Wong Kiew Kit

Tai Chi Chuan Magazine

Issue No 9

The Wonders of Tai Chi Chuan

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit

Wong Kiew Kit is a Grandmaster of Shaolin Wahnam Chi Kung and Kungfu, and author of

The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan, The Art of Chi Kung, and The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu

What is Tai Chi Chuan?
If you are surprised that Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art, the following short explanation may be illuminating. In Chinese the term “Tai Chi Chuan” means “Cosmos Kungfu”. “Tai Chi” or “The Grand Ultimate” is the Chinese term for the cosmos. “Chuan” is the short form of “Chuan Fa”, or “fist techniques”, which is one of many Chinese terms for “martial art”.

In Romanized Chinese, Tai Chi Chuan is written as taijiquan. Please note that the Romanized Chinese q is pronounced like ch’ in English. Similarly, Shaolin Kungfu, Praying Mantis Kungfu, Hoong Ka Kungfu and Pakua Kungfu are respectively Shaolinquan, Tanglangquan, Hongjiaquan and Baguaquan. In short the very word Quan indicates that Taijiquan or Tai Chi Chuan is basically a martial art.

It is also interesting to note that “fist techniques”, or quanfa in Romanized Chinese, is not restricted to unarmed combat. Quanfa was the most popular term for Chinese martial art just before another term, wushu, took over. In more classical times, martial art was generally known as wuyi. These terms reflect the changing content and concept of Chinese martial art of their times. Wuyi suggests the use of weapons and horseback fighting; quanfa the prominent role of unarmed combat; and wushu an acrobatic and demonstrative sport. On the other hand, the term kungfu, while being widely used in the West, and among overseas Chinese, to mean martial art, has never been a popular term in mainland China. The closest term to kungfu as conceptualized by most westerners today — with connotations of routine sets, sparring and classical weapons, but without notions of archery and mass fighting, which were important considerations in Chinese martial art of the past — is quanfa.

Tai Chi Chuan is a very special martial art, almost unlike what many people would conceptualize what a martial art is. Outwardly, a performance of Tai Chi Chuan may appear like a dance — but it is not a dance. Tai Chi Chuan is not brutal or aggressive, and it relies on internal force, not on size and mechanical strength as in most other martial arts. Yet, the combat effectiveness of Tai Chi Chuan, if it is properly practised, is beyond question. But today, both inside and outside China and for various reasons, Tai Chi Chuan is practised as a sport, and seldom as a martial art. Personally I feel this is a great pity, not because Tai Chi Chuan cannot serve as a sport, but because it is a very unwise use of effort and time. If you want to enjoy fully the benefits of a sport, you should practise, or play, a sport, such as football, golf and ballroom dancing, i.e. something created and meant to be a sport. Tai Chi Chuan has never been created as a sport, and is not meant to be played, although it does provide much enjoyment. Every move in Tai Chi Chuan performance, every word in Tai Chi Chuan philosophy, is created and meant for health, combat efficiency or spiritual cultivation.

Most people nowadays practise Tai Chi Chuan for health, which is understandable because Tai Chi Chuan is an excellent system for health promotion. But unfortunately many Tai Chi Chuan practitioners, despite many years of training, do not get the type of radiant health Tai Chi Chuan is traditionally reputed to give. This is because if you want its best benefits, including its health aspect, you have to practise it the way it has been developed to be practised. Hence, you have to practise Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, even if you are not interested in combat! The reason is actually simple: the typical health benefits for which Tai Chi Chuan is well known, such as balance, agility, vitality, calmness and mental freshness, are attained only if you train as a Tai Chi martial artist with emphasis on its internal aspects of energy and mind, and not as a Tai Chi dancer emphasizing merely external form. Tai Chi martial artists have to be fit and healthy first before they can consider self-defence; some Tai Chi dancers on the other hand cannot even run after a bus.

