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Tai Chi

1 Introduction

Tai Chi originated in China and has rapidly gained popularity in Europe and North America since the early 1960’s. In addition to being practised in parks and open spaces, it has been given credence by health professionals working in hospitals, clinics and community centres.

Tai Chi attracts those wanting to engage in ‘softer’ martial arts, instead of the more dynamic, heavier contact forms such as karate or kung fu. Tai Chi then, is both a martial art and an exercise system and exhibits a peculiar aesthetic appeal demonstrated by slow, deliberate and purposeful movement sequences.

Interestingly, whilst I was searching for sources in libraries, I discovered there were far more books on the subject of Tai Chi than any other form of martial art. The reasons for that, I believe is that Tai Chi can easily be incorporated into daily routines of the most hectic and demanding contemporary lifestyle occupying as little as fifteen minutes per day.

Apart from a few of the less well known variations, in particular those requiring the use of weapons, neither equipment, nor space is needed.

‘With the rise in popularity of Tai Chi Chuan we also see many interpretations of the art. There are those who cover the full curriculum form, pushing hands, applications and weapons. However, there are those who are predominately interested in developing the health aspects of Tai Chi Chuan. They may concentrate more on the hand form, Quijong exercises and meditation.’ (Tai Chi Union for Great Britain)

Health benefits include a strengthened immunity to common ailments, reduced stress, anxiety and tension, a sense of stillness, peace and happiness, improved balance, posture and flexibility and toning of the legs, waist and buttocks. On a personal level, creativity and self confidence is enhanced and developed and there is an enjoyable social element too.

Furthermore those from all walks of life, ages and abilities can perform Tai Chi movements. In China and in Chinese communities worldwide, parks are regularly filled with young and old taking part in Tai Chi exercises before the start of the day.

Tai Chi is a holistic technique that aims to regulate the bodies energy referred to as ‘chi’ around the ‘meridian highways’ and through the organs to enable the body to operate more effectively. The spiritual, mental and physical movements are integrated into single movements and practised simultaneously.

2 Definitions-What exactly is Tai Chi

Pertaining specifically to the term ‘Tai Chi’,

‘The Chinese word tai means ‘great’, while chi can be variously translated as “ultimate or especially in popular usage- ‘energy’ (Parry p8)

Indeed the concept of ‘chi’ is by no means the sole prerequisite of Tai Chi. It is the basis and fundamental principle in all energy systems since the overriding objective is to ensure that the chi is uninhibited and can flow and circulate around and through the bodies meridian pathways.

‘For readers unfamiliar with the term, chi is a Chinese word meaning ‘intrinsic energy’. In India, the yogis call it ‘prana’. According to all teachers of the ancient arts of T’ai Chi and Chi Kung, chi energy can be experienced by balancing the Yin/feminine receptive and Yang/masculine/ emissive principles within your life.’ (Choy 17)

Tai Chi is grounded in Taoist philosophy.

‘Tai Chi, meaning literally, “the supreme ultimate is a term borrowed from Taoism, the principle philosophy and religion of China. Tai Chi is in essence, an application of the Taoist principles to martial arts.’ (Lam p12)

Concerning Tai Chi in its wider context,

‘Tai Chi has been variously described as a system of health, medicine, physical coordination, relaxation, self defence and consciousness-raising as well as a means of exercise and development. It is all of these things!’ (Tucker p6)

3 Origins and Development

The exact origins of Tai Chi are difficult to pinpoint. Some claim that similar disciplines have been practised, from between 2000 to 6000 years ago. Other more conservative estimates trace Tai Chi as a series of specific movements forms to within the last few centuries.

Huang Ti (the Yellow Emperor) is reputed to have lived around 2700 BC and to have authored the ‘Huang Ti Nei ching&rsquo. This book was both the primary and municipal text on Chinese health and medicine and the chi practises are still the underlying principles of Chinese medicine today.

