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Relevance of Asian Martial Arts In Modern and Alternative Medicine

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            The most important part of life is maintaining a healthy mind and body.  There are many different techniques and methods on how this can be accomplished.  Depending on what part of the world you live in, certain guidelines may be adhered to in order to maintain health.    An effective health maintenance plan will utilize the best components of various medical techniques.  In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, patients must insist on the best treatment from the best medical practitioners, whether that treatment is traditional or alternative.  Utilizing traditional medicinal techniques such as pharmaceutical medicines can be effective.  However, the importance of utilizing alternative medical treatments such as the key components of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the main components of martial arts should not be diminished.  The exercises and breathing techniques that are taught through the practice of martial arts can result in better health and can aid in healing many diseases.

Traditional Medicine (or Western Medicine)

            Medicine is defined as the science and art of maintaining and restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of patients.  The term is derived from the Latin ars medicina which means the art of healing (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001).  The field of medicine in modern times includes clinical medicine, medical research, surgery, and the diagnosis and maintenance of diseases and injuries.  In most cultures across the world, the use of natural resources such as plants, herbs, animal parts, and minerals was the earliest form of medicinal treatment.

            The practice of medicine utilizes science and art in order to apply knowledge with human intuition and clinical judgment to develop a treatment plan for each patient.  Science serves as the evidence that backs up the art or application of the medical knowledge used for healing purposes.  In order to establish a successful medical practice, particularly in the Western world, a physician must develop a relationship with the patient, gather data about the patient’s medical history, physical examinations, laboratory tests, and imaging studies, analyze and synthesize the data, assessment, and diagnosis, develop a treatment plan that may include further testing, therapy, observation, referral, and follow-up, treat the patient accordingly, and asses the progress of treatment and alter the plan as necessary.  In most countries, the physician must also keep a medical record for each patient seen.  These medical records are legal documents that have to be maintained for a certain number of years, are subject to privacy laws, and must be kept accurate (AHIMA, 2005).

            Throughout most of the world, in order to practice medicine a person must complete a medical education.  Each country has its own guidelines on what an adequate medical education consists of.   Most countries require an entry level education of some type completed at a medical school.  Entering medical school requires the completion of a general degree at a university or post-secondary school of some kind.  For example, in order to enter medical school in the United States an aspiring physician must first obtain a Bachelor of Science Degree.  After medical school is completed, the student must complete a period of supervised practice called an internship or residency.  Prior to obtaining a medical license, most countries require physicians to pass a certain number of examinations.  Once a physician obtains a license to practice medicine, that physician must complete continuing medical education classes throughout their career.

            There are many different practice areas a physician can choose to specialize in.  Most patients utilize many different medical practitioners who specialize in different branches of medicine.  Being admitted to the hospital for a single issue does not mean that a patient will only utilize a single physician.  The patient will be treated by a medical team made up of doctors and nurses specializing in different branches of medicine.  The specialty or discipline a physician chooses to practice dictates the type and length of the physician’s education.      Different medical specialties can be divided into three main branches of medicine which include basic sciences, medical specialties, and interdisciplinary fields.

            Every physician, regardless of specialty, is educated in the basic science of medicine.  The basic science of medicine includes studying anatomy, biology, chemistry, and many other sciences.  Each of these scientific disciplines will include the study of the physical structure of organisms, the study of the chemistry within the living organisms, the application of statistics to biology, the microscopic study of cells, the study of the early development of organisms, the study of the demographics of disease processes and epidemics, the study of genes and biological inheritance, the study of the structure of biological tissues, the study of the immune system, the study of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, the study of the nervous system, the study of the relationship between health and nutrition, the study of the cause and course of disease, the study of drugs and their actions, the study of the normal functions of the body, and the study of the hazardous effects of drugs and poisons.  The basic science of medicine contains the knowledge base that every medical practitioner must obtain, comprehend, and master in order to be a successful doctor.  By studying these specific sciences, doctors learn how to research and draw conclusions from credible evidence in order to develop treatments for their patients that will restore health (Coulehan, 2005).

