It is gentle like some forms of Yoga are but it is more relaxed and uses the body in a different way. Also the origins of Tai Chi were as a means of self protection and it still has those capabilities. Yoga was never intended for fighting.
The Five Elements (Fire, Water, Metal, Earth, and Wood) are part of Chinese culture and they are referenced in some of the moves in Tai Chi and Qigong, but there is no need to understand anything about them unless those cultural references interest you.
Push Hands (PH for short) are a range of partner exercises and drills that are designed to make you more sensitive in the detection of what your partner (or opponent) is doing. PH can be done simply as a training exercise or it can be done as a thing in itself with PH competitions that take place at local, national, and international levels.
At the Agar-Hutton Tai Chi Academy we do not do a lot of PH (Ask me why and I’ll explain, it’s easier to do that face-to-face) but we will fully support any student who wants to try their hand (pun intended) at competition.
This is an interesting and somewhat complex issue. There are multiple layers to ‘meditation’ from simple relaxation through more intense practices that will put you into a deep state of relaxation and all the way to deep religious and spiritual practices. We do NOT teach the religious and spiritual side of meditation because that depends on what religion you belong to.
We DO teach meditation through movement, the forms in Tai Chi can be used, in and of themselves, to help you relax. And we teach Qigong exercises, combining breathing techniques with either specific physical movements or certain static postures to allow you to bring about a meditative state.
What a great question. One that I have been asked a number of times. The answer is another question... "Is knitting a religion?" The answer is not a simple 'No', the answer is 'It depends' - if your Tai Chi (or knitting) instructor wants to infuse their teachings with their personal religious beliefs then yes, what you learn will have those influences. However I don't have any religious beliefs (I'm an atheist) so there is no religion taught in my Tai Chi.
It's my hope that all my students are mature and sensible enough to make up their own minds on the subject of religion. All you should come to the Agar-Hutton Tai Chi Academy for is to learn Tai Chi.
There are multiple definitions of 'Chi'. Most generally it is the name given to the Chinese concept for an all pervading 'force' that permeates everything and that animates us (gives us life and energy).
It is a very useful if you think of it as a metaphor for the physical feelings and experiences that you will encounter as you practice Tai Chi. Of course, if you are more of a science geek, then you may prefer (as I do) to think more in terms of Western medical and bio-mechanical explanations for what you are doing and feeling.
However the definitions do not get in the way of the practice of Tai Chi.
It's a bit like breathing, if you know that you are breathing air and you know what gasses it contains and how they affect the body, that's great. If you don't know, it doesn't matter as long as you keep breathing.