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The Essence of T'ai Chi

The Essence of T'ai Chi

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by Waysun Liao

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The deepest benefits of T’ai Chi cannot be realized without an understanding of its underlying principles. This book presents these principles through translations of three core classics of T’ai Chi that are often considered the “T’ai Chi Bible,” accompanied by the author’s insightful commentary. Master Liao demonstrates how


The deepest benefits of T’ai Chi cannot be realized without an understanding of its underlying principles. This book presents these principles through translations of three core classics of T’ai Chi that are often considered the “T’ai Chi Bible,” accompanied by the author’s insightful commentary. Master Liao demonstrates how to increase the body’s inner energy (ch’i) and transform it into power, health, and well-being. By reading the clear and precise explanations of the fundamental principles of T'ai Chi, students can develop a more complete understanding of the art and philosophy of this traditional martial art.

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“Presents the basic principles of the complicated, sophisticated, and sometimes mysterious philosophy of T’ai Chi . . . made easy to understand by the author’s insightful commentary. . . . A worthy contribution to keeping the spirit of T’ai Chi alive.”—East and West Series

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Shambhala Publications, Inc.
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One: Historical and Philosophical Background

Is T'ai Chi?

Chi is a way of life that has been practiced by the Chinese for thousands of
years. We should look into three areas in order to fully understand the
historical background of T'ai Chi: (1) its philosophical foundation, (2) how it
developed as a martial art, and (3) how T'ai Chi instruction has been passed on
from generation to generation.

those who are interested in the vivid, rich heritage of Chinese culture, and
especially those who wish to communicate with and understand those persons from
the other side of the globe, it is necessary to study the philosophy of T'ai
Chi: that invisible, immense, and most powerful thought that threads its way
undiminished through the entirety of oriental history. We are able to do so
thanks to a few good individuals in each of countless generations who were
unselfishly dedicated to keeping the spirit of T'ai Chi alive.

we may need to shed some of the beliefs and assumptions we have inherited.
Human beings, knowing that they are not perfect, desire perfection and search
for a better life. Historically, people have always made mistakes in this
search because they have misunderstood the nature and potential of human life.
Each generation has interpreted this potential differently; some have made
religious assumptions while others have ignored or even denied the value of
human life. As various social and organizational hierarchies develop and evolve
into traditions, fundamental mistakes continue to be made. These accumulate and
are often themselves perpetuated as tradition. If we naively follow our own
tradition we may someday find out that we have made yet another mistake—the
mistake of not questioning our traditions.

though our modern technology has brought us into the space age, the motivation
of human life remains mysterious. Human achievements seem very small in the
light of the historical progress of civilization. Yet even our theories of
evolution are still in doubt; in spite of all our technology we still look up
at the immense sky and wonder how it all started.

we watch with pride and enjoyment the flight of a jumbo jet shrinking the earth
beneath its wings, it is all too easy to forget that its flight is an imitation
of the birds—merely the use of aerodynamic principles that were thousands of
years old before humans first walked the earth. Our advanced medical technology
has rocketed us to the super-sophisticated level of organ transplants, but we
still have to succumb to the most basic and primitive needs: we must breathe
air and eat food to survive.

the human inhabitants of this earth, may come to realize that fundamentally we
have not progressed very far from the original inhabitants of this planet. We
may come to see that we cannot change very much about ourselves.

close look at our world's history reveals obvious cycles in which the
development of the total person was either emphasized or ignored. When
idealized human nature was emphasized, this yielded a very strong, creative
civilization, one in which society progressed and people became spiritualized.
Yet many mistakes still took place during this journey.

thousands of years ago, such idealism emerged in China. The Chinese of this
period were searching for the highest form of life of the human mind and body.
In their own unique manner, they achieved their goal—unlike Western
civilizations, which separated body from mind and allowed spiritual development
only in terms of religious, mystical ecstasy.

Chinese conceived the human mind to be an unlimited dimension, but the scope of
human activity to be moderate. The focus of their goal was a unified philosophy
of human life and a simplification of beliefs. This was the birth of what we
know today as T'ai Chi thought. T'ai Chi became the invisible power that guided
the movements of Chinese history for thousands of years. It gave tremendous
impetus to that fabulous culture, showing its influence in areas ranging from
medicine to diet, from art to economics. Even the order of human relations was
designed according to T'ai Chi ideals.

