A Focus on the Internal
The study of T'ai Chi Ch'uan is unique in the sense that it marks the historical meeting of many centuries of Taoist study known as Chi Kung
("Excellence of Energy"), which was primarily dedicated to
physical health and spiritual growth, with the need of the time
(approximately 1,000 A.D.) for monks to defend themselves against
bandits and warlords. The result was, and is, an unusual blend of
healing, martial, and meditative art which is referred to as the
internal practice of T'ai Chi Ch'uan.
In each of these expressions, the emphasis on the internal aspect of
the study is primary. This indicates that the true focus of the study is
not primarily that of the physical level, but through the physical,
places the true emphasis of the practice more on the mental and
energetic levels. The mental component is really most important since
the number one condition that inhibits an individual from achieving
excellence in anything, including one's own health, is a state that Traditional Chinese Medicine
refers to as being "weak-minded". This
weak-minded state implies one who is easily confused, scattered, or
distracted. So the first quality to be developed in T'ai Chi is that of
strengthening one's concentration, or what is referred to in the martial
arts as being centered.
The ability to center the mind is really that of keeping the mind interested and involved in the experience of the present moment. This is understood to be the foundation of T'ai Chi because from this state of attention comes the possibility to change, correct, and heal. To facilitate this process T'ai Chi uses a physical location in the lower abdomen/pelvis which is called the Tan t'ien
This represents the true body center in the sense
that it's the natural movement and feeling center. With this specific
body awareness we can begin the process of distributing the attention
more evenly and equally throughout the body. The ability to spread
attention throughout the body is understood in Chinese medicine to be
one of the most important elements of good health because it's
indicative of the ideal relationship between the mind and the body.
Unlike the prevailing Western view that one must work hard for the
experience we call being healthy, in T'ai Chi health is understood to be
natural (and therefore effortless) to that individual who has achieved
balance and harmony between body and mind.
T'ai Chi's Core Principles
It is important to understand that at its core, T'ai Chi Ch'uan is not
a study of form or style. At best, form simply allows a practitioner to
explore the heart of the practice which has always been understood as a
set of principles. These principles are qualities which have been
observed to be effective in their positive influence regarding life in
all its expressions of movement and change. T'ai Chi is therefore the
study of how to better embody these life affirming qualities, regardless
of what style one studies, or what form one practices.
These principles have been handed down both orally and through the traditional writings of T'ai Chi which are collectively referred to as the
an emphasis on relaxation of tension, both physical and mental, leading to the development of internal strength
a process of integration in which the mind and body become unified
and an unshakable understanding that the key element in respect to any life success is the maintenance of the qualities of balance and harmony.
Styles come and go. Form is of value only in respect to the opportunity it presents for allowing insight into something more essential. The emphasis that T'ai Chi places on principles, and their sense of timelessness in the midst of constant change, is truly the key to the practice of T'ai Chi being an "internal study".
T'ai Chi and the Concept of Change
T'ai Chi has, during it's 1000 years of development, been
considered to be a movement art. This implies much more than just
physical or even energetic movement. It denotes a relationship with the
experience of change. The attitude which T'ai Chi seeks to cultivate is
an understanding of change as a natural life process. One is asked to
look at situations in which we resist change, be they physical,
mental. Through the practice of T'ai Chi one allows oneself to become a
more willing participant in the process of change, understanding that it
is inevitable anyway. The practice may begin primarily as a physical
experience, but given time, applies the qualities that we seek to
develop physically, including balance, good timing, and integration, to
the emotional, mental, and spiritual levels as well.
The essence of T'ai Chi practice is not to learn a set of movements, nor to become talented in a system of self-defense, although these abilities may occur during the course of practice. The intention of T'ai Chi is to allow one the opportunity to become more aware of the natural laws which govern change; not just change in the body as affects physical, structural movement, but rather principles
of change and movement that govern every aspect of our lives and the world around us. The exercises of the practice simply provide us with an opportunity to explore that process of discovery.
Home :: Site Map :: Contact