What is the difference between Tai Chi and Tai Chi Quan?
When we hear people talking about “doing Tai Chi,” we often unconsciously imagine older Chinese residents waking up early in the morning to go to community parks, slowly waiving their hands and arms and kicking their legs to the sound of leisurely music. Hence “doing Tai Chi” seemingly becomes synonymous with “practicing Tai Chi Quan (fist).” Then what is Tai Chi and what is Tai Chi Quan? Are they equivalent terms? Generally speaking, Tai Chi is a mysterious and dynamic ancient Yin and Yang philosophy and culture, which is difficult to completely comprehend. It originated from the old and mysterious Yi Jing (Yi Ching, Changing Philosophy). It is embedded in the 5,000-word Dao De Jing by the wise philosopher Lao Zi. It is the ever-lasting spring water that nurtures the continuing life of Chinese civilization in the past 5,000 years. It is also the spiritual feed that fosters the integrity of generations after generations of Chinese literati who would make all people better off when they are prosperous, but would attend to themselves in solitude when they are poor. Simply speaking, the Tai Chi philosophy plays a vitally important role in the 5,000-year-old, broad and profound Chinese culture. Then what is Tai Chi Quan? There are two definitions for Tai Chi Quan. The wide definition refers to the internal Kong fu with Tai Chi Yin Yang philosophy. It is the slow form of martial arts with internal power based on the additional Chinese Yin and Yang philosophy and traditional medicine. It is also an exercise that promotes health, mentally and physically. It combines QiGong, personal health promotion, and fighting skills into one unity. Tai Chi Quan is representative of all internal martial arts routines. Its theory is built on three basic foundations: the philosophy and culture developed from the Yi Ching (Ba Gua), the philosophy of Lao Zi, and the doctrines of health promotion originated from the Emperor’s Book of Internals (Huang Di Nei Jing). Internal martial arts in Chinese Kung Fu can be traced back about three thousand years in history. The “Wu Qin Xi” (Five Animal Game) to be introduced in a moment is one example. Later the methodology developed by the legendary Zhang San Feng reaches the apex of internal martial arts. The narrow definition derives from the Chen clan settled in Chenjiagou (Chen Village, 陳家溝), Henan province, in the 13th century and reveals the defining contribution of Chen Wangting (陈王庭; 1580–1660). People started to use the term Tai Chi for internal martial arts and routines. Mr. Chen Wang Tin, the ninth generation in the Chen family and well-educated and trained in both Chinese literature and martial arts, returned home from an unsuccessful career in the government and started articulating internal martial arts techniques and routines during his leisure time from his busy farming duties. It was then we started to have the modern notion of Tai Chi Quan and also the long and short weaponry Tai Chi forms and Tai Chi push Hands. Gradually schools of different Tai Chi Quan forms began to emerge, including the Chen style, Yang style, Wu style, Woo style, Sun, He, and tzhaobao…. styles, etc. As to the relationship between Tai Chi and Tai Chi Quan, imagine the half-black, half-white Tai Chi symbol that many of you are probably familiar with. If the Tai Chi culture and philosophy represents Yin, the black part, then Tai Chi Quan will be Yang, the white part of the Tai chi symbol. Together they form the simple, mysterious, and widely known Tai Chi symbol and the culture of the Yin Yang philosophy. Neither is dispensable. If the term Tai Chi reflects the full and abstract upper echelon of Eastern philosophy, then Tai Chi Quan is evolved from the understanding of Tai Chi Yin and Yang philosophy and the physical application of the philosophy nurturing a rich and profound Chinese martial arts culture.