Demystifying Tai Chi Terminology

"Tai" and "Chi"


Means "Great" or "Infinite" "Never Ending"



Literally means "breath".  It also means "life" or "energy source".  Chi ends when we stop breathing as does our life. 


The greek translation of "Chi" is "pneumo" which means Holy Spirit. 


Cultivating Chi brings health and spiritual growth. 


Put Tai and Chi together and you get "great life".  Who doesn't want that?!


Tai Chi Juan, Tai Chi Chuan, etc. are all the same thing: Tai Chi.



QiGong (pronounced "chi-gong") is a simplified Tai Chi style that focus on breathing and Tai Chi principles.  


Tai Chi falls under the umbrella of QiGong and is considered a more complex type of QiGong. 


QiGong is simple and beautiful.  It is not made up of a string of forms, but rather a set of individual movements for each movement's health benefit.  Because of this, it is easy to learn.  

Tai Chi "Form"

Tai Chi is a set of learned movements in a set sequence.  Each movement set is made up of several 'forms'.  Just as a paragraph is made up of sentences, so is a Tai Chi set made up of individual forms.  They are always in the same order. 


If you learn "24 Form" you could go to China and join in with anyone doing the 24 Form even though you don't know anyone!  That is one of the beauties of Tai Chi.  It unites us through common movement. 

Yang, Chen and Who?!?

You might hear people saying, "I do Yang Tai Chi" or "Wu Style Tai Chi".  This can be intimidating if you don't know what they mean! 


There are different styles of Tai Chi just as there are different dialects of English.  Each style grew out of a family heritage of Tai Chi in China.  For instance "Chen" Tai Chi came from the Chen family. 


Some styles of Tai Chi include: Yang, Sun, Chen, and Wu. 

What to look for in a Tai Chi instructor:

There can be a wide range of Tai Chi instructors.  While there is no "right" or "wrong" way to teach Tai Chi, the following are some suggestions in what to look for: 

  1. Make sure they are, indeed, teaching Tai Chi!  Some instructors say they are teaching Tai Chi when they are teaching something entirely different, or are teaching some "hybrid" exercise form.  Familiarize yourself with Tai Chi enough to know the difference.
  2. Being certified to teach Tai Chi is not a good determinator of a qualified teacher.  Most who study Tai Chi in depth realize it is a lifelong journey and certification is merely a piece of paper.  Be wary of those who get "certified" in a weekend!!  Tai Chi is far too complex to learn in a weekend.  
  3. Make sure they are SAFE!  Use your good judgment.  If you think they are having participants do things that are not in the comfortable range of motion for the average student or for your body, then don't do it!  Don't just blindly trust.
  4. They should be TEACHING the form, not just having students follow along.
  5. They shouldn't talk a lot.  There should be more movement than talk.
  6. They should have a sense of humor and make it fun.  Tai Chi doesn't have to be all serious and no laughter!
  7. There should be absolutely NO criticism of students. 
  8. They should limit physical contact or request permission before touching during correction or instruction.  They should always be gentle in their physical guidance.