Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Understand the Tai Chi Diagram

Where does the word “Tai Chi” come from? And what does it really mean? The word “Tai Chi” means “Ultimate Superior” or “Grand Primal.” The word “Tai Chi” originates from the I-ching, or “Book of Change” an ancient divination text attributed to Zhou Wen Wang, or Wen, the Duke of Zhou, during the Zhou Dynasty (1045–256 BC).

The Book of Change tells us about the origins of Tai Chi: “...Therefore there is in the Changes, the Great Primal Beginning (Tai Chi). This generates the two primary forces (Lian I). The two primary forces generate the four images. The four images generate the eight trigrams. The eight trigrams determine good fortune and misfortune. Good fortune and misfortune create the great field of action.” (tr. Wilhelm and Baynes 1967:318-9)

As we read the words above we understand that Tai Chi only means the beginning. Lian I means two forces, otherwise known as Yin and Yang. The diagram of Tai Chi we are used to, the one we see everyday on our T-shirts, shows two forces. However, it is not really a diagram of Tai Chi, but a diagram of Lian I or rather how Tai Chi generated Lian I (Yin and Yang). Sometimes I tell my students, “you don’t necessarily have to know which chicken laid the egg for your breakfast” but in this case I have found that chicken for you!

Now that I’ve shed some light on the origin of our Tai Chi diagram, on a lighter note, I’ll share the following aside: The Duke of Zhou, who was one of the greatest rulers of China, also really believed in fortune telling. There is a section of the Tong Shu or Chinese Almanac on interpreting dreams called “Zhou Gong’s Book of Auspicious and Inauspicious Dreams.” It explains fifteen different types of dreams and how to use them to predict your future. Although we cannot be entirely certain, it is widely believed that Zhou Gong is the same Duke of Zhou who assisted significantly in the development of the Book of Changes. However, in Chinese when students joke about “dreaming about Duke Zhou” they are referring to napping during a lecture, which is, of course, certainly not allowed in my Tai Chi class!

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2010

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