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  • Man is practicing martial arts.
    1

    Qigong and tai chi – Putting the soft martial arts to the test.

    How to stay fit into old age with the aid of traditional Chinese martial arts.

    Text: Claudio Rimmele

Vivid journey.

Anyone who has not yet experienced a qigong or tai chi class can look forward to a vivid journey into the natural world: “Imagine it is night-time, and you are a tiger walking to a lake to drink,” explains the tai chi teacher as the next exercise commences in a small studio in the centre of Berlin. All those present close their eyes and try to imagine the scene. “You see the moon reflected on the surface of the lake. You try to grab it with both paws. But as you move your hands upwards you see the reflection passing through your fingers.”


Man is practicing martial arts.
Man is practicing martial arts.

Holistic movement practice.

At the end of the movement, the students are to look to the sky and realise that they have been trying to catch the wrong moon the whole time. This exercise aims to improve the flexibility of the spine and to strengthen the leg muscles. It should also help you to understand that being wrong occasionally is also part of life. And that this is also important for learning new things. Just one of many examples of how the holistic approach of the tai chi and qigong movement practices works. More than 85 million people in China practice these two martial arts, though they are hardly ever regarded as such but rather as an active pillar of an overburdened health care system.


  • Man is practicing martial arts.
    1

Tai chi – shadow boxing and soft fighting.

According to the legend, tai chi chuan – or tai chi for short – was developed more than five hundred years ago in China. It all began in the magnificent Wudang mountains, where a monk witnessed a fight between a crane and a snake. Whilst the crane made repeated attempts to catch the snake with stabbing pecks of its beak, the snake skilfully dodged the attacks by shifting its weight with minimal movements. When the bird was exhausted by the fight, the snake pounced. Inspired by his observations, the legendary monk Zhang Sanfeng went on to develop the techniques of the inner martial arts, as they are known.


They include tai chi, which has since become known throughout the world. Tai chi is based on the idea that a relaxed body can perform much better in a fight than a tense one. In the “soft fight” as it is known, the opponent’s attack energy is directed back at them. The movements are soft, sweeping and supple. Neither the joints or muscles are put under excessive strain, meaning that tai chi is suitable for all age groups.


Man is practicing martial arts.

Qigong – life’s energy flow.

Much older than tai chi is qigong, which is a mix of meditation, movement practice and martial art. The beginnings of qigong go back around 5,000 years when settled Chinese farmers observed the rhythm of nature and from these discoveries developed qigong. There are now over a thousand different qigong schools and many fixed exercise sequences.


Qi stands for life force.

A key element of qigong is the mastery of qi energy. Qi stands for the life force of the body and can also be translated as “breath”, “steam” or “vapour”. The second component, “gong” means “work” but can also stand for “ability” and “skill”. You could therefore translate “qigong” as “life force training”. As with tai chi, the movements are characteristically slow, fluid and have a meditative effect. Both tai chi and qigong combine breathing with movement and in so doing attempt to activate the inner forces. The aim is to provide more energy for everyday life and to protect the person against illnesses.


Man is practicing martial arts.
Man is practicing martial arts.

The soft force for better health.

The benefits of qigong and tai chi have been verified in several western studies. Arguably the most significant effect of tai chi is the improvement in motor skills in the elderly and those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. When practised regularly, it reduces falls and injuries in these two groups, resulting in greater independence and a better quality of life. In addition, the results of many studies have shown that tai chi has a positive effect on blood pressure, stress, anxiety and depression.


The advantages are obvious.

Qigong and tai chi can genuinely improve the fitness of healthy young people, too. In a study conducted at primary schools in Berlin, 90 children attended qigong courses alongside their normal school lessons – a common practice in China. Doctors, teachers and parents were impressed with the results of the experiment. The pupils who took part in the test were, on average, able to concentrate better in class and as a result, their performance at school improved. Many of the children also saw their migraine, sleep disorder and asthma symptoms alleviated. According to the doctor responsible for the trial, just a few minutes of qigong each day, preferably before school, may be enough to improve a pupil’s concentration.


Man is practicing martial arts.
Man is practicing martial arts.

Control your inner tiger.

Like the tiger in the description, we like reaching for the most obvious and quickest solution, especially when it comes to health. If you wish to build up specific muscles, using the exercise machines in the gym and taking protein shakes are by no means the wrong approach. For those looking for holistic well-being, however, tai chi and qigong are martial arts where the only opponents are your own weaknesses, doubts and mistakes. And it’s fine for these to feel the full force of a tiger’s claw. Minimum weight shifting is not just experienced when practising tai chi and qigong. The innovative Motion Seat in the S-Class promotes active movement while driving. The angle of inclination of the seat backrest and seat cushion changes alternately to relieve strain on the back muscles. As a result, every journey becomes an active movement training session which is not just good for the health of your back, but is almost as much fun as a tai chi class.