‘The Nei Ching provides evidence that Chi goes back into pre-history. It states that chi, the life force flows along defined pathways or meridians, within the body and that this flow of energy can be affected by the way that we live and the exercise that we perform.’ (Khor 3)

Huang Ti is an important figure in both Taoism and Confucianism. He is said to have lived to one hundred and then was carried to heaven by a dragon. As well as being credited with creating the earliest Chinese calendar with its first cycle of the Zodiac, Huang Ti instituted health dances to combat the aftermath of the substantial flooding of the Yellow River’s stagnant water which severely affected human and animal populations. Huang Ti reasoned that if those residing near to the river refused to move away from it, they would also stagnate and succumb to illness.

Lao Tse and Chang Tzu Although it is difficult to verify factual evidence concerning Lao Tse, he is widely recognised as the founder of Taoism and the author of the ‘Tao Te Ching’, a small book, approximately 5500 words in length in the art of government. Chuang Tzu was his famous disciple who wrote numerous books and his classic the ‘I Ching’ provides commentary on the application of the Tao Te Ching. Central to both writings and Taoism itself is the existence of yin and yang, equal and opposite forces.’

Lao Tse is said to have been born in 604 BC and his Taoist followers aim to meditate often, live simple lifestyles and be in harmony with nature. Taoist practises are crucial to Tai Chi since it is believed that chi must be strengthened and Chinese medicine teaches that illness is caused by either a blockage or imbalance of chi. Therefore Tai Chi is practised to regulate the chi flow round the body.

Bodhiharma ‘Closely linked to the history of T’ai Chi is Bodhidharma, the 6th Century wandering monk and founder of Zen Buddhism. He came to China from Southern India and legend claims that he taught a yoga based exercise system to the monks of Shaolin temple at Henan. (McFarlane p9)

This system developed the mind and body for meditation. Hence it shares similarities and may have even been a prototype of Tai Chi.

Chang San-Feng Another key individual in the development of Tai Chi was Chan San-Feng. Again, he lacks historical authenticity even by his proponents, though he was said to have existed in the fourteenth century between the Yuan and Ming dynasties.

Formerly a Buddhist monk studying in the highly acclaimed Shaolin temple, Chang San-Feng became dissatisfied with Buddhism and practised Shaolin- Kung Fu. Chang San-Feng’s spiritual quest resulted in him becoming a Taoist priest. Meanwhile he applied the principles of Yin and Yang, plus ideas from his own experiences creating a new soft form of martial art, Tai Chi. Chang San-Feng’s inspiration was when he viewed a snake with its soft and yielding nature outmanoeuvre a crane which attacked it with its hard, powerful beak. He is also attributed with writing the ‘Tai Chi Chuan Classics’.

Cheng Man-Ching lived from 1901 to 1975. He was a sickly child who had a keen interest in health and traditional medicine. In 1932 Cheng Man-Ching studied medicine for six years and then taught Tai Chi at military academies led by the nationalist leader Chian-Kai-Shek.

‘By 1946 Master Cheng had simplified the 108 positions of the Yang form into 37 moves, modifying the dynamics and skills involved, and had written his first T’ai chi book,’ (McFarlane p11)

Following the Cultural Revolution, many renowned teachers, including Cheng fled to South East Asia. Cheng went to Taiwan where he taught Tai Chi as well as painting, poetry and calligraphy. Cheng Man Ching introduced Tai Chi to New York in the 1960’s and also lived there, writing numerous other works.

4 Principles:

i) ‘It’s all about the Chi’

‘The most important principle, and the one big idea you need to take on board when seeking an explanation of how tai chi (or indeed, oriental medicine) works, is the existence of a universal energy or life force.’ (Parry p13)

The Jingluo is the collective term inclusive of all the meridian channels across the body. Chi is said to flow through designated highways from which they derive their names such as the heart meridian, lung meridian and kidney meridian. This system of mapping energy routes is also used by acupuncturists, healers and sometimes masseurs.

