Tai Chi and Health Keeping

Tai Chi, as an excellent way of keeping fit, originates from ancient Chinese arts of health preservation.

Ancient methods of maintaining health may be divided into two main categories: static and dynamic, the distinction being whether or not physical movements are involved.

 
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As a form of wushu, tai chi assimilates the essence of both the static and dynamic exercises. Combining the features of ancient static and dynamic exercises, the tai chi movements are slow and gentle, without exerting force to the utmost, the purpose being to activate the organism, to promote the circulation of qi and blood, and to achieve harmony between yin and yang, mental equilibrium and spiritual peace.

Health benefits

Researchers have found that intensive tai chi practice shows some favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and has shown to reduce the risk of falls in both healthy elderly patients, and those recovering from chronic stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and fibromyalgia,. Tai chi’s gentle, low impact movements burn more calories than surfing and nearly as many as downhill skiing.

 
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A study also found that tai chi (compared to regular stretching) showed the ability to greatly reduce pain and improve overall physical and mental health in people over 60 with severe osteoarthritis of the knee. In addition, in a randomized trial of 66 patients with fibromyalgia, the tai chi intervention group did significantly better in terms of pain, fatigue, sleeplessness and depression than a comparable group given stretching exercises and wellness education.

Stress and mental health

A systematic review and meta-analysis, funded in part by the U.S. government, of the studies on the effects of practicing t’ai chi found that, “Twenty-one of 33 randomized and nonrandomized trials reported that 1 hour to 1 year of regular tai chi significantly increased psychological well-being including reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression, and enhanced mood in community-dwelling healthy participants and in patients with chronic conditions. Seven observational studies with relatively large sample sizes reinforced the beneficial association between t’ai chi practice and psychological health.”

 
 Chinese martial arts

There have also been indications that tai chi might have some effect on noradrenaline and cortisol production with an effect on mood and heart rate. In one study, t’ai chi has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 13 adolescents. The improvement in symptoms seems to persist after the t’ai chi sessions were terminated.

As a development of ancient static and dynamic exercises, tai chi has become a unique health-oriented system in its own right. It is a valuable asset belonging not only to the Chinese people; with its value gaining wider and wider appreciation; it will benefit more and more people in the rest of the world.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

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Shaolin Influence In and Outside China

Shaolin Monastery or Shaolin Temple is a Chán Buddhist temple at Mount Songshan in Henan Province, China. Founded in the 5th century, the monastery is long famous for its association with Chinese martial arts, particularly with Shaolin Kung Fu, and it is the Mahayana Buddhist monastery perhaps best known to the Western world.

Chinese Kungfu

 

Shaolin in China

The oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a stele from 728 that attests to two occasions: a defense of the monastery from bandits around 610 and their role in a defeat in 621. In this defeat, Kungfu monks saved and allied with Li Shimin, who later became the second Emperor of Tang Dynasty (618-907). Thereafter Shaolin enjoyed the royal patronage of the Tang.

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From the 8th to the 15th centuries, no extant source documents Shaolin participation in combat; then the 16th and 17th centuries see at least forty extant sources attest that, not only did monks of Shaolin practice martial arts, but martial practice had become such an integral element of Shaolin monastic life that the monks felt the need to justify it by creating new Buddhist lore. References to Shaolin martial arts appear in various literary genres of the late Ming (1368-1644): the epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial-arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travelogues, fiction, and even poetry.

In addition, in the long-history development of Shaolin Kung Fu, masters at Shaolin Temple also taught Kungfu to non-Buddhist followers to allow commoners the chance to practice Shaolin Kungfu. This allowed Shaolin Temple to develop several branches in other regions.

 

Influence outside China

 

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Some lineages of Karate have oral traditions that claim Shaolin origins. Martial arts traditions in Japan and Korea, and Southeast Asia cite Chinese influence as transmitted by Buddhist monks.

Recent developments in the 20th century such as Shorinji Kempo still maintain close ties with China’s Songshan mountain Shaolin Temple due to historic links.

 

In popular culture

 

Shaolin, in popular culture, has taken on a second life. Since the 1970s, it has been featured in many films, TV shows, video games, cartoons, and other media.

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While some of these are clear commercial exploitation of the Shaolin Temple and its legends, they have helped make Shaolin a household name around the world, and kept the temple alive in the minds of many young generations, and from vanishing into obscurity like many other ancient traditions. To date, no other temple in the world has achieved such wide spread recognition.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Chinese Kung Fu- An Integral Part of Chinese Culture

Chinese martial arts, also known as kung fu, are a number of fighting styles that have developed over the centuries in China.

 

Genesis of Chinese martial arts

The genesis of Chinese martial arts has been attributed to the need for self-defense, hunting techniques and military training in ancient China. Hand-to-hand combat and weapons practice were important in training ancient Chinese soldiers.

