I have to admit that before I started my practice, I couldn’t tell the difference either. Both seemed to be about soft, relaxed movement. Both seemed very Chinese. But that was about all I knew.
So, for the record here is the lowdown:
QiGong is a practice that has its focus on cultivating, circulating and harmonizing Qi. The idea is to first balance the body itself as a whole, and then balance the body within the backdrop of one’s environment. The health benefits are obvious as well as mind-blowing.
Tai Chi, although related, is fundamentally a martial art. Some forms of QiGong do promote physical characteristics useful for martial arts, but in comparison, QiGong lacks the attack and defense principles contained in the Tai Chi postures.
Popular Tai Chi seen in the park is mostly concerned with soft, fluid movements that seem to blend into one another in a very choreographed fashion. This popular style is one aspect of Tai Chi, but is not altogether representative of what Tai Chi is. It is just the popular version. The concept of Tai Chi boxing, from its beginning, was and still is a martial art.
The ‘Ji’ in TaiJi (often spelt Chi) does not, contrary to popular belief, actually mean energy. The word ‘Ji’ literally means extreme. The term TaiJi is a philosophical concept that involves Yin and Yang theory. TaiJi can be translated to mean Supreme Polarity. It elaborates primarily on the principles of change and relativity – black and white – night and day – soft and hard, etc.
Often people ask me about the roll of Qi (energy) in Tai Chi. In Tai Chi, Qi is used as mechanical energy. The opening of the meridians, meaning smooth circulation of Qi, allows one the unobstructed use of internal body mechanics through focused intent. Therefore, Tai Chi generally relates to the ‘energies’ of physical movement, while QiGong can relate to the ‘energies’ of organ function. Of course these two energies mutually promote and assist each other. The body benefits from a balance of both of these methods, which is why Tai Chi and QiGong are often studied simultaneously.
The health benefits of Tai Chi are in fact manifested in its martial aspects. That’s what makes it different from a nice walk in the park or light dancing. Tai Chi should make you fit, healthy, strong, have great posture, good presence, and a sharp focused mind. The martial intent is what drums up the energy and manifests it. In this day and age, the need for fighting has all but diminished. However we can still use the fighting spirit in our practice to help create strong focused energy to super charge our bodies.
So, to sum up, QiGong & Tai Chi work off the same principles. Tai Chi just takes it a step further and expresses the ability to cultivate, circulate and harmonize Qi in relation to martial arts. Power comes from relaxation, opening follows closing, left follows right, etc