What is Tai Chi?

What Is Tai Chi

This page will serve as a continually growing resource for you to find information that answers the question “What is Tai Chi?”

What is tai chi

What is tai chi – Neijia?

Of all the many different styles of martial arts that are practised around the world today, from the modern combat sports to the more traditional martial arts, all have their foundations in martial arts styles that date back many centuries. Over time with various influences, needs, and personal modifications, the Martial Arts have evolved into the arts we recognize today.

China has hundreds of martial arts each with a lineage that can be traced back through time to the individuals or families who founded and practised them. And though in the west we separate “religion” out from “life”, early cultures did no such thing; “religious” teachings were comingled into the wisdom of living a balanced and happy life. With that said, Chinese martial arts have the distinction of being influenced by both Taoist and Buddhist philosophies and teachings.

The term Neijia was used to classify China’s internal martial arts; namely Taiji Quan, Bagua Quan and Xingyi Quan. What characterised these internal arts were that they focussed on physical health and well being rather than the more combative nature of the external style Chinese martial arts. The first recording of this classification has been dated back to Huang Zongxi’s 1669 Epitath for Wang Zhengnan. Zongxi’s son, Huang Baijia had studied internal martial arts under Wang Zhengnan, and then went on to write what is now regarded as the first manual on the internal martial arts.

It wasn’t until towards the end of the 19th Century (the late 1800’s) that grand masters of the three internal styles decided to bring them together under name Neijia Quan. It was from 1914 that Sun Lutang, Yang Shao-hou, Yang Chenfu and Wu Chien-ch’uan were teaching T’ai chi ch’uan to the general public at the Beijing Physical Education Resource Institute. They decided to combine elements from all three internal martial arts in one united and shortened public instruction / form. This endeavor was well- received by the public and the art of Tai Chi Chuan (taiji) continued to develop and grow.

Sun Lutang is now known for writing what was the defining texts on what was characterized as the “internal martial arts”. These characteristics were:

  1. “An emphasis on the use of the mind as opposed to the use of strength to coordinate the leverage of the body.”
  2. “The internal development circulation, and expression of qi, the “vital energy” of classical Chinese philosophy.”
  3. “The application of Taoist dãoyĩn, quigong, and nèigõng principles of external movement.”

It is often assumed that Chinese internal arts were influenced by the philosophies of the Taoist monasteries of the Wudang mountain range and that the external martial arts were founded on the teachings of the Buddhist monasteries such as the Shaolin. It was a prominent physician Hua Tuo, who developed an early form of physical training that was aimed at improving the practitioners health. Hua Tuo passed his teachings on to a select few pupils, who were said to have travelled to three different mountain ranges in China and set up schools to carry on his teachings. The mountains and monasteries of Wudang are synonymous with Chinese internal martial arts.

The internal martial arts focus on training the mind, body and spirit and developing the qi or “internal energy” that we all possess. The physical movements of the Neijia martial arts are slow and deliberate, focussing on breathing and relaxation. This is not to say that the Neijia martial arts had no practical self defence applications, it is just that the training focus is on developing the qi to a higher state before training in more defensive techniques.

What is Tai Chi- part 2?

what is tai chi

what is tai chi


For many people, their first experience of Tai Chi (or Tai Chi Chuan) is the vision of elderly Chinese practitioners performing this amazing martial art at a slow, gentle pace, oblivious to the modern world around them. In fact, even though Tai Chi’s roots go back hundreds of years, it is a form of exercise that can benefit people of all ages and abilities.

In this day and age, our general idea of exercise is something that works our musculature and cardiovascular systems as hard and fast as possible, while the principles of Tai Chi are exactly the opposite.  Interestingly, even though most tai chi movements (forms) are slow and graceful, they still are amazingly beneficial to your health and overall well-being.

The movements of tai chi are relatively easy to learn, with proper form they put little stress on the body’s joints, and with regular practice the practitioner will reap the full benefits of Tai Chi. Tai Chi is classified as an internal or a soft martial art, as opposed to the external or hard arts that are more frequently associated with martial combat.

The core philosophy behind Tai Chi is the principle of Yin and yang, that there must always be a balance in our lives in general like soft/hard, male/female and active/passive and the belief that strong and powerful movements can be countered and defeated by soft and graceful ones. The deliberate slow movements associated with Tai Chi are meant to enhance the practitioner’s chi (qi), which is another term for the life force that flows through the body.

The Tai Chi practitioner uses the movements to bring balance and harmony between the mind and body, while controlling the breathing and clearing the mind.

