I feel this is a distinction that is needed in order to clarify for most people that Tai Chi Chuan is first and foremost a Martial Art and is not just "Moving Yoga" or "for health". So in order to better educate the general public and to (hopefully) save them some time in deciding whether Tai Chi Chuan is for them. The first aspect we have to look at is the definitions; for the purpose of simplicity I will merely use a loose translation of the two terms. Tai Chi = Supreme/Grand Ultimate Tai Chi Chuan = Supreme/Grand Ultimate Fist/Boxing To a greater degree, at least in the U.S. I am seeing more and more people advertising Tai Chi. Now for those that have heard "Tai Chi is good for Health, Weight Loss, Emotional Stress etc" people are seeking out Tai Chi in hopes of improving their lives.
This is fantastic that people are being proactive in their Health and lifestyles, however, too often I feel people are mislead. The reason is because Tai Chi (Chuan) was/is always intended to be a Martial Art. Much of what is being presented is not Tai Chi (Chuan) in its truest sense. Now, I know this can be a controversial subject but, it is my personal belief that many people are teaching an "Incomplete Tai Chi". They are missing essential aspects that greatly improve the efficacy of Tai Chi (Chuan) being not only a Martial Art, but also a Healing Art, Spiritual Art that allows people to improve their health. Now, to be honest, this is based solely upon my experience and opinions of Studying Tai Chi Chuan for the past 12 years, but what I present here will give valid arguments as to why I feel that there is a drastic difference between Tai Chi and Tai Chi Chuan.
For the purpose of this Article I am defining Tai Chi as Grand Ultimate, but also using it to denote those that teach Tai Chi solely for "Health" and ignore the Martial Aspects, or they may even go so far as to say they are not needed. There are several reasons this is a false idea;
1) If we are to look at either Origin of Tai Chi Chuan, both Chang San Feng and Chen Wan Ting were Martial Artists (The origins of Tai Chi Chuan is beyond the scope of this blog). Simply put, Chen Wan Ting was a former Military Commander and Chang San Feng was said to be a Monk from Shaolin. So even from the proposed originators of Tai Chi Chuan (as we know it thus far), it was developed and spread as a Martial Art.
2) Tai Chi (Grand Ultimate) is the blend of Yin/Yang, not just Yin or Yang. What does this mean? Yin is generally considered; Female, Internal, Water, Moon, Quiet, Complete Stillness, Cold, whereas Yang is generally considered; Male, External, Fire, Sun, Sound, Movement, Hot. The reason this is important is because if you are only doing Tai Chi as described above you are solely focusing on a single aspect of Tai Chi, or what I would consider the Yin aspect (Internal, Health, Stillness). This is fine and will help most people, especially our overly Yang (movement, Aggressive, working tirelessly) society, this particular aspect of Tai Chi will help to some extent to balance this kind of Lifestyle. However, as stated above Tai Chi is the blend of Yin/Yang, NOT just focusing on either Yin or Yang.
The complete opposite of Yin is of course Yang, have you ever seen an extremely Aggressive or Hard, Martial Art only focused, External "Tai Chi" practitioner? No, because you need to balance Yin/Yang, you must Balance the Martial and Health aspects in order to achieve an optimal State of Health. If you don't understand that the Yin/Yang needs to be balanced and how to do so, you don't hunderstand Tai Chi (Grand Ultimate) and are heavily shifting focus to either Yin OR Yang. This, in my opinon, is an erroneous way to Teach Tai Chi Chuan and ultimately leads to incomplete training.
3) "If I want to take care of my Health why do I need to learn Martial Arts aspects of Tai Chi Chuan?"
Well, lets examine Health for a moment, are we just talking about physical Health, Mental Health, Emotional Health, Spiritual Health?
Physical Health; To be honest simply getting up and moving is exercise, it does not matter how the movement comes about, but so long as you move you can be affecting your physical Health, but the question is, is it Tai Chi Chuan?
Mental/Emotional Health; In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) a person who is depressed maybe (generally) considered Yin and need more Yang (Activity). If a person who "teaches Tai Chi" and makes it more Yin (too slow, focusing solely on Internal etc) it could make a person worse. However, by invigorating or moving the body differently with Yang aspects of Tai Chi Chuan, it could promote and break a person's Depression. Again, this can only be fully understood if you know Yin/Yang.
Spiritual Health; in many Taoist Theories in order to achieve higher levels of Spiritual states you must balance the Internal/External, the Physical Body and Mind, Yin/Yang. Once again, we are talking about Yin/Yang Blending.
Lastly, just for a thought, isn't learning how to defend yourself from Phyiscal Aggressors protecting your "Health"? Health is not just about protecting yourself from Disease, but protecting yourself from other people who may wish you or your loved ones harm. Again, you MUST understand Yin (internal illnesses) and Yang (External Aggressors) to study Tai Chi Chuan. 4) "Tai Chi is supposed to be about relaxtion, softness and being slow." These are unique aspects to Tai Chi and important training aspects. The idea is the more relaxed you are, the softer you are, the slower you move, the stronger you are, the harder you are and the faster you can move. This seems counter intuitive however, once again we are talking about blending Yin/Yang, if you train with Tai Chi Chuan and follow the principals you will gradually go from Yin (relaxation, softness, slow) to Yang, this is because we say "Yin makes Yang, Yang consumes Yin" if Yin/Yang are not blended this process will never take place.
Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi Chuan is blend of Yin/Yang, again focusing on uniting both the Internal/External, Health/Martial, Physical/Mental, Movement/Stillness, Relaxation/Strength, etc. The only way, both in my personal experience as well as my personal opinion, to achieve this is to train in both Health and Martial. Fortunately this does not mean that one has to practice both, if one practices Martial (Tai Chi Chuan), then Health will come naturally. However, if you focus solely on Health in Tai Chi, then Martial will not necessarily come.
Unfortunately, I have seen many "Tai Chi" practitioners that were practicining for "Health" that simply were not Healthy. They had knee pain, joint pain, back stiffness etc, all of which should not occur if Tai Chi Chuan is practiced properly, these things should actually be healed with proper Tai Chi Chuan practice. One of my Teachers once told me "If you practice True Tai Chi Chuan, if you are Fat you will become thin, if you are too thin you will plump up. True Tai Chi Chuan will balance you completely."