focus in Tai Chi back to the ‘internal’ elements – your perception of your body in space. Slow down, put your mind on what you are doing, notice your breathing, feel the (for want of a better word) energy inside the movements, notice where your weight is on your feet, push up from the ground, etc…

Now you’ll find that it doesn’t really matter to you what form you are doing – it’s all the same. If you are focused on the inside, your concern for what order movements come in and how many times you repeat something isn’t what matters anymore.

Suddenly, the idea of creating your own sequence of moves seems a bit, well, meaningless. Instead, you create your own form every time you practice, with every movement you do.

Happy World Tai Chi and Qigong day (for yesterday)!

Yesterday was World Tai Chi and Qigong day (note the crazy mix of Wade-Giles and Pinying Romanisation going on there!)

So, I hope you celebrated the day by doing some sort of practice somewhere. I saw a couple of posts in my feed showing groups practicing Tai Chi in the park. Here’s one taken by Donald Kerr of Spinning Dragon Tao. Check out his YouTube channel.

Just a group of people getting together and peacefully practicing Tai Chi. Given the state of the world today, that’s no small thing.

Should you focus more on external arts as you get older?

Seeing these old masters from Taiwan looking so good while practicing their external arts has made me wonder about switching my priorities.

I’ve been enjoying the recent series of videos from Will on his Monkey Steals Peach YouTube Channel of his tour of Taiwan Kung Fu schools. The latest one features Long Fist. It’s been great to see so much good technique demonstrated and also a few of the younger students, proving the arts have a future. 

But of course, a lot of the practitioners Will has featured are older, but that doesn’t stop them being proficient in dealing out the ass whoppings. This has made me reflect on my own training priorities. A lot of these fit-looking older men are training in arts that would be classified as ‘external’ like Long Fist and Mantis, rather than the so-called ‘internal’ arts like Tai Chi or Xing Yi, which are more normally associated with older people. 

Perhaps shifting focus to these external arts, which have longer postures with more twisting and stretching, and are practiced more vigorously is a good idea as you get older?

I’ve got to admit, that while I do feel good after a few run throughs of the Tai Chi form, I probably feel more energised and exercised after a few runs through of a Choy Li Fut form. My cardiovascular system is placed under more stressed for one thing, and my joints get moved through a larger range of motion.

“When you practice the form, the slower the better!” – Yang Cheng-Fu

Of course, Yang Cheng-Fu in his 10 Important Points, famously used this distinction between internal and external to explain that external arts were “harmful” for you, and the fact that you don’t get out of breath doing Tai Chi proved its superiority! He wrote (recorded by Chen Weiming, and translated by Jerry Karrin):

“External martial artists prize leaping and stomping, and they do this until breath (chi) and strength are exhausted, so that after practicing they are all out of breath. In Tai Chi Chuan we use quiescence to overcome movement, and even in movement, still have quiescence. So when you practice the form, the slower the better! When you do it slowly your breath becomes deep and long, the chi sinks to the dantian, and naturally there is no harmful constriction or enlargement of the blood vessels. If the student tries carefully they may be able to comprehend the meaning behind these words.”

Yang Cheng Fu

Now, it doesn’t take a genius to make an observation that Yang Cheng-Fu could have done with losing a few pounds himself, and that since he died relatively young his thoughts on longevity should be taken with a pinch of salt. Frankly, I think he could have done with getting a bit out of breath now and again!

It’s also fairly obvious to anybody who has seen Chen style Taijiquan that ‘leaping and stomping’ can be a part of Taijiquan too.

However, I do think there’s something to what he’s saying. When moving slowly and achieving a mediative state of mind you can experience profound levels of relaxation that do feel different to other types of exercise. When you “slow your breath” and it becomes “deep and long” it can feel wonderful. However, is that enough? I think it’s a mistake to use this type of exercise to replace more traditional cardiovascular exercise, and your body will not thank you in the long run.

Why not do both? Tai Chi has its place, but so do external arts of the Shaolin variety. Perhaps the best approach is to not skew too heavily in favour of either, but to adopt a balanced approach where you train both equally? Let me know what you think.

