What is Tai Chi

By George Mera

WaterTai Chi is one of the ancient concepts, ideas, or philosophies that explain the creation of the universe.  At the beginning of time there was a complete emptiness, silence or Wuchi.  In this mystical void, two forces emerged; one being positive, called Yang, and the corresponding negative force, called Yin.  The atom, electricity and computers are based on this binary system, positive/negative, one or zero.  When these two forces fused, they produced a tremendous expanding force, like a big bang, and subsequently the whole universe came into being.


Taoism, which is the oldest tradition in China, adopted the Yin and Yang concept as a correct model of living; humans and the universe both share the same principles, a macro and microcosm.  The Tao (the Truth or the Way) is manifested in humans through the creative expressions of art, the contemplation of reality in the present moment; the transcendent thoughts that make us vibrate.


This Yin and Yang connection continuously generates new and vital reactions called Tai Chi. 
Tai Chi embodies the supreme harmony between opposite forces; it is the creative order, the subtle law of the universe.  Tai Chi put emphasis in the silence, the void, as a generating force, and like Taoism, tries to explain how the phenomena, manifested in front of our eyes, has roots in the non-existent realm, in the un-manifested world.  Tai chi is the ultimate balance, the subtle edge between increasing and decreasing, without excess or deficiency.

In every religion or philosophy you are encouraged to love the enemy, Tai chi Chuan teaches you to appreciate and love the enemy that you have inside, so at some point in our lives, we need to stop the civil war that we have in our minds, we need to extend our arms to the needed person inside ourselves, we need to be generous and feed the beggar that we all have in our hearts.

Each position in Tai Chi Chuan is helping you to entangle the riddle of your life; all positions have a hidden metaphysical connotation. Through the practice we are not looking for changes that are temporary and usually imposed, but transformation, meaning growing from within; a deep awareness of our human condition and compassion towards ourselves and the world.


Tai Chi Chuan is the corporal expression of the philosophy of Taoism.  Dances through the ages have tried to reflect matters of primal importance for people’s survival.  They sometimes express joyful and transcendental events in history.  Some are the prelude of fertility.  Tai Chi Chuan is the expression of the ineffable subtle law of the universe.  When the corporal expression becomes slow, it transforms into a kind of ritual.  All esoteric and religious practices are based on prearranged rituals, because what they are trying to do is express something that is beyond the tangible.  The repetition of these rituals was believed to eventually produce the effect of connecting with some sort of knowledge, like persistently tuning a radio that occasionally works, with the intention of perceiving the trick that will always make it function.


Rituals that survived the passing of time and have shown their effectiveness become traditions or liturgy and are incorporated into some kind of organized faith.  Rituals can also be twisted, manipulated and become the manifestation of darkness.  All rituals have some kind of intrinsic philosophy; the corporal expressions are allegories of this knowledge.  The retention of this knowledge and rituals gave certain individuals the condition of special or chosen human being to a cultural clan or society.   So essentially, to perform the ritual of Tai Chi it is vital to know the thoughts behind the movements.


Each position in Tai Chi is like a ritual in itself and has a hidden meaning. They accomplish the expression of the philosophy in a context of a martial art routine.  This expression is called Tai Chi Chuan, Chuan being the martial art aspect.  You could live the Tai Chi in your life without the Chuan, or conversely practice the Chuan without the philosophy in mind, just as a good way to be physically fit.


Taoists are against any kind of physical violence, but violence was part of their everyday life and could not be ignored.  This is a universal manifestation of Yin and Yang.  Even if they retire to the mountains, violence will eventually follow them, and preserving their own life was the most important obligation.  They must use martial arts to defend themselves.  Since they were in a constant state of meditation this was also an expression of their personal development.


Some of the principles of their martial skills are:


  • Redirect the aggression at the last fraction of a second with the least amounts of energy.
  • Restrain from the use of force against oncoming force.
  • Use yin to overcome yang, and yang against yin.
  • The force of the fist is yang; the action to block is soft and gentle, yin.
  • The interaction of attack and defense is not conducted by our senses or conscious mind but guided by the supreme energy or Chi that exists within us.
  • Preservation of life at all cost, ending the confrontation without permanent harm.
  • In any confrontation, have no attachment to winning or losing, to life or death.  If there is no attachment, it is possible to maintain all the abilities.


Some people considered Tai Chi chuan as part of Chi Kung, for the extraordinary results in healing many illnesses. For a martial artist Tai Chi Chuan is the most mysterious and sophisticated of all martial arts.  It is called the Shadow Boxing or the pursuit of the fourth dimension (time dimension).


Some scholars maintain that Tai Chi Chuan was developed by Chang Sang Feng, a monk who lived in the 13th century.  His existence is a source of controversy.  Legend has it that he was sloppy in his dressing, seven feet tall and that he lived hundreds of years.  Many people celebrate his birthday, April 9, 1247 AD, and believe he founded Tai Chi Chuan.


There are 5 principal schools of Tai Chi Chuan.  The Old Structure or Chen style, the Big Structure or Yang style, the Small Structure or Wu style, the Medium Structure or the other Wu style, and the active structure or Sun style.  The principles in all the styles are basically the same; they all continuously repeat 13 basic positions or techniques that Chan Sang Feng taught.  It is said that he had a dream in which the Eight Immortals of Taoism taught him 13 basic positions to find health, longevity and enlightenment.  The monk saw a human being with an aura of light, and the acupuncture points shining like stars.


The styles of Tai Chi Chuan have different interpretations of the universe.

In the Chen style (Old structure), the representation of Yin and Yang is tangible and definite; the movements are explosive as if imitating thunder and soft as pulling silk from the cocoon.

The Yang Style (Big Structure) is based on the idea that the universe is expanding and so the movements are big and expansive.

The Wu Style (Small structure) believes that in a small particle you can see the whole universe; in a drop of salty water you can taste all the oceans. For this reason the movements are relatively small compared with Yang style.

The Other Wu Style (Medium structure) believes that nothing is small or big, it depends what you compare with, and so the movements are medium.

The Sun Style (Active Structure) represents the continuous motion in the universe.

The most popular Tai Chi Chuan form practiced in China is the 24 and 48 postures of the Yang style.




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