            In addition to obtaining an education in the basic science of medicine, an aspiring physician can choose a medical specialty.  There are two main categories of specialties:  medicine and surgery.  Physicians who specialize in surgical procedures or operative treatments may treat non-surgical issues as well.  There are many surgical specialties to choose from including general surgery, trauma surgery, cardiovascular surgery, neurosurgery, maxillofacial surgery, orthopedic surgery, otolaryngology, plastic surgery, oncologic surgery, vascular surgery, and pediatric surgery.  Anesthesiology is also considered a surgical specialty even though it is not specifically a surgical discipline.  Physicians practicing surgical specialties, including anesthesiology, must undergo almost twice as much education and training as basic science practitioners (Coulehan, 2005).

            There are many different sub-divisions that a physician can choose to practice in within the area of general medicine.  Internal medicine addresses the diseases of adults that affect the body as a whole or any type of non-operative medicine.  Doctors specializing in internal medicine are most often referred to as physicians and can specialize in cardiology, critical care, endocrinology, gastrometerology, hepatology, hematology, infectious diseases, nephrology, oncology, proctology, pulmonology, rheumatology, neurology, and geriatrics.  Pediatric medicine is not considered internal medicine because these doctors only treat children.  Family practitioners will treat adults as well as children, but often are only educated in basic sciences and do not possess a specific specialty.  Obstetric and gyneacology doctors specialize in treating women and overseeing pregnancy, labor, and delivery.  Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in behavioral disorders and treatments.  All of these doctors practice in the field of medicine, as opposed to performing surgical procedures, although there is some overlap.  Doctors must sometimes specialize in more than one interdisciplinary field in order to adequately treat the patients they see, and the diseases they deal with.  For example, and obstetrician may have to perform a cesarean section delivery which is a surgical procedure (Coulehan, 2005).

            Traditional medicine has been criticized since the beginning of times.  During the Middle Ages, many religious people did not consider medicine a viable option because they felt that disease was God-sent and God would heal the sick in accordance with His will.  However, in contrast to this belief there were also religious people who felt that their ministry or spiritual gift was to heal the sick and make every attempt to cure disease.  In the twentieth century, healthcare and doctors have been heavily criticized for conducting a detached practiced due to the advent in technology which enabled doctors to improve a patient’s health without having to develop a personal relationship with that patient and without having to oversee the patient’s progress as thoroughly.  This lack of patient-focused care was heavily criticized throughout the late twentieth century (Illich, 1976).

            Errors in diagnosis and treatment as well as over prescribing medication are the primary complaints that medical practitioners face in the twenty-first century.  Technology can assist doctors in minimizing diagnosis and treatment errors.  These systems are being integrated into hospitals and doctors offices in order to increase the efficiency of the medical practice.  Although patients would like their doctors to perform miracles, the reality is that doctors are human and make mistakes.  Technology can minimize these errors and improve the medical treatment and healing of patients.

Despite increased technology, modern medicine is not a guaranteed practice.  The practice of medicine relies on science, but is not 100% accurate all of the time.  These inaccuracies often lead patients to seek alternative medicine.  Many tradition doctors and physicians claim that alternative medicine does not contain the scientific evidence needed to be a viable option for health maintenance and for curing diseases.  However, alternative medicines have been proven to be effective in some cases and can be very beneficial when combined with traditional healing techniques.

Alternative Medicine

            In the United States, Traditional Chinese Medicine and the martial arts that are involved with the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine are considered alternative medicines.  Although there is a lot of criticism in the Western world, and specifically within the United States, over alternative medicine, there is a lot of support for these methods as well.  Utilizing alternative medicine techniques, such as those techniques involved in Qigong and Tai Chi, can provide a patient with therapeutic results that are not available from traditional medicine, which usually involves the use of prescription drugs as the main course of treatment (Vickers, 2004).

            Alternative medicine also faces a wide range of criticism.  Practitioners of alternative medicine can cite many credible studies proving the success of this type of medical practice.  However, many traditional doctors and scientists claim that the studies conducted on alternative medicine practices are not credible because they lack proper testing and do not utilize the scientific method.  Skeptics of alternative medicine also argue that the studies are not accurate due to the fact that the patients within the studies could have experienced a natural healing process that had nothing to do with the alternative medical practices used, or that the patients never truly had a disease or illness to begin with (Alcock, 1999).

