chi kung

Chi kung


What is the difference between chi kung and tai chi?

-- Philip, USA


Many people have asked me this question, and it can be answered at various levels.

By “Tai Chi” I reckon you mean “Tai Chi Chuan”, spelt as “Taijiquan” in Romanized Chinese. “Tai Chi” literally means “Grand-Ultimate”, and refers to the Cosmos.

At the common level understood by most people, chi kung and Tai Chi Chuan, usually shortened to as Tai Chi, are different. Chi kung is supposed to be an art of energy, whereas Tai Chi is supposed to be an internal martial art.

While there are many types of chi kung, some very different in appearance from others, the general impression most people have of chi kung is performing some gentle forms repeatedly standing on a spot. On the other hands, Tai Chi forms are more varied and the performer moves about over a fairly large area.

But in terms of benefits, despite the different forms, to most practitioners today there is not much difference between practicing chi kung and practicing Tai Chi Chuan. The practitioners become more relaxed and graceful, and have a general sense of well being. The de-facto best benefit for most practitioners today, nevertheless, is an opportunity to socialize.

The answer above applies to most chi kung and Tai Chi practitioners nowadays who practice their arts as gentle physical exercises.

At higher levels, which are quite rare today where chi kung is really practiced as an art of energy and Tai Chi Chuan really practiced as an internal martial art, they may be the same or different, depending on one's perspective.

When we look at these two genuine arts from the perspective of appearance, chi kung and Tai Chi Chuan are different. Chi kung forms are often performed on the same spot, whereas Tai Chi Chuan forms are performed over an extensive area.

From the perspective of function, chi kung is practiced for health, whereas Tai Chi Chuan is practiced for combat. However, these statements are only generalizations, and may not always be valid. For example, some types of chi kung, like Golden Bell Chi Kung and Cosmos Palm Chi Kung, can also be practiced for combat, and practicing Tai Chi Chuan is excellent for health.

From the philosophical perspective, Tai Chi Chuan is chi kung. Here, the term chi kung is used as a generic term for arts of energy. As energy management is an essential part of genuine Tai Chi Chuan, Tai Chi Chuan therefore is a form of chi kung.

To someone who does not know chi kung or Tai Chi Chuan, the explanation above may be confusing. Confusion arises because questions of their differences or similarities are treated as academic issues. To those who practice these two arts, these questions of differences or similarities become irrelevant, because the practitioners would know the answers from direct experience.

It is like asking what the difference is between money and gold. As academic issues, we may say money and gold are the same if we look at them as media of exchange. We may say they are different if we look at their normal appearance where money is seen as cash and gold as metal. We may also say they are different if we consider their normal functions, money used daily in business transaction, and gold used as expensive ornaments.

But when we are holding money in one hand and gold in the other, asking what their difference is, becomes irrelevant.

Reproduced from July 2006 Part 2 in Selection of Question-Answer Series


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