Traditional Chinese Medicine and T'ai Chi.
Because T'ai Chi encompasses Meditation, Qi Gong, Martial Arts, Taoist Philosophy and Traditional Chinese Medicine there is a tendency for these other arts to over lap and spill into T'ai Chi, which in itself is not bad and does have some relevance to T'ai Chi, but can sometimes result in confusion and a cross pollination of theories and ideas that have no place in T'ai Chi. T'ai Chi is a separate and unique art with it own individual theories and philosophies, which if not careful could easily have its most fundamental tenets diluted from the other more popular arts. Many times I've had discussions with other T'ai Chi exponents and have noticed Traditional Chinese Medicine (T.C.M.) creeping into the push hand theory of how power is created. Then before you know it, this theory becomes part of the generally accepted theory of T'ai Chi. T.C.M. theory does have a place in T'ai Chi, but not in the area of push hands or in the creation of physical movement.
Its place is in the explanation of how the Health Benefits of T'ai Chi are achieved. I feel this has probably come about from T.C.M. practitioners learning T'ai Chi while studying T.C.M. at various colleges and then applying their T.C.M. theory to their T'ai Chi. Or it could be the case that the teacher has no real knowledge of T'ai Chi other than knowing a few hand and weapons forms and needs to teach the students some theory so they then read up on T.C.M. and apply the theory to all areas of their T'ai Chi.
So its for these reasons I will briefly outline the theory of T.C.M. and as usual there is no place better to start than a brief history of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
History of T.C.M
Medicine in China can be traced as far back as 10,000 years ago, where they used sharpened stones and bones to drain abscesses and to release blood for remedial purposes. Between 10,000 and 4,000B.C. their ability to fashion from stone more sophisticated and specific tools with which to use in simple medical procedures had improved. It was in this time frame that acupuncture first appeared. It is interesting to note that using stone (bian) was believed to have developed on the East Coast of China where their main diet consisted of fish, where as moxibustion is believed to have developed in the northern areas of China where their dietary intake was different and was derived mainly from the rearing of domesticated animals. Because the north of China is cold and windy, and because they consumed a lot more red meat as well as dairy products, they suffered from more damp and cold conditions. From accumulated experiences they developed heating modalities such as hot compresses and moxibustion. During the Shang dynasty (1,600Bc – 1,100Bc) bronze casting was developed which again raised the standard of medical instruments, including acupuncture needles.
Yin and Yang
The first written concepts of Yin and Yang appeared in The Book of Changes 700B.C. In Book 5, Chapter 2 from Lu-Sih ch'un-ch'iu. “The Great One produces the two poles which in turn gives rise to the energies of dark (Yin) and the light (Yang) . These two energies then transform themselves, one rising upwards, and the other descending downwards; they merge again and give rise to form”. By the time of the Spring and Autumn period (770 B.C– 476B.C.) and the Warring States (475B.C.- 221B.C.) the theory of Yin and Yang had firmly entrenched itself not only in T.C.M. but in many other aspects of Chinese culture.
Yin and Yang are probably the most basic fundamentals of T.C.M., representing opposites of the Universe. Dark side represents Yin, Light side represents Yang with the black dot inside the Yin and white dot inside Yang representing that there is a little bit of opposites in everything. For example at night time there is a little moonlight and in the daytime there is a little bit of shade. Listed below are some examples of Yin and Yang.
Wu Xing (Five Elements)
Before the concepts of Yin and Yang had been fully developed another major contribution to T.C.M. was in development during the Yin and Zhou dynasties (1,600B.C. – 221B.C.) in the theory of the Five Elements. The Five Element theory can be traced back to ancient China where the people observed that Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water were essential materials to supply the necessities of life. It wasn't until the Han dynasty that these two theories came together (it is generally believed it was Tso Yen that brought them together). The Five Elements and Yin and Yang form the basis of Chinese Medicine; the five elements is applied to generalise and explain the nature of Zang-Fu1 organs, the inter-relationships between them, and the relation between human beings and the natural world. The Five Elements can also relate to Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water and also the seasons, tastes, emotions, colour and directions.
The next milestone of T.C.M. was the writing of the Huang-Di Nei-Jing (Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine) considered to be the first written documentation on T.C.M. and the oldest text book in the world on medicine, written by Huang Di (life span variously given as 2697 - 2597 B.C. or 2674 - 2575 B.C.). This book became the primary foundation for Traditional Chinese Medicine as it summarised and systematised such things as meridian theory, pathology, diagnosis, acupuncture, moxibustion and massage.
