Difference Between Qi Gong, Taiji (Tai Chi) and Taijiquan
These three terms share a common set of foundational principles, promote overall health and wellbeing, and are influential in Chinese culture, but there are also some distinct and subtle differences. Let’s explore some of the unique aspects of each practice.
This is actually a very recent term that has only been used since the 1970s but has since gained immense popularity. The word gong is short for gongfu and means that someone has committed a dedicated and genuine effort towards mastery of a skill. This word is often times spelled kung fu in English. Qi Gong is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of ancient Chinese and Daoist practices. These include:
Tu Gu Na Xin – this translates to “out with the old and in with the new” and is a series of breath work practices. As Shifu says, “our capacity for breath is our capacity for life.” By bringing observation and awareness to where there is either restriction or ease of flow in our breath, we may be able to transform our quality of life. This is our relationship to breath and breathing.
Dao Yin – this comprises a variety of techniques including self-massage, stretching and other gentle movement and meditative exercises. This helps us to build integrity within the structure of a posture. This is our relationship to movement and stillness.
Yang Sheng – this translates as nourishing life. This can range from a wide variety of practices including what and how we eat, the way we sleep and prepare for bed, and how we relate to our overall human experience. As shifu loves to say, “the way we do one thing is the way we do everything.” This demonstrates how one simple practice can start to influence other aspects of our daily lives. This speaks to our relationship with ourselves.
Taiji (Tai Chi)
Taiji can be translated as supreme ultimate and is representative of the harmony of yin and yang and the constant transformation of one into the other. Taiji is a worldview that has non dualism as it’s foundation. Even though yin and yang may appear to be opposites, they are simply two sides of the same coin. One can’t exist without the other. The following Daoist proverb encompasses this non dual worldview very well.
“There was a farmer in ancient China who had several horses and a son. One day one of his horses ran away and a neighbor came to him expressing his sympathy for his misfortune. The farmer responded ‘good/bad… perhaps, I don’t know.’
“A couple of days later the horse returned and along came 5 other wild horses. The same neighbor comes by and says how good his luck is and how amazing it is that he now has so many more horses. The farmer responded again ‘good/bad… perhaps, I don’t know.’
“His son was then trying to tame the wild horses and fell off one and broke his leg. Again, the neighbor comes by and seeing the son in pain feels sorry for the farmer and his son. The farmer yet again responds ‘good/bad… perhaps, I don’t know.’
“Then, the region the farmer lives in goes to war but because his son was injured he was not called upon to fight. The neighbor comes by and says how good it is that his son won’t have to fight in the war but then begins to second guess himself as this may actually bring shame to the farmer’s family because he has only the one son and thus no one else to fight for the honor of the family name. Of course, we all know the farmer’s response.”
On and on this can go. This story illustrates that praise and blame and the perception of good and bad should be received as the same thing because there really is no way to know how things will play out. Following these taiji principles allows us to go with the flow of nature and to respond with appropriate actions for a given circumstance.
The movement practice known as taijiquan (supreme ultimate fist) has a somewhat ambiguous history. It is sometimes attributed to Zhang San Feng (who is the patriarch of our lineage) who may have created it some 800 years ago. At the time, it was simply called 13 postures and these series of postures have since been expanded to become known as taijiquan. There are numerous distinct styles of taijiquan that each have their own flavor and essence.
The common principles if all of these styles includes the harmony of the breath and movement, harmony of the upper body and lower body, and coordination of the shoulder/hips, elbows/knees, hands/feet. It is often times described as an internal martial art but it can be more succinctly viewed as the physical embodiment of the principles of harmony and balance. Therefore, a practice of taijiquan can start to influence the way we build relationships with the people in our lives and hopefully lead to a more harmonious way of being.