            Critics of alternative medicine also contend that the methods do not always ensure safety and that the patient can put themselves in more danger by delaying to seek adequate conventional treatment.  Danger can also be experienced when an alternative medicinal technique is used in conjunction with a conventional or traditional medicinal technique.  A patient may also experience undesired side affect from alternative treatments due to the fact that testing and research for alternative treatments is not as thorough as the research conducted on traditional medical treatments.  Patients who utilize alternative medical techniques may self medicate themselves with over the counter drugs and herbs which can pose a threat to their health.  The chemical content of herbs and minerals that are considered alternative medicines to pharmaceutical drugs are not as strictly regulated and therefore their chemical content and biology is not always known.  This can cause an unhealthy side effect in a patient seeking alternative medication.  Practitioners of alternative medication are not required to undergo the rigorous educational regime of a traditional doctor or physician which poses a safety threat to patients as well (Agin, 2006).

Traditional Chinese Medicine (or Eastern Medicine)

Traditional Chinese Medicine is considered an alternative medicine by the Western world.  Traditional Chinese Medicine utilizes herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, and various forms of martial arts for healing and health maintenance.  Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on many principles and theories, but the main influences are Taoism, Buddhism, and Neo-Confucianism (Unschuld, 1985). The theories included in Traditional Chinese Medicine are Yin-Yang, the five phases, the human body channel system, and Zang Fu organ theories.

The concept of yin-yang describes two opposing aspects of a phenomenon that are also complimentary (Porkert, 1974).  There are four laws of Yin-Yang.  The first law is that Yin-Yang is opposing. Yin-Yang describes the opposing aspects of a given phenomenon.  The second law is that Ying-Yang is mutually rooted.  Yin-Yang also describes the complimentary aspects of a given phenomenon.  The third law is that Yin-Yang is mutually transformed.  This means that once the one effect, the Yin, has reached its maximum, the opposing effect will begin, the Yang.  The fourth law of Yin-Yang is that they are a dynamic equilibrium.  As one effect increases, the opposing effect decreases.  The theory of Yin-Yang is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  By comprehending the laws of Yin-Yang, certain issues that occur in the body can explain or predict future occurrences of similar issues or opposing issues (Porkert, 1974).

The theory of the Five Phases, or Wu Xing, in Traditional Chinese Medicine is used to describe the relationships and interactions between phenomena.  The Five Phases are metal, wood, water, fire, and earth.  Chinese doctors believe that the organ networks in the body are a circle of five things and mapped onto five phases.  The wood phase which refers to the liver is said to be the “mother” of the fire phase, which refers to the heart.  The water phase refers to the kidneys, and is said to be the “mother” of the liver.  Key observations resulting from the development of the five phases theory was kidney deficiency affecting liver function, and the kidneys restraining the heart.  The five phases is merely a model of bodily interactions and it does have its exceptions (Maciocia, 2005).  The five phases is also used in martial arts by representing the five states of combat, and is referred to as Xingyi.  In martial arts the metal phase refers to a splitting fist or using the fist in a similar way as you would use an axe to chop wood.  The wood phase refers to a crushing fist or using the fist in a collapsing or crushing manner. The water phase refers to a drilling fist that includes drilling the fist forward horizontally like a geyser.  The fire phase refers to a pounding fist explodes outward like a cannon while blocking.  The earth phase refers to a crossing fist that crosses over the line of attack while turning over (Li Tian-Ji, 2000).

The human body channel system, also referred to as the meridian, dictates that the body’s vital energy, or Qi, circulates throughout the body along specific interconnected channels called meridians.  Bad health, emotional disorders, and other negative body issues are said to be caused by the body’s disruption of the energy flow along these meridians.  In order to correct these issues, acupuncture, acupressure, and massage are used (Oschman, 2000).  There are twelve standard meridians running through the arms and legs.  The twelve meridians are the lung, large intestine, stomach, spleen, heart, small intestine, urinary bladder, kidney, pericardium, triple warmer, gall bladder, and liver.  These meridians affect biological function and do not refer to the specific organ.  The human body channel system also incorporates the yin-yang theory and the five phases theory (Dillman & Chris, 1994).

