Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tai chi and spirituality

Legendary Taoist Zhang Sanfeng (張三丰) was honored to be the founder of tai chi. Master Zhang was also a Taoist internal alchemist whose most famous text is Rootless Tree (無根樹), a philosophical essay with practical advice for middle-aged folks seeking longevity and enlightenment. Towards the end of Qing Dynasty and the early Republic era when the society in turmoil, tai chi leaned more towards its martial art aspect. Nowadays the pendulum has swung back to its root: for body building, health and spirituality.

In master Zhang's time, tai chi was closely associated with Taoist internal alchemy, called Neidan in Chinese. The highest training objective of Neidan (to which tai chi formed an indispensable supporting role) is spiritual enlightenment. At one with Tao. A direct spiritual experience without a deity. Nowadays among Chinese communities in Greater China (mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong) partly due to the influence of martial artists, tai chi has become a de-facto system of body building, health and longevity. So much so many Chinese students will be skeptical towards their tai chi instructor if he preaches about Tao Te Ching or Neidan (most if not all the time he won't).

It is interesting to note that those who look upon tai chi as relating to spirituality are Christians and Muslims and New Ages spiritualists, most in the West. Without a strong traditional system in practical spirituality, some of these people learn and practise tai chi to supplement their spirituality. They treasure the spiritual possibility of tai chi more than an average Chinese.

The question remains: Why tai chi in particular? Why not some other systems?

The first major reason is that tai chi is easy to learn, interesting to learn, effective and without metaphysical pre-requisite. Besides, no mythical mantra is taught. An unbiased spiritual tool for all spirituality. The second major reason is that it is a safer practice, the possible negative side-effect of chi deviation (chi kung or kundalini syndromes) is most unlikely to affect tai chi practitioners. With these two good reasons, no wonder more and more spiritual seekers are learning tai chi.

Tai chi and Sufi dance - Opening ceremony of 2013 Turkish Culture Year in China



  1. Hi Paul, Taichiquan only originated 200-300 years ago as a marital art and although there are some movements which are based on Taoist neigong my opinion is that they should not be lumped together.

    Spiritual practice should be spiritual practice and martial art should be martial art, the worst thing that has happened to Taiji is that it has been hijacked by the new age looneys who do some tai chi dance with no jin. Because of the large number of charlatans the real taiji is in danger of being lost.

  2. Thanks Bernard for your input. Yours is certainly one important view in our tai chi community. For me, I'm more interested in what meaningful ways that tai chi can be applied, rather than what is the definitive way to define tai chi. As for dancing, prominent Taiwanese tai chi master Xiong Hui熊衛 and his students (one of XW's students, a tai chi tournament gold medal awardee, was the tai chi consultant of Lee Ang's first feature film Pushing Hands) taught tai chi to professional dancers of Lin Huaimin's Cloud Gate Dance Theater.. As for full contact fights, prominent tai master in the Mainland 孫國璽 participated and trained his students taking part in San Da with good results. These two masters have written a number of books on tai chi (in Chinese), approaching the subject in very different ways.

    I am very positive about the future of tai chi: Let a hundred flower blossom.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...