Chinese martial arts are not just about fight. All of you have probably watched numerous movies of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Their numerous actions, fast moves, jumps and you saw their invincibility. Some of you who are more interested maybe have heard and watched about Shaolin Kung Fu monks that fight and break bricks with their heads. But that is far from main point about martial arts of China whether it is Kung Fu or Tai Chi. They are not just sport or constant fighting. They are way of life, part of Chinese spirituality and view on world, they help you integrate your mind and body, strengthen your character and spirit.
This is story about Tai Chi, its origin, deep meaning and benefits. It is less famous across the world than Shaolin Kung Fu but not less important and famous in China. Maybe those who have been in China have seen in parks many old people doing some strange and slight moves in early morning or late evening. Maybe you will think that it is just some kind of gymnastics to keep people fit. But it is much more than that it is deep spiritual practice that connects your mind and body. It roots from whole concept of philosophical beliefs, view on nature on your body and mind.
To understand meaning and purpose of Tai Chi in that context you should know about Taoism -indigenous philosophy of China. Lao Tzu is key figure in Taoism although he didn’t found it he just collected and conceptualized teachings into one book Tao Te Qing. Taoism teaches you to follow the Tao( Way). Taoism comes from word Tao or Dao meaning the Way. . Now I want to be more specific and write about basic concepts of Taoism that related to Tai Chi. First of all main word in Taoism is Dao or Tao. It is directly translated as Way. When relating to Dao is considered the Way of Nature, Way constant changes, way of stillness and flexibility at the same time and cycle of natural events. There is no strict definition of Tao but is considered to be a nameless, shapeless power or energy that can take any shape but doesn’t have to take any shape. Tao is both catalyst of change but is change itself. Tao also can be catalyst of stillness but can be still itself. Further 3 core concepts are Wuji, Taiji and Yin Yang. Wuji is considered as eternal space and eternal emptiness that is everywhere around us. Wuji represents constant stillness, non changes and statics. Second is Taiji which is translated as supreme ultimate. It is something that constantly changes, moves, circles and is constantly flexible. Taiji is constant change of day and night, winter and summer, spring and autumn, good and bad, flowing water, rain and sun, beautiful and ugly, new and old, love and hate…It is considered that Taiji is name for all relative things and that nothing is absolute that there is thin line between all contrary things. Wuji and Taiji together give a Yin Yang which symbolizes contradictious harmony. Taoists believe that all things in nature, in life and in world exist in harmony even when they are contrary to each other and thus make good balance. Yin symbolizes- night, woman, moon, earth, passive, evil and yang symbolizes- day, man, sun, heaven, active, good.
Wu Wei is one of most famous Taoist concepts. It literally means non-action. Taoists believe that life is series of spontaneous changes and that we should take effortless action or action without action. It is often hard to interpret what they actually meant by it but I can try to interpret it on basis of some Taoist interpretations. It can be considered as not attaching too much into your emotions or actions since they can be non-permanent but can be permanent too. By non attaching it can be considered to enjoy them but if something bad happens contrary to your expectations to continue your way and to rise after the fall not to stay overinvolved and than suffer when you lost something. Also it of course calls for making efforts in private or professional life for achieving your goals but to be flexible with them to change goals or adapt to other circumstances that may unexpectedly appear. It can be said that you can do your best but not to go beyond borders which can disturb your balance and make you damage. It is important to know what are your limits and to try carefully to go beyond them but if it doesn’t go like that than to accept it and go further. You never have to exaggerate and exhaust yourself and bother with something that you cannot change and not to blame yourself when you didn’t achieved something. Accept how things are whether good or bad and pursue your aim, wishes and live between these two sides and you will be happy. You should always try as much as you can and want but have in mind that if something wasn’t achieved it is not your fault as you cannt control all things. Just go with that and you will be happy both in your professional and private life. Never underestimate or overestimate yourself be realistic be positive, believe in yourself go dynamically and be flexible. “Bamboo that bends is stronger than oak that stands still”. Always do your best and try but don’t fall down if you failed or if you fall down rise again like phoenix or break the barrier like water, pass by a stone and continue towards your aims, follow your Tao and be happy.
Qi- life energy which circulates through our bodies which can be felt and distributed by breathing in and out and with different moves from Qi Gong and Taiji. Qi is considered as strongest force in body which is important for connection between mind and body, physical and psychical well being and self control. Qi is considered as bodily reflection of universe and thus must be in balance on basis of yin yang.
When it comes to values Taoism emphasizes on 3 treasures and these are simplicity, patience and compassion. Simplicity can be seen as being simple in thoughts and actions and desires. It doesn’t mean to not do anything not to think or not to have wishes. It just means not to overthink and go beyond too far to bring yourself stress, pressure and therefore illness. You should be simple like water to go with the flow, to take with flow your favorite leafs and fishes and focus on breath. Qi your inner energy circulates between your mind and body. Breath in and breath out focus on your breath and energy passing by your spine between your legs and head. You will feel calmer, peaceful and happy. It is best when you overthink or when you feel stressed focus on your qi for few minutes and your thoughts and actions will go in much calmer way and you will be more productive in what are you doing than if you stress or overthink. Stressing or overthinking can just worsen the things and you wont achieve anything but make harm to yourself and your inner peace. Solution cannot be found from 1000 contradictory thoughts but from 2 or 4 can. Enjoy the moment in what you do whether you write, walk, paint or spending time with your loved ones. Enjoy nature, walk, exercise, swim , eat well, sleep well, spend time in doing what you love , spend time with your loved ones and be productive for your good feeling. This is path to longevity. Taoists believe that you should be powerful like water, to breach any barrier, constantly flow further towards and through your way and leaving worries far behind you. They say that power is in softness.
