GongFu, is a Chinese term meaning skill developed through work over time. Martial arts in ancient times was referred to as WuShu. In modern times gongfu has come to refer to martial arts but is still used to refer to other arts that require diligent practice, for instance a chef can also have deep gongfu.
This is a brief introduction to Chen Taiji quan. There is tons of information available on the web– much of it unclear or misinformed, but interesting anyhow. I am really more interested in practicing and teaching then chattering about it, not to mention that if you actually understand gongfu it becomes ridiculously hard to truly explain. To practice without understanding produces crudeness, but to understand with little practice produces mouth gongfu….endless useless chatter.
Taiji quan is over 300 years old as a system and takes its roots from further back. the system was developed in northern central China by a retired general (or some sort of soldier official) Named Chen Wang Ting, who had a great and broad martial arts skill and too much time on his hands. He Mixed his vast skill with ancient Daoist and Buddhist breathing and meditation methods as well as traditional medicinal theory and Qi gong. This history is all over the web and I am not a historian by any means, so I am not going to repeat it all here, but it is easy to find.
Taiji quan is one of the three main arts (Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, and Baguazhang) that fall into what is known as Nei Gong; internal art. What qualifies internal art? That is a common question and often results in an unclear answer about soft vs. hard or strength vs. fluidity, or using Qi to dispatch the opponent. These are not the defining marks of an internal art, you cannot dispatch an opponent with QI, you still have to use your physical body.
Internal arts focus on the internal invisible facility of the human body. Those consist of mind intention, cultivation and circulation of Qi, breath, and use of small muscles as well as vital organs. These internal elements operate together with gross physical facilities to create a complete art based on harmony of these working elements. Internal art does not mean that the art is completely internal, but that it focuses on the development of the internal aspect. It is a somewhat recent term that in ancient times was not used to describe these arts, they were just called gongfu.
Taiji ( Tai Chi ) is a word in Chinese that is very often misinterpreted to mean grand or extreme ultimate, therefore taijiquan would be called grand ultimate fist, meaning the greatest. Taiji Quan is a very complicated art that has taken a lot of thought over the generations to create. One would hope that with all the intelligence that went into it they could do better then to egotistically name it “we are the best.” No that is fortunately incorrect.
Taiji as a term is older than the martial art, referring to the movement between the forces of Yin (negative, receptive, structural) and Yang (positive, active, formless essence.) The flux between these two energies is the basis for matter and existence in ancient Chinese philosophy as well as in Buddhist philosophy. I am simplifying this, but I don’t have all millennium to write this. This is the meaning of Taiji which was used to describe Taiji quan because the art stresses the development of mastery over change between yin and yang forces within the body and martial arts applications. This attainment of union with the universal principle of Dao at high levels results in higher state of consciousness and even spiritual realization in Buddhist and Daoist practice. Neigong is one path in this journey.
Taiji quan has seen many branches and changes over hundreds of years. They are all different and have their uses. I am not here to criticize them as I have not studied them except for Chen, which is all I really had interest in. The original Chen family Taiji is often referred to as an art of “”soft and hard.” Generally everyone has their own way of doing things so it is not easy to say what is absolutely correct, but there is no way to actually fight someone by being soft. Soft is a relative term meaning soft in relation to force. In this sense soft means not opposing force.
Often you may hear it said that Taiji quan does not use strength to fight, instead using softness. this is, well, untrue.. actually. Taijiquan does use strength and every other facility the mind and body may have to offer, for the objective is self preservation, not simply poetry, in real martial arts. The important point is that it uses strength only in its most efficient capacity, by not using it against strength, unless one surely has the upper hand. Taijiquan uses intelligent power,, but power none the less. Nor is Taiji quan actually hard, it can be relatively hard, but avoiding rigidity, meaning the inability to change. While it does require relaxation, it also requires tension and release.
Originally this is a martial art, but it is designed with the idea of cultivating vitality while practicing by following the idea that movement and action in harmony with the great principle of Dao leads to health and longevity. Strangely this actually works…it has only taken western science about 200 plus years to prove that getting one’s self off the couch and exercising keeps one alive, and meditation produces altered states of consciousness that lead to health etc etc….
Taiji quan is practiced by…well lots of people in China. Now as in the past it serves as a do-it-yourself health insurance program. Certainly more reliable than your average HMO. There are many different approaches to take towards study and practice. Those that want to practice for health or cultural study only can practice a low impact Qi cultivation course. However, to truly study Taiji quan as a martial art requires pain, diligence and exhaustion at times.