By Sifu Ron Perfetti
T'ai Chi Principles
Overview of T'ai Chi Ch'uan
The study of T'ai Chi Ch'uan is unique in the sense that it marks the historical meeting of many centuries of Taoist study known as Chi Gong ("Excellence of Energy"), which was primarily dedicated to physical health and spiritual growth, with the need at the time (approximately 1,000 A.D.) for monks to defend themselves against bandits and warlords. The
result was, and is, an unusual blend of healing, martial, and meditative art which is referred to as the internal practice of T'ai Chi Ch'uan.
In each of these expressions, the emphasis on the internal aspect of the study is primary. This indicates that the true focus of the study is not primarily that of the physical level, but through the physical, places the true emphasis of the practice more on the mental and energetic levels. The mental component is really most important since the number one condition that inhibits an individual from achieving excellence in anything, including one's own health, is a state that Traditional Chinese Medicine refers to as being "weak-minded". This weak-minded state refers to one who is easily confused, scattered, or distracted. So the first quality to be developed in T'ai Chi is that of strengthening one's concentration, or what is referred to in the martial arts as being centered.
The ability to center the mind is really that of keeping the mind interested and involved in the experience of the present moment. This is understood to be the foundation of T'ai Chi, because from this state of attention comes the possibility
to change, correct, and heal. To facilitate this process, T'ai Chi uses a physical location
in the lower abdomen/pelvis, which is called the Tan t'ien in Chinese. This represents the true body center, because it is the natural movement and feeling center. With this specific body awareness, we can begin the process of distributing the attention more evenly and equally throughout the body. The ability to spread attention throughout the body is understood in Chinese medicine to be one of the most important elements of good health, because it is indicative of the ideal relationship between the mind and the body. Unlike the prevailing Western view that one must work hard for the experience we call being healthy, in T'ai Chi health is understood to be natural - and therefore effortless - for the individual who has achieved balance and harmony between body and mind.
T'ai Chi Principles
T'ai Chi's Core Principles
It is important to understand that at its core, T'ai Chi Ch'uan is not a study of form or style. At best, form simply allows a practitioner to explore the heart of the practice, which has always been understood to be a set of principles. These principles are qualities which have been observed to be effective in their positive influence regarding life in all its expressions of movement and change. T'ai Chi is therefore the study of how to better embody these life affirming qualities, regardless of what style one studies, or what form one practices. These principles have been handed down both orally and through the traditional writings of T'ai Chi, which are collectively referred to as the Classics. They include: an emphasis on relaxation of tension, both physical and mental, leading to the development of internal strength; a process of integration in which the mind and body become unified; and an unshakable understanding that the key element in respect to any life success is the maintenance of the qualities of balance and harmony. Styles come and go. Form is of value only in respect to the opportunity it presents for allowing insight into something more essential. The emphasis that T'ai Chi places on principles, and their sense of timelessness in the midst of constant change, is truly the key to the practice of T'ai Chi being an "internal study".
T'ai Chi and Concept of Change
T'ai Chi has, during it's 1000 years of development, been considered to be a movement art. This implies much more than just physical or even energetic movement. It denotes a relationship with the experience of change. The attitude which T'ai Chi seeks to cultivate is an understanding of change as a natural life process. One is asked to look at situations in which we resist change, be they physical, emotional, or mental. Through the practice of T'ai Chi one allows oneself to become a more willing participant in the process of change, understanding that it is inevitable anyway. The practice may begin primarily as a physical experience, but given time, applies the qualities that we seek to develop physically, including balance, good timing, and integration, to the emotional, mental, and spiritual levels as well. The essence of T'ai Chi practice is not to learn a set of movements, nor to become talented in a system of self-defense, although these abilities may occur during the course of practice. The intention of T'ai Chi is to allow one the opportunity to become more aware of the natural laws which govern change; not just change in the body as affects physical, structural movement, but rather principles of change and movement that govern every aspect of our lives and the world around us. The exercises of the practice simply provide us with an opportunity to explore that process of discovery.