The Pursuit of TaiChi

Although the ancient Taoist philosophy would in some sense advocate against it, the majority of the modern “West” loves a good chase.

In the United States especially, there seems to be a deep-seated fascination with (maybe even a glorification of) clamoring and struggling in order to achieve something measurable and tangible.

The classic Type-A character, busy plowing through task after task with so much purpose and drive, is the idealized archetype of a great Human Being. Productivity is the point of existence, and there needs to be proof of the work!

When embarking on the journey of learning TaiChi, countless individuals have been subject to multiple confusions. First, and perhaps most absurd, is that the term “TaiChi” is typically being used as shorthand for “T’ai Chi Ch’uan”, which is a martial arts discipline and includes training of the Mind and Body through meditation and physical movement.

The term “TaiChi“ (or T’ai Chi, for consistency’s sake) is more literally a reference to the paradoxical nature of Polarity or duality in the Universe. Some literal translations of TaiChi have been expressed as “Great Pole”, “Supreme Extremes”, and “Grand Duality”, all of which can be taken to mean “YinYang” (or if we wish to avoid the trappings of language, we can simply express TaiChi as ☯️).

The martial art of T’ai Chi Ch’uan (also rendered as Tai Chi Chuan, or Taiji Quan) has its share of tangible achievements to be pursued. There is a valid sense of accomplishment when a sequence of postures and movements has been committed to memory. In many other systems of martial art, these kinds of achievements are marked by receiving a promotion of rank through the colored-belt system, and indeed to hold the rank of Black-Belt is no small feat.

The trouble lies in the potential to get addicted to the achievements. If the whole game is about “the next belt”, then what happens when the final rank has been achieved? If the objective is to learn all of the sequences of posture and movement, what will happen once that objective has been met?

Among other potential goals (like flexibility, focus, etc.), one of the most important quests in the study of Taiji Quan is an understanding of TaiChi itself; an understanding of the TaiChi Principle.

The movements and postures of the Taiji Quan curriculum are all a study in Duality and Polarity. There can be no real mastery of Taiji Quan without some degree of understanding in regards to the YinYang interplay of the physical (and/or energetic) Body.

While the tangible aspect of the discipline is very much concerned with movement, the subtle aspect is approached through stillness. Both movement and stillness are imperative. Neither can be fully meaningful without the other, and the relation between them is the very essence of TaiChi.

The interplay of apparent-opposites is TaiChi. To fully understand TaiChi, it is imperative that both effort and ease be in play. Pursuing the practices known as TaiChi will be a good start, but if direct pursuit is the only mode of engaging with TaiChi, then true mastery and understanding will only elude and be hidden from the aspirant.

The polarization, harmonization, and integration of Yin and Yang is TaiChi. The path to mastery of TaiChi requires not only active pursuit, but also the willingness to stop and be still so that TaiChi may pursue you.

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