Having practiced the ancient T’ai Chi Ch’uan for many years and having taught it at universities and elsewhere, I finally realized that the form is difficult for most people to learn and almost impossible for some people to do. The benefits are many and the satisfactions great if one spends the long time necessary to master it and begin to realize the effects of circulating and balancing the Chi
, the Intrinsic Energy sometimes referred to as Vital Force. I found, through conversations with other T’ai Chi Ch’uan instructors, that for every 15 people who begin T’ai Chi Ch’uan lessons, perhaps one will be motivated enough to learn the first two sections, and often none go on to master the three divisions of 108 movements in the Yang
system. So, although I recognized the benefits of practicing T’ai Chi Ch’uan and received these benefits daily, it was all too apparent that great numbers of people would not do T’ai Chi Ch’uan, that it was for a comparative few in this country.
Believing strongly in the benefits of the ancient yin-yang system and having observed in myself the considerable gains from circulation and balancing of the Chi, I began, around 1969, to experiment with my own forms based on the ancient principles, forms that did not have to be performed in any order and yet would bring great benefits, even if only some of them were learned and practiced. Having been fortunate enough to learn several little-known movements from an old Chinese man — movements practiced in former days—I used these as the starting point for my experiments. One, later known as “Circles within Circles,” I dropped as it seemed too difficult for the average person to successfully perform. I changed the other two movements and added my own leg movements, with the yinning and yanging now so familiar to the thousands of those who practice my form, T’ai Chi Chih. These two, along with the swinging movement known as “Rocking Motion,” I taught to my T’ai Chi Ch’uan students as preliminary warm-up “exercises” before beginning T’ai Chi Ch’uan. The students seemed much taken with the new movements, and there was considerable enthusiasm for them.
Over the next few years, a time when I personally was doing considerable meditation and other spiritual practice, new movements came to me in an effortless manner. I tried to name them in simple, descriptive terms. When enough had been perfected, I decided to call them, collectively, “T’ai Chi Chih,” T’ai Chi being generally translated as “Supreme Ultimate” (same as Tao) and the character for Chih meaning “knowledge” or “knowing.” (Chinese has no grammar and the same word can be a verb, a noun, or an adjective.) So we were now dealing with “Knowledge of the Supreme Ultimate,” and an apt description it is.
My studies in India, Japan and Chinese cities had led me to believe that control of the Chi (known as Prana in India) was the great secret of life. Indeed, the Indian Sage, Sri Aurobindo, had made the audacious statement that if the universe were abolished, this Chi would be capable of constructing a new universe in its place! Elsewhere in this book and in some of my other books, I comment in great detail about the Chi and what it really is and does.
In 1974, Sun Publishing Company asked me to write a book on T’ai Chi Ch’uan, my first two books (The Joy of Meditation and Abandon Hope) having been unexpectedly successful for them. I declined and countered with the suggestion that I do a book, the first, on T’ai Chi Chih. This suggestion was enthusiastically accepted, and I began the laborious task of finishing and naming the 19 forms which appeared in the first T’ai Chi Chih book. (Later “Bird Flaps its Wings” was added, making 20 in all.) When this task was completed, I began to write the book, which featured a foreword by the great Chinese scholar, Wen-Shan Huang. I worked with Sun Publishing to produce the necessary photographs. The task was completed and the book published a few months before the first formal lessons in T’ai Chi Chih were given in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Naturally, T’ai Chi Chih teaching methods have evolved as classes proliferated, and the order in which the movements were taught gradually changed until they have stabilized in the sequence given in this new edition, complete with all new photographs and instruction.
In August 1975, T’ai Chi Chih Teacher Accreditation classes began and have continued ever since at an average of three or four a year. Here eager aspirants who had mastered T’ai Chi Chih forms and who were receiving the benefits from their own practice, attended concentrated courses designed to show them how to teach T’ai Chi Chih and were constructed so as to give them background knowledge of the philosophy on which T’ai Chi Chih is based. As of mid-2009, about 2,500 instructors have been accredited after successfully completing the necessary training.
They, in turn, go to work with students in their own classes as they fan out across the United States and through some foreign countries, such as Switzerland, West Germany, Chile and Canada. Much has been learned from their experiences in teaching, and I am grateful to them for advancing our knowledge of this new form.
When it became apparent that the order in which T’ai Chi Chih movements are taught in class was somewhat different from the way they appeared in the original book, it was obvious that a revised edition would have to be compiled to bring in the new movements (“Bird Flaps its Wings” and the “Six Healing Sounds”) and to adjust the order of movements in the book to that which now predominates in class teaching. These new developments had evolved from actual teaching experiences, and it is necessary that T’ai Chi Chih, like all growing forms, evolve and not remain stagnant. To remain unchanging is to die.
This book has been written to fill that need. As mentioned, the movements performed with the “Six Healing Sounds” have changed slightly, and “Bird Flaps its Wings” was added to the original 19 movements. The overly difficult “Circles within Circles,” which is not taught in classes, has been removed from this edition. T’ai Chi Chih is justifiably called “Joy thru Movement,” and we want it to be fun; there is no need to force difficult forms on the beginning student. Actually the practice of any ten of the 20 movements and postures, if repeated regularly, should be enough to bring great results, but, of course, it is more advantageous to learn all the movements and get the benefits from each. It is felt that this book now faithfully coincides with the T’ai Chi Chih that is taught by teachers in classes, and whether the reader learns alone, from this edition or my instructional videos, or studies in T’ai Chi Chih classes, he or she should find the book to be a faithful text, particularly with the addition of the many photographs which clearly indicate the sequence of each movement.
This is the background on how T’ai Chi Chih came into being and why this new edition was written. These are not ancient forms; they were originated by me, but they do use the very old yin-yang principles and a few ideas from T’ai Chi Ch’uan. The purpose was, and is, to provide easily learned movements that afford the practicer great benefits. How great these benefits are — spiritually, physically and psychologically — we did not know at the beginning, and it has been gratifying through the years to constantly receive new reports of hitherto unsuspected benefits experienced by those learning T’ai Chi Chih.
Whether one understands the reasons for such benefits or not and whether or not one has faith, regular practice of T’ai Chi Chih should bring great rewards. Just do it and let your own experience convince you. Many have stated that they like T’ai Chi Chih because no beliefs are needed and words play no part in successful practice. Truly, the aim is “Joy thru Movement,” and such movement is easy. Moreover, the complete form can easily be learned in the eight or ten lessons usually constituting a complete beginner’s course, which takes merely a matter of a few weeks to complete. T’ai Chi Chih can be a loving, as well as a healing, experience. Teacher candidates do not soon forget the great feeling of warmth that grows between themselves and their instructors, and most seem to leave the accreditation courses on a real high, which, hopefully, they pass along to their students. We trust the reader of this book will join us in this simple practice. If enough people do T’ai Chi Chih, we might even have peace and love in the world.
This article is published in Joy Thru Movement.