What do young people think of tai chi?

(Recent CNN article on millennials doing tai chi.)

Young people in China have told me that tai chi is just something that old people do. “But do you know what taiji is?” I would say and they would reply, “Yeah, something old people do.”

True enough, but if they began practicing tai chi at a younger age they could probably prevent many of the ailments that older people have after a lifetime of beating their bodies up.

Even in the USA, many think that tai chi is for “seniors.” That’s a nice euphemistic term considered appropriate for “old people.” Tai chi is where people go when they’ve washed up on the shores of “retirement.” Of course, when you reach a certain age, as everyone will, you realize you have misused, overused, and otherwise abused your body to the point that you do feel old and weakened.

As a tai chi practitioner and instructor I take comfort in knowing what the practice has done for me and can do for others. Young people don’t know what they’re missing.

I shouldn’t say all young people share the opinion of tai chi as an old person’s practice. A few young people do practice tai chi, part of a refreshing trend. I was interviewed by a few young Web journalists when in China in 2009. Although they were not tai chi practitioners they were fascinated with the fact that “foreigners” were. We had some wonderful conversations during our time together. I came away from that fascinating country understanding that China’s young associate less with old China than with old people. They respect the elderly even though some of them do that tai chi thing.

This coincides with my take on tai chi having universal value for being human beyond culture, society, location, etc. Particularly related to being a life-long practice to maintain health and well-being, it’s a gift to the world that happens to have originated among people who lived in a place we now call China (Zhong Guo).

I happen to have been born in the great technocratic society of “America” where everything new shines continually, even while so much is left rusting in some field along some superhighway. Despite our love affair with the idea of New, the world is getting cluttered with old stuff left in the wake of our restless attention. As far as I’m concerned, taijiquan (as well as qigong) is always new and always has been throughout the time we’ve known about it. It’s a way to discover unknown things—of which there is plenty—about our mind-energy-body connection. Even though its from an older time and older people do it, enough younger folks are paying attention—whether or not they eschew it, because more and more don’t. And that confirms my certainty that it’s going to be around for a long time to come.

Does this topic interest you?

Other posts about young people doing tai chi:

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Paul Tim Richard studies and writes about Chinese internal martial arts, and produces instructional videos for He also teaches fundamental principles of taijiquan, qigong, and other principles of Chinese internal martial arts. He is available for seminars and workshops worldwide. He lives near Durango, Colorado USA.

A few tai chi practice tips

Collage of several of Gray's muscle pictures, ...
Image via Wikipedia

In taiji there are concepts that you want to understand. One is “get out of muscle.” For many this is a little difficult to understand at first, but once you do it is relatively easy to apply. The concept of “empty,” as some of my teachers refer to, means in part to have no jing in the muscles, no tension, no clutching. “Qi flows through” is another concept. When learners feel it happening, they are elated. It feels good.

How do you practice these concepts? Do single, basic moves with the intention of “getting out of muscle.” Repetitive, rhythmic movement is a valuable means of freeing up your mind and allowing you to perceive the more subtle features of your movement and body…to distinguish what is not moving from what is. You want whole body movement, harmonious and flowing. With practice you learn to turn your gaze away from muscle by focusing on the movement of bones, ligaments and tendons as you repeat the moves. This is a good idea for many practitioners, not just beginners. Many more ways exist, but this is a start.