Qigong, Chi Kong, Tai Chi, Taiji Chuan – Whaaaat?

I’ve written elsewhere about qi, energy, and gong, work, but we still see many variations in the spelling of the words. I appreciate that it’s confusing and that people who have seen the words chi kong or tai chi may wonder if we’re talking about the same thing.

We are, and we aren’t.

Imagine if you will, early travellers in China who had no means of reading or pronouncing Chinese, and Chinese speakers (with their own dialects and pronounciations) who had no means of explaining their language to Westerners. In order to enable Westerners to read and pronounce Chinese words, they first had to be identified, sounded out phonetically and romanised.

History
One of the first people to attempt to do this was the British ambassador in China, Thomas Wade during the mid-19th century. Herbert A. Giles completed his work and published “A Chinese-English Dictionary” in 1892. This became known as the Wade-Giles system.

It lasted for most of the twentieth century, until the Chinese themselves decided to make an official system. They wanted to make it easy to use the Chinese language through standard typewriters and, more recently, computer keyboards. In October 1949, the Association for Reforming the Chinese Written Language was established.

The development of the new system was a complex process, which had to respect the many dialects spoken in China etc. etc. The committee which had to develop this system got nowhere and  eventually everything went on hold during the Cultural Revolution. It was 1982 before they finally agreed on and launched International Standard Hanyu Pinyin.

By this time, however, we in the west had adopted chinese health systems and martial arts using the Wade-Giles system. Wade-Giles uses an apostrophe to distinguish aspirated consonants and unaspirated consonants, such as pʻa and pa respectively, rather than using separate letters as in Pīnyīn (pa and ba). Unfortunately, many people omitted the apostrophe, assuming that it wasn’t important.

Chee
Now this is where it gets relevant for us. If the apostrophe is omitted from the four sounds represented in Pīnyīn by j, q, zh, and ch, they all become ch

Thus, the words for energy work (qi gong) were pronounced just like the words for the supreme absolute martial art (taiji chuan). Inevitably this led to some confusion of the meaning, but since taiji  chuan contains energy work, no one got terribly upset. (Actually, I have seen a few rants on this topic so some people do!) However, we might as well get it right, so, since Pīnyīn was introduced, we have tried to popularise the correct spelling of qigong and taiji chuan to represent their correct pronounciation and to reflect their  different meanings.

So, yes, chi kong and qigong are the same thing. And tai chi and taiji are the same thing. But chi kong and tai chi are not the same.

You can find much more detailed explanations of Chinese linguistics elsewhere, but I hope this helps to explain our little world of j, q, zh and ch!

What is this thing called Qi?

The next workshop is called The Healing Promise of Qi and is based on Roger Jahnke’s book of that name. However, in order to use qi as a healing tool it helps to understand a little bit about it.

What is Qi?

We can think of qi as a life force – an energy, the vibratory nature of phenomena. You can’t touch it but you can feel it. It is working continuously at molecular, atomic and sub-atomic levels and is recognised by many ancient cultures under different names, such as ‘prana’ or ‘Great Spirit’.

The Three Treasures

Qi is one of the Three Treasures (San Bao) along with Jing, or Essence and Shen, which is similar to what we call the Mind and Spirit. The Mind-Spirit is a combination of Jing and Qi, so we can see the reason for the maxim ‘A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body.’

Where is Qi?

Like the song, qi is all around us, in heaven and earth, trees, flowers and water, as well as the meridians in our bodies. Thus there are different kinds of qi. We are born with Yuan Qi, which is inherited from our ancestors. Then we absorb postnatal qi from food, water and the environment. There is wei qi, which is protective qi that flows at the surface of the body and each organ has its own qi. According to daoist cosmology, the two most fundamental forms are yin qi and yang qi, the primordial feminine and masculine energies.

How does it work?

“Contemporary biophysics and new era cell biology are confirming much of what the ancients Daoist investigators of Qi seemed to intuit. We know that the universe is alive and dynamic with various forces including gravity, cosmic rays and the energetic frequencies of the sun. In qigong theory  a profound force enters the human system from the universe – heaven energy – and an equally potent and subtle force enters the human body from the earth, which we know is a huge magnet – earth energy…. The resources of heaven gather in the qi reservoir of the head and influence particularly the upper body. The resources of earth gather in the lower belly reservoir and influence the lower body.

“The heaven and earth link together through what is called the Central Taiji Channel… The connection of heaven and earth in the human system, through the Central Taiji Channel, parallels the vertebral column and the central flow of blood, lymph, cerebrospinal fluid and neurological activity.”1

Qi naturally flows through the meridians, nourishing and balancing. Like water in a pipe, if it becomes blocked, qi becomes stagnant and leads to swelling, pain and ill health: or, if there is insufficient supply, the body becomes weak and open to attack by bacteria and viruses.

