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T’ai Chi Ch’uan Uniform

This heading may be rather misleading, because in reality there is no uniform or special clothing for T’ai chi ch’uan. The round neck Chinese style jackets often worn by teachers in photographs, videos or at exhibitions or tournaments are simply modern versions of the type of jackets that respectable Chinese would wear in a semi-formal situation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Because the earliest photographs of the old masters were taken then, it was thought respectful to copy their dress code. There is nothing wrong with that because the loose fitting jacket and baggy pants are ideal for training in. The important factor is that your clothes are loose fitting and comfortable. In effect, they should be like your gardening clothes, though perhaps cleaner.

Modern Chinese Wu Shu (Martial Arts) students in the many training colleges and academies, who learn T’ai chi as part of their curriculum, will be wearing T-shirts and tracksuit bottoms and their instructors will be wearing full tracksuits. Again, the important thing is that the clothing should not restrict your movement in any way, nor should you feel uncomfortable in it.

The only really important item of clothing for T’ai chi is the footwear. This should be as light, soft and with as thin a sole as possible. This is important because correct rooting and stance alignment is achieved by connecting to the ground on which you stand through the soles of the feet, which should relax into the ground. The crucial area is the Yung ch’uan point, which is the soft area just below the ball of each foot. If you feel your own feet you will notice that the ball of the foot just below the root of the toes is hard, and the area below that is soft. The middle of that area is the Yung ch’uan point.

In Chinese this means “bubbling well” and is named this because it is where the ch’i (qi) life force, vital energy, bubbles up from the earth and energises your body. Other sources of ch’i are the breath you take in and circulate and the food and drink you ingest. These sources of ch’i are all essential to life. The implications of this are clear, your footwear should be as unobstructive to this flow of ch’i as possible, and hard sole shoes should not be worn, as they will hinder your relaxed connection to the ground. The soles of the feet should feel as though they are spreading and sinking into the floor. Ideally, you should train barefoot, but often this is not possible. But whenever you train on good clean grass or a beach or a clean floor, try it barefoot. You will feel the difference.

Getting back to the uniform issue. My favourite uniform for T’ai chi ch’uan would have to be a Starfleet officer’s uniform. But this dates from an old Star Trek episode in which Commander Worf is training in his traditional Klingon warrior martial art (named moQ’bara). What he was doing of course was a T’ai chi form. This is perfectly consistent with the principle of T’ai chi (Great Polarity), which pervades the whole universe, and as such is perfectly accessible to Klingons, and Vulcans too no doubt.

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