Zang Fu also builds on the other theories traditionally utilized in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Zang Fu describes the functions and interactions between the organs in the body.  Zang refers to the Yin organs which are the heart, liver, spleen, lung, kidney, and pericardium.  Fu refers to the Yang organs which are the small intestine, large intestine, gall bladder, urinary bladder, stomach, and the triple warmer.  Each of these Zang Fu organs also have corresponding meridians running throughout the arms and legs.  The Zang Fu organs also relate to the five phases theory as well.  The wood organs are the liver and the gall bladder.  The fire organs are the heart, the small intestine, pericardium, and the triple warmer.  The earth organs are the spleen and the stomach.  The water organs are the kidney and the bladder.  The metal organs are the lung and the large intestine.  Practitioners with a thorough comprehension of Zang Fu can achieve optimal therapeutic results by utilizing the least amount of force for the greatest therapeutic benefit (Zang Fu, 2008).  In addition to Zang Fu, and the other three main theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine, two forms of martial arts are also utilized for optimal healing.

History of Martial Arts

Martial Arts is defined as “any several forms of combat and self-defense (as karate and judo) that are widely practiced as a sport”  (Merriam-Webster, 2008).  However, martial arts is not purely a sport or aerobic workout.  It has additional medicinal benefits and has been used for centuries for healing from stress related disease, arthritis and joint pain, and many other ailments that affect the human body.  Although historically martial arts has been traditionally practiced in Asia and other Eastern countries, the 20th century brought widespread use of martial arts throughout the Western world.

            Identifying the beginning of martial arts is an impossible task.  However, many theories exist as to how martial arts came into existence and evolved from the ancient martial arts practice in Asia to the martial arts that has become widespread even across the Western world.  The pre-historic theory of martial arts claims that yoga, Mongolian wrestling, Chinese martial arts, and Japanese martial arts all common to Mongloid ancestral people who inhabited north-eastern Asia (Rudgley, 2000).  There is also a theory that claims pankration, a Greek Olympic fighting sport, influenced the origin of martial arts and therefore Asian martial arts have Greek origins (Todd & Webb, 2005).   One of the most highly regarded theories, claim that Asian martial arts originated from an Indian monk named Bodhidharma who is credited with introducing Shaolin Kungfu to the Chinese, an ancient form of martial arts (Cephus, 1994).

            Regardless of the origins of martial arts, the Asian world has been practicing this sport for centuries not only for its fitness benefits but also for its health benefits.  In China, the Shaolin Monastery is credited with having the most influence in introducing the world to the practice of martial arts (Shahar, 2001).  The Shaolin Monastery was built in 496AD by Emperor Hsiao-Wen (Order of the Shaolin Ch’an, 2006).  Bodhidharma taught the monks at the monastery a form of Buddhism called Chan Buddhism during the 6th Century.  Bodhidharma included a routine of non-combative exercises that had various health benefits in his Buddhist teachings.  This non-combative exercise ritual was called “18 Hands of Lohan” (Order of the Shaolin Ch’an, 2006).  Although Bodhidharma is credited with introducing the Chinese to ancient martial arts style exercises, certain forms of martial arts had been practiced for thousands of years in China prior to Bodhidharma’s arrival.  Jiao Di, Shou Bo Kung Fu, , and Xiang Bo are all said to have been practiced in China prior to Bodhidharma’s introduction of his martial arts movements (Canzonieri, 1998).

Modern Day Martial Arts

            The widespread interest in Eastern martial arts throughout the Western world, including Europe and the United States, was the result of increased trade with China and Japan during the late 19th Century (Donohue, 1994).  The first known form of martial arts developed in Europe was Bartitsu which is a form of martial arts that combines jujutsu, judo, boxing, savate, and stick fighting.  Bartitsu was founded by Edward William Barton-Wright who was a railway engineer that had studied jujutsu while working in Japan (Wolf & Marwood, 2007).  Baritsu’s popularity declined in Europe prior to World War  due to Barton-Wright’s inability to convince the Europeans of its benefits.

