Why bother with research to prove the benefit

 of Taijiquan (Tai chi)?



If Taijiquan works for you and it works for those you know -it works, right?
Well, no...
You and your friends might be born to be fit and well adjusted.
Your teacher might be so charismatic that whatever s/he said or did would make you feel better.
You may all be reaping the benefit of your excellent diet and lifestyle.
You may all live with a happy healthy, supportive family.
You may all get great satisfaction from the jobs you love and always wanted to do -and as for your superb, conscientious, helpful and expert colleagues, that is just a bonus.



I hope, dear and patient reader, for you it is all of above.

When you, your fellow students, your own students and your teachers willingly invest so much time, study and effort the last thing you want to hear is that it would have been just as useful to have been a couch potato all the time. Even worse, that it might have caused harm.

It would be natural to analytically dismiss anything negative whilst accepting the positive with all the uncritical and thoughtless enthusiasm of a squirrel unexpectedly coming across a well stocked bird table.
Here is where research fits in.

Because good researchers are very careful:-

To be as objective as possible,
To note their results accurately and
To devise their research to disprove rather than to confirm what they are researching:
Positive results are very powerful in establishing the true situation.
Good for confirming what you feel is correct, good when discussing the art with others and good for promulgation.


The Purpose Of Research

The purpose of research is to produce new knowledge or test ancient knowledge that has not been scientifically proved yet.
Research tests whether this knowledge can be applied widely; further than the group of people (the population) that either reported the new knowledge (e.g. the benefits of Taiji) or were the subjects of the study.  
Of course, this would all be wasted if this research-based or research-confirmed knowledge was not also put into practice more widely as a result of publishing and broadcasting it (research utilisation). It is surprising how long this can take and how many good studies are over-looked.
Some types of research applicable to Taijiquan.
Prevention trials which look for better ways to prevent disease in people who have never had the disease or to prevent a disease from returning seem pertinent to the art.
We might like researchers to confirm the art's power to produce lifestyle changes, comparing and measuring the differences between those who do practice Taiji with those that do not.
Quality of Life trials explore ways to improve comfort and the quality of life for individuals with a chronic illness; an effect not unfamiliar to Taiji teachers and practitioners.


One of the places to get really good and understandable information.
Cochrane is an organisation that checks how good the evidence from research actually is.
To say the guys at Cochrane are superb would be understatement.
They are totally unbiased.
They take all the good studies about a particular issue and do complicated things with statistics so the information that  all these different sources have produced can be compared and considered together; the more people, from more places and different circumstances that are the subject of the study, the more reliable and more widely applicable the results.
 
The fine folk at Cochrane live to help determine whether the case is:
 
Proven,
Unproven in spite of testing by research methods or...
Unproven because it has not been tested -so much good, potentially helpful things in areas like Taiji are waiting patiently in this group.
 
The Cochrane team members would rather give up their carefully ordered coloured biros and the plastic holder that protects to prevent the ink marking the breast pocket of their white coats than publish anything that they were not sure was completely accurate.
To understand the significance of this, you would need to appreciate that none of them would go to bed, even on their honeymoons, without their pens.
 
Cochrane does this very well and has a reputation for producing extremely trustworthy results, they check.
- The researcher’s credibility
- The credibility of the research and
- The organisation's credibility

Happily their information is readily available to anyone closer than a finger length to a computer with their superb medical research website.
 
Please remember that:
- Honest results are not clear cut very often; they often pose even more questions. There is always another study that could be done to increase the knowledge base and move ever nearer but never quite reaching a final answer -sounds like the taiji journey doesn't it?
- You know there is no such thing as a free lunch, if something seems too good, it probably is and all the other clichés that we can think of given a little more time.