To understand the power of Tai Chi fully we need to understand something of Chinese martial arts in general. Unlike the leisure-centre martial arts we see in our towns and cities today, traditional Chinese systems were a complete discipline of physical, mental and spiritual training. A couple of hours training twice a week and then heading down the pub for a pint would definitely not have cut it!
As well as the ‘kung fu’ fighting techniques that are familiar from films and TV, traditional systems taught healing and health-promoting breathing and movement forms too. This is where we need to recognise a fundamental difference in how Chinese systems and western systems train the body. Western systems focus on strength training, muscle conditioning and cardio-vascular fitness (look at any lad’s fitness magazine if you want confirmation on this). Chinese systems focus on making the body strong from the inside out. This builds a different kind of strength and resilience into the body, one that promotes natural health and longevity.
One way to see this difference is by visualising a triangle! Imagine a triangle balancing on its point with the wide part at the top – that represents the western ideal of ‘wide shoulders, narrow waist’. Now turn the same triangle so that its base is on the ground and the point is in the air – this is the eastern model of a strong ‘internal’ centre. It doesn’t take a degree to work out which shape is the most stable!
Tai Chi should be seen firmly in this ‘internal’ camp. As well as being a massively effective combat system (it translates as ‘Supreme Ultimate Boxing’), the very movements of Tai Chi promote health and well-being at a very deep and powerful level. Not only do they balance the flow of Universal Energy (chi) around our body, the movements plug us back into the source so that we can call upon this power at will.
There’s an analogy we use to help explain just how this process works. Imagine an electric power station. The power station is constantly sending out power into the grid, but to make use of this power source we have to plug into the socket in our homes. If we don’t have a plug that fits the socket we cannot make use of the power available. It should be noted that the power station has no interest in whether we have the right plug or not, it is just making its energy available to anyone who can make the right connection.
For many of us the events of ‘Life’ have distorted our ability to plug into the source. The constant negativity we face at so many different levels has effectively made us a round pin plug trying to fit into a rectangular socket! The movements of the Tai Chi form slowly reshape us so that we can ‘plug in’ again to the source. Once we have mated plug to socket we not only recognise our true power but also become useful again. Just as an electrical plug can be used to power a variety of appliances we can use our power to perform work for the benefit of all. Tai Chi therefore helps to heal at both an individual and world level – perhaps this is why it is called the Supreme Ultimate!