How Could Tai Ji Quan Improve Our Abilities?
To practice sport in the western meaning is action of our body that has benefice in growing and better function. It is well known also that the sport can improve our rational mind, make it clearer and improve self-control. Ancient Asian sports require more then to use notion of body or conscious/ rational mind. The philosophical assumptions in Western culture and in Eastern culture are different regarding mind or body, even Chinese researchers are using Western scientific paradigm nowadays. Due to this, their experiments sometimes remain inconclusive. The topic of his article will be Tai Ji Quan, the “soft sport of mind”, which, they say, has unbelievable achievements. We will to discuss Chinese philosophy background regarding sports try to emphases, that to practice of Taiji requires mostly the use of internal part of mind, as unconscious mind, meditation or intuition. Based on new assumptions, clarification of some concepts and transfer/interpret of meaning from one culture to another, plus our experiential practice, we think is possible to explain how a person could become a very powerful and moral one. Also we will show some educational benefices at psychological and behavioral level.
Keywords: Culturepsychologysport education
Tai Ji Quan is focused in softness; it is a special Martial Art. We try to claim here that Chinese had
discovered the power of unconscious mind centuries before European. The experiments realized by
scientists in China, we’ve learn about and the practice we’ve done, make us think there are something
more involved in this kind achievements of Tai Ji. There is something about holistic explanation
regarding couple mind-body by assuming the quantic hypothesis model explanation of the brain
processing. “The brain processes of perception are formed by several stages of transformation, each of
which might have roots at the quantum level of inquiry”. (Pribram, 2011, p. 374) We are aware of
language and cultural barriers, incompatibility of concepts, misunderstandings produced when we are
transferring/ interpreting from one culture to another, specifically from Chinese culture to Western culture.
In this paper we are focused on possible psychological and behavioral benefits. In order to stress some
points, this article is settled to have three parts: the first is philosophical background, the second refers to
some linguistic transfer of meaning and the last part is experiential. We will be focused in achievements
especially in education, based only on observation and comments made by people we have met in China,
who gladly accept to share information on this topic. Of course, we will discuss an interesting experiment
designed by Chinese researchers and some descriptions and reports of scholars and practitioners involved
in decipher this astonishing culture.
Tai ji quan as many others Kung fu arts is rooted in the beginning of Chinese philosophy. The start
point of Chinese philosophy is in early Zhouyi, known also as Yi Jing or Book of Changes (Wilhelm,
2012). “From the perspective of existence, Zhouyi consider everything in the world as having
purpose the Universe as a whole is also to be a
that the Universe starts with an original
Yang duality is expressed in its unity as movement. (Wen, 2010) This interrelated and continuous duality
is expressed linguistically by the metaphor of Yin-Yang and used by all scholars and practitioners to
describe and explain martial arts. We can understand this like a dual mechanism yin / yang, soft and hard
as qualitative dimensions. Yin is
Applied to Martial Arts these concepts become the distinction between
of cultural transferring, what we call mind/ spirit/ culture they call
force/ action is
Some Details Regarding Terminology
How can we read and what is the meaning of the Chinese concepts beyond metaphors? In
traditional Chinese books “the cultural
cultural transfer much better as “theory”, and application (
context we can understand the sentence like this: “The cultural
foundation (ti) without application (yong).” (Ma, Xu, p.12, as cited in Boedicker, 2014a, para. 6). Or
conversely, it is like doing action, do something without any theoretical background, knowledge. It could
be exercise like gymnastic, improving straight, muscles, but never be totally efficient as mind-body
achievement. We miss the whole image of ourselves. Philosophical background is settling this whole
image and language/ words/ concepts make details.
So, for Chinese thinking separation doesn’t work as method; using only the body/ force means
violence without any moral sense of fighting (like self-defence or serve/help others). Using, again, our
concepts we can comment that the cultural (
create theoretical skills for rational mind, but also for irrational (unconscious mind). The “external
principal” is what we can call nowadays the “competence”, ability, external skill, manifesting force,
improving strength, doing well, proper what we have learned, have internalized.
should work always together otherwise is wrong. (Boedicker, 2014b) Therefore harmony, balance
become the universal law and here is applied at human level. After all we are still confused. Is not very
well explained, scientifically specking, how a trained person in Tai Ji can win in confrontation.
