"Now you see why the path of Chi is the highest path, and why one translation of
Tai Chi is "grand ultimate." There is truly no higher pursuit and no clearer goal than rediscovering and reclaiming your pure life energy." - Waysun Liao
What is Tai Chi Chuan?
Tai Chi Chuan (pronounced “tie’ chee chuwan”) consists of a series of flowing gentle movements executed with precision at an even slow pace, prompting many to depict it as a slow-moving dance. It is a centuries-old system of Chinese origin that integrates mind, body and spirit to enjoy life and its bounties.
With balance and flexibility, the passionate practitioner buoyantly glides and dances through an ocean of air as he performs a set of routine forms. Breathing is regulated, the entire body is relaxed, the mind is made alert, and the concentration is focused and made attentive to the unique total experience that flows from each performance of the routine.
In the regular practice of Tai Chi, one naturally develops proper body alignment, fluidity, naturalness, proper grounding and rootedness, mindfulness; and comes to know at continuous higher levels the raising of the spirit, and the stillness within movement. Thus, one achieves not only health, but also longevity and spiritual illumination.
“Tai Chi Chuan” has been most closely translated to mean as Supreme Ultimate Boxing, or the Grand Terminus Style. It is regarded and respected by its advocates, regular practitioners, and zealous proponents as the highest of the internal and martial arts. It simply is the melting pot of the internal arts, and one of the earliest sources of the different martial art styles that we know now, if not actually the progenitor of them all.
The depth of its meaning continues to make the pristine essence, utmost benefits and most practical applications of Tai Chi less known to many, even among Chinese practitioners.
Tai Chi is a direct training for the attainment of self-actualization, and mastery of life. The professions, academic studies, and life experiences we have are but preparations and tools in embarking for a serious study of Tai Chi.
What is Chi?
Chi is a Chinese term that means “breath” or “air.” It corresponds to the Greek pneuma, Sanskrit prana, Japanese ki, and Judaism’s ruakh.
But its essence is more than that. It is the vital energy or life force that gives strength, improves health, sustains life, and creates forms. It is an intrinsic force that, in Chinese philosophy, is held to pervade the entire universe. It is a kind of flowing energy like electricity, which when blocked or caused to be stagnant, results in illness or death.
At birth, we inherit a certain level and quality of chi from our parents. This inherited chi is nourished or diminished, and strengthened or weakened depending on how well we take care of our body. After birth, we get to modify the nature of our pre-birth chi depending on the quality of the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.
The quality and amount of chi in our bodies determine our overall constitution, whether we are weak or strong, sickly or robust, negative or optimistic, fearful or confident, depressed or joyful, and mediocre or above-average.
By practicing Tai Chi, chi in the body is balanced and strengthened. It stores, cultivates and directs this intrinsic energy. The process is automatic.
Tai Chi - A Key to Enjoying Life
Tai Chi Chuan is intimated by existing literature and, more so, by its patriarchs as an ultimate way or approach towards mastering and enjoying life.
In doing Tai Chi, and especially complementing it with regular meditation, the earnest practitioner amasses energy that sinks into his flesh, nerves, bones and ultimately, into his core being. This energy, which intensifies with regular practice, provides the individual with the fuel to work out and eventually achieve his desired goal, which can take form of, among others:
· Material wealth,
· Peak levels of health,
· Superior athletic abilities,
· Masterful fighting skills,
· Musical proficiency,
· Academic renown,
· Youthful appearance,
· Professional success, or even
· Pristine insight into the mysteries and secrets of life.
Tai Chi ultimately brings one into an awareness and kinship with the all-dynamic energy, investing one with the power to attain the desires of his heart.
In attaining one goal after another, the passionate practitioner naturally acquires wisdom into the nature of each of his already attained goals, and is eventually led into the pursuit of higher things in life, like music and the arts, and even philosophy, at which time, he finally finds himself venturing in pursuit of answers into the fundamental aspects of reality, and strives to lie his insightful realizations.
