Tai Chi (Tai Ji Quan)

Shifu Jonathan Snowiss

Tai Chi vs Tai Ji Quan Vs Tai Chi Ch’uan

Many people interchange the use of Tai Chi and Tai Ji Quan or Tai Chi Ch’uan because it is popularly known as Tai Chi.  This often causes confusion. Tai Chi is actually the Yin/Yang Diagram. This symbolizes the two opposing forces of the universe.  It can be translated into “the Grand Ultimate”.

When most Americans hear the words “Tai Chi”, they think of the slow movements of the discipline of Tai Ji Quan or Tai Chi Ch’uan. The “quan” or “ch’uan’ means “using the tai chi (yin/yang) as a martial art” or Tai Chi Boxing. The difference between Tai Ji Quan and Tai Chi Ch’uan is the us of pin yin or wade/guiles Romanization of the Chinese mandarin pronunciation. Many people like to practice it as a dance without understanding or even aware of the martial art applications. This can be seen as just Tai Chi, a different way of practicing Qi Gong. However, to get the benefits that Tai Ji Quan offers, it is important to understand the Qi Gong and the martial art applications that are in the movements.  The person who does not read deeply into the philosophy, teachings of the ancient masters, and reflects on these in practice will practice what one master called, “Blind Tai Chi” with a chuckle: they are blind to the real wonders Tai Ji Quan.


One of the top lessons to learn is how to relax. Relaxation is vital to the practice of Tai Ji Quan (also known as Tai Chi, Tai Chi Ch’uan).It lets the qi flow. Relaxation in Tai Ji Quan supports strong qi flow which promotes the health benefits. It is one of the more difficult lessons of Tai Ji Quan. It is surprisingly difficult to relax; people are used to stress. It promotes grounding, a mental practice that connects us to the earth for greater balance physically, mentally and emotionally. Therefore, practicing grounding in stance work such as the horse stance is one of the fundamental practices. Stance work teaches you to relax even though you instinctively want to tighten up. This is done in all Martial Arts.


Balance is the most popular and most well-known benefit of Tai Chi.  One of the legends of Tai Ji Quan is of a Daoist priest named Zhang San Feng watched a crane fight a snake.  He saw the benefits of each one and started to practice.  Historically this is hard to verify but it gives us good concepts to think about.  A snake is relaxed and moves in circles, a crane has great balance; it can stand on one foot for hours!


Breath is a core part of the training.  One cannot relax without breathing and one cannot balance well if one is stressed.  Breathing is the constant connection to life, and Tai Ji Quan is all about life.


Another health benefit of practicing Tai Ji Quan is learning to be aware of your surroundings. This means that you learn to be mindful of what you do, say, and think. This is the meditative part of the practice. You become conscious of each move and its application, each balance, and each qi flow at every moment during your practice.

Since Tai Ji Quan is mostly practiced with slow movements, it is easy for people of all ages to learn.  The practice teaches us be healthy physically and mentally. Along with all the health benefits there is a side benefit of self-defense. Although the moves were designed for that purpose, the moves are designed to move with qi for maximum power. This is how people who seem weak can be extraordinarily strong.

Soft vs. Hard

Soft is yin, hard is yang.  Contraction is yin, expansion is yang. Aggressive thinking of the west has us believe yang is better than yin. The world normally acts on the yang, pays attention to the yang, and forgets the importance of the balance of yin.  Do not let modern thinking get in the way of following the way of the Dao. Following the way is to learn how to balance and harmonize the yin/yang in ourselves and in the world.

Many Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong practitioners suppose the opposite; yin is better than yang. Too much of either one is unhealthy.  The softness of the yin will allow the strength of yang to grow, which will lead to a very powerful attack.  This is a mistake also. 

The hardness of yang weakening into yin will lead to a deflection of an attack.  If done correctly (which takes years upon years of training), the balance in your body will always be there and you will be undefeatable.  The attributes of the yin/yang are always there, we just need to find them.


Qi 氣

Qi is made of three elements: 1. Energy 2. Matter 3. Information. Quantum physics proves that energy and matter are the same thing.  Atoms are protons, electrons and neutrons together creating energy, when there are many atoms, they connect to each other and become matter.  Then what is it that energy and matter created?  A chair, a shirt, you, or me?  All things are qi.  Qi wants to flow, and the flow happens because of yin qi and yang qi.  The interplay causes a fluid balance for life to exist, change itself and to ‘die’ and become something else.  When the flow is smooth, we have health.  When the flow is stagnant, our health declines.

  1. One cannot exist without the other.  The y are complimentary: two sides to the whole. 
  2. Within one exists the other.  Within yin there is yang, and within yang there is yin.  They are infinitely divisible. (Notice the “fishes eyes” are also tai chi diagrams.)
  3. When one side goes to the extreme, the other side begins.
  4. The yin/yang is always changing.  They are interchangeable: one becomes the other.  The change happens when you see a different action/perspective of the object.
  5. The yin/yang will always change, flow and keep a fluid balance with itself.  We can flow with it or try to fight it.  If we flow with it, we will be healthy and happy.  If we fight it, we will lose and not be healthy and not be happy.

Tai Chi means “the extreme ultimate”.  The ultimate is the yin/yang (it is not “yin and yang”.): the opposing forces of nature which is the framework of the universe.  It is the 0’s &1’s of computers for the universe.  The trick of the holistic realization is to know the duality of yin/yang but to see through it so you can lose yourself in the totality of the overlaying universe. Yin/yang is two extreme sides of the same universe. There truly are no sides because every part of the universe has both yin/yang in every aspect of its existence.

Our tai chi or qi gong practice emphasizes the fluid balance to give us health, strength and happiness.  It gives us a calming mindfulness for the natural flow to happen without difficulties.