In a world of infinite understandings, opinions and directions, this writing, on these subjects, is an attempt at clarity and openness on the current limited standards and knowledge-base of Tai Chi in America. I am sure already that my opening statement could ruffle the feathers of some long-time practitioners but that is not my intent. As a qualifier, I would like to state that I am a 32 yr. Practitioner in the Physical Internal Arts and that I do not pretend to know everything about these practices; I speak only from experience and the reflections that have come to me from the method.
As someone that came to Tai Chi, like many of the Instructors, I have a Martial Background. My last teacher; Zhou Rong Qin Tsai would remind me (with relentless regularity) that the practice was very limited from only the Martial perspective. As a result of the Communist Revolution in China, many cultural treasures were lost or brought to the stage of near extinction. Tai Chi was one of the treasures that was affected. The aspect of the Tai Chi Lineage that relates to transformation (rhythm of change), and the re-gaining open heart/open mind and inner harmony (state of balance) is inter-related to general health & self development. What is often missed in our diagnosis of our own health is how past traumas, tendencies towards dysfunctional habits/fears and limitations/blockages of our common senses, re-create dis-ease, accumulations, imbalances and general systemic weakness & degeneration. It would be a great accomplishment to just stop shooting ourselves in the foot; to learn how our systems work (by feeling)& to adjust in accordance to what our common senses tell us. This level of connection to ourselves is both profound & basic.
Knowing ourselves is about regularity in self observation, sincerity, working with needed changes and willingness to follow through until the change occurs; the basic components of self discipline. As we age, our commitment to our own health becomes ever-present as a need and we can no longer put it on the back-burner of our lives. If we have done less self-care for ourselves along the way of life, we are subject to being cared for by others and their interpretations of "what's best for us" which, from my experience, is usually not 100% accurate or welcomed. To be in the "driver's seat" of our own health & well being as we age, we must commit to knowing ourselves and paying attention or responding to our own needs/changes in a timely fashion. Aging or tracking changes, learning from our experiences, and honesty, are the cornerstones of self care.
Science based research into the field of Tai Chi is limited as it analyzes individual aspects of the practice instead of the whole. Studies fail to take into account the myriad of spiritual, physical, and emotional traumas that participants might enter with, producing inaccurate before-and-after results. A more accurate view of the benefits of the practice to the practitioner might be evaluated by having participants rate their status quo understanding of balance, connection, and stability as Low, Medium, or Strong and then re-evaluating their condition after the program has concluded. As the practice contains many intangible benefits and changes, by admission, the scientific questionnaire must become more accurate and appropriately placed in relation to "milestones" of the practice. Science cannot measure common sensing and so negates its value.
Science can be used to help us learn how to become more accurate in our sensing by using it to measure the before & after states; In the "before" stage, the medical diagnosis measured & related to how we feel & in the "after" stage, the changes we feel, measured and related to the established health norms. Science can recognize general states of health and that changes are occurring, but not the intricacies of change and balance itself. A healthy organism is in a constant state of fluctuation, the foundations of both balance & change....and indeed, life itself.
Feel free to peruse the collected Science-based research that we have but know that you will have to become the scientist, the experiment and the result of your own interactions....we are all living experiments and the results are seen in how we live and grow.
Solloway, M.R., Taylor, S.L., Shekelle, P.G. et al. An evidence map of the effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes. Syst Rev 5, 126 (2016).