The term Tai Chi has been commonly used in everyday language and it normally refers to Tai Chi Quan. Yet the difference is miles apart. The lack of understanding this difference is the reason why many practitioners can’t see the forest for the trees.
So what is the difference between the two terms? Tai Chi, by definition, is the Universe represented by the very large and the very small. In other words it covers everything in the Universe! So it is the study of the Universe and understanding the Law of Nature. Tai Chi Quan, on the other hand, is a set of human movements following such law. Studying the Quan properly can lead to the understanding of the Law of Nature. Unfortunately, many practitioners are stuck at the technical level of the Quan and never see the forest for the trees.
In Tai Chi Quan, we work on correct postures, integrating the whole body as one unit, relaxing and sinking to be grounded, opening energy channels and activating energy centres, cultivating universe energy, controlling energy field, harmonising all forces, emptying the mind and connecting with the Source.
Many practitioners seemed pre-occupied with Push Hands and Fajin (uprooting through explosive force) without understanding the context behind it, thus losing sight of the forest. In order to see the forest for the trees, practitioners need to contextualise their learning and practices by knowing why, what, how, when and where.
Let’s contextualise Push Hands and Fajin as an example:
Why: It’s all about learning to harmonise or balance forces! As Tai Chi is never about resisting forces, it needs to balance any forces either by dissolving it or returning it to stop the source. So instead of pushing with brute strength and resistance as seen in many push hands competitions, the focus should be on harmonisation.
What: We need to know what the underlying principles are. An example of a principle is Yin (passive) first then Yang (active). This is the Zen concept of ‘forgetting self and go with others’. Yield first to understand and dissolve the incoming force. Then return the force by borrowing it. Principles are like grammar to English, they enable widespread application.
How: By engaging with a partner pushing you, you learn how to listen to the force, receive it without resisting, understand it for resolution, dissolve it to render harmless and/or return it (fajin) to cut the source of power. This is where we get technical and very detailed so as to automate correct habits; the key here is conditioning. ‘Don’t lose contact, don’t resist’
When: Apply at the starting point of any forces not the end. A fully developed force is harder to handle than when it just started. It’s all about nipping in the bud. ‘If you don’t move, I remain still, but the minute you start to move, I am already there’
Where: We need to observe the principles at work in Nature and apply to other areas of our lives. Flexible plants survive heavy storms. Even skyscrapers are designed to sway with strong winds to reduce resistance and prevent fracture. We know that flexibility enables us to adapt to changes.
There is a Chinese saying translated as ‘one area deeply understood, all areas become clear’. Tai Chi Quan is a microcosm of Tai Chi. By studying and understanding the Quan deeply, we know Tai Chi and finally see the forest for the trees. Our lives will be more harmonious as we embrace Tai Chi as a way of life.