What exactly is Tai Chi?

Adam Cole Shapiro
Jun 19, 2010 · 4 min read

First of all it’s not Tai Chi, there is no “Chi” in Taiji! Taijiquan (Tie-Jee-Chuan, translated as Supreme Ultimate Fighting) is a martial art from China that dates back to antiquity. It is said that it was first conceived by watching a crane and snake fight in the wild. The balance and upright fullness of the crane was well-matched by the softness, agility and speed of the snake. Many of the names given to the various movements speak of the crane and snake, but it does not stop there. Other animals, forces of nature, and even everyday activities are reflected in specific movements. The practice of Taiji helps connect us with the very essence of nature and all it’s wonders as represented by Yin-Yang theory.

This well-known symbol representing the interplay and connectedness of Yin and Yang is actually the “Taiji” symbol.

*At the extremity of one, begins the other.

It is the hope that the study of Taijiquan will help the student to overcome obstacles with grace rather than brute force as they cultivate an Internal Power (Qi / Chi) that turns adversity into opportunity transforming a negative / harmful energy into positive / supportive one. More bang for your buck that way, and hopefully everyone wins.

*The only way to defeat an enemy is to turn them into a friend.

The Taiji master controls without injuring their opponent. They meet their opponent with softness, learning to “yield” to opposing energy rather than meet it with force. Bruce Lee told us to, “be like water my friend.” Practicing Taiji teaches your body and mind to be soft and yielding, like water.

*Softness overcomes hardness.

Still, have you ever tried to move a bucket of water. Heavy! The Taiji master is able to be yielding without giving up her roots. Deep roots are reflected in one’s stance as well as one’s character wanting to cultivate love and uproot fear. Today we may not have many enemies aimed at doing us physical harm and it is true that advanced weapons have proved superior in battle. So why practice a martial art?

*Practice is perfect

Success in the martial arts requires excellent fitness and focus that can only come from practice. Practice puts us on the path of mastery. Of things that one might aim to master, Taiji enables the student to protect their body and defend their rights. It does so in a harmonious way as the Taiji master is “full without tension”, needing nothing and able to give a lot! Conflicts are avoided and otherwise more peacefully resolved.

*It’s not what you do that matters, but how you do it.

Taijiquan has a very long and diverse history, leading to the many various forms and techniques, as well as unique ways of teaching and practicing found across the world today. All of them have their advantages and potential disadvantages. Finding one that you like and will practice is all that matters.

Taiji is known as an ‘Internal’ martial art, in that the focus is on the internal environment more than the external — that which lies outside of ourselves. It is believed that if you are so full and without tension (like an airbag) that no attacker or other harmful energy will be able to penetrate your defenses, nor would they even want to! Importantly, Taiji also teaches us to utilize our bodies better. Improved balance and coordination results in more efficiency of movement and less unnecessary strain. This is a very good thing as it leads us toward accomplishing more with less effort and down the path of giving more than we take.

*To become a master, one must first be the fool!

Practice at least a little bit, everyday. If you are weak or injured practice in your mind and only moderately with your body. If you are strong and healthy, take advantage of the opportunity to learn rapidly. That said, maturation takes time. Be patient, be present, and have a sense of humor. The path of mastery is rarely a smooth one.

Please enjoy this video of one of the Grandmasters of the Chen style, Chen Zhenglei demonstrating the 18 movement short form that I practice and will teach you if you promise to practice…

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