Understanding the differences and similarities between Qigong and Taijiquan becomes even clearer when we look deeper into the origins and philosophical influences of both.
All the popular styles of Taijiquan, we see throughout the world today, can essentially be traced back to one source; the Chen Family, from Chenjiagou, Wen county, in Henan province. There are a few myths surrounding Taijiquan’s origins; the most widely accepted one being that it was created by a wandering Daoist priest called Zhang Shanfeng, from the Wudang mountains, around 14thCentury, after witnessing a bird attacking a snake, but if a Wudang style still even exists anywhere, which it may very well do, it bears no relation to the major styles of Taijiquan alive today. Extensive research from the 1930s, conducted by respected researcher and martial artist Hang Tao, and others, concluded that Taijiquan was, in fact, created by military general Chen Wanging (9thgeneration Chen village family descendant), chief of the civil troops, around four hundred years ago, at the end of Ming dynasty and beginning of the Qing dynasty. Much evidence, including written accounts, and ancestral tablets showing the genealogy of successive generations of masters that refined and influenced the development of the style all prove this.
Martial arts existed within Chen village even before the creation of Taijiquan, and the Chen family was known for their Pao Choi (Cannon Fist). In his retirement, General Chen created Taijiquan as an eclectic martial art, combining skills from many schools of martial arts, as well as special techniques from renowned contemporary masters, together with Daoyin and Tuna (the internal training that later came to be known as Qigong), resulting in training the breath inwardly to nourish the internal body while training outwardly the strength of muscles, bones and skin. Originally, there were five routines, including one of Long Boxing, and one Pao Choi (Cannon Fist). Taiji boxing skill was used many times over centuries by the Chen clan to defend their village and farmland against raiding parties, and by the Chen family bodyguards and escorts that provided security, transporting goods and valuables across bandit country.
Yang Luchan was the first “outsider” ever to be taught the Chen family skill. He learned from the 14th generation patriarch, Chen Changxin, and eventually left and traveled to Bejiing, where he became famous as an undefeated pugilist. Of course, many wanted to learn this boxing, but being a man of good character, he honored his oath not to divulge the family’s skill, and created his own version of the art, which later came to be known as Yang Taijiquan. He omitted the more difficult movements such as jumping, sweeping, and stamping, and striking containing fajing (explosive power), as well as most of the weapons forms. Wu Style came directly from the Yang Taijiquan founder and his son. The founders of Wu (Hao) Style studied both the Chen and Yang Styles. The He Style founder studied under Chen Qingping, who founded Zhaobao style, which is a variation of Chen Taijiquan. Sun Taijiquan is based on Sun Lutang’s Taijiquan that he learned from the Wu (Hao) Style founder. So, all the major styles of Taijiquan practiced today come directly or indirectly from the original Chen Style. All these major styles have possibly all spawned variations, or offshoots too. For example, Guang Ping Taijiquan and Cheng Man Ching Yang Taijiquan are based on Yang Taijiquan, and the Chen Style also has its derivatives. Zhaobao, Xiaojia, and Hunyuan styles are all recognized and accepted, but are nevertheless quite different than the ancestral Chen family style.
The Taijiquan most practiced by the Chinese masses as “morning exercise”, and most popular in the West, especially among senior citizens, is the Simplified Yang 24-Step Tai Chi, also known as Beijing Form. This form was created by The National Physical Culture and Sports Committee of the People’s Republic of China, in 1956, and was heavily promoted by the government as a fitness exercise for the general public. Regarded as a “martial dance” or “meditation in movement”, this form of exercise is quite diluted from the traditional Yang family long form, which itself was diluted greatly from the original Chen style. So, the “Tai Chi” everyone has come to know and understand, embraced by senior citizens today and the counterculture “hippies” in the 1960s, could not be more different from the art created by a military general and proven warrior of combat. In fact, the “People’s Tai Chi” has more in common with soft Qigong than Chen Taijiquan, and Chen Taijiquan is closer to Wushu/ Kungfu than it is to soft Qigong, as it combines hard with soft movement, and fast with slow movements (to express Yin Yang), and demands harder effort.