The diligent practitioner unmistakably feels the torrents of fiery energy that forces him to dare and dream, to do something and achieve, as well as to be peaceful and happy. He oozes with much energy that he simply cannot help being positive and optimistic and cheerful about living life. Suddenly, he is provided with a new vista and conviction that life is beautiful and worth living. His sexual potency heightens, and so is his drive to move on, to explore life, and savour its essence—whatever it is!
Science asserts that all are energy (chi)—our thoughts, emotions, actions, bodies, experiences, and objects of desires. The diverse images and concrete realities we see, hear, touch, taste, smell and intuit are but myriad forms of expression and manifestation of the one energy that remains constant, incapable of being destroyed nor created, but very much capable of being transformed into one form or another.
The Origin of Tai Chi
Tai Chi According to Written History
Following written history, Tai Chi Chuan, as we more or less know it today, was devised in early 14th century A.D. by Chang San-feng, a government official-turned-Taoist monk who was regarded to be the art’s greatest teacher.
Many credit to San-feng the founding of Tai Chi Chuan in recognition of his efforts to broaden Tai Chi from its narrow martial origins into an effective way of developing an individual’s entire constitution. San-feng incorporated Taoist philosophy to early martial art styles to integrate a person’s body, mind and spirit. Such integration makes it possible for practitioners to attain a state of unequalled tranquillity, and enter the orb of the fourth dimension.
A trinity of legends explains how Chang San-feng created Tai Chi.
1. One legend recounts that Chang San-feng created Tai Chi in a dream.
2. Another legend narrates that Tai Chi was conceived by San-Feng after observing an encounter between a snake and a crane. He was amazed how the smaller and less powerful snake managed to stay in the thick of the fight by using elusive, circular movements. This event impressed upon San-feng the principle of softness over firmness, leading him to invent Tai Chi.
3. A third legend talks of San-feng founding Tai Chi as a remedial response to a self-perceived need for a refined art of fighting. He observed that the monks boxing on Wudang (or Wu Tang) Mountain were using too much physical force that they were awkward and off-balanced in their movements.
Thus San-feng went on to devise a fighting system that will transfer chi to the shen (spirit) as well as employ inner force rather than brute strength.
Tai Chi According to Oral Tradition
Oral tradition invariably points to Tai Chi as a creation of gods, and a gift to humanity through the cooperation of ready and obliging qualified mortals.
Taoists are of the conviction that much of Tai Chi was created by Taoist masters projecting in another dimension or realm of existence. There, the movements of the gods were observed, then imitated when the adepts returned to earth.
Legends about Chang San-feng
San-feng and the Royal Family
Once San-feng was in a forest, the Mongolian royal family came to the place to hunt, and ordered him to go away. San-feng remarked with a smile, “Your highness hunts with bow and arrow; I only use my bare hands.”
Suddenly, a pair of hawks flew across where they were. San-feng leapt and caught them. Silently like a leaf falling returned to the ground. He explained, “I am merciful to living creatures; I do not want to hurt the birds.”
Finally, San-feng allows the hawks to fly. Enraged, one of the prince’s followers shot an arrow at him. San-feng caught the arrow with his mouth, hurled it deep towards a tree, and remarked, “I have no need of daily weapons.”
San-feng, the Immortal
Since his time, Chang San-feng had been regarded as immortal. He was given mysterious status but revered and sought after even by emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). His bursting energies (derived from his diligent practice of both the internal and external alchemical arts) conferred on him magical powers, and enabled him to accomplish amazing exploits. His death was unknown, but many considered him to have lived for over two hundred years. Emperor Chengzu ordered a big temple on Wudang Mountain built in San-feng’s honor, while Emperor Yiuchung bestowed upon him the title of being an immortal.
The Basis of Tai Chi
Tai Chi is based on the three major principles of Tai Chi philosophy: the Tai Chi Diagram, the Five Elements Theory, and the Bagua Principle of I-Ching (the Book of Changes).
The Tai Chi Diagram is the Chinese yin-yang circle we are familiar with. It depicts the achievement and preservation of harmony through the dynamic interaction of two opposites or polarities. One cannot exist without the other, with each one giving rise to the other.