Another treasure is patience. It can be seen as to be patient in your actions. Just to mention in a moment of anger better be patient and stay silent breath in and breath out and than speak as by that you can avoid thousand moments of sorrow. Be patient with your current life. If you want more money or to be more happy don’t rush be but simply think out action how to change your situation. If you are sad be patient it will pass accept it and focus on other things that make you happy. When you are happy enjoy, involve in that as much as you can and want live that moment but if it passes again be patient and it will come again.
Third treasure is compassion. It is emphasized that you should be kind towards everyone towards all live beings whether they are animals or humans since Taoism considers all being as equal and products of nature and Tao. Therefore you should be in harmony with nature, with people and with other beings, to respect them and they will respect you. If someone is unkind to you try to stay kind and calm since you shouldn’t waste your virtue because of someones misbehavior. Always try to help everyone who needs it even if they are not thankful maintain your kindness and virtues. Be thankful when someone helps you. Never be bad towards other living creatures especially those weaker than you. Taoists consider that humans should live in harmony with themselves and with nature to respect all beings- plants and animals and to respect sky, sun and moon. Taoism also promotes love and considers that love gives you strength and courage considers it as force that can be compared to fire. Find your life partner follow your Tao together be Yin Yang, share joy and sadness. Be to your partner both sun or moon, river or leaf, heaven or earth, day or night, bird or branch, he/she will be that to you depending on circumstances. Be careful, helpful, supportive, understandable and tolerant towards your soul mate and he/she should be same towards you. If you are both like that to each other than you have harmony and your love will bloom like cherry flowers on spring. Your love will firstly burn and explode like big fire and later burn slowly and stably and in more balanced way. Marriage and having children was always supported by Taoists as it is completely natural thing in your life.
Lao Tzu said “ There is nothing softer and more flexible than water yet nothing can resist it”. In my life I apply it under my moto” Go with flow towards aim”. It means for me going easily step by step towards 3 main aims( such as being healthy, happy and having love, aims can be within and of everyday character not just some aims for future), achieving important things in private and professional life step by step, going against all hardships if they cant be avoided, but not rushing but going like a water flexibly, softly and when necessary strongly, being nice to people and kind, having harmonious relations with my loved ones and friends, trying to find solution to every problem with anyone, caring about society and world I live, being careful towards nature and environment, being compassionate and helping others.
All this concepts are embodied in Tai Ji Quan( Romanized Tai Chi Quan) what is translated as Supreme Ultimate Fist. Tai Chi was created by mystical and legendary person Zhang Sanfeng who was traveling for years alone through mountains. One day at Mount Wudang he saw magpie and snake fighting- both of them switching from fast to slow moves and not allowing each other to win. At the end no one won. According to legend Sanfeng was inspired by that and created concept of Tai Chi- practice of balancing energy and cultivating it.
In Taoist terms practicing tai chi develops peaceful but still mind, circulates your own qi( life energy) within your body in order to make balance between mind and body. That is achieved by awareness of yourself by strictly coordinated movements which must be very soft but very accurate. At the same time you have to know when to move which leg , whether to put one arm above to the right or another one down to the left or vice versa and whether to breath in or breath out. Each technique requires strict accuracy and starts with breathing in and ends with breathing out. Breaths and movements of body make your energy circulate which harmonizes your mind and body and increases awareness of yourself and your place in nature. Taoist physicians and alchemists believe that breath is main driving force of your inner peace, circulation of energy, calming of your brain when qi comes from bottom of your back to brain and from brain to your stomach.
Tai Chi can be perfectly used in self- defense. You should use same moves but you should move much more faster and make strikes firm to defend yourself from attacker. Main rule is to avoid strikes as much as possible to move like dragon and circulate around your enemy and block his strikes. When enemy gets tired you should attack firmly like tiger.
From personal experience I can tell that this is really like Taoist teaching says. I practice Tai Chi for 3 years almost. In my words take strong posture on the ground, start making slight breaths in and outs together with control of soft moves. Imagine that you are holding a ball and you are moving it by moves of your arms. Believe me you will feel like floating on wind but actually you are firmly standing on ground. Watch at the sun at green leafs, listen to birds and you will feel warmth and true beauty of nature. You will really feel relaxed and at peace. Controlling of breath makes feeling like some water stream passes through you and your body is so flexible and generally this practice produces good feeling in all body and warmth in soul. It helps me when I am anxious and always makes my day. It helps very much in controlling my thoughts and emotions, concentrating on positive things and preventing negative thoughts to destroy my mood. My body is also fit and flexible. I am doing it once 3 times a day usually on weekends. It made me much stronger person than before but also much more calmer. I am so happy with spring time so I can finally enjoy practicing it in nature under sky, enjoying fresh air while listening to birds. Fortunately I still didn’t have to use it in fight. There are many centers across world that teach some of tai chi styles but original one is hard to find. I practice Wu style of Tai Chi which is one of 6 Tai Chi styles. This style appeared in 19th century and is derived from Yang style which was derived from Chen style which was taken from first Sanfeng style.
There are also versions of Tai Chi with weapons such as swords, spears, knives, flogs… I have my Jian( sword) too with which I practice Tai Chi Jian( Supreme ultimate sword).
One day I wish to visit home of Tai Chi – Mount Wudang that is in remote Hubei province of China and have opportunity to practice original Tai Chi with real Taoist priests. I want to dance with the wind on Wudang, standing firmly like tiger while waving like branches, jump like dragon, to flow like water and listen to whispering of birds. It is my goal it is my Way( Tao).
Tai Chi as I said is much more than martial art – I would rather call it not just a martial art but an art of self-cultivation( cultivating strong mind and peaceful spirit ).
ENjoy China 😉