A simple exercise for opening and closing in Tai Chi

The plum tree in my garden is blossoming, and that can mean only one thing: Spring is here!

Without getting too poetic about it, the potential energy trapped within the tree over Winter is releasing and opening out to the world. So, in keeping with the cycle of the seasons, let’s return our Tai Chi practice to a similar aspect – opening and closing.

All Chinese martial arts contain movements that open and close the body, but I’d go as far as to say that a repeated pattern of opening and closing your body in movement is the fundamental action of Tai Chi Chuan. It’s perhaps the one thing that makes Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) different to other Chinese martial arts.

For instance, a lot of Southern Chinese arts contain movements where the body is tightly closed under tension and then this tension is used to produce a tightly focussed sort of short power. White Crane is a good example – I really like this video of Martin Watts showing the connection between Chinese White Crane and the roots of Japanese Karate, for example.

Then there are also Chinese martial arts that use ‘open’ postures a lot, and produce power from the big turning actions of the waist and shoulders – Choy Li Fut is a good example of this.

Of course, both these arts make use of both opening and closing movements in application, but what makes Taijiquan different is that it seems to have a rule that the body must constantly cycle through a series of opening and closing postures. You can see this when you look at Tai Chi forms – it shouldn’t matter which style you’re looking at, the opening and closing movements should follow each other in a cycle, very much like the Yin Yang symbol. If you imagine the Yin Yang symbol turning in a clockwise direction then the white fish becomes the black fish, which becomes the white fish, and on and on.

Silk Reeling exercises are a great way to focus on understanding open and close movements, as you just keep repeating the same pattern over and over, so your brain doesn’t get occupied thinking about the movement you are doing next (as it would in a Tai Chi form) and you can focus on the opening and closing actions.

So, what are the opening and closing actions? Well, I went over it in a video series a while ago. You can watch it here:

But it takes a while to watch all that series, so long story short, here’s a written explanation: an opening movement generally stretches out the front of the body (the Yin side – the soft parts, like the inside of the arms, and thigh, calves, and belly) and a closing movement generally stretches out the back of the body (the Yang side – the harder parts, like back of the arms, back and outside of the thighs and shins).

You can see these actions everywhere in nature: Cats tend to stretch along the front and back (yin and yang) of the body when stretching. (And it’s the same with the Yoga “Cat stretch” posture). But you see them in humans too – when you do one of those involuntary yawning/stretching movements in the morning, it tends to be opening the chest (yin stretch), occasionally followed up by a Yang side stretch.

It’s been noted that animals running are opening and closing the Yin and Yang sides of their bodies in sequence. So, this opening and closing action is fundamental to human and animal movement and the more we can utilise it, the more we are returning to our own natural systems of movement. Now, I don’t want to get sidetracked into a debate on what exactly “natural” movement is, but simply put, this opening and closing movement done in the human body feels good, it seems to put you in a good mood and you feel like your body and mind are returning to the way they are supposed to work. It requires less effort to perform tasks using it because it’s very efficient and it feels natural. If you watch skilled workmen and women then you’ll notice that they tend to gravitate towards easy body movements that have this natural opening and closing quality. Many of the people in ancient China who practised kung fu systems would have been agricultural village works who were familiar with natural movement patterns through necessity.

4 Directions Breathing exercise

Silk reeling exercises belong to the Chen style of Taijiquan, and while I (a Yang stylist) have no problem borrowing what works from other styles, a lot of Tai Chi practitioners might not want to do something from another style. However, almost all Qi Gong/Tao Yin type breathing exercises follow the same idea of opening along the Yin side of the body and closing along the Yang side that you find in Silk Reeling exercises.

You probably have some sort of exercise already that’s in your system to try this with, but let’s try one simple exercise to get our heads around the idea of open and close.

