Many people come to class and ask the question, “What is the difference between Taijiquan (Tai Chi) and Qigong?” This usually after first asking, what is ‘quee gong’ (qigong)? And the former is a great question.
Many schools, like ours, teach Qigong as an integral part of Taijiquan training. Both are body-mind-breath exercises. Both involve gentle movement, good posture and integrating the breath with movements. But only one has a martial arts application. Both practices cultivate gentle and present mind focus. Both also involve the cultivation of Qi or vital energy in the body.
Qigong is far older than Taijiquan, dating back some four thousand years to around the time of the Yellow Emperor and the early origins of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Taijiquan as a formal practice is much more recent in comparison. Scholars attribute its genesis as occurring in the Chen Village in China in the early 1600’s. It is said that Chinese Boxing was combined with Taoist principles to create Taijiquan within the Chen Family Lineage. Since then, the other well-known forms have developed with Yang style Taijiquan becoming one of the most popular forms in the West.
In the practice of Qigong, the movements are designed to stretch and mobilize tendons and ligaments, as well as stimulate the channels of the meridian system in Traditional Chinese Medicine. They are done with mental focus and intention, combined with deep abdominal breathing. A lot of Qigong is ostensibly done on the one spot. It is seen as a way to balance the body and support health and longevity as well as building Qi or vital energy. Of course, all this complements and supports our Taijiquan practice.
Unlike other martial arts, such as Judo, and Karate, which rely on muscular strength and power, Taijiquan relies on internal power and “intelligent strength”: the body is kept soft and relaxed, not hard; the force of an opponent’s strike is met with yielding and redirecting that force rather than resisting it. A quote my teacher and mentor often says is; “Be as strong as but bend like Bamboo” – both physically and mentally. In our training these days we do not train for combat, but rather for health. The martial applications are taught to give a better understanding of the movement and the intention behind it. Unlike Qigong and depending on the Taijiquan form, we may move in different directions using Tai Chi walking; stepping forward or backward as required.
Whether practicing Taijiquan or Qigong, the movements are slow and deliberate. Attention is on the body, breathe and movements. Both are like a moving meditation, and both will confer significant health benefits when practiced properly and consistently.
I trust this short article has given you some understanding of the difference between these two wonderful practices.