Tai Chi is not necessarily a martial art as many might assume, yet it does have some limited hand to hand combat capacity once sped up. In addition to the slow speed, Tai Chi is also inappropriate for use as a combat skill simply because it is limited to a certain number of pre-defined movements and is not adaptive. A concise definition of Tai Chi would simply be: a series of precise martial arts movements performed at a slow pace. These two characteristics define Tai Chi, but it is so much more than what its concise definition might imply.
The slow speed at which Tai Chi exercises are performed actually makes them more strenuous in many regards. Muscle fibers throughout the body are believed to contract in an ‘all or nothing’ fashion dictated by the length and intensity of a movement. Faster exercises that use shorter repetitions only engage a narrow cross-section of most muscles, while slower Tai Chi movements tend to engage the muscle fibers that are designed for longer duration/lower effort. These muscle fibers are not often challenged by many fitness enthusiasts who favor speed and power.
Slow speed also makes Tai Chi appealing to those that cannot perform rapid movements on a daily basis, such as the elderly or those recovering from injuries. There may also be hand-eye coordination benefits of teaching younger children Tai Chi as the practice does emphasize precision movements at a pace that allows for easy correction of mistakes.
The precision movements and slow speed at which Tai Chi excusers are performed allow people that practice Tai Chi to determine how many repetitions they wish to perform. The mild exertion over a longer period of time is ultimately a great way to burn calories as well as release growth hormone that promotes bone and muscle fiber health. The long term effect of routinely burning calories and increasing muscle and bone density can be both cumulative and impressive. It may help to explain why many elderly Chinese citizens are in such good physical shape well into their senior years; a few hours of Tai Chi every week promotes health in multiple ways. When backed by a healthy diet and lifestyle, Tai Chi can possibly add years to a life and life to those years.
It may be worth noting that many Westerners have adopted a standardized version of the Tai Chi movements and the universally accepted Tai Chi routines are probably the result of non-Chinese influence. Historically, many different sub-cultures within China have taught localized versions of Tai Chi that can vary