The concept of the taiji (“supreme ultimate”), in contrast with wuji (“without ultimate”), appears in both Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy, where it represents the fusion or mother of yin and yang into a single ultimate, represented by the taijitu symbol Taijitu – Small (CW).svg. Tàijíquán theory and practice evolved in agreement with many Chinese philosophical principles, including those of Taoism and Confucianism.
Tàijíquán training involves five elements, taolu (solo hand and weapons routines/forms), neigong and qigong (breathing, movement and awareness exercises and meditation), tuishou (response drills) and sanshou (self defence techniques). While tàijíquán is typified by some for its slow movements, many styles (including the three most popular: Yang, Wu and Chen) have secondary forms with faster pace. Some traditional schools teach partner exercises known as tuishou (“pushing hands”), and martial applications of the postures of different forms (taolu).
In China, tàijíquán is categorized under the Wudang grouping of Chinese martial arts—that is, the arts applied with internal power. Although the term Wudang suggests these arts originated in the Wudang Mountains, it is simply used to distinguish the skills, theories and applications of neijia (internal arts) from those of the Shaolin grouping, or waijia (hard or external) styles.
Since the earliest widespread promotion of the health benefits of tàijíquán by Yang Shaohou, Yang Chengfu, Wu Chien-ch‘üan and Sun Lutang in the early 20th century, it has developed a worldwide following of people, often with little or no interest in martial training, for its benefit to personal health. Medical studies of t‘ai-chi support its effectiveness as an alternative exercise and a form of martial arts therapy.
It is purported that focusing the mind solely on the movements of the form helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity. Besides general health benefits and stress management attributed to tàijíquán training, aspects of traditional Chinese medicine are taught to advanced students in some traditional schools.
Some other forms of martial arts require students to wear a uniform during practice. In general, tàijíquán schools do not require a uniform, but both traditional and modern teachers often advocate loose, comfortable clothing and flat-soled shoes.
The physical techniques of tàijíquán are described in the “T‘ai-chi classics”, a set of writings by traditional masters, as being characterized by the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination and relaxation, rather than muscular tension, in order to neutralize, yield or initiate attacks. The slow, repetitive work involved in the process of learning how that leverage is generated gently and measurably increases, opens the internal circulation (breath, body heat, blood, lymph, peristalsis).
The study of tàijíquán primarily involves three aspects:
Health: An unhealthy or otherwise uncomfortable person may find it difficult to meditate to a state of calmness or to use tàijíquán as a martial art. Tàijíquán’s health training, therefore, concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind. For those focused on tàijíquán’s martial application, good physical fitness is an important step towards effective self-defense.
Meditation: The focus and calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of tàijíquán is seen as necessary in maintaining optimum health (in the sense of relieving stress and maintaining homeostasis) and in application of the form as a soft style martial art.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English alternative medicine word reiki or Reiki is etymologically from Japanese reiki (霊気) “mysterious atmosphere, miraculous sign” (first recorded in 1001), combining rei “soul, spirit” and ki “vital energy”—the Sino-Japanese reading of Chinese língqì (靈氣) “numinous atmosphere”. The earliest recorded English usage dates to 1975.
The Japanese reiki is commonly written as レイキ in katakana syllabary or as 霊気 in shinjitai “new character form” kanji. It compounds the words rei (霊: “spirit, miraculous, divine”) and ki (気; qi: “gas, vital energy, breath of life, consciousness”). Ki is additionally defined as “… spirits; one’s feelings, mood, frame of mind; temperament, temper, disposition, one’s nature, character; mind to do something, intention, will; care, attention, precaution”. Some reiki translation equivalents from Japanese-English dictionaries are: “feeling of mystery”, “an atmosphere (feeling) of mystery”, and “an ethereal atmosphere (that prevails in the sacred precincts of a shrine); (feel, sense) a spiritual (divine) presence.” Besides the usual Sino-Japanese pronunciation reiki, these kanji 霊気 have an alternate Japanese reading, namely ryōge, meaning “demon; ghost” (especially in spirit possession).
Chinese língqì 靈氣 was first recorded in the (ca. 320 BCE) Neiye “Inward Training” section of the Guanzi, describing early Daoist meditation techniques. “That mysterious vital energy within the mind: One moment it arrives, the next it departs. So fine, there is nothing within it; so vast, there is nothing outside it. We lose it because of the harm caused by mental agitation.” Modern Standard Chinese língqì is translated by Chinese-English dictionaries as: “(of beautiful mountains) spiritual influence or atmosphere”; “1. intelligence; power of understanding; 2. supernatural power or force in fairy tales; miraculous power or force”; and “1. spiritual influence (of mountains/etc.); 2. ingeniousness; cleverness”.