The use of both metaphorical concept of
works of the classical literature. (Boedicker, 2014a, para.1) Nowadays, the meaning of
narrower sense to
refers to moral education, self-control, totally full mind, virtue. In contemporary times also in textbooks
and books regarding Chinese culture it is shown that, by virtue of their education, Tai Ji masters attained
position as state officials or became university lecturers in modern time. (Wen, 2010, Boedicker, 2014a,
para. 3, 4)
My master, Mr. Zhang Qing Wu and colleagues from China have explained to us that to practice
Tai Ji requires a lot of conservative rules but also improvisation (many styles) and made a description
using old books and quotes on stamp and picture hanging on the well of his place during trainings. Tai Ji
Quan had been a challenge to all martial art with the idea of
Ji” stands for
becoming a lifestyle for practitioner who lived a long happy life. All movements, actins express the goal
to develop a mutual
psychological treats and physical as well, continuum from one to another). Tai Ji Quan is like the whole
Universe in action. (Personal communication with Taiji coach & colleagues, August 2012) The action and
thought must be correlated, should be fluid and calm; all movement must be coordinating each other by
Again, we encounter a difficulty, because Chinese are using for mind/heart as composed concept
“xin”. “In classical Chinese philosophy the meaning of the Chinese word xin […], which literally refers
to the physical heart, is not limitedto its common connotations. Unlike Western definitions, the Chinese
metaphorical understanding of this notion is not only denotes this organ as the center of emotions, but
also as the center of perception, understanding, intuition and even rational thought […].” (Rošker, 2014,
para 1) Usually “xin” means double correspondence mind/heart, but in Tai Ji terminology is referring at
interpenetration, of mind/heart/body working together. All it is about is actually how Chinese thinking is
assuming the inseparability of the human being parts.
The “Mystery” of Tai Ji - an Inconclusive Experiment
Making this short excursion in the topic, as we can see only using these concepts of Chinese
theory and philosophy it is possible to accept that kind of explanation. For Western Culture and scientific
paradigm all this kind of concepts sometimes are not workable at all. The “qi” is not material part of our
body, blood or nerves. Also Concepts of “yin” and “yang” have no reference.
In contemporary China, science is developing using also Westerner tools and theories. Therefore,
to be more specific and very scientific, Chinese researchers from (CISS) Chinese National Institute of
Sport Science from Beijing, known for their researches on Chinese champions as well, designed a lot of
experiments in order to find out if and why the punch of a Tai Ji practitioner in Chen style, master Zhang
Zhijun, is indeed so powerful, or it is just a legendary myth? (The science of Taijiquan, 2015).
Researchers’ main assumption has been that to opposite to a high level force, somebody must use some
kind of physical force, too. The hypothesis has been the following: If Mr, Zhang is older and weak, he
cannot defeat his stronger opponents. They try to measure with high technological modern equipment and
chose carefully the opponents as young, powerful trained sportsmen. In all these experiments and
measurement of muscles, strengths, Mr Zhang got the lowest scores or above. The only differences in
score he got were the highly score for coordination, almost instantaneously of group muscles involved in
combat. The results had astonished researchers. Why in combat always the old man in his 65 years put
down the youngsters, well trained opponents in different kind of physical sport? Opponents report also
that they felt a kind of energy which paralyzed them! It seems to be like magic!
We have some comments here. This scientific research didn’t explain too much using westerner
methodology and assumptions (separation of mind/body). Actually, the researchers were using methods
and measurement for external skill, force produce by muscular mass. But the paradigm of our science of
sport and pure physical explanation couldn’t give a proper answer. So far, the experiment remains
inconclusive. Even we can measure some kind of muscle energy, it seems something is missing. And how
we can get such instantaneously coordination and force of kick in a right moment, right point or redirect
vibration of energy? Nobody can say what “qi” is and how can it works. Only they can say is that power
were gained by diligently practice for long, long time. Accordingly to Chinese tradition, mind is one; is
though/ ration and heart/ emotion together; rational coordination and emotional involvement.
First of all, in Asian paradigm that mind can perceive the body as totality, non-duality mind and
body, conscious and unconscious. Pribram (1919-2015) in all his life claims that the objects transmit
holographic waves to mind and mind can perceive holographic the things. According to Pribram, this
phenomenon is possible at quantic neuronal level. (Pribram, 2011) If we corroborate this new theory
maybe we can explain better what is “qi”, realized as synergetic communication, entanglement of all cells
and neurons in our body. There are also opinions that conscious mind and unconscious mind, in
Westerner terminology, or yang and yin, in Easterner terminology, cannot talk without a “mediator”.
They have totally different languages. Our Si Fu (coach) said, during the trainings, that that mediator is
our body. If we present (by senses) to our body different sign and analogy with natural things, the body
can translate to the yin/ unconscious what is about and to the conscious/ rational mind the knowledge
how to proceed. Only the body can translate the meaning for these tow part of our mind. The body can
works with both. (Personal interview with Si Fu, August 2012) If it is so, Chinese discovered a different
mechanism to use unconscious mind – soft movement of the body.
