Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan or Taiji) is meditation and Taoist philosophy in motion. It is based entirely on natural simplicity, which is so simple that it protects itself from discovery by most practitioners, especially those who only view the practice as a martial art.
Tai Chi is a martial art, but not in the sense of what is commonly thought of as martial art. Tai Chi is more of a system of “defense against the self” rather than a system of self-defense. Practical applications have more to do with a disciplined and trained response so practitioners will not make the errors and defects that cause injury to their self. If one were attacked, for example, Tai Chi Chuan teaches how to yield and how to use an attacker’s force against them, instead of relying on force, strength, speed, or techniques to overcome an opponent.
In nature, when snow falls upon a pine tree’s branch and the weight of the snow becomes extreme, the branch bends, the snow falls away, and the branch naturally springs back into place. This is the same natural reactionary energy used within Tai Chi. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that Tai Chi is a martial art full of techniques relying on speed and strength. Even the story of how Zhang Sanfeng created Tai Chi Chuan demonstrates this aspect of using natural reactionary energy by relating how he had observed a snake defend itself against a bird’s attack. Briefly, when the bird attacked the snake’s head, the snake’s tail would respond. When the bird attacked the tail, the snake’s head responded. If the bird then went for the snake’s body, both the snake’s head and tail reacted.
When practicing Tai Chi, keep this concept of using natural reactionary energy firmly fixed in mind, instead of the practice of using external muscular force that is set forth in descriptions of many other martial art systems.
The full scope of Tai Chi practice contains the following benefits and goals:
- Health and Longevity
- Defense Against the Self
- Mental Accomplishment and Wisdom
- Immortality and Internal Alchemy
Although Tai Chi encompasses these four areas of practice and accomplishment, which sound difficult to achieve, they are all natural responses rooted in simplicity. Just as Zhang Sanfeng discovered, long ago, while watching a bird attack a snake, the secret of the art lies in responding to what life gives us in a natural, yielding, and simple manner. If a student can keep this in mind and apply it to their life and practice, they can go far in acquiring the skills and benefits of Tai Chi Chuan.