The origins, history and evolution of Qigong differ from Taijiquan entirely. Qigong’s history goes back much further than Taijiquan, estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 years, and quite possibly even further, and unlike Taijiquan’s six major styles, Qigong is an umbrella term covering literally thousands of different styles and methods of training Qi. Qigong may have originated from within central China, along The Yellow River. The damp climate caused the people located there to suffer arthritis, lumbago, muscle complaints, and skin conditions. During winter, Yin stagnates, Qi stagnates, and the muscles and bones shorten and cannot extend properly. These people understood how certain movement mobilized Qi, stimulated Yang, and created the warmth or Fire in the body, necessary to dispel the internal Damp and Cold responsible for all their various conditions. From the reported cures and improvements, a ritual “dance” gradually evolved. Discovering internal Qi, and sensing its movement throughout the body would initially have been discovered by those involved within spiritual disciplines such as Daoists and Buddhists, during their deep meditation practices; by martial artists during their foundation stance training in stillness, such as Horse Stance, Standing Pole, or Siu Lim Tao, for example); and even by regular people,such as farmers and manual laborers, while relaxing, after work, outdoors, in nature, under the stars. All of these people lived simply and closer nature. They experienced none of the distractions from the Internet and the technologies we have today that contribute to attention deficit disorder and lead us further away from the “natural” state of being, or Dao.
Research through experimentation, and recording the results and experiences, led to deep understanding how different postures and movements influenced flow of Qi, feeling, emotions, and the effect on the internal organs. With so many styles and differing methods of training Qi, I don’t believe Qigong can really be traced to any one person, family, religious or philosophical group, style, or region/ province. It is far more likely that a collective consciousness spread throughout China, much like the 100thMonkey Effect. Allegedly, it was observed in 1952 that a small group of macaqaue monkeys on Kojima Island began to take their sweet potatoes down to the river and wash them, before consuming them, which they had never done previously. After some time, as more began to follow suit, it was observed that monkeys on other islands began to do the same, leading to the hypothesis that once a critical mass of consciousness occurs, a paradigm shift in thoughts and behaviors begins to take effect, as a result.
Different religious orders and sects, and clans and kin would have devised their own various methods for developing Qi – whether for healing, maximizing health, developing superhuman strength, or spiritual development/ human potential, or any combination of the above. Some methods included static postures, some movements in stationary positions, and some walking practices or forms (a sequence of conjoined movements). Thousands and even hundreds of years ago, Qigong was not the common term for this internal training. It was known by a host of other names such as Daoyin (leading and guiding energy), Tu Na (expelling and drawing energy), Xing Qi (Moving Qi), Liandan (Dan or “essence of Qi” training), Neigong (Internal training), Jing Gong (Stillness training), Dong Gong (Moving Qigong) and Jing-Donggong (Quiescent Dynamic Gong), among many others. The term “Qigong” only first appeared in 1934, within a medical text concerning tuberculosis therapy, and it wasn’t until 1953 that all of these methods of internal training became known collectively as “Qigong”.
So many ancient Qigong systems were lost through the Japanese invasion of China (1931-1932), and especially under Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), whereby Qigong was denounced as a “superstitious” practice. Many inheritors of family skills handed down for generations were imprisoned, criticized, and physically abused and tortured. Some were summarily executed and others fortunate enough to avoid or escape this purging were forced to go underground, and mostly unable to pass on their skills, so the knowledge and experience gained over centuries died with them! This is why any traditional Qigong skill that still remains today is a treasure worth far more, instrinsically, than gold or diamonds ! After the Gang of Four was finally overthrown, what was left of China’s traditional culture slowly began to re-emerge, and become embraced on a mass scale. In the 1980s there was a Qigong explosion in China. However, not all was good skill; far from it. Charlatans, in great numbers, began to appear, “out of the woodwork”, and take advantage of the public’s lack of knowledge and willingness to learn. Such was the level of fraudulent Qigong, the Chinese government was forced to step in, and began registering and researching the legitimacy of prominent styles and organizations – their recorded history and lineage, scientific validity, documented medical cases, and lack of reported side-effects etc. Eventually, the government deemed only eleven styles as “authentic” and “safe” methods. These were Wild Goose Qigong, Chinese Intelligence Gong, Empty Spirit Qigong, Enlightening Gong, Gou Lin New Qigong, Happy and Lucky Gong, Heart Gong, Ma Li Tang Six Words Method, Pan Mountain Yin Yang Gong, Yan Xin Gong, and Yuan Ji Gong.