Holistic conception, where everything is related to everything, makes possible the theory of Tai Ji.
Therefore, keeping in mind this belief and working hard it is possible to reach the supreme, ultimate state
of mind/body. Tai Ji, more then other sports, starts with cultivation of mind and finish as multiple
benefits. (Zhu, David, & Xia, 2010)
Educational Benefits of Tai Ji Quan Practice
We can only emphasize and summarize in this chapter some abilities we had observed being
improved to ourselves after practicing every day and talking with people that use to be practitioners of
this soft sport. It could be possible many others, which we didn’t yet, discovered. This paper has only
descriptive purpose and observational dimension and it is still required to make some measurements by
psychologists and physicians in order to become more accurate. We have only hypothesized that centuries
ago Chinese were interested in revels unconscious mind, self-psychoanalyze and introspection. In the list
below the order has no relevance and is just a part of possible abilities gained by practicing this soft sport.
a) The abilities to move easier and faster in different contexts. It is very useful when someone is
driving a car, catch a ball, or a glass falling under the table. Hands and feet seem “to think together” at the
b) Tai Ji increase attention, concentration on the tasks. If you are not focused you cannot “absorb”,
memorize, number and adjust the kick at the right moment. Coordination of different part of the body
requires the increase attention as much as possible.
c) Tai Ji increase memory as repeating the routines. Sometimes if we cannot practice physically
the exercise we can practice in mind, visualizing the actions. After the student watches the coach actions,
he mast think and represent in his mind everything. Si Fu’s instructions are not very detailed in his
explanation and always ask student to think himself how to do.
d) Tai Ji increase volition, perseverance by practicing again and again for a perfect posture or
action. The posture seems never be perfect and you can keep practicing.
e) Moral education means cultivation of modesty and appreciation for others achievements. We
learn to show much appreciation for champions and their performances; show respect for achievements
and cooperation. Respect for elders and siblings, correct evaluation and self-esteem. A very Chinese
person always has such moral code.
f) Self-control means awareness of every piece of our body and though of our mind. It also means
to be empathetic with others companion or to make a quick analyze of distance and period of time by
intuition. This is self-perception and extended perception beyond rational mind.
g) Si Fu always explains that we must be detached from any possible troubles. Hard physical
training is, from time to time, replace by session of meditation using music or water sound around.
Watching and hearing water help practitioners to understand the metaphor (unconscious mind works with
metaphors and allegories). With the metaphor in mind they must act like water and remind quotations
from classics like Lao Zi where is appreciated softness and force of water. Water always find the way,
people always find solution.
h) We had observed that Tai Ji increases the handwriting abilities. We are not sure if it is available
for all kind of letters, but Chinese calligraphy is related very much with coordination of actions.
Practitioners of Tai Ji always have very good hand writing and practice diligently Shu Fa (calligraphy).
l) People report that they are feeling better, having good mood after lessons (every day in the early
morning or early night).
m) Chinese people are convinced that Tai Ji increase, vitality, immunity, metabolism etc. In our
group has component of different children, teenagers and elders.
n) Esthetic and ontological view about the world are part of the training. If we are Westerners we
can change the view about the pattern of the things, seeing fractals more than linear geometry! Si Fu
explains at the beginning that human body is round and asks to imagine the round circle around us. Very
interesting part of the training are the lessens when Si Fu asks students to watch flowers, vegetables and
notice the spiral, the round petal, the arrangements of leaves explaining that the flow of energy is like in
us. (Personal interview, 2012)
What other kind of abilities more then can improve practice of Tai Ji, the soft sport? Actually, any
we want and we can point out in our life: attention, volition, intuition, self-control, writing, dance, play
piano, singing. It can also help athletes or other sportspeople who want to have high score of their
performance because the training of the mind can train the body.
This soft martial art is much a personal development, than military or sport training. It is
philosophy in practice, psychoanalyses in practice, moral education and physical education as well. In
such a case doing exercise only as gymnastic is sport, but if is doubled by psychological education, it is
much more. It can help improve sport training very much. The only condition is to learn something about
Chinese assumption, scientific or not. It is a different paradigm and paradigms and philosophies as well
have no true or false values, they just guide us. For schools consideration, we can use it as extra-
curricular subject if we cannot introduce in an official compulsory curriculum. It is without doubt there
are a lot of benefits for children, youngsters or adults as well.
I would like to express many thanks to Minnan University from Zhengzhou, Fujian, China (2008, 2012) and highly appreciations to our Si Fu, Mr. Zhang Qing Wu, from Henan province, for his patience in teaching and constant guidance.
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