Tai Chi & Qigong
What is Tai Chi? Tai Chi* is martial art that is better known as an exercise. More precisely, an exercise for old people in the parks. But in reality, Tai Chi is actually a very sophisticated school of martial arts. Tai Chi was created by a Daoist monk called Zhang San Feng (14th Century) on Wudang Mountain. Zhang San Feng was inspired after watching a snake and crane fight. But the origins of Tai Chi go much deeper and further than that. Tai Chi combines the Daoist martials and health exercises going back thousands of years. Zhang San Feng was a Shaolin monk before he converted to Daoism, so he already had experience in martial arts. Tai Chi is an internal martial arts that focuses on softness and the training of internal power, as opposed to hard external (muscular) power. Whilst there has been many masters over the ages, Zhang San Feng is widely credited to be the founder and Wudang Mountain is the spiritual home of internal martial arts. Long term practice of Tai Chi can health relieve stress, blood pressure and back pain. Other benefits include improved balance, flexibility and mindfulness.
* The correct pinyin spelling is Taijiquan, but it's better known as Tai Chi or Tai Chi Ch'uan in the West. For this reason, I will use this spelling to avoid confusion where possible.
What is Qigong? Qigong** is a type of soft gentle exercises that can be done standing, moving or sitting. Qi means air, but in this context it means the essence of life that flows within us. Gong means effort or work (this is also the same gong as in gongfu, better known as kung fu), so qigong means the cultivation of qi. There are numerous types and styles all over China and Qigong has the same health benefits as Tai Chi, but whilst they appear similar, they are actually two different disciplines. They are often taught together as they are complementary arts. Qigong as it is known today is actually a modern term that groups various practices together, much like the term wushu (which means martial art) covers various styles, both internal and external. These practices have been around for centuries and different styles had their own methods. Qigong has seen an increasing number of practitioners in recent years. Like with Tai Chi, many do it as a form of exercise or recreation. However, with practice comes a deeper level of understanding.
** Qigong is pronounced “chee-gong”. However, some sources spell it as Chi-Gong, but qigong is the more modern Mandarin pronunciation. The “chi” here is not the same in meaning as the “chi” in Tai Chi.