Chinese Kungfu

From this beginning, Chinese martial arts proceeded to incorporate different philosophies and ideas into its practice—expanding its purpose from self-defense to health maintenance and finally as method of self-cultivation. Conversely, the influence of martial arts ideals in civilian society can be found in poetry, fiction, and eventually film. Chinese martial arts are now an integral element of Chinese culture.

 

An Aspect of Chinese Culture

 

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Chinese martial arts are an organic component of the Chinese culture. Chinese martial arts have a long history, converging Chinese philosophy, medicine, military strategy, techniques, education, aesthetics, etc., and mirroring the character and sagacity of the Chinese people. It can be concluded that Chinese martial arts reflect the entire Chinese cultural characteristics from one aspect.

On the level of philosophy, the marital arts stress “unification of man and nature”. On the social level, the martial arts stress cultivation of mind and personality, awareness of the natural law. Therefore, the Chinese martial arts are not simply a fighting technique, but are a style, life attitude and personality cultivation.

 

Popular culture

 

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Chinese martial arts are an integral element of 20th-century Chinese popular culture. Wuxia or “martial arts fiction” is a popular genre which emerged in the early 20th century and peaked in popularity during the 1960s to 1980s. This type of fiction is based on Chinese concepts of chivalry, a separate martial arts society and a central theme involving martial arts. Wuxia stories are still extremely popular in much of Asia and provide a major influence for the public perception of the martial arts.

In modern times, Chinese martial arts have spawned the genre of cinema known as the martial arts film. The films of Bruce Lee were instrumental in the initial burst of Chinese martial arts’ popularity in the West in the 1970s. Martial artists and actors such as Jet Li and Jackie Chan have continued the appeal of movies of this genre. Martial arts films from China are often referred to as “kungfu movies”. Martial arts themes can also be found on television networks.

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Training in Shaolin Temple

With a history of more than 1,500 years behind, Shaolin monastery is a home to Mahayana Buddhism, a cradle to martial arts, and, along with Wudang of Daoist tradition, the indisputable regal seat of the world kung fu.

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Shaolin training is something of interest to many in the western world. Ever since the Chinese kung fu movies arrived, people have been trying to learn their moves. However, there is another dimension to the supreme conditioning and discipline of Shaolin monks. On the surface it’s all kung fu, fancy skills and extreme conditioning, but that’s not really the point of the discipline.

 

Shaolin Training

Shaolin monks train their whole lives in various disciplines. They train in kung fu, mindfulness meditation and many gymnastics-style physical skills. They also have strict nutritional guidelines that they live by.

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The whole magic of Shaolin training is in their consistency, not their “secret” methods. Shaolin monks practice their arts every single day, rain, hail or shine. There are no days off or breaks to go watching TV or go drinking with their friends.

 

Mindfulness Meditation

 

The primary training of shaolin monks is mindfulness meditation. This is a practice of meditating whilst sitting and practicing awareness whilst walking and performing daily tasks.

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Mindfulness meditation is simply consistent training of extreme awareness. When a person practices this sort of meditation, they are training to be aware of the present moment without judgment or attachment in any way. The attitude is that things and circumstances are what they are and nothing more. There is no good or evil, positive or negative, everything serves a purpose.

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This sort of practice develops extreme mental awareness of a person’s surroundings and enables the practitioner to develop laser-like focus.

 

Physical Conditioning

 

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Shaolin training also consists of extreme physical conditioning. This is evident in the exhibitions and shows they perform around the world. The monks, despite their size, are able to perform phenomenal feats of superhuman strength, agility, coordination, speed etc.

This is accomplished through drills and exercises like reaction time drills, continuous repetition of martial arts techniques, progressive physical skills, obstacle courses, weapons drills, partnered coordination exercises and many other things that they practice on a daily basis. This sort of training is conducted for many hours per day. This is why Shaolin monks appear to possess superhuman abilities.

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Shaolin Culture

The Shaolin Monastery was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. The three indispensable shaolin cultures, Chan Buddihism, Shaolin Kung Fu and medicine, have greatly contributed to its reputation in the world.

 

Chan Buddhism

Chan is a school of Mahayana Buddhism, also known as Zen (Japanese). This word is derived from the Sanskrit “dhyana”, which means “meditation”. The Shaolin Temple is considered the ancestral home of Chan Buddhism since Chan Buddhism was established by South Indian monk Damo (Bodhidharma) during his nine-year meditation in a cave on Mount Wuru behind the temple around 527 AD.

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As the center of Chan Buddhism, the Shaolin Temple attracted many emperors’ attention in China’s history. The Empress Wu Zetian (AD 625-705) paid several visits to the Shaolin Temple discussing Chan philosophy with high monk Tan Zong; the founder of Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan(AD 1215-1294) ordered all Buddhist temples in China to be led by the Shaolin Temple; there were eight Princes during Ming Dynasty turned themselves into Shaolin monks.