Chi means "the ultimate." It means improving, and progressing toward
the unlimited; it means the immense existence and the great eternal. All of the
various directions in which T'ai Chi influence was felt were guided by the
theory of opposites: the Yin and the Yang, the negative and the positive. This
is sometimes called the original principle. It was also believed that all of
the various influences of T'ai Chi point in one direction: toward the ultimate.

to T'ai Chi theory, the abilities of the human body are capable of being
developed beyond their commonly conceived potential. Civilization can be
improved to the highest levels of achievement. Creativity has no boundaries
whatsoever, and the human mind should have no restrictions or barriers placed
upon its capabilities.

reaches the ultimate level, or develops in that direction, by means of the
ladder of balanced powers and their natural motions—Yin, the negative power
(yielding), and Yang, the positive power (action). From the viewpoint of this
theory, it is the interplay of constructive and destructive forces that causes
the essence of life to materialize, the material world to manifest. And the
spiraling movements of these forces seems endless.

the two equal powers, Yin and Yang, oppose and yet complement each other has
confused many throughout history. Explanations of the meaning of life have
ranged from the theory that humans were born with sin already a part of their
nature, through the hypothesis that it is not education but the fear of
punishment that creates a good person, down to the view that if there were no
civilization at all there would be no evil in the world.

very fact that there is argument reveals the truth of the concept that two
balanced powers exist. Our universe is programmed in such a way that the two
powers exchange their essence, and existence comes from this. This natural law,
obvious as it is, is ignored by most humans. We can easily rationalize our
ignorance with the excuse that we ourselves are programmed to possess only one
of the two powers—either male or female, for example.

human tendency to ignore all other aspects and focus on only one side of an
issue brought Western civilization into religious worship. Western religions
did, as a matter of fact, stabilize civilization and the social order for
thousands of years, but they also gave rise to a series of tragic and bloody
wars between differing religious factions. Formal religions were often guilty
of extreme and dogmatic attitudes. They sought to dominate by force rather than
to promote harmony. They wielded influence so strong that humans could not
easily shake it off, thus causing a wave of thought pollution whose effects
still persist today.

the sixteenth century, there were many free thinkers, such as Galileo, who
tried to enlighten people, but religion held the reins. Talking and thinking
were not enough; lifestyle changes were needed. So the cultural darkness of the
Middle Ages was only finally broken by the Industrial Revolution, which in turn
brought about dogmatism. This dogmatism is now being eclipsed by the
free-minded, educated generations of today. The women's equal rights movement
is an indication of the fact that women's power—the negative, the Yin—has
been ignored, abused, deprived, oppressed, and misunderstood for centuries. The
contributions of the negative power are as important as those of the positive
power, just as the function of electricity consists of two opposite powers.

Chinese have long realized that the two T'ai Chi elemental powers must
interact, and the harmonious result could bring progress and unlimited
development. Yet they have had no better luck at utilizing their knowledge than
Westerners. While people in the West are freeing themselves from the shadows of
religious idealism and creating the opportunity to experience the realities of
the T'ai Chi principle, the Chinese have not yet been able to release
themselves from the mental pollution of their own T'ai Chi–influenced

two thousand years ago in China, following the Spring and Autumn Age, the T'ai
Chi principle began to be misused, or ignored. There then followed several
hundred years of Dark Ages, during which time the development of human
relations and political power took place in a very inferior fashion.

Chi encourages the fulfillment of the individual person, yet also emphasizes
that this goal should be achieved through moderate, natural ways of living.
Examination of Chinese history shows that at a certain point this idea began to
be applied only in terms of political power struggles: to be the ultimate
person was to be the most powerful ruler. The idea of a simple, natural human
nature was ignored.