Because of the nature of the movements that are performed, Tai Chi practice is not limited to the young or people who have practiced for many years.  In fact, it can be practiced by seniors, the elderly, and even the infirm; there are no barriers regarding who can participate and benefit from the art. It has even been incorporated into the activities in many extended care and retirement establishments, where they have adapted the movements so they can be practiced seated, allowing those less-mobile to benefit from it.

Over the centuries many styles of Tai Chi that have developed and the movements of some of these styles are still closely linked to martial art combat movements.  Even though they are performed at a slow, calm, deliberate pace, they still resemble a fighting style. Pushing hands is an example of such a style.  In fact, pushing hands (or “push hands”) is a tai chi exercise practiced by two tai chi players, that develops a heightened sensitivity and awareness between two practitioners; all by using their hands to learn to “feel their opponents energy” or chi.

What is Tai Chi Chuna – Part 3

tai chi

founder of tai chi

If one were to trace the origins of Tai Chi, you would need to go back many hundreds of years in Chinese history to find the arts founding father, and then look back even further to see how Tai Chi was influenced and formed over the centuries. Tai Chi Chuan translates into Supreme Ultimate Fist, which offers a clue as to how the art has it’s roots in actual combat and developed over time into the slow graceful art that we see practiced around the world today.

The figure who is most often regarded as the founder of Tai Chi is Chang San-feng, a Shaolin monk who decided to turn to Taoism and live as a hermit in the Wu Tang Mountains. However we must turn the pages of time back even farther to discover where the philosophical foundations were laid. In fact, one would need to go back to the early sixth century BC Taoist writings of Lao Tsu, with the Tao Te Ching, to uncover where foundations for this internal martial arts that would follow.

Lao Tsu wrote many volumes of deep, ponderous concepts such as:
• Yield and Overcome
• Bend and be Straight

These are examples of what would become the underlying philosophies that would shape Tai Chi Chuan and all the other internal martial arts to follow.
Toward the end of the second century AD a physician by the name of Hua-tu’o believed that to keep healthy, people needed to exercise, because exercising helped to aid the body’s circulation and digestive system. Hua-tu’o was probably one of the first to suggest the restorative properties of humans mimicking animal movements as a means of exercise for the body. The five animals he based his teachings on were the tiger, deer, ape, bear and birds. Many Chinese martial arts, both internal and the more combative external martial arts have also based their movements on those of various animals, and many are still practiced today.

Moving ahead now to the sixth century AD we find another influential figure in shaping the philosophical foundation of what would become tai chi chuan. This next person was a Buddhist monk by the name of Bodhidharma, who travelled from India to the Shaolin temple in China during the sixth century AD. He found the Shaolin monks in poor physical condition due to the long periods of time they spent inactive and meditating. Bodhidharma devised a form of movements for the monks, known as the Eighteen Form Lohan Exercises which interestingly would become (later in the eighth century) the foundation for the 37-form Long Kung Fu.

Now that the philosophical foundations have been laid, we come to the figure who is most often regarded as the founder of Tai Chi who is Chang San-feng. As mentioned previously, Chang San-feng was a Shaolin-turned-Taoist monk chose to seclude himself in China’s Wu Tang Mountains. There is much mystery around Chang San-feng however. He is regarded as a somewhat mythical figure and it is questionable on whether he was actually a living person, and not just a literary legend in the history of Tai Chi. The exact time that he lived is also often questioned, but it is thought to be around the period from 1391 to 1459.

Chang San-feng was said to have turned his back on the hard fighting styles of the Shaolin order and created a new art with much softer, more fluid movements like water. One of the most famous stories of Chang San-feng is about a situation he observed of a snake and crane fighting. He noticed when the crane, full of energy and anguish, would attack the snake’s head, the snake would yield to the attack then strike the crane with its tail. When the crane went for the snake’s tail, the snake would yield and bite it’s attacker from the side.

This concept of yielding and attacking would go on to become a core philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan

II. What is the difference between Tai Chi and Qi Gong?

The other day on our Facebook page a question was raised that essentially can be summed up as “What is the difference between Tai Chi ( taiji ) and Qi Gong (Qigong)?” That is a good question beginners have, since new practitioners to Tai Chi see mainly the movement; the form; which is a set of postures slowly advanced from one posture to the next. In today’s short 2 min video, Joe Pinella addresses this question.


 Here is an interesting Documentary from the BBC News related to What is Tai Chi?

“The Way of the Warrior: Tai Chi the soft way”


%d bloggers like this: