Chi Chuan has become popular around the world as a way to improve health and
well-being. The movements are slow and gentle, and therefore can be performed by
people of all ages and physical conditions. Despite the fact that the movements
are performed slowly and gracefully, Tai Chi is a moderate aerobic activity that
expends an average of 250 calories per hour for a 140-pound adult, and 350
calories per hour for a 195-pound adult. In fact, one study presented at a
meeting of the American Heart Association showed that 12 weeks of Tai Chi
lowered blood pressure in older people almost as well as moderate aerobic
exercise. “You better believe we were surprised by those results,” said one
researcher from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD.
“We were expecting to see significant changes in the aerobic exercise group
and minimal changes in the Tai Chi group.”
than concentrating on a specific muscle group like many forms of exercise, Tai
Chi Chuan benefits the entire body. The low-impact movements of Tai Chi do not
stress the joints, but rather increase flexibility and balance. A study at the
Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA showed that older people taking part in
a 15-week Tai Chi program reduced their risk of falling by 47.5 percent. This is
significant because every year almost one in three people over the age of 65
takes a fall. According to the National Institute on Aging, falls among older
people result in more than $12 billion in direct and indirect medical costs and
even a large number of deaths.
With all of the attention paid to the health benefits of Tai Chi Chuan, people tend to forget that it is a martial art and was originally developed as a fighting and self-defense system. Chang Tung Sheng learned Tai Chi from a gentleman named General Li Chien Lin when he was at the Central Martial Arts School. General Li was vice president of the Institute and famous for his Yang style Tai Chi and swordsmanship. General Li was about 15 or 20 years older than Chang Tung Sheng and was quite fond of him. He had learned some Shuai Chiao when he was in Hebei and he respected Chang Tung Sheng’s Shuai Chiao prowess. General Li offered to teach Chang Tung Sheng Tai Chi but Chang politely refused – not wanting to accept the subordinate position of being General Li’s “student”. As the story goes, one day General Li was practicing pushing hands with some students while Chang Tung Sheng was observing. When General Li asked Chang’s opinion of his pushing hands technique, Chang replied that he thought the students were letting him win due to his high rank. Surprised at the audacity of Chang’s remark, he asked Chang if he would like to have a try himself. Chang accepted the offer. General Li wisely cleared the room of spectators and proceeded to engage Chang in pushing hands. Chang promptly sent the General to the ground using a Shuai Chiao technique. After this “test”, they agreed to exchange information. General Li taught Chang Tung Sheng Tai Chi and sword, and Chang taught him Shuai Chiao in return.
Because of his Shuai Chiao skills and full contact fighting expertise, Chang Tung Sheng felt that some of the original Tai Chi movements left the practitioner vulnerable to attacks from an opponent. Therefore, he took the liberty to modify a number of movements to be more adaptable to combat situations. Other than the modified movements, Chang Tai Chi is almost identical to Yang style Tai Chi Chuan. However, what really separates Chang Tai Chi from Yang style and other styles of Tai Chi and makes it a unique Tai Chi style in its own right is the application of the movements. Due to Chang Tung Sheng’s extensive knowledge of kung fu, and of Shuai Chiao in particular, he felt that the applications of the Tai Chi movements were most effectively expressed in the context of Shuai Chiao. The long, graceful movements of Yang style Tai Chi flow naturally into the locking and throwing techniques of Shuai Chiao. Expanding the typical applications of the movements with Shuai Chiao added great depth and effectiveness to the system. As David Chang explains, “Many people are quite good at performing and teaching the movements of Tai Chi. However, very few actually realize and understand the total scope of the applications for the movements”.