What Is Tai Chi / Qigong?

People think Tai Chi is about elderly Asians in a park, moving slowly like astronauts on the moon.  

I even had a friend ask me if it was one of those expensive coffee house drinks; I told him, "No, that drink would be "chai tea.”

A fast growing exercise with about 85 million training it daily internationally (source: http://qialance.com/how-many-people-practice-tai-chi/), there's more than just Asians or old folks making it part of their lives, with or without tea.

Tai Chi, translated, means “grand ultimate fist” and is a self defense, practiced primarily for health, balance and well being, an internal martial art that utilizes Qigong (or “energy cultivation”), a 3,000-year-old Chinese based exercise to develop its slow movements unique to itself. Some call it meditation in motion because of its benefits.

I've been a martial artist for over 45 years, training in karate, kickboxing and judo.  Tai Chi was introduced to me in the mid-1970's as an adjunct to my practice.  I wasn't impressed then about learning it, since I was young and interested more in learning how to be like the legendary and late Bruce Lee.  Little did I know, Bruce Lee's first martial art was Tai Chi that he learned from his father.

After about 20 years of virtually eliminating it from my workouts, I resumed my Qigong and Tai Chi journey when I was diagnosed with hypertension and needed to find ways of off setting the condition.  I heard that the internal martial arts was good for you but didn't realize how much until I reintroduced it into my life.  I was trained well by my instructor,  and it didn't take me long before I reached a strong level of competence. That was about 15 years ago, and I have not turned my back on it since, practicing it each and every morning.

The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp Mind (Harvard Health Publications) by Peter Wayne, Md says that there are eight active ingredients that describe the martial art.

  1. Awareness, Mindfulness, Focused Attention
  2.  Intention, Belief, Expectation
  3.  Dynamic Structural Integration
  4.  Active Relaxation of Mind and Body
  5.  Aerobic Exercise, Musculoskeletal Strengthening, and Flexibility
  6.  Natural, Freer Breathing
  7.  Social Interaction and Community
  8.  Embodied Spirituality, Philosophy, and Ritual
And that the combination of the ingredients above completes a recipe for a full holistic mind and body approach to exercise that reaps tremendous benefits. The book is comprehensive and I recommend any Tai Chi enthusiast to pick it up and read it, if not once, but multiple times. It provides an intellectual perspective that I found astute, insightful and useful.

Types of Tai Chi

There are five different Tai Chi systems (Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao, and Sun), and one of them is far from slow.

To help you get an idea some of the differences, I've provided the videos below.

The first video is Ren Guang Yi performing an explosive Cannon Fist Chen style form.

This second video shows a wushu taijiquan practitioner in a competition setting combining the five systems into one that resembles a dance as in ice skating.

Even children practice it, so it debunks the idea that only old folks practice it.

And here is Jiamin Gao, performing a slow and elegant Yang Style form.

Links to Tai Chi Benefits

It doesn't matter which system you practice because they all contain the same eight active ingredients Dr. Wayne described in his book.

The next question is what makes this exercise so special?

Let's see how it works in practical application.  For example, with the new standards on high blood pressure, almost 50% of Americans now have hypertension.  If your readings are 120/85, you are now considered hypertensive, which would have been considered healthy in the past.

As a treatment plan, doctors are prescribing lifestyle changes that include moderate exercise, diet, and stress reduction instead of pills.

Tai Chi provides the exercise, mindful stress reduction and motivates you to a healthy diet.  I have a close friend of mine who began training with me after 40 years of corporate stress.  He was 278 lbs. with a series of concerning diagnosis and, after six months of training, dropped to 215 lb. with a healthy prognosis from his physician.

This ancient exercise and martial art are far reaching and the benefits extend to many conditions that affect all people around the world.  To illustrate my point, the following provides you with a series of Internet references that gives you some idea:

High Blood Pressure

Cardiovascular Health



Parkinson's Disease

Fibromyalgia Pain



Weight Loss

Corporate Tai Chi

Pain Management

Elderly Balance

Tai Chi for Kids

Qigong for Kids (Video)

Tai Chi Testimonial Cures

There you are, a boat load of information that gives you an idea what Tai Chi is and can do for you.

If you're near a school, I recommend you stopping by and paying a visit.  There's a Lean Six Sigma term "gemba" which literally means to "see the truth."

Information is power and check out YouTube videos where the exercises and forms are there (at no cost) for you to review and emulate.

I understand that it does not, will not nor cannot replace a good instructor, but the benefits are there should you wish to train solo.  On another note, as with any exercise program, be sure to consult with a physician about Tai Chi, especially if you suffer from a chronic condition.  In this case, going solo is not advised where a qualified instructor would then be the safe choice; and, by all means, continue to read, research, visit schools and talk with instructors and students.

As an sensei or sifu, I tell my students that Tai Chi, in addition to the eight active ingredients, requires them to move, think and breathe and sitting at home watching network news or playing on a cell phone, tablet or notebook does nothing to promote good health.

You've got to move that body, be conscious of what you're doing, and above all, "breathe grasshopper breathe."

If you have any questions, feel free to email me and I'd love to answer any of your questions.

In the meantime, let the chi flow!

Courtesy of vecteezy.com


  1. Maybe I will try tai chi. Heh, I was known as the Black Belt at 50 - http://www.bbat50.com - and I'm just cleaning up the side bard of my blog. You are one of only two blogs that I was reading more than a decade ago which were on similar subjects which is still posting. They were all different takes on the martial arts and how they relate to our lives. I've now turned 60 and am thinking of cleaning up the blog. Maybe I'll try working my inner energy and do that tai chi stuff.

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