Stand in a Horse stance,

  1. Breathe in as you bring your hands up facing you and then move them around a large imaginary ball that’s in front of your chest, so that your hands are facing away from you.
  2. Push the imaginary ball forward away from you as you breathe out.
  3. Turn the hands over and bring them back in towards you as you breathe in, going around the outside of the ball.
  4. Push to the sides as you breathe out.
  5. Bring the hands back in, circling the ball, getting underneath it as you breathe in.
  6. Push upwards as you breathe out.
  7. Bring the hands back in, circling the ball, getting on top of it as you breathe in.
  8. Push downwards as you breathe out.
  9. Bring the hands back in, going around the ball as you breathe in.
  10. Let the palms face down and hands return to your sides as you breathe out.

Adding the opening and closing:

As you bring your arms up and towards you and go around a big ball that’s the opening movement. You can feel the slight stretch opening around the chest area, and you use that slight tension to help push your hands forward. As you do you’ll feel a slight stretch developing along your back. That’s the closing movement. You then use that slight tension to help bring your arms back. This is opening. Then as the arms push to the side, this is closing, and so on.

Here’s a video of me doing it:

Don’t use muscle

You often hear Tai Chi teachers say things like “don’t use muscle”. Normally this drives me mad, as you can’t physically make a movement without using muscles! However, what they’re really talking about is using that slight stretch you can feel to power the movement instead of just moving as you normally would, which results in making it “too physical” for Tai Chi. Finding the right words here is a delicate balance, but what we’re looking for is more of a whole body movement.

Final words

It helps to work on this in a stationary exercise, as described, but when you try your Tai Chi form, try and focus on keeping that feeling of opening and closing going throughout the whole form. The opening and closing movements are already there in the form, it’s up to you to reveal them. It’s a way of approaching the form from the inside, rather than the outside. So, if you’ve been struggling to get a movement to feel right in your form, it could be that the method described here will solve the problem for you. For it to work you have to be “sung” (relaxed) and focused on what you’re doing and the feelings inside the body. If your mind wanders off then inevitably so will your form. This is the start of what we call in the Tai Chi Classics “internal and external combine”.

Further reading: Turning Qigongs into functional Qi exercises

Just one Thing – Dr Michael Mosley on Tai Chi (BBC Radio 4)

The Just One Thing series from Dr Michael Mosley is a radio show on little ideas that might make a big difference to your life. This week he’s looking at Tai Chi, and seeing what difference 15 minutes a day can make.

Dr Mosely looks at the scientific evidence for Tai Chi being as effective as conventional exercise. It’s quite interesting. One study said Tai Chi was better than brisk walking, for example, which is something I’ve always wondered about. He also looks at Tai Chi’s effect on the brain.

Here’s the blurb

“If you’re looking to add more exercise into your lifestyle why not consider Tai Chi. It’s an ancient Chinese martial art – it’s sometimes called “meditation in motion”. It’s a series of different postures that gently flow into each other in slow movements. One of the big benefits to Tai Chi is that it can significantly enhance the activity of our immune system. And although it looks gentle, it can be a surprisingly good workout! Michael Mosley speaks to Dr. Parco Siu from the University of Hong Kong, who has been studying the health benefits of Tai Chi for over a decade. His research has revealed that Tai Chi can lead to faster brain benefits than other exercises. He also found that Tai Chi was as effective as conventional exercise like moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or muscle strengthening activities for reducing body weight and visceral fat!”

Listen here. (15 minutes long).

Lou Reed – The art of the straight line

Acclaimed rock ‘n’ roll icon Lou Reed (Walk on the Wild Side, Perfect Day) was also a Tai Chi fanatic, practicing Chen style since the 1980s. Sadly, Lou passed away in 2013 from liver cancer, but his writings about Tai Chi, meditation and music are about to be published by HarperCollins. The Art of the Straight Line: My Tai Chi, is out on March 14 via HarperOne, and features a foreword from the late artist’s partner, Laurie Anderson.

If you’d like to get a flavour of Lou’s Tai Chi and his thoughts on Tai Chi then check out this short video called Lou Reed – The Voice and The Practice. It’s nice to see that he was into the martial side of Tai Chi as much as the performance side – there’s a nice clip of him pushing hands with his teacher Ren Guang Yi, for example. I quite like the “New York vibe” he brought to the practice.