During World War 2, Western influence in China, Japan, and Korea increased dramatically. Serviceman from the United States who were deployed to these countries during the war were exposed to martial arts and began to take an interest in the techniques and health benefits offered by training in martial arts.  This was the beginning of the gradual transition of entire martial arts systems from Asia to the Western world.  In 1950, the popularity of martial arts throughout the United States increased dramatically.  The increase in movies featuring martial artists as the hero during the 1970s furthered this popularity (Donohue, 1994).


            Qigong is a component of Chinese martial arts that is used for health maintenance and therapeutic intervention.  Qigong involves a wide variety of cultivation practices that utilize movement and regulated breathing for therapeutic purposes.  The “qi” in Qigong means breath and refers to the life force, energy, or cosmic breath.  The gong in Qigong means work applied to a discipline.  Combined Qigong means breath work or energy work.  Qigong is utilized by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as Western doctors as a set of breathing and movement exercises that result in health benefits by reducing stress and increasing energy circulation and flow throughout the body (Ownby, 2003).

            Qigong gained popularity in Chine during the post-Mao China period due to the fact that other religions had been banned during the Cultural Revolution.  Because Qigong was not considered a religious practice by authorities and by Qigong practitioners, it was not banned as part of the new communist government that ruled the new People’s Republic of China.    Subsequently, Qigong gained popularity and was also regarded as scientific research by the government.  The government of the People’s Republic of China formed the China Qigong Scientific Research Association to conduct scientific research (Ownby, 2003).

Today Qigong is practiced by millions of people from China and from around the world as a health maintenance program.  Qigong is a vital part of most martial arts regimes.

              In 1989, hospitals in China officially recognized Qigong as a standard medical technique.  The breathing and movement exercises of Qigong have been integrated into the curriculum for all major universities in China.  In 1996, the Chinese government officially listed Qigong as an integral part of their National Health Plan.  Utilizing Qigong as a component of medical treatment allows patients to learn diaphragmatic breathing which induces the relaxation response that combats stress.  The majority of diseases and ailments suffered in modern times can be traced to stress related issues (Ownby, 2003).

            The founder of the most popular Qigong School, Yan Xin is a doctor in Western medicine as well as in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Yan Xin maintains that the practices and benefits of Qigong must contain scientific evidence to support the results achieved in order to be accepted as a credible medical treatment in modern times.  Without credible scientific research and evidence, Qigong will be dismissed as superstition, especially throughout the Western world (Johnson, 2004).

            In 2001, The State Sport General Administration of China founded the Chinese Health Qigong Association.  In 2003, four Health Qigong Exercises were developed to enhance the health benefits of practicing qigong.  The four exercises are tendon-changing classic, frolics of five animals, the art of expiration in producing six different sounds, and the eight excellent movements.  In order to ensure the scientific accuracy of the health benefits associated with these Qigong exercises, researches of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Modern Medicine, Psychology, Athletic Science, and other related subjects conducted experiments that tested the accuracy of the claim regarding the health benefits of the Qigong exercises (Ownby, 2003).

            The tendon-changing classic exercises, called Yi Jin Jing, involve the utilization of twelve postures.  The purpose of Yi Jin Jing is to convert flaccid and frail tendons into strong and sturdy ones.  The movements involved in the twelve postures are vigorous and gentle at the same time.  In order to complete each posture a practitioner must use there own will to direct the exertion of muscular strength, while conducting coordinating breathing techniques.  Yin Jin Jing increases muscle and tendon strength which results in more resistance, flexibility, endurance, and better health.  The twelve postures utilized in Yin Jin Jing influence the state and nervous structure of the body which stretches the muscles and reduces tension in the joints and along the meridians.  The coordinated breathing produces a refined Qi which results in better balance and strength to the brain and nervous system (Zuyuan, 1882).

            The five animal frolics include movements from the bear, the tiger, the monkey, the deer, and the crane.  By imitating the bear, the Qigong movements involve pretending to climb uphill by turning your torso from side to side.  Mimicking the movements of the bear increases strength, stability, power, and a keen sense of smell.  Practicing the movements of the bear also warms up and stimulates the body.  Utilizing the bear frolic movements is recommended in Qigong for improving kidney and spleen function as well as strengthening the bones.  The tiger builds power, strengthens your waist and kidneys, and increases internal development including increased lung capacity.  The movements mimicking the tiger involve leaping.  By imitating the postures of the deer while the deer is running can strengthen the stomach.  Monkeys hang and swing through the trees.  These exercises that imitate monkeys reinforce kidney function.  The crane spreads its wings to fly which when imitated can balance the Qi in the heart (Garafalo, 2008).

