Everything Is Tai Chi

– An Excerpt from an upcoming book by Andrew Townsend –

Although we are students of t’ai chi ch’uan, it is important for us to recognize that we are also students of T’ai Chi. To a Taoist, T’ai Chi is bigger than the Chinese martial art that bears its name. The principles of T’ai Chi are applicable to a wide range of circumstances and include both natural phenomena and human affairs. These principles are all-encompassing and eternal and were originally formulated by the ancient Chinese sages. References to T’ai Chi, Heaven and Earth, yin-yang, and ch’i appear in the earliest of recorded Chinese writing.

The principles of T’ai Chi have provided a common foundation for much of Chinese philosophy, including the two most prominent schools, those of Taoism and Confucianism. The same principles underlie traditional Chinese medicine, as well as the healing art of ch’i gung. T’ai Chi principles also form the basis of Yang style t’ai chi ch’uan. Other, lesser known Chinese martial arts also have their roots in the principles of T’ai Chi. It is not an exaggeration to say that T’ai Chi was central to traditional Chinese culture, philosophy, science and art.

Yin yang symbolOnce one begins to be aware of T’ai Chi and its importance to both natural phenomena and human affairs, it is becomes possible to perceive the presence of these principles everywhere around you. However, it is often necessary to have one’s eyes opened, both literally and figuratively, in order to “see” the workings of T’ai Chi.

I was fortunate to have had my eyes opened some twenty years ago by Master James Huang of Honolulu, Hawaii. Master Huang and I would normally meet in the mornings to practice t’ai chi ch’uan and pushing hands in a small park before he met with his patients. Often, after practicing the form and playing pushing hands, we would sit on a bench and meditate for a while. One morning after meditating, Master Huang noticed a neighborhood cat slowly and silently approaching a bird perched in a branch of a low tree. The cat moved with such precision and grace that it reminded me of a leopard stalking an antelope.

Master Huang turned to me and said, “Look at that cat. It is doing t’ai chi.” We both watched the cat and marveled at how it moved, advancing with “cat steps” just like Master Huang had taught me to advance in the form. Eventually the bird became aware of the cat’s intentions, ruffled its feathers, and flew off squawking indignantly. The formerly-stalking leopard transformed itself back into a simple house cat and sauntered off nonchalantly.

Master Huang then looked at me and made a pronouncement that I will remember for the rest of my life. He said simply, “Everything is T’ai Chi.” We sat together for a few moments with this weighty statement settling into the silence. Then Master Huang spoke again, “Everything is T’ai Chi.” By this time, I had been studying with Master Huang for several months. I had come to realize that when he repeated himself, which was not often, it meant that I was to pay special attention to what he said or had shown me. In this particular instance he made no further comment.

It is important to explain at this point the difference between T’ai Chi and the martial art of t’ai chi ch’uan. According to ancient Chinese philosophy, T’ai Chi is born out of the formless Void when it begins to move and divides into Heaven and Earth. Heaven and Earth possess the characteristics of yang and yin respectively and are the progenitors of “the ten thousand things”, which is to say all of creation. T’ai Chi also includes the underlying principles from which the laws of nature are derived. As such, T’ai Chi governs the natural universe.

In the world view of the ancient Chinese philosophers, Man occupies a unique position between Heaven and Earth. According to T’ai Chi theory, Man is also governed by the principles of T’ai Chi. By formulating an overarching explanation of the existence and functioning of both the natural world and society, T’ai Chi theory provides us with a complete and comprehensive perspective on life and the cosmos. T’ai Chi theory represented to the ancients what the Big Bang theory, combined with Universal Field theory, is to modern-day physicists.

As its name implies, the martial art of t’ai chi ch’uan is based upon the principles of T’ai Chi. The Chinese character for ch’uan is usually translated as “fist” and may be more generally interpreted as “fighting style”. So, t’ai chi ch’uan is the fighting style based upon Tai Chi, the “supreme ultimate.”

Let me return to the words of Master Huang. Normally, when Master Huang used the words, “t’ai chi”, he was referring to our art, t’ai chi ch’uan. In all the time we spent together he never used the full name, “t’ai chi ch’uan”. This is common in the world of Chinese martial arts, where “t’ai chi” is recognized to mean “t’ai chi ch’uan”. At the time when Master Huang made his simple statement, “Everything is t’ai chi.” I assumed he was referring to the martial art that he was teaching me.

Everything Is Tai Chi

Let me return to the words of Master Huang. Normally, when Master Huang used the words, “t’ai chi”, he was referring to our art, t’ai chi ch’uan. In all the time we spent together he never used the full name, “t’ai chi ch’uan”. This is common in the world of Chinese martial arts, where “t’ai chi” is recognized to mean “t’ai chi ch’uan”. At the time when Master Huang made his simple statement, “Everything is t’ai chi.” I assumed he was referring to the martial art that he was teaching me.