The principal areas where chi is said to be stored are the lower abdomen, chest and the section of the lower back located between the kidneys. However the ‘tien’, three to four finger widths below the navel is where the chi originates from. Almost all tai chi movements commence from the tan tien. This is so that internal energy can be directed to the limbs, enabling the body to function more effectively. This should facilitate a more relaxed nervous system, a reduction in unnecessary stress and a more balanced emotional life.

ii) ‘It’s all about the Yin and Yang’

The ‘Tai Chi Tu’ is what Westerners usually refer to as the Ying/Yang symbol. The outside circle represents ‘void’ or ‘nothingness’ as in Taoist thinking, it depicts the principle that the source of existence is non-existence. The circle is filled half white and half black, portraying the yin and yang opposites which continually move in a circular direction. Finally both halves contain a small circle of their respective counterpart demonstrating their ability to adapt or change.

The yin and yang opposites are mutually cooperative. The manner in which they are described as operating is similar compared with how the bicep muscle flexes when the tricep extends. It is the breath that dictates the pace at which yin becomes yang and vice versa. Tai chi balances the yin and yang. For example a leg stepping is empty of yin and full of yang, whilst a resting leg is full of yin and devoid of yang. The ongoing exchange between yin and yang enables the chi to be transported around the body, improving its health.

‘The complete mastery of the yin and yang is said to be the domain of gods and demi- gods, but it is also the lifelong study of many priests, scholars and holy men.’ (Lam p15)

iii) ‘It’s all about Taoism’

‘Another very famous book, the I Ching or “Book of Changes” further describes the universe in terms of patterns of yin and yang, represented by solid or broken lines…Taoists say that if one understands the I Ching, then one truly understands the nature of existence’ (Popovik & Brady p15)

In traditional Chinese medicine, Taoism and tai chi are used cooperatively. Taoists consider the body (jing) and energy (chi) and shen (mind) as interconnected and inseparable. In Taoist thought it is simply not possible to achieve maximum physical health without balancing the bodies ‘energy’ levels referred to as ‘chi’.

‘In the Taoist tradition, you are really practising meditation only when you are working with the energies of your consciousness, to transform blockage and tension in your emotional, mental, psychic and higher bodies.’ (Popovik & Brady p38)

In relation to other disciplines,

‘Tai chi does not stand alone; it embodies aspects of, and is intrinsically linked to, all the Taoist arts and sciences, such as other Taoist internal martial arts, chi gung (energy work), meditation, feng shui (geomancy), Chinese astrology and Chinese medicine. (Popovik & Brady p13)

iv) ‘It’s all about movement combined with meditation’

Even the most simple and basic tai chi movements incorporate the spiritual element. Breathing exercises can be performed whilst lying down, typically with hands resting either side of the tan tien to help yourself get out of bed! These exercises are used to transport chi from the tan tien to other extremities, preparing an individual for the day’s activities ahead.

Whilst performing standing exercises, the yung ch’uan points are located at the front of the soles of the feet, forming a physical connection or “root” with the earth. Weight is pushed through the yung ch’uan points while breaths are taken from the tan tien helping to calm the mind.

In the ‘Descending Single Whip II Move’

‘T’ai chi ch’uan uses stillness to control movement. Although one moves, there is also stillness. Therefore, in practising the form, slower is better. If it is slow, the exhalation and inhalation are long and deep, and the ch’i sinks to the tan t’ien. (Chen Wei-Ming cited in McFarlane p95)

Imagery and chi coordination are utilised in the ‘Push to close the door move’

‘Imagine pushing to close a heavy door (such as you might see in an old temple or church)…Visualise the chi expressing through the lao gong points in both palms as you push your hands forwards and upwards.’ (Khor p54, 55)

Lastly the Wu Tai Chi Tu website states,

‘In the classic Tai Chi Chuan Jing it says “Tai Chi comes from nothing. (wuji) It is the connection between movement and composure and the mother of yin and yang.” In particular: “The entire body should be light and supple in all movements as if its parts were beads on a string. Qi should be unfolded. The spirit should be contained inside.” (Wu Tai Chi)

5 A Christian perspective on Tai Chi

 i) Tai Chi is inextricably linked with both Taoism and Chinese traditional medicine, practises not compatible with Christianity.

ii) In Taoist thinking at the most basic level, the source of existence is non-existence.’

