Translated into English, tai chi roughly translates as: “supreme boxing,” “the root of all motion,” and “optimal fist fighting.” It is considered a martial art, but unlike the most combative styles, Tai Chi is based on fluidity and circular movements.
Tai Chi is an internal training method that was created by the great Daoist priest and immortal, Zhang San Feng at Wudang Mountain. Generally when people discuss “Tai Chi” they are referring to Taijiquan, or the forms practice involved in Tai Chi. However, in Wudang, Taijiquan is considered a part of the greater ‘Tai Chi System’. The Tai Chi System is composed of 3 parts: Wuji, Taiji, and Liang Yi. Each of these three parts contains their own practices, purposes, and methods of training. Although the Tai Chi System is separated into three parts, they are all integrated and complementary to the others.
Wuji is another name for ‘nei dan’ (Daoist meditation practice). The practice of Wuji (loosely translated as ‘ultimate emptiness’) is for the cultivation of our three vitalities: Jing (Essence), Qi (Energy), and Shen (spirit). We practice Wuji in order to promote the health of these three vitalities; Wuji is also understood as the road to immortality. In order to become stronger and more robust in our health and our lives, we must strengthen and practice our Jing, Qi, and Shen.
Tai Chi is the balancing interaction of yin and yang. Under the Tai Chi System, Taijiquan is the form that we use to cultivate ourselves and learn to develop and understand feeling in our bodies and how to integrate that into movement. In Taijiquan practice we learn to conceal hardness within the softness of movement and learn to use our breathing through the dantian, and our intention and internal awareness to guide our movement. Contrary to the widespread misconception that Taijiquan is simply a callisthenic exercise for the elderly, it is actually a deep internal practice that requires great dedication and a strong determination.
Liang Yi is the separation of yin and yang. Under the Tai Chi System, Liangyiquan is for the use of the energy that we have cultivated through our practice. Whereas in Taijiquan we combine the soft and hard, in Liangyiquan practice, we separate the soft and hard. The power of Liangyiquan is explosive, resembling a bomb detonating; its practice is more for use in practical fighting application. While in Taijiquan, all movement is the same speed, with the same balance in softness and hardness at once, Liangyiquan movement is slow and soft, followed by fast explosive movement, called fali.
The practice of all of the elements that comprise the Tai Chi System can help us to more deeply understand our bodies and minds and learn the methods to make them cleaner, clearer, quieter, and healthier. Tai Chi training teaches us not only to train our muscles, tendons, and bones, but also to train our intention, internal feeling, awareness, and power.