The Five Elements (wuxing) Theory maintains that four principles of mutuality can explain and bring about a dynamically balanced system that can lead to health, and thus improve the quality and length of life.
Central to the theory are the principles of mutual creation and destruction, as well as the principles of closeness and fear among the five elements—water, fire, wood, metal and earth.
The Bagua Principle relates that the eight trigrams of I-Ching can be used to classify all existing events and phenomena, as well as analyze their internal and external meanings, relevance, and indications. The eight trigrams are the maximum number of figures that can be formed from two kinds of lines (the solid and the broken) in groups of three.
Major Tai Chi Styles
There exist at present five (5) major schools of Tai Chi Chuan, namely Chen, Yang, Wu (Yuxiang), Wu (Jianquan) and Sun, all of which are named after the family name of their founders.
Of the five, the first three are considered traditional forms. The latter two are regarded as non-traditional for simply being variations of the traditional Yang and Wu/Hao styles.
The five styles and their founders are given below:
· Chen Style founded by Chen Wangting (1600-1680), a garrison commander;
· Yang Style founded by Yang Luchan (1799-1872), a farm worker;
· Wu/Li/Hao Style founded by Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880), a martial artist;
· Wu (Jianquan) Style founded by Quanyou (1834-1902), a Manchurian bodyguard who adopted the Chinese name Wu after the fall of the Manchu Qing dynastly; and
· Sun Style founded by Sun Lutang (1861-1932), a famous martial artist.
Tai Chi – Way of Attuning with Oneself
The quest for man’s self-rediscovery is recreated in the gentle and graceful forms of Tai Chi. As one flows through the movements of Tai Chi, self-awareness is kindled. One is led to an awareness of the resident tensions and blockages in our different body parts, as well as with the bubbling joy and lightness that permeate our beings.
One is led to the series of passages we all make through life. Each form becomes a living teacher and creative expression of the constant and continuous field of energy flux that pervades and characterizes life. In every engagement, one is progressively trained to sense the quality and intensity of each energy flux, and to develop an open-minded approach to just allow it to happen and be mindful of the here and now.
In meeting himself, man finally merges with life, and with the light and love that perfumes life. He begins to hear internal answers to questions that have long been plaguing him—be they in the field of business, romance, family affairs, or career. He starts to accept realities as they are and metamorphoses into the royal prince or princess that he or she actually is.
Thus, in his later practices, one senses a boost in self-esteem, a raising up in his spirit and emotions, and a peace that brings about a childlike smile so simple yet sincere and profound.
Tai Chi: The Art of Moving Meditation
Tai Chi is often referred to as a “moving meditation,” uncannily fusing the passive, relaxing benefits of such exercises as yoga, and still meditation with the active, vigorous movements of such modes as aerobics and physical calisthenics.
The heart and soul of Tai Chi places paramount importance on inner awareness, self-reliance, and personal growth. One is being challenged to rise beyond mediocrity and license, and to refine positive virtues that are but manifestations of that cosmic energy which one seeks to harness in the regular practice of Tai Chi.
One is egged on to keep up with the dynamism of life, and be life itself, mirroring it to the best of one’s abilities, serving as catalyst to the many who know not this benevolent Energy that creates and sustains all that there is.
With diligent practice, one naturally experiences a transformation in consciousness that he fails not to notice, a transformation in consciousness that is coupled with a taming of the emotions and the intellect.
A Tai Chi player contemplates on the movements, like a yogi reflecting on the mysteries of life, the gentle, dance-like, flowing movements akin to a ballet, so absorbing that the dancer loses himself, his postures made perfected in every inch of movement, comparable to Nataraja, the form of Siva as Master of the Cosmic Dance.
Though primarily concerned with the essentials of form (circularity, continuity, correct posture, evenness, lightness, relaxation, slowness) during execution, the student nevertheless gains spiritual development.
The student realizes that true development is from within, and entails the simultaneous conquest and befriending of the self—having been awakened to the fact that one’s true enemy and loyal companion are both within.