 

Shaolin Kung Fu

 

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The Shaolin Temple is recognized as the originating site of the Shaolin Kungfu. Shaolin Kungfu was refers specifically to a martial art system developed within the Shaolin Monastery. It was established within the Buddhist culture and rooted deeply in the spiritual nature of Buddhism. It also reflects fully the inner wisdom of Zen Buddhism. The traditional cultural system is manifested through the martial arts demonstrations by the monks from the Shaolin monastery. The system has three characteristics, a complete fighting system, the sole heir of the unique Buddhist culture and the seeker and preserver of the indomitable Shaolin spirit.

 

Medicine

 

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As an indispensable part of Shaolin Culture, Shaolin Medicine offers herbal remedies and traditional Chinese therapy such as acupuncture. The origin of Shaolin medicine is from Damo as well. When the monks were weak after meditation, he began collecting folk remedies to help them. These treatments were developed across successive dynasties, peaking in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644). The Shaolin Medicine Center was established around 1217 AD in the Buddhist spirit of “Mercy”. In the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644), the Shaolin Medicine Center was expanded and strengthened for disciples, believers, followers and the poor. This merit has been passed down from that time on. In 2004, Abbot Shi Yong Xin revived the Shaolin Medicine Center and the ancient Shaolin Medicine is given a new life in the modern era.

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Wuxia, a popular culture for most Chinese-speaking communities

Wuxia is a broad genre of Chinese fiction that concerns itself with martial arts adventures set primarily in ancient China. Although traditionally a literary art form, it is now also found in art, comics, films, games, television, theatre, and other media. Wuxia forms a large part of popular culture for most Chinese-speaking communities around the world.

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What is Wuxia

The word “wuxia” is a compound word composed from the words xia (“honorable”, “chivalrous”), which is the philosophy of the Chinese knight-errant, and wu (“martial”, “military”), from the Chinese term wushu (“martial arts” or “kungfu”). A martial artist who follows the code of xia is often referred to as a “swordsman” in works of wuxia, although he may not necessarily wield a sword. He is also sometimes called a xiake (lit: “follower of xia”) or yóuxiá (“wandering xia”).

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The heroes in Chinese wuxia do not usually serve a lord, wield military power or belong to the aristocratic class. They are often from the lower social classes in ancient Chinese society. Wuxia heroes are usually bound by a code of martial chivalry that requires them to right wrongs, especially when the helpless are oppressed. The wuxia hero fought for righteousness, typically, seeking to remove an oppressor, or to bring retribution for past wrong-doing. The Chinese xia traditions are similar to those of the Japanese samurai’s bushido, the chivalry of the Western European knights and the gunslingers of America’s Westerns.

 

Wuxia Novel

 

The wuxia novel is a Chinese novel genre, which features martial arts heroes, i.e. swordsmen and those related to them, with the plot dedicating to the intricate relationships of honor, loyalty, love and hatred between individuals in the world of martial arts. There’s usually a thread of martial arts practice and demonstration running through the plot.

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In most cases, wuxia novels are set in ancient China. And these novels have their unique cultural background with martial arts at the core, involving ancient Chinese medicine, Buddhism, Taoism, Yishu (the art of living with changes) and various types of occultism etc. So, the concepts of values held by the characters in wuxia novels as well as the main spirit of the whole work are based on the basic ideas of martial arts.

“Martial arts” means “to stop fighting” in ancient Chinese, in other words, to end conflicts with force. This means that the aim of martial arts practicing is to stop oppressing the weak by sheer strength. Guided by this thought, wuxia novels are created in a way that justice and evil are clear and definite.

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The Benefits of Chinese Martial Arts

 

Health and Fitness

By health, we mean not only being free from illness, but the ability to sleep soundly, to work energetically, to think clearly, and to be calm yet alert. By fitness, we mean not just physical strength, but the ability to react quickly, to endure hard work, and to concentrate without mental fatigue.

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Kung Fu is better than other forms of exercise for promoting health and fitness. In swimming, jogging, and karate, for example, the fitness acquired diminishes as one grows old, but in Kung Fu it is enhanced. This is because Kung Fu is more than physical exercise; it develops the inner faculties of vital energy and the mind. A Kung Fu practitioner will exhibit more zest and vitality in both work and play than an ordinary person, and have calmness of mind and clarity of thought even under demanding situations.

 

Character Training

 

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Kung Fu teaching emphasizes moral development as well as physical training, stressing values like respect, courage, tolerance, and reverence for life. The very nature of Kung Fu training is a long process of character building. Wholesome qualities like endurance, perseverance, discipline, loyalty, and a calm disposition are prerequisites for progress, especially at higher levels. All these qualities, acquired through Kung Fu training, are transferable to daily life.

 

Self-Defense

 

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Self-defense is the essence of Chinese martial arts. True Kung Fu teaching always instructs students to be tolerant and avoid fighting, but the ability to defend oneself is a valuable asset. It is only when we know that we can defend ourselves effectively that we gain self-confidence. In this way self-defense can be applied to non-combative situations, such as job interviews or school exams. In modern society, this need for psychological self-defense is perhaps more important than the need to actually fight.

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