At its highest level Tai Chi Chuan leads to spiritual fulfilment, irrespective of race, culture and religion. Should anyone think that this is mystifying Tai Chi Chuan, he should please take note that spiritual cultivation was the original aim of Tai Chi Chuan when the great Zhang San Feng developed it from Shaolin Kungfu. Those who regard ChenWang Ting instead of Zhang San Feng as the first patriarch of Tai Chi Chuan, may be interested to know that Chen Wan Ting too considered spiritual cultivation as most important. Spiritual cultivation is different from religious worship, and there is no place for dogmatism and superstition. Great spiritual teachers have always advised that cultivation must be based on understanding and direct experience.

What is actually meant by spiritual cultivation in Tai Chi Chuan or any other spiritual, mystical or religious disciplines? Basically it means cultivating or developing the spirit or mind to attain the ultimate reality, called variously due to different linguistic and cultural background, such as Tao, Buddha, Brahman, Allah, God or the grand unified energy field. In Tai Chi Chuan terms, which mainly employs Taoist language and culture, it is attaining the Tao, or merging with the Cosmos. This is the sublime realization and experience that what was previously and erroneously considered the personal spirit is actually the undifferentiated Universal Spirit.

Why is Tai Chi Chuan superior to other Martial Arts?
This spiritual dimension in Tai Chi Chuan, as in Shaolin Kungfu, elevates it to be one of the two greatest martial arts in the world. But even if we examine Tai Chi Chuan at a more prosaic and physical level, there are many factors making it superior to other martial arts.

Tai Chi Chuan is complete and holistic. If, for example, you practise judo, you may be expert in throws but you would be handicapped in kicks; if you are trained in kick boxing, you would probably find it difficult to escape when a wrestler or a jujitsu exponent puts you in a complicated lock. This is not due to any natural inadequacy on your part, but due to the fact that many martial arts or sports limit themselves to a certain category of attack and defence, such as throwing and holding in judo, kicking and boxing in kick-boxing. In Tai Chi Chuan you are trained to handle all types of combat situations.

You may be a good fighter in karate or taekwondo, but you would probably have sustained a lot of internal injury in your long training to be combat efficient. In most martial arts, these internal injuries are routinely left unattended to. Even if you consult a doctor, there is usually not much he could do because energy blockage, which is the root problem in such internal injuries sustained in sparring, is not part of conventional medical vocabulary. In Tai Chi Chuan, if it is properly practised, you do not even have to consult a doctor or a traditional therapist, because engendering harmonious energy flow, which will therefore clear the energy blockage, is an integral part of its training. Tai Chi Chuan not only enables you to be a good fighter, but also develops you holistically — in all your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions.

Yet it is so convenient. Not only you do not have to go to a gym for your training, you do not even have to change the clothes you are wearing. You do not have to cover your training ground with mats or carry your sandbags with you whenever you travel. If you wish to, you can even practise Tai Chi Chuan in a train or on a plane!

Your proficiency in Tai Chi Chuan is not limited by your age, sex or size. Whereas in most martial arts one usually goes downhill after thirty, a typical Tai Chi Chuan practitioner is more efficient at fifty than when he or she was twenty five. In most martial arts, a woman is normally at a disadvantage against a man in full contact fighting where size and brute strength count. But not in Tai Chi Chuan. Because Tai Chi Chuan uses internal force instead of mechanical strength, a woman or a smaller size person can handle a physically stronger or bigger assailant.

Although every martial art has its own history and philosophy, by comparison those of Tai Chi Chuan are very rich and profound. While many martial arts have a history of less than a century, Tai Chi Chuan history extends back to more than 700 hundred years. Because of its long development, training methods which might be initially simple and obvious, have evolved to become so deep and sophisticated that ordinary people may not realize their profundity and significance.

For example, in a martial art with a shorter history, to increase power and stamina, the practitioners may just practise skipping with a rope and lifting weights. But through the centuries Tai Chi Chuan masters have discovered and perfected more profound methods of energy control like improving breathing techniques, clearing energy passage-ways in the body, disposing toxic by-product more effectively, and regulating energy output. To attack an opponent, an exponent of a simpler art may just rush forward and strike, whereas a Tai Chi Chuan exponent would first focus his mind, consolidate his internal force, move in with sufficient coverage against counter-attacks, engage the opponent with some preliminary actions, manoeuvre him into a disadvantageous situation, and strike only when he is in good control. A well trained Tai Chi Chuan exponent is like a skilful general: instead of rushing his army into suicide, he would assess his enemy and the situation, and attack only when he has a technical, tactical or strategic advantage.