‘The Tao-Te-Ching states, “Before heaven and earth existed there was something nebulous… I do not know its name and I address it as Tao.” (AMG Water p321)
 
Genesis 1:1-2 states ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.’
 
Psalm 24:1-2 clarifies ‘The earth is the Lord’s in all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.’
 
Isaiah 40:28 reminds us ‘Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither feints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.’
 
Romans 1:20 summarises ‘for since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.

 iii) Following on from the previous point, there is no personal creator in Taoist or Tai Chi philosophy. The Bible teaches that we can know God. Jesus said that He is known by His own. (Jer 9:24, John 10:14, 1 John 4:7)

iv) The concept of yin and yang allows good and evil to co-exist, with merged boundaries between the two seemingly relative concepts, failing to distinguish between right and wrong.

‘Sin and morality are minimised in Taoism. Salvation is achieved by following the Tao.’ (AMG Water p321)

The Bible teaches that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God and that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23, 6:23)
 
‘Taoism has no real answer to the problem of evil, for the Taoist “solution” of ignoring or withdrawing from the ills of society does nothing to cure those very real ills.’ (McDowell p331)

Sharing Jesus

The Scriptures quoted in the previous section will probably be helpful in convincing a born again believer not to become involved with Tai Chi. Having said that, when reaching out to someone un-churched and not familiar with Scripture, personal testimony or simply explaining to another how it is possible to know the Lord Jesus Christ would probably be a better place to start.
 
As Tai Chi is rooted in Taoism, the concept of knowing a personal God is lacking. When Paul preached his famous sermon in Athens in Acts Chapter 17 Paul explained to them whom the Lord of Heaven and earth is. Paul begun with their assumption that they didn’t know who God was and explained to them who God is and in a manner they could comprehend.
 
Paul started with creation explaining to his audience that ‘He gives to all life, breath and all things’ (v25)
 
Paul explained that God is personal ‘He is not far from each one of us’ (v27)
 
Paul urged them to cease their ungodly practises and commit their lives to Christ ‘Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,’ (v30) Following Paul’s efforts some of them believed.
 
Conclusion
 
Tai Chi has little to offer the Bible believing Christian since its founding beliefs and principles are rooted in Chi- forces, Yin and Yang and Taoism.
 
Considering that all the movement sequences involve the mind, body and spirit simultaneously, trying to practise tai chi purely for the health benefits is non-sensical as that would oppose its core objectives.
 
For Christians toying with the idea of tai chi classes, surely it would be wiser to take part in other sports or exercise classes, taking the opportunity whenever possible to be an effective witness without comprising the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
 
References
 
Chin Kean Choy, P   Tai Chi Kung 15 ways to a happier you.   Kyle Cathie Limited   London 1998
Khor, Grandmaster, G.   Tai Chi The Way to a Healthier Life   New Holland Sydney 2000
Lam, T.Y.    A Gaia Busy Person’s Guide Tai Chi   Gaia Books   London 2005
McDowell,  J & Stewart, D.   Concise Guide to Today’s Religions   Scripture Press   Bucks 2005
McFarlane, S.   The Complete Book of Tai Chi   Dorling   Kindersley  London 1999   
Parry, R. Tai Chi for health and vitality   Hamlyn   London 2005
Popovik, A & Brady, P.   T’ai Chi & Aikido   Lorenz Books   London
The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain   www.taichiunion.com
Tucker, P.   The New Life Library Tai Chi   Lorenz Books   London 1997
Compiled by Water, M.   AMG’s Encyclopedia of World Religions, Cults and the Occult   AMG Publishers   Tennessee 2006
Wu Tai Chi UK    www.wutaichi.org

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