What is Tai Chi?

by Alexandre Malet

T'ai Chi Ch'uan, meaning, "Supreme Ultimate Boxing", is an internal style of Chinese martial art which focuses on the use of our vital power, or qi. Through slow, relaxed and continuous motion of the body, we improve awareness of the qi flow in the body, strengthening and expanding it to obtain health, martial, and spiritual benefits. As we learn to quiet our thoughts and balance the intention in each of our movements, we gain a valuable ability for its use in our daily life.

Qi (Chinese), ki (Japanese), prana (Indian) or neuma (Ancient Greek) is energy without shape, exhibiting continuous life and movement. Taijichuan has its origins in Taoism, the oldest philosophical system in China, most famous for its yin-yang symbol. This symbol expresses a continuous flow of qi in a circular direction as it generates the two opposing forces of positive and negative, darkness and light, heaven and earth, man and woman. These forces interact to balance each other's excesses and to bring into existence the physical and metaphysical realms.

Though poetic, this concept is effectively meaningless unless interpreted according to one's own feelings and experiences. This interpretation is itself a continuous process; our understanding should never become static or final. Whenever we think we grasp something, there is always another level, another aspect or another door. As the oldest Taoist writer, Lao Tzu points out in the Tao Te Ching, "The Tao is not the Tao."

Perhaps this can be better understood by the poetic translation of Lao Tzu work by Ursula K Le Guin:

The way you can go isn't the real way.
The name you can say isn't the real name,
So the unwanting soul sees what is hidden,
And the ever wanting soul sees only what it wants.

Heaven and Earth begin in the unamed
Name is the mother of 10,000 things
Two things, one origin, but different in name,
Whose identity is a mystery

Mystery of all Mysteries
The door to the hidden.

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