There are popular, more simplistic styles of Qigong available today that are more preferred by the masses for their brevity and simplicity, but the depth and breadth of these, and their benefits are inferior to the traditional systems that provide a complete methodology of training. It would be like comparing a short adult education course with a college degree program. I consider the minimalist skills like boating around within the confines of the harbor, without ever venturing out into the ocean, where unlimited possibilities and great adventure await. Some basic skills are older, like Spontaneous 5 Animal Frolics (Wu Qin Xi), 6 Healing Sounds (Liu Zi Jue), 8 Pieces of Brocade (Ba Duan Jin), and Muscle/ Tendon Changing Classic (Yi Jin Jing). Others are more modern, like 18 Movement Taiji Qigong (Shi Ba Shi), one of the most widely practiced styles in parks throughout the world, which was created in 1979.
Qigong in the West today has now become like China in the 1980s, before the government intervention. There are now thousands of styles, some appearing every day, created mostly by unqualified and unauthorized “teachers”, most with very limited experience, having had little to no exposure to authentic traditional Chinese Qigong. There is no quality control. At best, you will have Qigong movements that provide some relaxation and stretching, but offer little else, and at worst, cause side effects (Pian Cha), which results in doing more harm than good. Some inferior teachers may have “the best intentions”, but lack wisdom to see that creating poor quality skill can actually injure people, and that this then is no service to benefit mankind. They are deluded and possess the hubris to think with such little experience and understanding they are competent to create an essentially Chinese skill more beneficial than those that have come before. Others, however, are far more deceptive, unethical and unscrupulous. Perhaps driven by desire of celebrity or notoriety, to create a legacy, or financial and commercial gain, they create their form(s) by combining some Kungfu and Tai Chi movements, with yoga, and stretching, and then name it “Qigong”, to capitalize on this new buzzword, and another new style is born! A lot of modern Qigong is not even really Qigong at all. It appears to be a combination of everything but Qigong, and is Qigong in name only, yet most people wouldn’t even know. In the Qigong world there is a lot of fraud, charlatanism, quackery, and hucksterism. Attending a Qigong symposium once, I witnessed trust exercises, primal screaming, and parlor tricks of strength, all passed off as Qigong. The little actual Qigong practice I saw demonstrated that day was only of the most basic, simplistic variety, with limited movement and limited benefit; the likes of which I certainly would not feel inspired by, or be bothered to practice. Fakery and poor quality skill ultimately only damages the reputation of the art, as many having experienced this would naturally assume that all Qigong is the same.
There are essentially five schools of Qigong that spawned a multitude of different styles. These schools are Daoist, Buddhist, Confucian, Medical and Martial. Daoist skills are perhaps the most common, and the oldest. They seek to find the natural way to living, with the emphasis on connecting with Nature to develop wisdom and achieve longevity (or immortality). Buddhist Qigong tends to focus on stretching and meditation, with the emphasis on achieving “Emptiness”, and developing compassion and wisdom, on the path to Enlightenment. Confucian Qigong is not very common at all, and tends to be more simplistic, with its emphasis on posture, correct behavior and finding harmony in society, to develop “Ren” (virtuousness) humanity, righteousness, altruism and benevolence. Medical Qigong is not considered connected to any philosophy, but is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which was founded on Daoist principles including Yin Yang and Five Elements, so its roots can be said to lie in Daoism. The movement tends to be very simplistic, but the other aspect is Qi transmission from therapist to patient. Some people with medical conditions seek Medical Qigong specifically, but in reality all Qigong is “medical” as it tones the holism, exchanges sick Qi for positive Qi, strengthens the constitution, ameliorates symptoms, and improves the functions of the internal organs.
