Although, I prefer Taiji generally, I will use both spellings throughout the site.
Is Tai Chi a philosophy, a way of life, a martial art, or exercises for maintaining health? Although mostly practiced as an exercise in the West it can be all those things if you want.
We still inhabit the earth. We are still humans although our technology seems to take us away from our connection to the earth. We still need air, food and water to survive like every other creature. Our technology and materialist culture have separated us not only largely from our natural surroundings it has separated our mind from our body. Taiji and other internal arts allow us to focus on the interactions within ourselves and how we relate to our environment. It is useful as a pathway for us to gain self-knowledge, discipline and care.
Self-control through Mind and Body Discipline
Fulfillment of the individual through moderation and natural ways of living and conducting oneself. As a meditative movement, it is helpful to overcome the physical effects of stress on the body and in the mind. Incorporated into everyday living its elements contribute to a balanced lifestyle by harmonizing ourselves internally and through our interactions with the external world to assist in maintaining homeostasis.
Philosophy needs vision and argument…there is something disappointing about a philosophical work that contains arguments, however good, which are not inspired by some genuine vision, and something disappointing about a philosophical work that contains a vision, however inspiring, which is unsupported by arguments. Speculation about how things hang together requires the ability to draw our conceptual distinctions and connections, and the ability to argue. But speculative views, however interesting or well supported by arguments or insight, are not all we need. We also need what the philosopher Myles Burnyeat called vision and I take that to mean vision as to how to live our lives and how to order our societies.
-- Hilary Putnam
If Tai Chi is the grand ultimate what does that mean?
The state of absolute and infinite potential of oneness from which Yin and Yang originate.
Which means what?
The body is generally thought to have physical limits but the mind may be assumed to have unlimited potential. The body being the vessel may also be developed beyond that which we normally experience.
On the surface Tai Chi principle are rather simple reflecting the duality of Yin and Yang. This is often expressed as opposites. Yin is yielding or negative power while Yang is active and positive power. The problem with this thinking is that people tend to focus on the opposites as if they are two distinct things with one being more favorable than the other. Thinking of Yin and Yang as opposites ignores their complementary nature and their interplay.
Yang is movement and when it reaches its limit it becomes still or tranquil hence Yin. When Yin reaches its limit it must begin to move again and transitions into Yang. Yin and Yang then are the source of one another and within each is the other as represented by the Taiji symbol.
Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) as a martial art puts these basic ideas into practice through internal energetic training. When people think of martial arts, they typically think of kicking, punching, full-body contact MMA, etc. Watching the slow, rhythmic movements of Taiji the martial aspect is not readily apparent. The art of Taiji, however, is about finding ones center and becoming peaceful and calm. Tai Chi has its basis in Qigong. There are two major types: hard and soft. Tai Chi is an example of a soft Qigong.
Tai Chi is the art of balancing the mind, body and spirit.
Spirit has multiple definitions: courage, tenacity, resolution, mental or moral strength. It also means an animating force within living beings or principle of conscious life.
Spirituality: Oxford dictionary says it is relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. Others define it as the interconnectedness of living organisms and awareness of the purpose and meaning of life or personal values and fullfilment for improving health and wellness.
In regards to the second definition of spirit given above the word often heard or used when discussing Tai Chi is Qi (pronounced 'chee'). Qi defined as the life force or intrinsic energy found in living things or in particular the human body.
Human beings are considered miniature versions of the universe, existing and interacting between the sky and the earth. We are in constant interaction with our environment. Interaction occurs through five elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Note these are obviously not the periodic elements known through science. These elements interrelate through the organs of the body and a state of optimum health is achieved when the flow of Qi is smooth and balanced within our body and so too are our interactions with the environment.
Tai Chi, Qigong and other spiritual practices improve coping skills, general sense of wellbeing, and overall health among other things. The concepts of Qi and the five elements will be explored in separate pages. Please use the navigation links for further exploration.