            The third component of Qigong is Liu Zi Jue which is a combination of six healing sounds that involves the coordination of movement and breathing patterns with specific sounds.  Liu Zi Jue has its roots in Taoism and act as an aid to the physical exercises involved in Qigong.  Liu Zi Jue prolongs lifespan and can aid in the treatment of certain diseases.  Liu Zi Jue utilizes mouth forms and pronunciation methods with the direction of body movements and the inner circulation of the meridians (TU Ren-Shun).

            The fourth component of Qigong is Baduanjin which is translated as eight movements.  Baduanjin is composed of eight separate exercises that focus on a different physical area and qi meridian.  Each exercise involves a standing and sitting set of postures.  However, most modern day Badduanjin practitioners utilize the standing postures.  The first stance is called Shuang Shou Tuo Tian or Two Hands Hold up the Heavens.  This stance stimulates the triple warmer meridian and involves and upward movement of the hands.  The second stance is called the Vulture or Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Hawk.  This stance is completed while in a lower horse stance and includes imitating the action of drawing a bow to either side of the body.  This stance focuses on the kidneys, spleen, and waist.  The third stance is the Separate Heaven and Earth.  In this stance the hands press in opposite directions, one up and one down, then they smoothly change directions which stimulates the stomach.  The fourth stance is the Wise Owl Gazes Backwards or Look Back.

This stance stretches the neck to the left and right.  The fifth stance is called Sway the Head and Shake the Tail.  This stance will remove excess heat from the heart which will heal heart burn and increase the function of the heart and lungs.  In order to perform this stance, the practitioner must squat in a low horse stance while placing their hands on their thighs with their elbows facing out.  Once in this stance, the practitioner will proceed to twist and glance backwards on each side.  In the sixth stance, two hands hold the feet to strengthen the kidneys and waist.  This stance involves stretching upwards followed by a forward bend and holding the toes.  The seventh stance involves clenching the fists and glaring fiercely.  During this exercise, the practitioner will punch to he sides or to the front while maintaining a horse stance.  This stance increases vitality and muscular strength.  The eighth and final stance involves bouncing on the toes.  During this stance, the practitioner pushes their body upward from their toes with a small rocking motion upon landing.  This stance also requires gentle shaking vibrations which smooth out the Qi after practicing the other seven stances (Jwing-Ming, 2000).

In 2004, The Chinese Health Qigong Association created a magazine entitled “Health Qigong Magazine.”  This magazine is edited by China Sports Press and is the only Qigong health magazine in China.  Qigong as a medical treatment gained even more popularity following the first International Health Qigong Demonstration and Exchanged in 2005.  Due to its success the Chinese Health Qigong Association conducted a second event in August 007 in Peking which included an international Qigong competition, as well as the first Duan examination regarding Qigong as a medical treatment.  In 2007, the International Symposium on Health Qigong Science made the important scientific research and evidence that had been conducted available to the public (Ownby, 2003).

The development and acceptance of Qigong as a viable medical treatment has not been without its controversies and criticisms.  Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as doctors in the Western world agree that practice Qigong can improve and assist in maintaining health through increased movement, range of motion, and joint flexibility.  However, most scientists are skeptical of Qigong’s ability to heal any sort of biological disease and regard these claims as pseudoscientific.  Qigong’s health benefits are primarily related to any disease or ailment that is brought on by some sort of bodily stress.  In addition, medical doctors, particularly in the Western world, fear that certain Qigong practices such as the attainment of a trance state and patterned bodily posture or movement can induce certain mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder, especially when Qigong is being taught to practitioners by inexperienced teachers, especially teachers with no medical background (Lee and Kleinman, 2002).

