What is Tai Chi (and qigong, for that matter)…and how is it spelled and pronounced?
Through many, many years of practice and study, I have heard it described in many ways. Tai Chi, taiji, chi kung, qi gong, qi gong, etc., etc. Translated it 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, moving meditation, a slow folk dance, a dance of creation and destruction, healthy exercise routine and more. I have read about Tai chi as a means to teach conflict resolution and anger management, and to control ADD/ADHD, as a mood management system, stress reduction, immune system tuner, and brain training system. balance. I have heard from a very prominent contemporary Grandmaster that Tai Chi is “anything done well”, and I have heard of Tai Chi as a way of life. Today, 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, trying to execute a set of principles. The moves have martial involvement, if not application, and are sequenced in a way that allows me to practice getting a sense of an opponent’s attack/defense tactics. Practice time is a period to free yourself from the incessant and insistent noise of contemporary society and withdraw into a more contemplative personal experience.
I find that at times my life has flowed more smoothly as a result of the practice, that my mood has been more optimistic, and my health has been better during times when I have redoubled my efforts in the practice, whether the redoubling is aimed at “perfecting” a piece, or simply practicing more often. I have practiced and taught tai chi for physical preparation, balance, concentration, relaxation. I have experienced and witnessed “radical shifts in perception” (Webster’s definition of a miracle), release of artistic blocks, revelation of reality in the face of delusional fantasy, and significant personal transformation and growth. I have passionately felt it, and seen others pass by on their way to “something” more. For me it is a trip that has allowed me to visit many people and places; some I liked and some I didn’t. It is perpetually challenging, disappointing, discouraging and rewarding and always leads to a new perspective.
Qi Gong (and Tai Chi), herbal medicine, acupuncture, and similar “arts” stem from a stone age period of China, ending in about 4000 B.C. The period is known to some as “China’s Wild History,” the source of traditional Chinese mythology, legend, and folklore. It is the time before recorded written history, when the Three Augustus, god-kings, used their magical powers to live long lives, preside over long peaceful reigns, and improve the lives of their people. Fuxi, Huangdi, and Shennong are credited with the inventions of writing, agriculture, fishing, fire, herbal medicine, and the original formulations of traditional Chinese medicine. The exact time period is hazy, misty, primordial, linking the time span between a great flood of thousands and thousands of years in the past, to the time of the first historically legitimate dynasty, the time of the Xia People 2100-1600BC. The last of these god-kings, the “Earth King”, is said to have ruled for over 45,000 years!
What we do know is that prehistoric peoples did not live very long, they spent much of their time preparing something for lunch and resting until it was time to create a new generation, or eat again… or admire, reflect without words. , Full moon. In the absence of an extensive menu of differentiations (vocabulary), our “wild man of history” probably knew the moon in a way that most of us in the information age can never expect. From that organic knowledge (experience) evolved a vision of the world that includes all things, and from which a complete system of integration and disintegration is derived. (huh?) The alchemy of the five elements: cycles of creation and destruction.
By practicing, studying, and reflecting, I think the most important “fact” (opinion?) I’ve discovered is how powerful and simultaneously; limiting, words can be. I believe that people with a limited vocabulary have no less experience of life than the more articulate; certainly different, and my guess is that your life experience is more powerful. Words, I’m afraid, cause a kind of exhausting thought process… Master Duan taught us that our thoughts are energy, the more thought, the more energy it takes to sustain them. The energy comes from the body and in the head. I’ve experienced that, the words mean something different to me than to someone who hasn’t, and even others who have had the experience would describe it differently.
Practicing, studying and learning qi gong and tai chi was and is the place from which I entered a “new mind”, in Tai Chi we call it a beginner’s mind. It is the place from which I have entered an experience of life and things, much bigger, and somehow richer than what I could know from my “old mind”. It allows an opening that allows and celebrates the mystery of existence, and doesn’t always try to explain it.
By working with others, what I’m really doing is sharing an experience… an experience of the world; of life, profoundly different from that with which I was socialized… words alone are insufficient, as are the demonstrations Cut Wood, Carry Water.
Practice, read, reflect, share. Practice some more. Experience.