About the term


(T'ai Chi Ch'üan)

Taijiquan is probably the best-known form of Chinese martial arts and movement arts in this country, which are summarised under the term wushu or kungfu or gongfu. Nowadays, taijiquan is predominantly practised either in a superficial or modified way for the purpose of health rehabilitation or relaxation; or as a standardised, purely choreographic form with athletic elements as a discipline in sporting competitions (zhidingquan). In contrast, authentic or traditional Taijiquan is a complex, demanding and comprehensive method that requires a correspondingly high learning effort and encompasses and integrates three areas or 'pillars'.

Pillar 1

Taijiquanis a method of health care that has been developed through centuries of experience and confirmed in practice. Studies conducted on the basis of modern sports science and (physio)therapeutic theories also confirm its effectiveness against many ailments that can arise from a lack of exercise or one-sided physical exertion.

However, authentic Taijiquan goes far beyond this in its claim to maintain and improve sensorimotor performance and mental and spiritual health. While the methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Qigong, which are so popular in the West, are largely a construct of the second half of the 20th century (conceived at the instigation of the Chinese communist government), the reference point of traditional Taijiquan is the yangsheng or 'life care' tradition.

The image of health conveyed therein extends to all areas of human existence (including social and partner relationships) and is not limited to a 'simple' absence of physical complaints.

Rather, actual health means recognising and understanding one's potential for a fulfilled and contented life and realising it as well and as far as possible. Serious and continued practice of Taijiquan can make a significant contribution to this


Pillar 2

Philosophy, art and self-realization are woven into the theory and practice of Taijiquan in many ways. The eponymous term taiji (the "highest last, extreme extreme, absolute") has one of its earliest references in the Dazhuan commentary on the "Book of Changes" (Yijing or Zhouyi), which represents in a special way the concern for individual and collective perfection.

This commentary is traditionally attributed to Confucius, whose teachings, as well as the neo-Confucianism that matured during Song's time, have exerted an influence on Chinese society that should hardly be underestimated, and can also be found in the theories and treatises on the art of fist fighting.

However, the pair of terms yin and yang is better known and more pragmatic, which can be understood with reference to Taijiquan as softness and hardness, weighting and letting go, opening and closing, among other things.

The constant alternation and balancing of these complementary aspects in the practice of both the solo forms (taolu) and the partner exercises (tuishou) reflects the effect of the all-encompassing lawfulness, the dao, of which it is said: "Once yin, once yang, that is the Dao" (Yijing) as well as "All things carry the yin and adhere to the yang; their swelling energy brings harmony" (Daodejing). In this way, the practice of Taijiquan brings one into harmony with the natural laws of the world and of people, which can be experienced and understood in a concrete way.

Pillar 3

The third 'pillar' of authentic Taijiquan is the martial art; i.e. Taijiquan as a method of developing skills to survive and win serious physical confrontations. Often, this aspect is completely missing or misunderstood in today's Taijiquan. Therefore, a few explanatory words are indispensable at this point. Over the past 300-400 years (i.e. since since its 'founding' by Chen Wangting in the 17th century and during its further development until about the middle of the 20th century) in its homeland of China, it had acquired a reputation as an excellent martial art.

However, contrary to the mistaken belief in the West, Taijiquan does not primarily or even exclusively use defensive or evasive movements. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, explosive punches or kicks (with the fist, elbow, shoulder, heel, etc.) often at close or very close range and against vulnerable parts of the musculoskeletal system or nervous system, are more important; combined with a 'shaking' or 'shattering' of the entire physical structure of the opponent or attacker.

These skills cannot be learnt quickly, however; and without proper, specific instruction from competent teachers and with constant correction, they will not be achieved at all. But even if this combative aspect is no longer of importance to many Taijiquan practitioners in our time – whether because they feel no or only a slight need for personal skills for self-defence, or because they are looking for other or faster ways to achieve this – it is nevertheless an indispensable part of traditional Taijiquan. However, we must warn against filling in the missing authentic fighting aspects of Taijiquan (which are almost always due to an incomplete transmission on the part of the teacher) with the means and methods of other martial arts such as wrestling or judo, karate or boxing, etc.

The specific fighting qualities of the original Taijiquan (as well as those of other so-called 'internal' Chinese martial arts such as Xingyiquan) are inextricably linked to its training methodology (jibengong, taolu, tuishou and others ) and the concepts taught therein, such as 'opening and releasing' (fang-song), 'inner connection' (nei-jin), 'power from uncoiling the silk thread' (chansi-jin), 'explosive power' (fa-jin) etc. But even if these qualities are not realised to a degree that is suitable for combat, they nevertheless remain decisive factors in being able to fully realise the previously discussed components of life and health care, as well as meditation and self-realisation of Taijiquan. For this reason, too, authentic Taijiquan must always be a unity of the three areas mentioned here, regardless of which of them is given preference in one's personal orientation and appreciation.