Tai Chi Chuan

            Tai Chi Chuan, normally shortened to Tai Chi, is the second most common martial art practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Tai Chi is practiced in order to increase health and longevity and there are a variety of forms and techniques, traditional and modern, that are utilized when practicing Tai Chi.  Tai Chi is widespread in modern times throughout the Western world, especially to cure arthiritis and those people who suffer from joint pain and other diseases such as fibromyalgia due to its soft martial techniques and flowing motions.  There are five different traditional Tai Chi techniques:  1) Chen; 2) Yang; 3) Wu/Hao; 4) Wu; and 5) Sun.  The oldest documented Tai Chi techniques originate from the Chen family (Wile, 1995).

            The term Tai Chi Chuan translates to supreme ultimate fist.  Tai Chi training begins with learning solo routines, also known as forms.  Although Tai Chi generally consists of slow movements, the three most popular Tai Chi techniques (Yang, Wu, and Chen) incorporate faster forms into their techniques.  Tai Chi is classified as a traditional Chinese martial art and is considered a soft style that focuses on internal power.  Medical studies support the effectiveness of Tai Chi on improving health and as an alternative form of exercise.  Tai Chi induces relaxation which aids in stress management, which reduces the risks of acquiring certain diseases (Wile, 2007).

            The classic physical techniques of tai chi can be characterized by the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination in relaxation, rather than on muscle tension.  These slow and repetitive techniques teach the practitioner how body leverage is generated gently and increases internal circulation including breath, body heat, blood, lymph, and peristalsis).  There are three primary subjects involved in the study and practice of Tai Chi.  Most traditional schools teach these subjects simultaneously, while the more modern Tai Chi schools focus on a single aspect of Tai Chi which is dependent on the particular practitioner.

            The three main subjects involved in the study of Tai Chi are health, mediation, and martial arts.  Tai Chi concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind in order for the person to gain the ability to advance in their practice of Tai Chi as well as increase their overall fitness.  Good physical fitness is essential to the practice of Tai Chi and essential for effective self defense.  Relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind will allow the Tai Chi student to fully incorporate all of the aspects of Tai Chi into their practice.  The second subject of focus in Tai Chi is meditation.  Mediation increases focus and calmness and is necessary in order to maintain optimum health.  Mediation relieves stress and maintains internal stability.  The third subject of focus in Tai Chi is the martial arts aspect.  Once a student fully comprehends all of the aspects and principles of Tai Chi, they can use the art as a form of self defense in combat.  Tai Chi, in terms of martial arts, is the study of changing appropriately in response to outside forces (Wile, 2007).

            The core training in Tai Chi involves two primary features:  1) Solo form; and 2) different styles of pushing hands.  Solo forms, called chuan or quan in Chinese) are a slow sequence of movements that emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing, and a natural range of motion.  The different styles of pushing hands, called tui shou in Chinese) serves as a training tool for the movement principles within the solo forms.  The solo forms allow the student to move through a complete range of motion over their center of gravity.  Repeatedly practicing the solo Tai Chi forms will increase posture, encourage bodily circulation, maintain flexibility in the joints, and teach the student the martial arts applications of each movement.  There are certain movements within the solo forms that are practiced individually such as the empty-hand and weapons movements which involve pushing the hands in preparation for self defense.  The solo forms are practiced in many different ways, depending on the type of school a student is attending or practicing.  The solo forms can be practiced fast-slow, small circle-large circle, square-round, and low sitting-high sitting.  Each method of practicing the solo forms has its own health benefits.  For example, the square-round method of practicing solo forms increases leverage throughout the joints (Wile, 1995).

            The main philosophy of Tai Chi is that if one uses aggression in order to resist violence, then both parties will become injured to some degree.  This injury, according to Tai Chi philosophy, is a consequence of brute force meeting with brute force.  Tai Chi students are taught to resist incoming force rather than fight directly with brute force.  Tai Chi students meet an attack with softness and follow the motion of the attack while remaining in physical contact with the attacking object until it can be safely redirected.  This philosophy coincides with the Yin-Yang philosophy.  The primary goal of Tai Chi training is to develop a Yin-Yang balance in combat and in life (Wile, 1995).

