Martial arts is a generic term under the umbrella of which various “schools” are referenced. There are martial arts which are derived from Japan such as Aikido, Karate, Judo, Kendo and Sumo. There are Chinese martial arts such as Tai Chi Chuan aka Tai Ji Quan, Wing Chun, Ba Qua aka Pa Kua, Kung Fu (which is somewhat of a generic term).
There are Korean martial arts such Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, Tang Soo Do and Hwa Rang Do. There are Brazilian martial arts such Jujutsu and Capoeira. There is Muay Thai from Thailand, Krav Maga from Israel and many, many others worldwide. Martial arts, particularly the Asian ones are subdivided into hard or external and soft or internal. And yet, as we shall see, the hard/external has soft/internal elements and visa versa.
This article will specifically focus upon Tai Chi Chuan / Tai Ji Quan (hereinafter Tai Chi for short) and generically on the energy aspect of martial arts—particularly those of Asian origins. Tai Chi Chuan means supreme ultimate fist although a formal translation would include some statement about energy. Tai Chi Chuan and Tai Ji Quan are, of course, transliterations of Chinese characters. In fact, in his studies of Tai Chi and Taoist philosophy Mariano ran across some seven different meanings of words spelled as “Chi.”
Tai Chi, Hidden Art
Mariano practiced Tai Chi and actually studied the art’s history and philosophy. You may not realize that a martial art has an associated philosophy yet, many have both a philosophy and a theology—by any other name.
He got into the art during a time of spiritual seeking, as it where, in his life before coming to accept Jesus as Messiah. But what does a “fighting art” have to do with spirituality? That is just the question in view here. The Sifu with whom he ended up training was actually exemplary of the many facets of Tai Chi. Sifu means teaching father and is what a Chinese martial arts teacher is called.
In Tai Chi there is no system of belts or colors; one is either a beginner, intermediate, advanced, Sifu, Master and Grandmaster. To give a typical example, in competitions intermediate are those who have been practicing the art from 5-10 years, and a Master requires 20 years and some notable contribution to the art. However, of course, these are essentially academic differentiations and it all actually is based on skill level. As Sifu said:
Your Tai Chi is only as good as it is right now. Not as good as it used to be when you practice regularly and not as good as it will be when you do practice regularly.
Some people think that Tai Chi is old people moving very slowly and thus do not consider it a martial art. Tai Chi practitioners love this perception because “you think we do not know how to fight and by the time you are half way through that thought we have broken you in half!”
There are many martial arts which are hidden in plain sight and were hidden for the purpose of escaping persecution. Capoeira was hidden within a festive drum playing dance. Knife fighting skills were hidden within Argentine Tango moves. And there is Tai Chi hidden as a slow moving activity to keep old folks flexible.
The Many Faces of Tai Chi
Well, Sifu understood that people came to Tai Chi for various reasons and he accepted them all. The main three reasons are 1) physical therapy, 2) a New Age meditative cosmic dance, and 3) a fighting art—or a combination of all of these.
Generally, Tai Chi focuses on postures and movements: one posture leads to another via the movement. A traditional Yang style Tai Chi form (there are various schools within “Tai Chi”) is a prescribed series of some 144 movements which one completes very slowly and without stopping (there are some fast Tai Chi forms and even the Yang weapon forms are fast; yet, the fast forms are tackled after the postures and movements have been perfected via the slow practice).
Tai Chi practice consists of meticulously adjusting the body so as to maintain balance, deal with the incoming momentum of an opponent’s attack, training in Chi Na, which are joint locks, etc.—this is the physical side, the body.
Then there is the meditative aspect of the “energy work” which in the form of Chi Kung or Qi Gong and consists of mindfully moving energy around the body often in combination with physical movements. Eventually one incorporates the movement of energy within the Tai Chi form—the series of movements.
The Chi of Tai Chi
Let us take a step back now and consider how the idea of combining physical and spiritual or mystical practices came together in the first place.