Martial Qigong includes Hard Qigong (also known as Iron Shirt or Golden Bell), which develops great physical strength and stamina, mental fortitude, and the ability for the body to withstand all manner of barehanded and weapon attacks (safely if the rules are followed). It is the polar opposite of what most people understand Qigong to be, if they have only practiced or only ever seen the softer forms, and it requires much greater effort and hard work. It involves special breathing techniques combined with dynamic tension exercises and fast, powerful movements. Martial Qigong can be either Daoist or Buddhist. All traditional Chinese martial arts included some aspect of internal training, essential to protecting and repairing the body from injury sustained, replacing expended energy, and balancing the mind and heart. Without Qigong, Yang excess or too much “fire” can be created within the body, which can lead to an aggressive state of mind, unbalance the heart, and over stimulate the nervous system. Qigong aligned with Chinese martial arts can be considered “Martial Qigong” as the sole purpose is to enhance the training of the martial art. Certain Chinese martial arts that feature internal training in conjunction with external training, such as Taijiquan and Baguazhang, can be considered “Martial Qigong”.
Taijiquan founder, General Chen Wangting, was heavily influenced by Daoism. From his recorded poem, as he created sets of boxing routines, he states that The Hung Ting Jing (Yellow Court Classic), a Daoist meditation text, accompanied him everywhere. All the Daoist principles, such as Dantian breathing, Emptiness, Non-Action, softness, being “like water”, and rooting, that are found within Laozi’s Dao De Jing (Way of Morality Classic), are central to the practice and development of Taijiquan. Daoist theories of Yin Yang, 5 Elements (Wu Xing) and 8 Situations (Bagua), found within the Daoist Yijing (Scripture of Change) are also essential to Taijiquan. If you understand Qigong you will see that Dao De Jing includes high level Qigong knowledge. General Chen developed his fighting art along with Jingluo (Acupuncture Channel) Theory from TCM, which itself is also founded upon Daoist understanding. Among the many combat skills and techniques that became incorporated and assimilated into this new art was Shaolin Fist, especially the Red Fist, Shaolin Staff, and Buddha’s Warrior Eighteen Grasping Techniques. Shaolin Temple itself is a Buddhist monastery. So, like Qigong, Taijiquan also finds influences from within both Daoism and Buddhism. General Chen Wangting also studied Ru Jia (Confucianism), upon which the Chen Family Ancestral Rules are based that include Uprightness, Respectfulness, Kindness, Honesty, Integrity, Loyalty, Bravery, and Virtuousness etc. Traditional Qigong systems also later adopted the ethics and morality of Kong Fuzi or Confucius (551 B.C. – 479 B.C.), in addition to Daoism and Buddhism, which were already highly ethical philosophies.
Of the thousands of different styles of Qigong, I study and practice only traditional Wild Goose Qigong and Hard Qigong, so can only comment on these. And, of the six styles of Taijiquan, I study and practice only the original Chen Style, so can only give my experience regarding this. The feeling from Wild Goose Qigong forms is one of deep relaxation, naturalness and ease. It feels therapeutic, purifying, and cleansing inside, like an internal bath. The body feels more open, flexible, and lighter, and the mind clearer, and emotionally balanced, with a heightened awareness of the internal body, as well as a sense of deep connection to the environment and Nature (Dao). Hard Qigong produces feelings of exhilaration and exuberance, almost euphoric, along with increased strength and stamina. Advanced levels include greater body/ mind conditioning, which is to raise the pain threshold, and push the limits of fortitude and endurance, in order to attain “Iron Body”. This trains character and develops Qi and Spirit. The meditation following practice, necessary to calm down the “Fire”, brings a deep sense of peace and balance. Chen Taijiquan forms make the legs shake and burn, but, trained sincerely and consistently, this transforms to a body that is incredibly strong, solid and powerful, as well as well as fluid and light; just as Dao De Jing says, “Heaviness is the root of lightness”. But, it is the intrinsic spiral or “Silk Reeling” energy (Chan Si Jin) that makes Chen Taijiquan feel so amazing and addictive, and unlike any other physical training. With the entire body unified, and strong Qi flowing throughout the entire body, Taijiquan practice always makes the body feel warm and comfortable inside, and lively. I cannot imagine ever not practicing either Qigong or Taijiquan.
Ultimately, there is no better way to appreciate the differences between Qigong and Taijiquan than to experience them first-hand, and register the feelings each skill offers through actual practice, and not just through observation or accepting others’ impressions. Many that practice Qigong actually never get to experience Taijiquan, and vice versa. So, they never know what they may be missing, or whether the other art may be more enjoyable, or even more suitable for them. There is so much to enjoy and benefit from both disciplines, so, if you have time and resources to invest in studying and developing both why settle for one when you can have both?
– Adam Wallace