Like a feng shui practitioner, we can recognise when something is not working smoothly and try to remedy it. This can be accomplished through acupuncture points using needles, cups or hand pressure but we can also use simple specific exercises to work on these points and to ensure a good nourishing flow of healthy qi. You can practise these qi gong exercises or energy work exercises at any time for health maintenance. You don’t have to wait until you’re ill!

The first part of the exercises associated with Roger’s Qigong form involve finding qi in our own bodies, becoming aware of the qi in the environment and gathering heaven and earth qi to send through the body.

The Healing Promise of Qi by Roger Jahnke.

 

Taiji and Qigong Coming Soon to a Calendar Near You

I’ve been trying to plan my taiji and qigong year for the past couple of months. Naturally I don’t want to clash my workshops with anyone else’s but I had to go to a number of sources to find out what’s going on and when. It took ages. There are already some unfortunate clashes. But the result is …..drumroll….. a taiji calendar of events in Scotland.

I hope it will be useful not only to students wanting to see what’s on but also to organisers so that they can avoid clashes.

We’re kind of making it up as we go along. What information do people need? And of course it’s not definitive. Some workshops are only circulated by email or facebook page to people who already follow that school, because, for example, students of Yang style taiji will not be interested in going to a Chen style workshop. That’s fair enough.

Then again, some teachers are a bit mysterious – they don’t mean to be – they are used to the same people turning up every year, usually members of their weekly classes, who know what to expect. Or they don’t mention the cost of the workshop, or the times, which means that people have to ask, wait for an answer and then discover that, by the time you’ve booked travel and accommodation, what seemed a reasonably priced workshop has used up a large chunk of the annual budget.

However, there are a lot of workshops, particularly Qigong workshops,  that are of interest to a wide range of people, so here is a start. I tried to find a plug in for the website but all the calendars I came across required me to write an article about it, which will be too time consuming. In the end I went for a Google calendar. It still needs me to fill it in to start it off, but I believe that it is editable, thus enabling organisers themselves to add more information as it comes to hand. If you can suggest a better one, please let me know.

If you’re organising an event and would like it to be included here, please provide as much information as possible. I think what we need to know is:

  • Date
  • Place (General and postcode for satnav)
  • Times (Can I get there in time or do I need accommodation?)
  • Teacher and style
  • Particular topic (Have I done this before or is it new? Is it suitable for beginners, or do you have to be able to stand on one leg? )
  • Cost (including how and when to pay and whether a deposit is required)
  • Are refreshments or meals provided or available?

At the moment I’m just covering Scotland but if anyone can point me to a better calendar with a way of searching by area, it could be rolled out nationwide or even international.

All feedback welcome!

 

 

 

 

Back to the Day Job

There’s this guy called Ronnie. He was the centre of the taiji world in Scotland – yes, I know that’s a big claim, but he edited and produced the tai chi union magazine and he founded and has run an amazing annual festival of taiji called Tai Chi Caledonia for 20 years. Through his contacts he has spread incalculable knowledge for which people all over the world are grateful.

Continue reading “Back to the Day Job”

Silk Reeling Practise

Our next workshop will be based on the Ten Principles of taiji and qigong, first mentioned in The Canon of Taiji Chuan.

I studied these with the inspiring Barry McGinlay of the Tai Chi Life School at Tai Chi Caledonia one year. Like most worthwhile exercises, they are easy to say, but not so easy to do. It’s all very well listing the ten principles and talking about them but how do you practise them in a workshop? 

Since they are very much about linking upper and lower, inner and outer and so on, what we need are simple exercises that use the whole body. We want to be able to feel the way energy moves from the earth, through bubbling spring (yong quan) in the foot, up the legs, through the waist, up and through to the fingers. We repeat these exercises (as) many times (as you wish) so that you can explore the effect we are concentrating on.

If you already practise taiji, you already know a number of suitable exercises, such as brush knee twist step and fair lady works the shuttle. In the workshop, I’ll be offering silk reeling exercises.

Silk was and still is an important product in the Chinese economy. The silkworm larva wraps itself in a cocoon. To obtain silk from the cocoon, it has to be drawn out or reeled out extremely carefully. The action must be smooth and consistent without jerking or changing direction sharply. If you go too fast, the silk thread becomes too thin and breaks. If you pull too slowly, it sticks to itself and becomes tangled and lumpy. Thus, silk reeling is a highly skilled art. The movements are continuous, cyclic, spiralling and performed at constant speed – exactly what we are looking for in a taiji exercise.

Silk reeling can be practised single or double handed, solo and with a partner. The movements trace a taijitu (yinyang symbol) pattern using the waist while shifting the weight from leg to leg.

It’s a very popular exercise in Chen style taiji and I also spent a week at Caledonia with Master Wang Hai Jun, who makes them look wonderfully elegant and effortless. If you want to do some homework in advance, here’s a link.