Tai Chi started as a Taoist martial art. It is now practiced for martial, health, and philosophical reasons. As a Taoist martial art, Tai Chi aims for optimal action using the principle of doing without doing anything unnecessary. This is often shortened to “doing without doing,” expressed in Chinese as “wuwei.”
Fundamental to this “doing without doing” approach are some realizations:
- Muscles tighten if activated and elongate if relaxed. In Tai Chi we want to relax those muscles that are not needed, while activating the needed ones only as much as necessary.
- Gravity is a force that we can use or fight, but cannot ignore. If one does not notice gravity, it is due to muscle tightening that blocks the feeling of gravity's force.
- Relaxed is not limp. Relaxed is one's most natural reaction to gravity and to our body structure.
- The basic law of physics –for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction–is always present and is immediate. It is not a push followed by a push back, but simultaneous forces in both directions.
We do Tai Chi slowly to be tranquil. The tranquility improves sensitivity (awareness). Improved awareness leads to greater relaxation and deeper tranquility, which in turn leads to greater relaxation, and so we have an ever-deepening tranquil awareness and relaxation. And, of course, are activating fewer unneeded muscles.
The Tai Chi form is a means to practice optimal movement. Optimal movement is the goal, not perfection of form movements. The form should not be practiced as a mindless exercise, but as a means to improved self-awareness and greater overall effectiveness of mind, body, and emotion.