Today is World Tai Chi and Qigong Day, celebrated at 10 am local time in cities around the world. This is held the last Saturday of April each year.
While this global celebration has been going on since 1999, now there are hundreds of cities across 80 countries and six continents around the world. Historically, it was started in Kansas City in 1998 by Bill Douglas and Angela Wong Douglas, co-authors of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi and Qigong” who went on to found the international part of the event.
This event involves exhibitions in local parks and public areas of Tai Chi forms and Qigong exercises. Details of this can be found at WorldTaiChi.org.
Tai Chi’s emphasis on breathing has given way to the motto “One World … One Breath.” Qigong, or chi gung means ‘life energy cultivation” emphasizes breathing, movement, and awareness exercises that aid in mobility, balance and immunity enhancement through the exercise of various circulatory systems. Separate but closely related is tai chi, or t’ai chi.
Tai Chi is often translated supreme ultimate, the addition of the word chuan or ch’uan introduces the martial aspect to the art as supreme ultimate boxing.
Tai Chi differs from other popular Chinese martial arts like Kung Fu in the following ways. Traditionally Kung Fu comes from the Buddhist Shaolin Monastery in northern China and is considered an external or hard martial art. Tai Chi while derivative in some aspects is usually categorized under the Taoist Wudang category and is considered an internal or soft martial art. The popular Chinese legend purports that a Taoist hermit named Zhang Sanfeng originated the art while he was living in the monasteries of the Wudang Mountains.
Indeed, it has been said that Kung Fu is the long term cultivation of Chi through hard work. Kung Fu is Chinese for “hard work.”
It is extremely difficult to trace the origins of Chinese martial art forms. They have been shrouded in secrecy by the various schools and families that retain the traditions and there is a certain amount of deliberate obfuscation. While the practice of Tai Chi in American can be traced back about 100 years, the origin in China goes back centuries. Some trace it back to the 12th century but it’s difficult to document before the 17th century. Tai Chi Chuan shows up by that name in literature in the middle of the 19th century.
Tai Chi and Qigong are often associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Harvard Medical School has been researching the effectiveness of Tai Chi practice for physical therapy and response to various debilitating illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis. It has also been used to increase mobility and balance for those suffering Arthritis.
Tai Chi is sometimes called ‘kung fu for older folks,’ and indeed the first time I saw it practiced was in the parks of Hong Kong early in the morning by older people. Of course, it is not limited to that age, but older people do benefit in several ways. The movements are low impact, less percussive than hard martial arts, emphasize breathing, movement awareness, relaxation, de-stressing, stretching, and balance.
Practice starts with stretching exercises, then moves to temple exercises which combine short atomic movements of blocking, warding off, evading, striking and kicking. This moves to longer forms that can be movements as long as 12, 24, or 48 postures or more strung together. The atomic elements of temple exercises are put together into the longer molecular forms. They differ among the traditional five different schools of Tai Chi and may be faster or slower, harder or softer, more or less martial.
The 24-posture simplified form of Tai Chi Chuan, sometimes called the Beijing 24 Form, was popularized by the Chinese Sports Committee in 1956. It can be done in 6 minutes, or slowly in 20 minutes. More complex versions of the form range from 88 to 108 postures. Historically it was strongly promoted by the People’s Republic of China and is the most popularly known in China and around the world. When you see Tai Chi practiced in movies, it is usually the beginning of the Beijing Form. Tai Chi demonstrations are often included in Chinese New Year celebrations.
In addition, to open hand movements, Tai Chi also incorporates traditional Chinese weapons in stylized forms including the gun (long bo staff), jian (straight sword), dao (broad sword), and tieshan (folding fan.)
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian