The Christian and Taiji Quan

 

 

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The Christian and Taiji Quan

Dr Alex Tang

 

In the 1993 martial arts movie ‘The Tai-Chi Master’, Chang San Feng (Jet Li) derived the principles of Tai-Chi (Taiji)  by stirring a large pot of water by with his arms. As opposite to the Shaolin form of martial arts, which uses strength (external or hard form martial arts), Taiji flows with inertia (internal or soft form) and is in harmony with nature. According to legends, Chang San Feng (c.a. 1260-1568), the founding patriarch of the Wudang sect created Taiji Quan. Subsequently, Taiji Quan split into four main schools of which the most popular today is the Yang-style.

Taiji Quan’s movement is slow, gentle and graceful. Every movement is circular because the cosmological scheme of Taiji is a circle. The moves are divided into big and small circles, semi-circles, ovals, arcs and spirals. These movements with interesting names like ‘grasping the sparrow’s tail, white crane spreads wings and embrace tiger, return to mountain’ flows gracefully into one another making the whole form a slow, graceful, rhythmic dance.

Although taiji can be used for self-defense, it is commonly accepted as a form of exercise. It is claimed that taiji improve health by increasing alertness and body awareness, developing concentration and sensitivity, balance and posture and enhancing a sense of ‘groundedness’. That is why, thousands of people in China, Asia, Europe and the United States can be seen performing this slow dance of an ancient art in the morning.

 

Understanding Chi

To understand taiji, one must understand the Chinese worldview. To the ancient Chinese worldview, the mind, body and spirit of man are inseparable. Man and the universe are part of the Tao. The chi is Tao in action. It is believed that all creation exists in the chi and chi is within all creation. The  universe (including human beings) is formed of the Yin-yang forces and the Five Elements of Fire, Water, Metal, Wood and Earth. A harmonious balance of these elements and forces are essential for the well being universe and of human beings. All creation requires the presence of chi within it to survive. For human beings, chi can be absorbed in many ways. One of the most popular ways is by eating as the foods we eat contain chi. This may explain why the Chinese loves to eat. Another way of absorbing the chi is by breathing.

This concept of a radiant energy or spirit underlying the physical and supernatural world is almost universal. In China it is called the chi, in India it is referred to as the prana or shakti, the Japanese called it the ki, the aboriginal Kung of the Kalahari referred to it as the num while in the mystical Jewish tradition, it is known as nefesh. It is believed that for good health, we must not just have chi but also ensures that the chi flows smoothly in our bodies through the 12 meridian channels and that there is no blockage. Blockage of the flow of the chi will result in ill health and misfortunes. Through the centuries, many exercises and techniques have been developed to balance the chi in our bodies. Some examples are acupuncture, Reiki (Japanese), chi qong, jin shin jutsu, chakra healing (India), soul retrieval, kabalistic healing (Jewish) and therapeutic touch. In China acupuncture and chi qong are well known techniques to balance the chi. Taiji quan can be considered as a form of chi qong as the slow, rhythmic movements are designed to facilitate the flow of chi in the body.

 

Christian Concerns about Taiji

The aim of taiji is to ensure a smooth flow of chi in the body thereby producing a body-mind-spirit oneness and a balanced human body is in harmony with the universe. Chi is Tao in action. Chang San Feng, the creator of taiji was a Taoist priest hoping to discover immortality by occult means. His interest in the I Ching (Chinese book of divination) is well known and even the Chinese emperor at that time acknowledges him as powerful practitioner of the occult. It is believed that he based his taiji movements on the hexagram of the I Ching.

We believe that God created this cosmos out of nothing (ex nihilo) by His word and will (Genesis 1). This is incompatible with the Tao, which is considered to be the very source and nature of creation. The Bible also teaches that God who is the creator is also the sustainer of creation (Acts 17:24-28), not the Tao. In Leviticus 19:26, Moses declared that divination and sorcery are capital offenses for the Israelites as these are linked with pagan worship. Hence Christians should have nothing to do with the I Ching which is a book of divination. Paul taught in Ephesians 2:1-9 that the only immortality worth achieving is by the sacrificial blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Man cannot achieve immortality by his or her own means.

Another concern by Christians is that taiji opens them to occult influences. Taiji is also considered as a meditation in action. Advanced taiji and chiqong practitioners are able to demonstrate supernatural strength and power. These practitioners often describe themselves as in a trance and were aware of spiritual influences in their superhuman feats. Practitioner of taiji claim that they have the potential to develop psychic powers and by implication spiritistic encounters, whether perceived or not.

 

Taiji as exercise

There are Christians who believe that Christians should not involve themselves in all types of martial arts because these martial arts have their origin from the Eastern religious traditions (Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Animism). However there are other Christians who believe that it is possible to separate the physical aspects of the martial arts from their spiritual aspects. Then the physical aspects can be practiced as a form of exercise and for self-defense. One example is taiji quan, which can be, practiced by all age groups especially the elderly. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been many examples of the Christians taking a pagan festival, removing its spiritual contents and adopting it as a Christian festival. Notable examples is Christmas (worship of Saturn by Romans and Yule festival by the Scandinavians) and Sunday (Sun God Day).

For those Christians who believe it is possible to separate the physical and spiritual aspects of taiji and embrace the physical aspects as a form of exercise, I would offer the following guidelines:

(1)               Regard the graceful rhythmic movements of taiji quan as physical exercise, as one would with aerobics. Remember that our bodies are temples of God (1 Corinthians 3:16) and we are to take good care of it.

(2)               Meditate on the goodness of God as you go through the various movements. Do not leave your mind blank but use the time for Christian meditation and prayer. The Bible also teaches about the need to achieve balance in our body, mind and soul.

(3)               Discuss your reservations with your instructor. Find out his or her view of taiji and whether the instructor regard taiji as purely a physical exercise or religious. Avoid instructors who regard taiji as religious exercise. See what is being taught in the advance classes. Some instructors only introduce religious meditation and instructions in the advanced classes. Learn from instructors who regard taiji quan as exercise.

(4)               Avoid learning in dojo or hall that have a shrine. Traditional dojo is a place devoted to religious exercises watched over by the dojo’s spirits. Open spaces like a park would be an ideal place to practice taiji.

 

Conclusion

When Paul was teaching about food offered to idols, he is teaching in a culture similar to ours (Romans 14:14-18). He taught there is nothing wrong with eating food offered to idols as long as we are convinced that it is alright. What corrupt our soul is not what we eat but what is in our hearts. However, if by eating food offered to idols will stumble a fellow Christian, then we are to avoid it. It is the same with taiji quan. If we are convinced that we can benefit from it as a physical exercise, are aware of its spiritual snares and it does not stumble our brothers and sisters then we should practice it. Let us remind ourselves that our mandate is to redeem culture and the Holy Spirit who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.

 

                                                                                                                                                                             Soli Deo Gloria

 

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