from our DVD, Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi has its origins in Taoism and Martial Arts. Tai Chi Chuan means “Supreme Ultimate Boxing.” The “Supreme Ultimate” here refers to the Tao, or more specifically, the framework within which the dualities of Yin and Yang manifest themselves in the field of time. The allusion to the Tai Chi in this context suggests that the art contains within itself (in its movements, shapes and patterns of breathing) all that is necessary for these dynamic forces to interact and be reconciled. The character Chuan refers to a school or method of boxing or combat. Therefore, it can be said that Tai Chi Chuan, as it was originally conceived, contains a sophisticated method of fighting based on the reconciliation of dynamically interacting forces. Structurally speaking then, the Tai Chi Chuan practitioner seeks to neutralize his opponent’s use of force before applying a countering force of his own. In this give and take, this interplay of energies, Tai Chi finds its highest expression.
At the time of its development, Tai Chi was a very potent art, jealously guarded by a few families and used for self defense. The proper shapes for the transmission of energy, the methods of single-weightedness, techniques of relaxation and breath control all were developed with the express purpose of prevailing in combat in an efficient, scientific manner. It is important for the Tai Chi student to be able to appreciate and understand this martial context even if one is not interested in this aspect of Tai Chi. After all, all of the major Tai Chi styles (Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun) placed a great deal of emphasis on grasping the meaning of the movements through applications training and this is fully 1/3 of its purpose, the other purposes of Tai Chi being physical health, and meditative (or emotional, mental and spiritual) well-being. Push Hands also needs to be mentioned here, as an important part of modern Tai Chi, as an exercise and sport regimen, developing important skills sets necessary to building the martial aspects.
So then: what is the place of Tai Chi in modern society? How are we to appreciate this precious cultural transmission? The secret lies in enlarging our understanding of how the benefits of Tai Chi apply in daily life. Today we may use Tai Chi to “fight” fatigue, stress, overwork or lack of understanding of oneself and one’s body. T’ai Chi was designed to increase one’s longevity. Sometimes this means preventing another person from harming you. However, this same system can be used to help keep stress from killing or injuring you. Daily practice of Tai Chi promotes mental clarity and a healthy body, assists with balance and helps the circulation of the ch’i and the blood. Tai Chi is also a vehicle for the realization of surpassing beauty. As Aldous Huxley describes in Island:
“No leaps, no high kicks, no running. The feet always firmly on the ground…movements intrinsically beautiful and at the same time charged with symbolic meaning. Thought taking shape in ritual and stylized gesture. The whole body transformed into a hieroglyph, a succession of hieroglyphs, of attitudes modulating from significance to significance, like a poem or a piece of music. Movements of the muscles representing movements of the consciousness…It’s meditation in action; the metaphysics of the Mahayana expressed not in words, but through symbolic movements and gestures.”
This is Tai Chi Chuan.