The basic definition of Chi was covered in Level – Li, Grade – One. The history and origins of chi, as with a lot of Chinese history, can be vague. There is mention of ch'i in the Book of Changes. Also Tung Chung-Shu speaks of Earth as the controller of nothing, but being the central authority of the four seasons. He writes “The Earth is the controller of the five elements and without the ch'i of the soil nothing can be accomplished. Everything comes from the ch'i of the Earth without the Earth's ch'i none of the seasons or elements would be possible”.
Interesting to note here, that T'ai Chi uses the five elements in its theory of weaponry. There are only four traditional weapons in T'ai Chi; they (Zang organs are considered the solid organs such as the heart, lung, spleen, liver, kidney and pericardium and Fu organs are the hollow organs such as the gallbladder, stomach, small intestine, bladder, san jiao)
are the Sabre (water) because the sabre is single-edged and the heaviest weapon by far, and can't be stopped suddenly like the other three lighter weapons; it needs to take on the characteristics of water - the movements are very flowing and fluid like. The Spear (fire) is very fast and darts and stabs the opponent between their armour and has the characteristics of a flame. Straight Edged Sword (metal) is strong, straight and hard and represent the firmness nature of metal. Stick (wood) the nature of the short stick is that it's light, flexible and absorbing and traditionally the first weapon to be learnt. The fifth element is the T'ai Chi Form (earth) which is considered the most important element because if you can't move your body correctly it's not possible to use any weapon effectively. I remember being told by my kung fu teacher never to pick up a weapon in a fight, unless you're better with that weapon than you are with your hands (good advice). Each of these weapons has certain characteristics or ch'i that makes it individual and unique.
Ch'i when used in relation to the human body denotes both the essential substances of the human body which maintain its vital activities, and the functional activities of the Zang-Fu organs and tissues. From there the ch'i is divided into four distinct forms within in the body. They are:
- Yuan ch'i (primary ch'i) This chi is derived from congenital essence and constantly needs to be replenished and nourished by absorbing Ying ch'i (food). Yuan ch'i is basically the chi that one inherits from one's parents and resides in the kidneys.
- Zong ch'i (pectoral ch'i) is created by the combination of Da ch'i (air) and gu ch'i (food) and resides in the lungs.
- Ying ch'i (nutrient ch'i) this ch'i is essentially derived from the essence of food and is produced by the spleen and the stomach.
- Wei ch'i (defensive ch'i) this ch'i circulates outside the vessels and runs along the surface of the skin and protects the body from external pathogenic factors.
Assessment of the Health Benefits of T'ai Chi Chuan
The health benefits in T'ai Chi are directly linked to the effect T'ai Chi has on the zang-fu organs and the associated meridians. The constant relaxation of the body softens the muscles which has the effect of massaging the zang-fu organs, which in turn improves the physiological functions of that particular organ. Also not only is there relaxation of the deeper muscle groups, there is the softening of the more exterior muscle groups and with that comes the increased blood flow. Of equal importance is that the meridians are at the same time gently stretched, opened, massaged and cleared of any blockages - very similar in some ways to how Chinese massage works.
In T.C.M it's the ch'i of the meridians that drives the blood and the blood nourishes the ch'i, both working in relation and harmony to each other. There is also the natural deep breathing that accompanies the practice of T'ai Chi. The T.C.M practitioners of old would have used it as a means with which to improve the patients' zong ch'i within the body. In T.C.M theory one of the main types of energy flow begins in the Lung meridian, (to be exact at lung 1 zhongfu), therefore drawing and circulating the ch'i of the heavens will naturally aid the maintenance of ch'i circulation throughout the body.
Another health benefit is the way T'ai Chi uses the Ch'i of the Earth to create movement. This relates mainly to the conservation of yuan ch'i but also relates to the other forms of ch'i. If you look at yuan ch'i like a bucket of water with a slow leak, the yuan ch'i is slowly consumed in the process of life and unlike the other forms of ch'i it can't be readily replenished. It is therefore preferably best conserved. This loss can however be slowed down or to a certain extent reversed by eating, drinking, sleeping and exercising correctly. Because T'ai Chi harnesses the ch'i of the earth to create movement there is not the normal consumption of ch'i that usually accompanies other regular forms of exercise, therefore conserving one's yuan ch'i.
We can therefore see that T'ai Chi offers considerable health benefits without the downside of wasting our limited resource of yuan chi.
Most T'ai Chi practitioners believe that the ch'i moving through the meridians and lungs is what creates movement in T'ai Chi - it does and it doesn't! However when you disagree with them they usually smugly explain that without ch'i in the body T'ai Chi wouldn't be possible. I couldn't agree more, however if you applied that same logic to the organs of the body then you could equally say you couldn't perform T'ai Chi without a heart or set of lungs. They mistake the ch'i that keeps the whole organism alive with the earth's ch'i that actually makes movement possible in T'ai Chi.