As time has passed, however, and as I have gained both wisdom and a broader perspective, I now believe he was, in fact, referring to T’ai Chi. This is why I capitalize “T’ai Chi” in the statement, “Everything is T’ai Chi.” It is also why I differentiate between T’ai Chi in capitals and t’ai chi in lower case using the Wade-Giles spelling. For me, T’ai Chi is, indeed, everything. The martial art of t’ai chi ch’uan, while extremely important in my life, is secondary to the study of T’ai Chi, which is the Tao, or way, of my life.

I realize that it is trite to refer to a single statement or aphorism as “words to live by.” However, I really have found Master Huang’s simple statement, “Everything is T’ai Chi.” to be the catch-phrase of my life, and I have striven to incorporate his words into my daily practice in the years since. This underlying concept has guided my studies in Taoism, t’ai chi ch’uan, and ch’i gung. More importantly, this insight has provided me with a foundation for living my life, observing and respecting nature, and interacting with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and the people with whom I come into contact on a daily basis.

Tai Chi manRecently I ran across an article posted on the Internet by the renowned Patrick Kelly, a student of the famous Huang Sheng Shyan. In this article, written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Master Huang’s birth, Patrick Kelly wrote the following:

“By the time I came to know Master Huang, inside he was first a Daoist and second a martial artist. Once when sitting outside eating, he looked up at the stars; then, gesturing to the expanse of the night sky, he turned to me and said, ‘That is the big Taiji., inside us is the small Taiji.’ Then after a moment’s pause he added quietly, ‘Now I teach Taiji, not Taijiquan.’”[1]

These words ring as true to me now as my own Master Huang’s words came to mean to me some twenty years ago. It is evident to me that any serious student of Yang style t’ai chi ch’uan must also study the Tao, and in so doing must, by virtue of the sincere practice of this art, reach the obvious conclusion that “Everything is T’ai Chi.”

As Taoists, we must recognize that, ultimately, nature and the cosmos are neither benign nor malignant. The Universe follows a natural order, and that order is governed by T’ai Chi. Studying nature and observing the natural order with an open mind is an excellent way to understand T’ai Chi. Recognizing the influence of T’ai Chi in all natural phenomena enables one to accept with equanimity both good fortune and calamity, abundance and scarcity, youth and old age, living and dying.

The natural world can teach us many of the lessons we need to learn in order to live in harmony and balance. For this reason, it is highly beneficial to live in an environment where nature can be observed on a daily basis. Ideally, one should live in the mountains, by a lake or a river, or by the ocean. The clean air and the influence of water are highly beneficial to our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

The opportunities for enjoying nature are plentiful if you are motivated to take advantage of them. Engaging in outdoor activities is both healthful and life-renewing. However, as students of Yang style t’ai chi ch’uan, we should also avail ourselves of the opportunity to observe nature from the perspective of yin and yang, Heaven and Earth, strength and weakness, fullness and waning. Everything in nature teaches us about T’ai Chi. Open your eyes and open your mind. You will see that, truly, “Everything is T’ai Chi.”

Once you perceive that “Everything is Tai Chi.”, you will naturally begin to incorporate the principles of T’ai Chi into your daily t’ai chi ch’uan practice. With this realization, you will find yourself effortlessly seeking a balance between yin and yang, empty and full, advance and retreat, movement and stillness. The ultimate goal of our martial art is the embodiment of the principles of T’ai Chi in our practice. As we practice the form, pushing hands, or standing meditation, we should strive to practice not only t’ai chi ch’uan, but also T’ai Chi, the Supreme Ultimate.

[1] Patrick Kelly, Taiji – Daoist Principles in Practice,



Tai Chi On The NHS? – Reversing The Paradigm

A few weeks ago I was inspired to create an online petition calling for Tai chi and Qigong to be made freely available to all via the NHS (National Health Service in the UK). That inspiration came in the form of a similar petition which I had seen that was calling for therapeutic bodywork to be made available to all regardless of their assets or income. I must admit, it was a fairly emotionally driven and spontaneous act, but with a month to reflect and having a look at what, if anything, is being done in this regard I have this to offer:

The idea behind the Therapeutic Bodywork Petition that resonated so much with me is one that is at the very heart of eastern medicine – disease prevention, treatment before being sick, and restoration of balance. Anxiety is truly the disease of our modern age, along with its opposite and counterpart depression. Speaking as someone who has suffered from both, I can attest that they are a product of a loss of balance in life. In an ever increasingly fast paced and changing world who among us isn’t feeling pushed, pulled, frayed, confused, agitated, and even hopeless at times ?

One result of this emotional and mental imbalance is that the stress and tension is stored in our physical bodies, particularly our upper bodies. Hence we are a nation of bad necks, bad backs, sore stiff shoulders, trapped nerves, tension headaches and migraines, etc. etc. etc. This tension can set much like wet cement sets, becoming deeply ingrained, layer after layer. Bodywork and massage is a simple, cost effective, and compassionate treatment that can release some of this tension when a person is feeling they are skating close to the edge, that they need “something”, and it’s nice when that something doesn’t always have to be pharmaceutical drugs!

FMC-illust1 copySo where does Tai chi and Qigong fit in? Two broad groups seem to be catered for at present – The first is the enthusiasts, of course I count myself amongst them.