Ch'ing Dynasty cast the mold of authoritarian control and slavery that was to
become the tradition throughout ensuing Chinese history. To the rulers—the
Yang, aggressive powers—went the benefits, the ultimate power; while those who
were yielding, cooperative, obedient, and who encouraged harmony—those
possessing the Yin power—were forced to become the subjects. Women were
educated to be weak and helpless, the designated slaves, and men were trained
to be followers of the ultimate power, who was, of course, the king. To become
the ultimate power oneself, one merely had to resort to the use of
violence—extreme Yang power. Competitiveness and aggressiveness were
encouraged but moderated, all for the benefit of the rulers. Ironically, it was
this social tradition that carried on the T'ai Chi principle for hundreds of
years. As a consequence, even though T'ai Chi was discovered and initiated in
China so early, it followed the same sad destiny as did Western philosophy.

religion was to become the core of Western civilization, it was either ignored
or abused in China. Although the Buddhist religion was imported from India and
then absorbed by the Chinese culture, its spiritual philosophy was
de-emphasized, while its ceremonies and rites became fashionable. In Chinese
Buddhism, the ideal of self-control was emphasized. The emperor used this ideal
to suppress the common people, so that religion became known as "the
ruler's favorite tool." T'ai Chi philosophy, however, offered beliefs that
fulfilled human needs, even though its ideals were also abused by generations
of the powerful and greedy.

the Chinese, who have received all of the influence of T'ai Chi culture but
also, sadly, all of the pollution of a social system abused by power, there is
much to be learned from Western culture. Westerners have already been released
from the bondage of religious influence yet are still trying to put their
ideals into actuality. Really, all people search for the ultimate today; we
seek a peaceful way, a natural way, a way to motivate our civilization toward
the ultimate. Coincidentally, our ideals perfectly match those of the T'ai Chi

of years ago, those who searched for a way to elevate the human body and spirit
to their ultimate level developed an ingenious system known as the T'ai Chi
Exercise. This system, which was inspired by the T'ai Chi outlook and which was
based on principles not clearly known or understood by its founders, has since
proved to be the most advanced system of body exercise and mind conditioning
ever to be created.

the Chinese ruling class was interested only in T'ai Chi's productive benefits,
those who cared nothing about authority were adapting the philosophy to their
personal lifestyles. They were applying the idea of a natural harmony to the
development of the body and mind. Since this was of relatively little interest
to the rulers, there is no real historical evidence of just when T'ai Chi as a
mind and body system actually began.

of the traditional Chinese arts, such as brush painting, calligraphy,
literature, poetry, and cooking, emphasized the Yin/Yang principle as the means
of reaching the ultimate. The complete philosophy of T'ai Chi therefore became
an integral aspect of these arts. However, the T'ai Chi system of mind and body
discipline was unique in that it explicitly applied the original T'ai Chi
principles in a progressive, organized manner. Therefore, it has become the
only complete system to preserve this great philosophy for hundreds of
years—all the way down to today's complicated world.

Meet the Author

Master Waysun Liao studied t’ai chi in a Taoist temple in his native Taiwan from the age of twelve. He is the founder and master of the Taichi Tao Center in Oak Park, Illinois, where he has taught for nearly forty years.

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The Essence of T'ai Chi 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
WWF More than 1 year ago
I am a long time practitioner of Tai Chi Chuan. I recommend this book to anyone who has practiced and learned different concepts from the five major family styles of Tai Chi and want to come closer to understanding the original concepts that bind all of these. I think this book will add a deeper understanding and renew the excitement of moves that are practiced over years. This book also serve as a template to refine your Tai Chi practice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
J_West More than 1 year ago
Nice translation of Taichi Classics. Good gift book for a Taichi friend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the small pocket edition of Waysun Liao's book 'Tai Chi Classics' also at B&N. It introduces the reader to the Form of Tai Chi as taught by Sifu Liao.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having studied and taught Martial Arts for a number of years, both in the military and to members of law enforcement such as the NYPD and Yonkers PD, I can tell you that books that teach T'ai Chi in depth are extremely rare. As the co-author of 'Attack Proof: The Ultimate Guide to Personal Protection,' I can attest that most books on T'ai Chi, when it comes to 'real fighting,' are worthless at best! While they often capture the more artistic or healthful applications of the art, what they lack is the 'essence' of the truly unique principles of T'ai Chi, which transcend all forms of fighting. Along with other great books on T'ai Chi, such as Lien-Ying Kuo's 'The T'ai Chi Boxing Chronicles,' or Ch'eng Man Ching's 'The Thirteen Treatises,' Master Waysun Liao's book reveals in a very simple to understand methodology many of the so-called 'mystical' concepts of T'ai Chi, which in fact are rooted in scientifically sound principles of physics. I highly recommend this book for those wishing to gain a better understanding and to get a glimpse of what T'ai Chi used to be!