            The student practicing Tai Chi is taught the aspects of martial arts that rely on sensitivity to the opponent’s movements and the center of gravity that will dictate the appropriate responses.  The primary goal of Tai Chi as a martial art is to capture the opponent’s center of gravity immediately upon contact.  Tai Chi students accomplish this goal by studying slow repetitive and meditative movements, then adding active, fast, high impact movements such as pushing hands and sparring.  The Tai Chi students learns self defense from three different ranges:  close, medium, and long.  Pushes and open hand strikes are most common.  Tai Chi rarely utilizes kicks, but when a kick is used it is to the legs and lower torso.  Strikes to the eyes, throat, heart, groin, and other acupressure points are usually accomplished by utilizing the fingers, fists palms, sides of the hands, writs, forearms, elbows, shoulders, back, hips, knees, and feet.  Tai Chi students practices self defense and neutralizing skills prior to learning offensive skills.  The main tenant of Tai Chi is to protect the defenseless and show mercy to one’s opponent (Wile, 1995).

            Using physical force is an effective self defense technique.   However, Tai Chi also focuses on how the energy from a strike effects the opponent.  Different types of physical strikes may appear similar, but when used differently on the opponent the strike will effect the opponent’s body differently.  For example, a palm strike could simply push the opponent away, be focused in such a way that would lift the opponent vertically off the ground, or be focused on the opponent in such a way that would cause internal damage.  The typical period of training for Tai Chi is five years.  After five years, maintenance training is always encouraged (Wile, 1995).

            In addition to the two main training exercises incorporated in Tai Chi, solo forms and pushing hands, other training exercises are utilized in order to enhance the Tai Chi experience.  Weapons and fencing training is included in Tai Chi practice as well as the use of a sword, broadsword, sabre, knife, folding fan, spear, and lance.  Some of the traditional Tai Chi schools will also teach students to use exotic or old school weapons such as the dadao, pudao, halberd, cane, rope-dart, three sectional staff, wind and fire wheels, lasso, whip, chain, and steel whip.  Students of Tai Chi may also participate in two-person sparring tournaments, usually as part of a push hands competition.  Breathing exercises are also incorporated into Tai Chi in order to develop the student’s Qi or breath energy that will assist them in their physical movements (Wile, 1995).

In modern times, Tai Chi has become popular with senior citizens.  The low stress training and joint benefits makes Tai Chi the perfect martial art for an older person to partake in.  Due to this rising popularity amongst senior citizens, Tai Chi is more commonly practiced for its mental and health benefits rather than as a form of self defense.  Tai Chi is one of the fastest growing fitness and health maintenance activities in the United States (SGMA, 2007).  The health benefits of Tai Chi mirror the philosophies of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Traditional Chinese Medicine does not always utilize modern science as a source of healing and health maintenance.  Scientific research in the Western world has shown that practicing Tai Chi can have favorable effects on balance control, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and fall reduction in elderly patients.

These same studies prove that pain, stress, and anxiety was reduced in patients who practiced Tai Chi on a regular basis (Wolf, 2003).  The research has also shown that cardiovascular and respiratory function in patients who have undergone coronary artery bypass surgery is improved by practicing Tai Chi.  Tai Chi reduces the ailments caused by heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, severity of diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease (Brody, 2007).  Studies have also shown that Tai Chi may effect noradrenaline and cortisol production which effects mood and heart rate (Jin, 1989).  Contrary to logical thought, Tai Chi’s gentle and low impact movements burn more calories than surfing and downhill skiing (NutriStrategy, 2003).     Studies have shown that in addition to physical and cardiovascular health benefits, Tai Chi can have positive affects on behavioral disorders such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (Hernandez-Reif, 2001).

Although alternative medicinal techniques such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, and Tai Chi have a large number of critics, their benefits to maintaining a healthy lifestyle can not be denied.  Studies have shown that martial arts techniques utilized in conjunction with alternative medicine as well as traditional medicine can increase healing as well as ensure a healthy lifestyle.  Even the critics of alternative medicine can not deny that physical benefits of martial arts exist.  Martial arts increase joint flexibility, agility, and overall physical fitness which lead to a healthier lifestyle.  While alternative medicines may not completely cure diseases such as arthritis, these techniques can lessen the painful effects of these diseases as well as increase the positive mindset of the patient.   Overcoming painful diseases and ailments requires discipline in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a positive mindset.  While practicing martial arts as a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle may not save you from cancer and other diseases, it will increase your chances of surviving any diseases that may affect you in the future by maintaining a healthy mind and body.


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