Succinctly stated—because this could get very complex —Siddhartha Gautama (born anywhere from 563 to 483 BC) was an Indian who is said to have reached enlightenment and thereafter established Buddhism which changed certain Hindu beliefs (see Buddha and Jesus for details).
Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk from circa the fifth to sixth century AD who is considered to have been a bodhisattva, which is a person who has attained the ability to transcend the material realm and yet who purposefully delays their merging with Nirvana in order to help others.
The story is that Bodhidharma traveled to northern China, lived in a cave, and essentially stared at a wall for nine years. This is the basic account as found in the many versions of it that exist.
This meditative state brought about the knowledge of a plethora of spiritual physical practices which were revealed to the Shaolin Monks and were thereafter incorporated into martial arts. These martial arts are the ones that employ the concept of a universal energy which is called variously termed Chi, Qi, Ki, Prana and…the Force. The concept is that of an impersonal and amoral energy which suffuses all things and into which a person can “tap” so as to manipulate it and thus, employ it towards “good” or “evil.”
The “Force” as portrayed in the movie Star Wars could be seen as Chi. The primary element is the utilization of the Force for good by the Jedi and the evil by the Sith (you can recall that Darth Vader is referred to as a practitioner of sorcery). Of course, the Jedi consider themselves good and the Sith evil, and the Sith consider themselves good and the Jedi evil. This actually elucidates the problem with dualistic morality: there is no absolute but merely the interaction of good and evil.
The early Shamans in China believed there was a force in the universe, in nature, and within them. By cultivating the force within (the Qi, Ki, Chi, Prana, etc.) through various exercises, movements, special diets and herbs, breathing exercises, and meditation (altered states), they believed they could enhance their life force and be healthier and live longer. Some even taught that you could attain immortality.
This concept of Chi was attributed to and developed by philosophers such as Lao-tzu, Confucius, Mencius, and others between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C., and Chi was considered to be "the source of vitality, harmony, creativity, and moral courage," (Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience, Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 1991, 627).
Shaolin refers to Taoist monks who further exemplify the impersonal and amoral aspect of Chi via the symbol of the Yin Yang. Within Taoism, or Taoist philosophy — and again, this is simplifying the matter— there are two forces: the Yin, which is soft, passive, etc. and Yang, which is hard, active, etc. The symbol is a circle with an S-like shape which creates two equal halves; one half is white and one black. And yet, within the black half is a small circle of white and visa versa. This does not represent a static standstill whereby the forces are in perfect harmony perpetually. Rather, the symbol represents an ever fluctuating process whereby the little soft/white dot grows bigger and bigger until it fills the hard/black half and visa versa. Thus, soft, passive, white becomes hard, active, black and the process continues. This philosophy underlies why the hard/external arts have some soft/internal elements and visa versa.
Picking up on Mariano’s personal story, he quite practicing Tai Chi; it was actually due to chronic knee pain (the knee pain was not originally caused by Tai Chi but it eventually made Tai Chi unbearable, all Tai Chi movements are performed with the knees, at least, slightly bent). During his Tai Chi years Mariano became a Christian and pondered if the energy work was appropriate. Is it or is it not and why is this even an issue?
Back to Mariano’s Story
When someone just walks into their local Tai Chi school they would certainly be expected to involve themselves in the meditative, spiritual practices. This is true especially if the Sifu is traditional and/or Chinese. When you walked into the school that Mariano attended you would see an altar, and on the wall the faces of the Eastern Mysticism trinity: Buddha, Lao Tzu and Confucius.
Mariano studied the philosophy behind the art to the point that he would salute with his left first closed and right hand open as the left is the “philosopher’s fist” whereas opposite is the “fighter's fist.”
Note that years of Tai Chi and study of Taoist philosophy lead to much more than learning self-defense. In fact, years later Mariano asked a fellow Christian who had practiced Wing Chun, was he told that without the spiritual/energy practices he would only progress so far in the art? He affirmed that yes, indeed that was the case.
