From ‘Chang San-Feng’ Tai Chi Chuan Classic (translated by Wee Kee Jin)
‘So Err … What is Tai Chi?’
As a tai chi instructor it is not uncommon to find myself being quizzed about the nature of tai chi chuan. I dread the oft-asked question ‘so err … what is tai chi?’. Why do I dread it? Why is it so darned difficult to answer? There are so many preconceptions about tai chi chuan – its weirdo mysticism, its floaty, airy fairy dancing, its breathing exercises, its like yoga but different, its like karate, it’s the Japanese art of sword-play, the art of making oriental cranes out of folded paper, its just relaxation, or you have to be a Chinese pensioner in a park at 6am. Well, it can be many things and some of the preconceptions are more accurate than others but it is essentially about how we are in the world. Trying to be snappy and concise in passing about matters of great existential import is not easy. So I end up saying something like ‘well, it is a martial art but it takes a long time to be effective, it’s a kind of relaxed movement’ and this is about as inadequate an explanation as you can get, so inadequate as to be not really true. It is not inspiring or the kind of thing that gets most people stirred to get out & queue at the nearest tai chi chuan class for years of practice and exploration. Not surprising that people glaze over - I only wish they could somehow get a year or two of practice under their belts in response to their question.