What is 'Tai Chi'?


This book grew out of a question one of the author's students asked. The answer proved to be longer than either teacher or student could have anticipated. As he looks at the complex art of 'Tai Chi', the author answers questions such as why, unlike in other martial arts, 'Tai Chi' has no gradings; how hard you should try; and how to make the most of your teacher. A wide range of material is covered, including fundamental points about the mechanics of movement and the 'energetic' aspects of practice, as well as ...

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What is 'Tai Chi'?

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This book grew out of a question one of the author's students asked. The answer proved to be longer than either teacher or student could have anticipated. As he looks at the complex art of 'Tai Chi', the author answers questions such as why, unlike in other martial arts, 'Tai Chi' has no gradings; how hard you should try; and how to make the most of your teacher. A wide range of material is covered, including fundamental points about the mechanics of movement and the 'energetic' aspects of practice, as well as the relationship between body, mind and spirit that emerges. The author also provides answers to questions that even experienced practitioners may not have thought to ask, such as what are the levels of self-defense in 'Tai Chi'? How do I refine and develop my 'Tai Chi'? What is the difference between method and technique? How do I put principles into practice? This insightful book covers all aspects of 'Tai Chi', answering questions that are beyond the scope of many classes. It will be of interest to anyone beginning 'Tai Chi' or Qi Gong, as well as to more experienced practitioners at all levels, practitioners of other martial arts, and friends and relatives of "Tai Chi" players who wonder what all the fuss and enthusiasm is about.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781848190245
  • Publisher: Kingsley, Jessica Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/15/2010
  • Pages: 220
  • Sales rank: 1,458,208
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 9

A note on Romanisation 11

What to expect from this book 13

Part I Preliminaries and Preconceptions

Chapter 1 A Punnet of Problems 23

The problems of gradings

The problem of cultural communication

The problem of language

The need for contextual study

The systems approach

The basic Chinese world view


Chapter 2 What's in a Word? 39

Taijiquan as self cultivation




Qi Gong

Schools of Qi Gong: Internal and external

The use of sensitivity

The use of intention (will/imagination)

The three systems in Qi Gong

Types of Qi Gong

Jing Gong

Jing-Dong Gong

Dong Gong

Use of Xin (sensitivity) and Yi (will) in Qi Gong


Chapter 3 Laying the Martial Ghost 59

Taijiquan as self-defence

Self-defence and martial art

Wu and martial are not the same

Martial art and Wu Shu

Wu Shu, Gong Fu and self cultivation

Taijiquan as Wu Shu

Three levels of testing in Taijiquan

The role of 'sparring' in Taijiquan

A Taijiquan approach to Wu Shu

A personal encounter


Part II Initial Foundation

Chapter 4 Returning to Nature: Restoring Spring 83

The meaning of Natural in Taijiquan

The Rectification of the body

The need for a teacher

The Rectified body

The Rectified body: No blocking or wasting

Natural alignment

Structure and posture

The application of Yin-Yang to the body


Chapter 5 Learning How to Learn 104

Don't try too hard

Should is a condition - not a command

Wei Wu-Wei


'Song' is the expression of Taiji in the body


Methods of testing

Testing 'Song'

Making the most of your teacher


Basicstanding posture

Three Circle Theory

Chapter 6 Methods and Techniques 130

Taiji and Taijiquan are not the same


What are methods and techniques?

People are individuals, unique and different

Daoyin is Qi Gong

Daoyin and Gong Fu: Internal and external

Daoyin in Taijiquan

An exercise to learn Daoyin

The three systems of Daoyin Qi Gong


Part III The Art of Taijiquan

Chapter 7 The Six Secrets 153

The Six Secrets

Nei Gong

The Six Secrets as Nei Gong

Discussion of the Six Secrets

1 Three Circle Theory

2 Yin-Yang Form

3 'Spiral', or Qi, Form

4 Centre-Turn Form

5 Spiral in the leg

6 Yin-Yang Head and Hands


Chapter 8 Practise to Perfection 193

The syllabus of Taijiquan

The Taijiquan teacher's job

Practising Taijiquan

Syllabus, technique and method

Internal breathing: Nei Gong

Nei Gong Daoyin exercise

Testing and warnings

Traditional Nei Gong


Appendix: Forms, Techniques and Practices 207

References 210

Bibliography 211

Index 214

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Wisdom of Ancient China: "There are no bad students, only bad teachers."

    Peter A. Gilligan has produced a book that speaks for itself: WHAT IS 'TAI CHI'? The more you have watched tai chi ch'uan (taijiquan), "played" at it, received instruction from a master or otherwise struggled with its form in daily practice, the readier you are for Gilligan's masterly meditation. You will want to read it again and again. ***

    The Chinese have a tradition of public exercising for health far older than the renowned Fifth Century B. C. gymnasia of Periclean Athens. "... four and a half thousand years ago ... the incumbent emperor ordered the people to engage in 'daily dances and exercise to improve the health and strength of the nation'" ("What to Expect From This Book"). Gilligan argues that there are a handful of axiomatic insights underlying and unifying Chinese culture: more basic than but taken for granted by Taoism (Daoism) and by Confucianism. These elements make up "Chinese General Systems Theory," ... "the world as energy in movement. ... a seething sea of oneness, indivisible and whole. ... This energy is the cosmic Qi (Chi). ..energy in complex ebbs, flows and interactions. ... in this sea of Qi ... The peaks are Yang and the troughs are Yin. Yin and Yang together are sufficient to analyse all this complexity. ... This is analogous to the Fourier analysis of complex wave-forms into the sum of simple sine waves."(Ch. 1). ***

    To me the remaining scores of pages, photographs, drawings and tables are no more than commentary on the passages quoted above as applied to the health through exercise of those four-limbed, bipedal animals called human beings. Yin, Yang, Qi, taken together, analyse traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and "Therapeutic exercises from TCM, generically Qi Gong" (Chi Kung) (Ch. 1). Tai Chi and Chi Kung may or may not be "martial." They are certainly forms of self-defense. "Every breath you take is an act of self-defence... (here is) a quote from Yang Cheng Fu: 'Learning self-defence applications is indispensable in Taijiquan'" (Ch.3). Humans are four-limbed animals who stand erect. Most of us stand and move incorrectly. Helping us, with a teacher, find for ourselves our own true nature is what tai chi is all about. Let us learn to walk like cats. ***

    Our uncultivated energy (Chi) is usually blocked. Tai Chi unblocks it. Posture by posture, movement by movement, Gilligan talks us through four stages. (1) Before we begin studying with a teacher, we are incompetent at retrieving our true, intended self, but unconscious of that incompetence. (2) We next become aware "how corrupt and unnatural our movement is." We zero in on natural movement. (3) We then become, for the first time, "consciously competent." We clear out the malformed, overgrown internal channels blocking our Qi (energy). (4) At last we become "unconsciously competent." We are just plain good, without noticing it any more. (5) We practice, practice, practice for the rest of our lives. (Ch. 7) ***

    A teacher's main job is "helping students to clear out their bodies to remove blockages and wastings." The real growth flows from within, from the students' will, mind and heart. (Ch. 8) This book I found immensely true, insightful and personally rewarding during my first careful reading. I expect to find it even better during the many subsequent readings that I intend. -OOO-

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