Thus, a stage will be reached when while performing Tai Chi, one loses himself, his ego forgotten. His tensions are tossed, and his mundane cares drift away. Instantaneous healing occurs. One is simply engrossed in this meditation in motion that sucks one to participate in the dance of the universe, and innocently play with its energy, lively and caressing.
Reality is experienced as a dynamic, peaceful oneness.
Tai Chi as a Healing Art
As a healing art, Tai Chi promotes rejuvenation and longevity as well as harmony of mind, body and spirit.
It supplies the individual with replenishing as well as reserves of energy that stimulates his cells and organs to smoothly and efficaciously carry out their respective functions. Homeostasis (a condition of overall balance and harmony) is enhanced, and a feeling of lightness and innocent calmness wells up within.
Tai Chi effects healing while one goes through the set of routine patterns in a dance-like manner. Whether the practitioner is conscious or unaware of his objective to be healed or to improve his overall level of well-being, he nevertheless experience healing or improvement in his fitness level in an aesthetic mode—by way of the dance of the gods.
In the health mode, the practitioner should seek to be mindful of the self—to develop body awareness, emotion recognition, and cognitive alertness and bridging. This is to develop attunement with the body.
In time, one will develop the intuitive sensitivity to know the meaning of the signal being sent off by any body part—be it a pain signal, hunger or love signal—allowing one to immediately respond accordingly and thus prevent the aggravation of an adverse condition, or the swelling into excess of an otherwise good condition to the point of toxicity and sluggishness.
Regular Tai Chi practice significantly enhances health by strengthening the mind, soothing the nervous system, as well as keeping the joints flexible, the muscles toned and invigorated, and the internal organs stimulated. The slow, dance-like movements of Tai Chi ease stress and release the tensions that tend to accrue in the hustle-bustle of modern daily living.
Big volumes of medical researches and experiments worldwide done over the years speak of the tremendous benefits of Tai Chi, such as improved coordination, circulation, relaxation, posture, balance and well-being.
Some of the more known health problems relieved and eventually cured by the regular practice of Tai Chi are as follows:
Abnormality of sex hormones
Tai Chi’s very nature of relaxed and calm movements directed by a focused and intentful mind automatically activates and develops chi, which then flows freely to specific parts of the body depending on the form being performed.
The form “Brush the Knee and Twist Step,” for instance, can be used to aid in healing heart or heart-related ailments.
Another posture, the “Single Whip,” can be used to promote the healing of joint problems.
This is in accordance with the principle that each posture in any given Tai Chi form corresponds to a meridian and its associated organs. Thus, a health problem can be diagnosed when a person, while doing a particular posture, feels the greatest pain and difficulty in a specific area of his body.
A medically experienced and knowledgeable Tai Chi practitioner, in using Tai Chi as a therapy, will instruct the patient to perform a posture or set of postures repeatedly for a number of times, or to hold them in static positions for a few minutes.
Naturally thus, performing a complete Tai Chi routine activates chi that is then intelligently circulated through every joint, muscle and internal organ in the body, massaging and toning each and imbuing it with vitality. If a body part is already hale and hearty, chi that flows and is channeled on that part is simply stored, conserved and accumulated until tapped to fight off stress or disease.
Tai Chi as a Martial Art
Tai Chi’s very nature and origin is martial. As mentioned before, Tai Chi was initially learned and used as a fighting form to enable villagers to defend themselves from a host of attackers that include bandits, pirates, foreign marauders, and simple rogues.
As a martial art, Tai Chi aims to dissolve all attacks in the fastest, most spontaneous, and most natural fashion with the minimum expenditure of energy. The intent is not to counter technique with technique, but to take advantage of the opponent’s momentum, energy and mind.
Critical elements that must be present in the training of Tai Chi as a martial art are relaxation (to preserve energy) and sensitivity (to be aware and alert).
In the fighting mode, the practitioner should seek to gain knowledge of the opponent—to know his strong and weak points in order for one to judiciously direct his attack with proper timing, or to stage an effective defense or counterattack.
