I have been talking with my wife and we plan to take Tai Chi classes. I want to learn more about the history as well as the spiritual and mental aspects of the art. What recommendations would you offer to a future student?
First, decide whether you wish to practice Tai Chi dance or genuine Taijiquan. Tai Chi dance gives you benefits like balance and gracefulness, as well as recreation and socialization. Genuine Taijiquan gives you good health, vitality, combat efficiency, mental freshness and spiritual joy.
If you are contented with Tai Chi dance, it is easy to find an instructor, and its practice is generally easy and fun. Finding a genuine Taijiquan master is very difficult, practicing it is even more difficult, but the rewards are worth all the difficulty.
The history of Tai Chi dance is about fifty to a hundred years. There was no specific point in time when Tai Chi dance started, and there were no founders. Tai Chi dance developed, or more correctly degenerated from genuine Taijiquan perhaps about a hundred years ago, but it has gathered momentum very quickly in the last fifty years.
Today, as a rough estimate, more than 90% of those who practice Tai Chi, practice the degenerated dance version, and not the original genuine version. A notable factor is that those who practice Tai Chi dance usually do not know they are doing so; they think they are doing genuine Taijiquan.
A simple, effective way to find out whether yours is Tai Chi dance or Taijiquan is as follows. As genuine Taijiquan is an internal martial art, you can find out by checking whether you have learnt or will learn, anything internal and martial in your art. If you are not sure, you can count that you have not learnt them; if you have, you will surely know.
Taijiquan has a history of more than seven hundred years. Its founder was the great Taoist priest Zhang San Feng, who evolved it from Shaolin Kungfu. It was first called Wudang Long Fist. Later the scholar-general Chen Wang Ting called it Taijiquan, which means Cosmos Kungfu.
There is nothing much that can be considered spiritual or mental in Tai Chi dance. Although in theory many Tai Chi dance instructors may say that their art is rich in Taoist philosophy which pays much attention to the spirit or mind, in practice virtually all their attention is given to physical matters, like how to co-ordinate your hands and legs, and how to move gracefully.
On the other hand, genuine Taijiquan training involves cultivating the Three Treasures, namely Jing, Qi and Shen, which are matter, energy and spirit or mind. Indeed, every movement in genuine Taijiquan is a training of energy and mind.
⏤ Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
The question and answer is reproduced from the September 1999 Part 3 issue of the Question-Answer Series.