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What is Tai Chi? – Not Merely a Martial Art

What is Tai Chi? – Not Merely a Martial Art

What is Tai Chi (and qigong, for that matter)… and how is it spelled and pronounced?

Over many, many years of practice and study, I’ve heard it described in many ways. T’ai Chi, taiji, chi kung, qi gong, qi gong, etc., etc. Translated means “harmony of opposites”,Supreme Ultimate, ultimate reality, perfect balance, and perfection (I’m sure I’ve missed a few… no emails please). Tai Chi is a martial art, a self defense system, long-fist, shadow boxing, meditation in motion, a slow folk dance, a dance of creation and destruction, health fitness routine and more. I’ve read about Tai chi as a means for teaching conflict resolution and anger management, and for controlling ADD/ADHD, as a mood management system, stress reduction, immune system tuner, and balance training system. I’ve heard from a very prominent contemporary Grandmaster that Tai Chi is “anything done well”, and I’ve heard of Tai Chi as a way of life. Currently, tai chi (a VERY SPECIFIC tai chi) is the answer to arthritis. So once again what is tai chi?

What I practice is a very specific pattern of movements, attempting to execute a set of principles. The movements have martial implication, if not application, and are sequenced in a way that allows me to practice with a sense of an opponent’s attack/defend tactics. Practice time is a period of releasing the incessant, insistent noise of contemporary society, and retreating to a more contemplative personal experience.

It seems to me, that at times my life has flowed more easily as a result of practice, that my moods have been more upbeat, and my health has been better during times when I have redoubled my efforts at practice, whether the redoubling was aimed at “perfecting” a piece, or simply, practicing more often. I have practiced and taught tai chi for physical fitness, balance, concentration, relaxation. I have experienced and witnessed “radical shifts in perception” (Webster’s definition of miracle), release of artistic blockages, unveiling of reality vs delusional fantasy, and significant personal transformation and growth. I’ve felt it passionately, and watched as others passed it by on their way to “something” else. For me, it is a journey which has allowed me to visit many people and places; some I liked, and some I did not. It is perpetually challenging, disappointing, daunting and rewarding and always leading to a new perspective.

Qi Gong (and Tai Chi), Herbal Medicine, Acupuncture, and similar “arts” hail out of a period in China’s stone age, ending roughly 4,000 BC. The period is known as “China’s Wild History” by some, the wellspring of China’s mythology, legend, and traditional folklore. It is the time before written recorded history, when the Three August Ones, god-kings, used their magical powers to live long lives, presiding over long peaceful reigns, and to make the lives of their people better.Fuxi, Huangdi, and Shennong are credited with the inventions of writing, farming, fishing, fire, herbal medicine, and the original formulations of China’s traditional medicine. The exact period of time is fuzzy, misty, primordial, bridging the span of time between a great flood thousands and thousands of years in the past, until about the time of the first historically legitimate dynasty, the time of the Xia People 2100-1600BC. The last of these god-kings the “Earthly King” is said to have ruled for more than 45,000 years!

What we do know is that pre-historic people didn’t live long, spent much of their time scaring up some lunch, and resting until it was time to create a new generation, or eat again… or admire, ponder wordlessly, the full moon. Absent an extensive menu of differentiations (vocabulary), our “Wild History Man”, probably knew the moon in ways most of us in the information age can never hope to. From that organic knowing (experience) evolved a world view that is inclusive of all things, and out of which a complete system of integration and disintegration is devolved.(huh?) The five elements alchemy:cycles of creation and destruction.

In practicing, studying, and mulling it over, I think the most important “fact” (opinion?) I have uncovered is just how powerful, and simultaneously; limiting, words can be. I think that people with a limited vocabulary have no less an experience of life than the most articulate; different certainly, and my surmise is that their experience of life is more powerful. Words, I’m afraid, cause a kind of thought process which is depleting… Master Duan taught us that our thoughts are energy, the more thought, the more energy required to sustain them. The energy comes from the body and in to the head. I’ve experienced that, the words mean something different to me, than to someone who has not, and even others who have had the experience would describe it differently.

Practice, study, and learning qi gong and tai chi was and is the place from which I stepped into a “new mind”, in Tai Chi we call it beginner’s mind. It is the place from which I have entered into an experience of life and things, much bigger, and somehow more rich than I was able to know from my “old mind”. It permits an openness that allows for, and celebrates the mystery of existence, and doesn’t try always to explain it away.

In working with others, what I’m really doing is sharing an experience… an experience of the world; of life, profoundly different from the one I was socialized with… words alone are inadequate, as are demonstrations.Chop Wood, Carry Water.

Practice, read, ponder, share. Practice some more. Experience.