On Saturday, when the first rays of sunlight illuminate the sky over Hong Kong, practitioners of T’ai Chi Chuan will begin moving in a fluidly powerful motion. The Hong Kong movement will be emulated at the break of day by fellow practitioners in Mongolia, then India, then Eastern Europe, Western Europe, following daybreak across the Atlantic to Brazil, then New York, Mexico, then Chile, Vancouver and ending the day, with the sun’s circular path, in Hawai‘i at 10 a.m.
Celebrated in over 75 countries and in several thousand locations, this 9-year-old event is rooted in 2,000-year-old Taoist philosophy. The purpose of the international event is to introduce local communities to schools and teachers of T’ai Chi, and give people an opportunity to experience the practice without attending a formal class.
T’ai Chi is “a 900-year-old classic Chinese secret to a healthy heart, strong muscles, limber joints and inner youth, the way of revitalization,” said Dr. Alton Kanter, who founded Kaua‘i’s School of T’ai Chi Chuan in 1989.
It can be practiced by persons of any age, culture or religious affiliation — even though its roots are in the philosophy/theology of Taoism begun by Lao-Tzu in 440 A.D. Similar to Hatha Yoga, the physical practice that is rooted in the much more ancient religion Hinduism, the health benefits of the ‘exercise’ of both T’ai Chi or yoga do not require any identification with organized religion to gain its benefits, and people of all religions may practice either form of the physical disciplines.
Many know that T’ai Chi is considered a ‘martial art’ — but after seeing the slow and gentle movements of T’ai Chi, aggression in any form seems completely absent.
The goal of T’ai Chi is not to learn to fight, yet just as gentle winds can carve mountains, there is great power to be respected in the repetition and consistency of T’ai Chi’s movements.
Taoism began as a combination of psychology and philosophy, which later “evolved into a religious faith in 440 CE (Common Era; on a timeline, same as A.D.) when it was adopted as a state religion,” writes B.A. Robinson from his book on Taoism. “Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became one of the three great religions of China.
With the end of the Ch‘ing Dynasty in 1911, state support for Taoism ended. Much of the Taoist heritage was destroyed during the next period of warlordism. After the Communist victory in 1949, religious freedom was severely restricted.”
The “Tao” is commonly translated as “the path” or “the way.” It refers to the concept that there is natural power or energy that moves through all things in the universe. It is the Taoists desire to live and act in harmony with the natural flow of that energy and to learn from nature’s perfection of co-habitation in balance. Modeling oneself after that “perfection,” leads to peace, happiness and compassion. The idea that there is a separation between opposites is foreign to Taoism — rather, opposites only exist because of each other. “No love without hate, no light without dark, no man without woman,” writes Robinson.
Taoists believe that the universal energy that is given to man in the form of “life force” or “breath” is called Ch’i. This energy must be cared for by each person and is the method to sustain health and well being throughout life. In traditional or holistic Chinese medicine, balancing the Ch’i is the focal point for treating a multitude of illnesses — the practice of T’ai Chi is the “preventative medicine” to balance oneself and tune one’s energy with this flow on a regular basis.
Dr. Alton and Janie Kanter have been involved with T’ai Chi for over 35 years. They are the founders of Kaua‘i’s School of T’ai Chi Chu-an, which specializes in preparing student apprentices to become instructors — a unique offering in the world of T’ai Chi where the path to becoming an instructor is somewhat undefined and difficult, explained Kanter.
A former dentist and current health provider for four decades, Kanter feels T’ai Chi addresses the American epidemic of chronic stress. Kanter hopes the event tomorrow will introduce this priceless tool to Kaua‘i’s wider community. “Everyone is invited and we will be doing more than a simple demo — we hope people will leave the event with something they can really use in their own lives, the beginning of what T’ai Chi is all about,” he said.
Recently the United Nations and the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway have held World T’ai Chi and Qi Gong Day events, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has included World T’ai Chi and Qi Gong Days in its 2007 National Health Observances Calendar.
On the event’s Web site, there is emphasis placed on “ending the myth of T’ai Chi versus religion” to communicate that practicing T’ai Chi and being Muslim, Jewish or Christian are not mutually exclusive. “I have found that the children with training in T’ai Chi and ballet show a much greater presence physically during church services. They are much more capable of physical reverence, focus and attention,” writes the Rev. Thomas Gorman of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.
While T’ai Chi Chuan was developed from a religious philosophy, more and more the secular aspect of the martial art is embraced by diverse people from all over the world.