The aspect of self-defense involves several training methods, the major ones being:
Push hands (tuishou), which train the student to relax, yield and neutralize. This method also develops in him sensitivity to another person as he blends different fighting techniques with the latter.
Forms training (taolu), which disciplines the student in maintaining firm rooting as he repeatedly goes through tai chi maneuvers to develop familiarity. One is expected not only to master body coordination as well as to consistently perform with grace and flexibility, but, more importantly, to move with slowness and spontaneity of action.
Stance training (zhan zhuang), which requires the student to hold a particular posture for a period of time. This training strengthens the legs, improves posture, tempers and controls the mind, and cultivates chi.
Weapons training, which complements Tai Chi’s bare hand maneuvers. Several Tai Chi essentials are made more emphatic, like extending the mind and intent throughout the length of the weapon, and making the footwork more agile. Some of the weapons practiced are the sword, spear, pole, knife, and staff.
To practice Tai Chi without weapons is to strengthen the muscles of the body; the intrinsic energy reaches up to the tip of the weapon, thus reaching its fullest extent.
Tai Chi – A Superior Form of Exercise
Regular and correct practice of Tai Chi is undisputedly a superior way of exercising not only one’s physical body, but also other aspects of one’s being.
· Tai Chi can be done by people of all ages, temperaments, fitness levels, or socio-economic background. Its slow, graceful and rhythmic movements can be done anytime and anywhere without the constraining prerequisites of gadgets and unnaturally controlled diet.
· Tai Chi gives a full body and mind workout. It is a total exercise whose holistic health impact develops radiant and vibrant wellness for mind, emotion and body.
· Tai Chi enriches life. The awareness, calmness, and vitality developed in the practitioner inspire him to be creative and productive. His appreciation of life is enhanced, and his interests diversify. His character is likewise molded into a disposition that is peaceful, cheerful, practical, and hopeful.
· Tai Chi provides minimal stress. Because easy, relaxed and rhythmic movements are employed, the body is not taxed by the hard stress of arduous workouts.
· Tai Chi is a natural method of accumulating, storing, and regulating the flow of internal energy. Thus, the practitioner is freed from any worry or fear of having to suffer from side effects.
· Tai Chi develops multiple intelligences. One is motivated to reach a higher experience of the self, and to go beyond one’s present abilities and level of awareness.
One understands that enjoyment of life requires experiencing it fully with all one’s senses and abilities. Thus, one feels that logical, bodily and spatial engagement with Tai Chi can be made more rewarding if it is done additionally with introspection and inner awareness in a natural setting with others who share the same spirit of diligent and sustained practice.
Tai Chi – Living a Balanced and Healthy Life
Today’s fatigued, restless and worrisome world definitely stands to greatly benefit from the infusion of fresh vital energy. With great stresses draining our energy levels day in and day out,
Tai Chi viably offers a practical and tested approach to re-energizing and refreshing our entire being—mind, body, spirit, and emotion.
Tai Chi offers a lifestyle engaged in by the self-actualized and the truly health-conscious. In the ebb and flow experienced in executing the forms, Tai Chi opens an opportunity for one to attune not only with the external body components, but also with our inner being and with nature.
It thus makes big, unmistakable sense if Tai Chi has found its way in the hearts and minds of nations and individuals alike since the ancient times up to today’s modern era.
Who could probably fail to feel, sense, see and experience the building up of vital energy inside, so animating and empowering?
One needs not be overpowered by negative suggestions or fears that have crept into his being. With sufficient energy, everything is rosy and bright. One is positive, pro-active, and raring to go forward in the bringing about of a desired state or situation.
In saying that Tai Chi is the supreme ultimate exercise towards holistic health, a practitioner surely responds with a smile and unfailing nod in feeling and knowing its meaning beyond.
One who fails to understand the nature of energy must have missed it directly in his science sessions, or is a die-hard enemy of science, or is a hypocrite who finds it difficult to accept and handle the truth about actualities, or is a weakling who first must be told or persuaded by a person in authority before coming to believe.