Mariano also got into the practice of I Ching which is s system of divination and he became a Reiki practitioner.
His Sifu was a practicing Buddhist who one day brought a Reiki master to the school for a demonstration. Reiki (there is the Ki again) is a “healing art” whereby one is opened up to have their bodies literally become conduits for energy which they can the channel to others for the alleged purpose of healing.
Sifu noted that he had gone to have some Reiki done on him and when the practitioners laid their hands on him and channeled the energy he got up, said, “I can do that too,” put his hands on them and channeled energy into them. You see the point? The Chi of Taoism via Chi Kung and Tai Chi and the Ki via Reiki is the same thing.
Another aspect of martial arts, especially some Chinese forms is the “animal forms.” These are forms that are based on animals: snake, monkey, crane, tiger, etc.
To watch these forms performed it is truly incredible as the martial artists become so expert at emulating the animals. However, the point is not to merely emulate, or mimic, the animals but to actually take in the animal’ spirit. Here we see the true nature of mixing a “fighting art” with meditation, energy work, calling upon spirits, etc. This is why a cute little children’s movie such as “Kung Fu Panda” is problematic, because, in its demonstration of animal forms, it represents the most esoteric or occult martial arts.
In the New Age, Chi is usually called “energy” and is experienced by those who delve into New Age and occult practices. Marcia was involved in Eastern beliefs and meditation, yoga, astrology, spirit guides, and psychic exercises and experiences. After initially experiencing this energy during paranormal exercises, she began to feel this Chi or energy in her body spontaneously at various times, sometimes for long periods of time. She could even feel it coming from those around her when she desired to do so. This made her feel in tune with a universal force and connected to it, thus validating the New Age teachings she had studied. Some people feel this energy to the point of it being ongoing and intrusive and are not able to escape it.
After God’s intervention in her life, Marcia put her faith in Jesus Christ as the Redeemer and the energy left. This does always happen right away, however. Sometimes, for His own purposes, the Lord allows consequences of our actions to continue even after salvation.
To Practice or Not To Practice?
Some may wonder whether Tai Chi can be divorced from Taoist philosophy and therefore be practiced by a Christian. A Christian should understand that they are being asked and instructed to involve themselves in esoteric, occult, mystical practices. Theoretically one “could” completely divorce Tai Chi from Taoism and energy work but it would require a lot of effort and discernment to do so (Mariano’s view).
As Mariano went from being an unbeliever to a believer in Jesus, his practice of Tai Chi changed. Changing it required a lot of information from an understanding of Taoism philosophy to Christian theology and discerning the contradictions between the two. Also, Mariano was practicing Tai Chi as a self defense martial art as well as a spiritual practice. Thus, he learned that Tai Chi was not merely a cosmic dance whereby one frolicked around but understood that each movement actually had an application as a self defense fighting technique.
For example, White Stork Spreads Its Wings looks like just slowly swinging ones arms in front of ones face but it is a movement that catches an incoming punch and redirects its trajectory which ends up breaking the arm at the elbow.
Universal life energy is also linked in many cultures to supernormal powers and sorcery. Tantra yoga cultivates the flow of Prana in order to raise psychic powers, and Prana is the source for exploits in Hindu magic (Guiley, 627). In alchemy, this universal force is called spiritus; the occult Kabala (Qabalah) terms it astral light; and hypnotist Franz Mesmer called it "magnetic fluid" (Guiley, 626). The chi is also the source of power for levitation and other occult feats (Guiley, 327).
There is good evidence from this that Chi is a demonic power. Though Chi is claimed to be a healing energy in Reiki, it is important to know that occult healing methods have been around a long time and always invoke, manipulate, or channel some kind of force or energy. Therefore, it is Marcia’s view that no one should engage in Tai Chi, or any practice that involves belief or instruction in the use of chi.