Most of us have a deep interest in personal development, self-awareness and integration, are fascinated by Chinese philosophy, and many of us may even practice the martial aspects of Tai chi .

The second group of people are those with chronic illness of all kinds and descriptions who are desperate for some relief, and the elderly who have heard Tai chi can regain range of movement and help with fall prevention. And it is truly great and encouraging to see that there are schools out there who are offering tuition and therapy via the NHS, for sufferers of chronic pain, such as this one based in Kent

The thing is though, Tai chi and Qigong are capable of so much more. And by so much more I mean a complete paradigm shift in the way we look at our health, our bodies, and our quality of life in the west.

So why Tai chi, why does it fit the bill? Because it is born from a complete system/philosophy/technology (Daoism), its origins can be traced back over 3000 years, and it has never fundamentally changed, only adapted to fit the times. As a side note the same ancient wisdom that gave birth to Tai chi also gave birth to the I ching, which pre-dated the use of the binary code powering all our computer technology today by a couple of thousand years.

Tai Chi works fundamentally with the breath, the body, and the mind. Imagine having the range of motion and soft spherical movement you had as an infant, as well as the boundless energy and effortless full body breathing… imagine having it back! Imagine having a relaxed and present mind capable of applying itself without distraction and able to switch off easily at the end of the day!
This is the direction that a Tai chi practitioner is softly, gently, yet persistently heading in.

What if Tai chi and Qigong were made available to all with an interest, so the unemployed or people with low incomes can attend classes? This would simply mean fairly low cost subsidies and would also support Tai chi instructors. Remember, Tai chi requires no special equipment and can be practiced anywhere.

It would be great to see the leading Tai chi authorities and experts combine to create a basic syllabus. Teachers like Bruce Frantzis, who studied for years in China, are currently going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that lineages and the entirety of their knowledge are recorded, and that they survive the cultural transition intact.

DSC_6341-1For us now it is a matter of preservation and accessibility, not everyone will want to train to the same level and all will have their own wants and needs. We just need to establish and preserve the download.

We need to bring these health arts to the masses. The current teachers and long term practitioners are the ones who can raise the overall standard and help to demystify the material.Eventually, as it’s obvious benefits emerge and grow on a greater scale, we can work to introduce it into schools.

Our aims are surely for the prevention of disease and illness, and active, pragmatic self-improvement education that isn’t vanity based or profit driven. The focus should be on learning how to feel, to get back in our bodies and be comfortable there, to calm the nervous system and smooth out emotions… and to make Tai chi and Qigong as ubiquitous as that other great China to UK export, the cup of tea.

Here is the petition:

The eyes and Taiji training. Interesting..


The Eyes and Taiji Training.

Please, see link below to text. Two pages.


Medical Study Confirms the Revolutionary Benefits of Tai Chi

Posted on June 1, 2013

From the UNC School of Medicine

CHAPEL HILL, NC — In the largest study to date of the Arthritis Foundation’s Tai Chi program, participants showed improvement in pain, fatigue, stiffness and sense of well-being. The study found that there are significant benefits of Tai Chi for individuals with all types of arthritis, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, said Leigh Callahan, PhD, lead author.

Their ability to reach while maintaining balance also improved, said Leigh Callahan, PhD, the study’s lead author, associate professor in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and a member of UNC’s Thurston Arthritis Research Center.

“Our study shows that there are significant benefits of the Tai Chi course for individuals with all types of arthritis, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis,” Callahan said. “We found this in both rural and urban settings across a southeastern state and a northeastern state.”

A small number of studies have examined the benefits of tai chi and arthritis pain. Now researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have teamed up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put tai chi through the rigours of science.

Callahan will presented these results at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in Atlanta in 2010.

In the study, 354 participants were recruited from 20 sites in North Carolina and New Jersey. They were randomly assigned to two groups. The intervention group received the 8-week, twice-weekly Tai Chi course immediately while the other group was a delayed control group. All participants received baseline and 8-week follow-up evaluations, after which the control group also received the Tai Chi course.

To be eligible for study, participants had to have any type of self-reported, doctor-diagnosed arthritis, be 18 years old or older and able to move independently without assistance. However, they did not have to be able to perform Tai Chi standing. They were eligible for the study if they could perform Tai Chi seated, Callahan said.

Self-reports of pain, fatigue and stiffness and physical function performance measures were collected at baseline and at the eight-week evaluation. Participants were asked questions about their ability to perform activities of daily living, their overall general health and psychosocial measures such as their perceived helplessness and self-efficacy. The physical performance measures recorded were timed chair stands (which are a measure of lower extremity strength), gait speed (both normal and fast) and two measures of balance: a single leg stance and a reach test.

At the end of eight weeks the individuals who had received the intervention showed moderate improvements in pain, fatigue and stiffness. They also had an increased sense of well being, as measured by the psychosocial variables, and they had improved reach or balance, Callahan said.

Study co-authors, all from UNC, are statistician Jack Shreffler, PhD, Betsy Hackney, BS, Kathryn Martin, PhD, and medical student Brian Charnock, BS.


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