Tai Chi Chuan philosophy is often written in poetry, and sometimes involves profound truths regarding the “small cosmos” of the human as well as the “great cosmos” of the universe. After all, Tai Chi Chuan is not called “Cosmos Kungfu” for no reasons. Unlike western philosophy, which is generally intellectualization or speculation, Tai Chi Chuan philosophy, like most forms of eastern philosophy, is a systematic explanation of teachings geared to practical uses in health, combat and spiritual cultivation. In other words, poetic and beautiful the philosophy may be, it is not studied for its own theoretical sake, but is meant to help the Tai Chi Chuan practitioners to be better fighters and live more rewarding lives.

Due to the conciseness of the Chinese language and the profundity of Tai Chi Chuan concepts, many philosophical works may make little sense to the uninitiated. Take the following poem as an example.

“Movement creates Yang, Stillness creates Yin,
Movement and stillness are their roots.
Their significance, once you have understood,
reversing the meaning you still see the truth.”

Like a mathematical formula, the above cosmic truth may be interpreted in different situations and at various levels. At the physical level of combat, the situation for which the above poem was quoted from a classical Tai Chi Chuan text, it teaches that if someone powerful and huge in size rushes at you, you should stay calm and observe his movements (and not become agitated and move aimlessly). If you understand the principle of hard and soft, and apply it correctly, you can reverse his apparent advantage of power and size to defeat him. At the level of health promotion, it suggests that when you practise any force training, you must apply both the yin and the yang aspects of that exercise (and not, for instance, accumulating force but neglecting its energy flow). If you can understand this yin-yang principle and put it into use, even if you are weak or sickly to start with, you will become strong and healthy as a result of the training.

Getting the Best Benefits from your Tai Chi Chuan Training
If you have not benefited as much as you should in your Tai Chi Chuan training, considering the time and effort you have put in, the following guidelines will be helpful in making your training more rewarding.

First you should have a basic understanding of Tai Chi Chuan. If you, for example, do not know that Tai Chi Chuan is fundamentally a martial art that is also practised for health and spiritual development, but think that it is some form of gentle exercise or a dance, you will at the best get only the benefits of what a dance or gentle exercise would give, and not the wonderful benefits that Tai Chi Chuan is traditionally reputed to provide. If you do not understand that the onus of Tai Chi Chuan training is its internal aspects of energy and mind, and not its outward form, you are unlikely to attain good results.

Next, you should define the aims and objectives for your Tai Chi Chuan training; otherwise you may have wasted a lot of time before realizing you have not benefitted much. Some sound philosophical knowledge on the subject is a pre-requisite in your consideration of your aims and objectives. As virtually all Tai Chi Chuan classics describe it as an effective martial art, logically at least one of your aims in its training is for self defence. As Tai Chi Chuan is famous for its internal force and harmonious energy flow, it would be unwise if you do not make as one of your main objectives a direct experience and fruitful development of internal force and harmonious energy flow. You should regularly check that your training is directed to attaining your set aims and objectives.


Then you should seek a good master to help you realize your aims and objectives. The least qualification a master should have is a reasonably high standard in the art he is teaching. Unlike a coach, a master does not merely talk but perform. If someone, no matter how well known he is, cannot perform reasonably well on what he teaches, and does not possess those qualities he claims his teaching will develop, we have good reasons to suspect whether he is a real master. If you cannot find a master, you should at least learn from a competent instructor who is aware of the purpose and direction of his instruction.

But the most important factor is you yourself; you must train regularly and consistently, without which there can be no remarkable progress even if you have a good master and some excellent methods. Devotion to your training, however, does not mean training blindly and doggedly. Besides training hard, you should also train smart, and the following three-fold formula is exceedingly effective: be clear about your aims and objectives, train regularly and consistently to attain them, and check your progress or otherwise with direct reference to the effects your training is supposed to give.

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