Monday, August 30, 2010

Taiji is Qigong is not Taiji

I am often faced with the question, 'What is the difference between Tai Chi and Qigong?' It should be a simple question with a simple answer, something like, 'Taiji is a complete martial art; Qigong is an art within itself, and a component of Taiji.' However, thanks primarily to a long history of misinformation, and dilution of the art, there are lots of things that are taught as Taiji, that are more properly Qigong, and sometimes not even that. I am personally a big fan of Qigong. I often only practice Qigong in my personal sessions, and recommend that everyone who practices these arts spends ample time with the nurturing of Qigong. However, Taiji and Qigong are not the same thing. Trying to equate them only does a disservice to us all.

As noted above, Qigong is a component of Taiji, a crucial component, without which Taiji would be just another martial art. Many of the principles of Taiji are shared with the art of Qigong. In fact one could easily practice Qigong and not ever practice Taiji, and many, many folks do. But one can't properly practice Taiji without practicing Qigong. Qigong is the underlying essence of Taiji. However, there is much more to Taiji than what is found in the practice of Qigong. Taiji is a complete martial art with forms based on combat applications, two-person exercises and drills, and at a certain level should be taught complete with Chin Na, Dim Mak, combat throws, and other martial exercises such as San Shou, Sticky Hands, weapons, and other self defense components.

As is obvious from the above, it's the martial aspect of Taiji that differentiates it. But that does not make Taiji any less of a healing art that Qigong. Quite the contrary. There is much healing energy to be found in Taiji forms. Most forms work to activate the twelve meridians. At a certain level the practitioner should be generating movement from the dantien, which works to circulate Qi throughout the body. And in some systems we learn the forms at the small frame level, which is concerned with internal movement. These movements are small and subtle to the observer, but internally powerful and stimulating to the practitioner. There is also healing energy exchanged in partner exercises, and a general sharing of energy in group form work. But the key in any Taiji system is keeping to Taiji principles. The people who developed this art were extremely intelligent and informed. There are many things happening at any one time in the execution of Taiji.

I often see where some people try to differentiate between "Tai Chi for Health" and "Martial Taijiquan". I don't agree with that approach, nor think it is necessary. The practice of Taiji, in it's entirety, as a complete martial art, as it was intended to be practiced, is a healing art. There is no need to water it down, and create other categories. That does not mean that sixty eight year old grandmothers should be expected to make some of the kicks in the Chen system, or play heavy push hands like twenty-somethings. Everyone can and should learn and practice within their limitations and abilities. But sixty eight year old grandmothers can still do demanding forms, play push hands, and learn the components of self defense as long as the teacher works with them at their level (as one should with any and all students). However, on that note, I will acknowledge there are people who have no interest in martial arts, nor many of the other components of Taiji who can and still want to benefit from the healing capacity of Taiji. We already have an art for them. It's called Qigong. And yes, you can even add parts of the Taiji form, or complete forms, to your Qigong practices. That's OK. Taiji form is Qigong (among other things). I not only practice Qigong in and of itself, I teach it and recommend it to anyone with or without health challenges.

Many people, maybe most people, are drawn to Taiji for health reasons. I know I was. And that is as it should be, I suppose. In my case, I am a big supporter of Taiji for health. However, I practice Taiji as a martial art and reap the healing benefits at the same time. I also practice Qigong as Qigong. I realize that at some level this is only semantics, but I still think it is important. I think it is necessary that we keep our definitions correct for the sake of the art and for the future of the art. And maybe there is no short easy answer to the question after all.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Taking the Plunge

After some time of indecision and general gnashing of teeth, I've made the decision to take the plunge and start teaching Taiji classes. So far it's off to a great start. I am offering two classes at two different locations in basic Chen Hunyuan Taiji. We are taking it slow and focusing a lot on Qigong and basic fundamentals to establish good practice. In keeping with the lineage, I am presenting Taiji as being composed of three basic components: Qigong, Taiji form, and Push-hands.

Specifically, Qigong includes static postures: sitting, lying, and standing meditation, and dynamic movements designed to build gong. For beginning classes, I am teaching a twelve movement short form distilled from the Hunyuan 48. In time I may add a form from another system, or move on to the 48.

I am introducing the concept of Push-hands right from the beginning. We are taking it slow to ensure everyone understands the concepts, but we are moving along in an integral fashion just the same. I am also peppering in little doses of self-defense concepts along the way. In time, I should be able to have balanced classes exploring traditional Taijiquan as it should be.

It is early to judge how effective this will be, but it is starting out to be quite fun. It is my intention to offer specific workshops in the future on Qigong, Push-hands, Self-defense, and various Neijia concepts depending on interests.

Once again, my Taiji world is expanding.