Taijiquan or Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that has gained immense popularity worldwide. It is renowned for its slow, flowing movements and emphasis on relaxation, balance, and harmony. However, Taijiquan encompasses two distinct aspects: one focusing on relaxation and health benefits, and the other on internal martial art techniques. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between Taijiquan as a practice for relaxation and health and Taijiquan as an internal martial art, shedding light on its unique characteristics and benefits.

When people consider Taijiquan for health and relaxation, the martial art aspect can sometimes be a deterrent or turn-off. There are several reasons why this might be the case, and it’s important to understand these factors to address these concerns effectively.

Overcoming Hesitations about Taijiquan’s Martial Art Element

Firstly, some individuals may associate martial arts with intensity, physicality, and combat. They may have preconceived notions that Taijiquan’s martial aspect involves rigorous training, contact sparring, or aggressive techniques. This perception can create hesitation or resistance in those seeking a gentle and low-impact practice focused on health and relaxation.

Additionally, the martial aspect of Taijiquan may evoke images of self-defense situations or confrontations, which can be intimidating for individuals primarily interested in promoting their well-being. They might prefer a non-confrontational and non-competitive practice that allows them to cultivate inner calmness and tranquility.

Furthermore, some people may have physical limitations, injuries, or health conditions that make them reluctant to engage in activities that are perceived as martial arts. They might fear exacerbating their conditions or being unable to meet the physical demands associated with martial training. This apprehension can discourage them from exploring Taijiquan as a form of health and relaxation.

Another factor is the misperception that the martial aspect of Taijiquan requires a long and arduous learning process. Potential students may be deterred by the perceived time and effort needed to gain proficiency in self-defense techniques, assuming that this aspect of Taijiquan is obligatory for all practitioners. They might prefer a more immediate and accessible path to achieve their health goals.

The cultural context surrounding martial arts, particularly in Western societies, can contribute to the aversion towards the martial aspect of Taijiquan. Martial arts are often associated with specific cultural practices, traditions, and philosophies that may not resonate with everyone. This cultural disconnect may make some individuals feel less inclined to explore Taijiquan as a holistic practice.

To address these concerns, it is essential to emphasize and clarify the distinct focus of Taijiquan as a practice for health and relaxation. Educating potential students about the true essence of Taijiquan and its principles can help dispel misconceptions. Emphasizing the gentle, flowing movements, the mindfulness aspect, and the deep connection with breath and relaxation can help shift their perspective and provide reassurance.

As an instructor, tailoring the teaching approach to highlight the health benefits, such as improved balance, flexibility, stress reduction, and mental well-being, can appeal to individuals seeking these outcomes. Providing a supportive and non-competitive learning environment that focuses on individual progress rather than martial proficiency can also alleviate concerns and foster a sense of comfort and belonging.

By clearly communicating that the martial aspect of Taijiquan is an optional path for those interested and not a prerequisite for reaping the benefits of the practice, potential students can feel more at ease. Highlighting the versatility of Taijiquan as a holistic discipline that can be adapted to individual needs and goals is crucial in addressing these concerns.

Ultimately, it’s important to respect individuals’ preferences and goals while offering guidance and understanding. By emphasizing the health and relaxation aspects of Taijiquan and creating an inclusive environment, those who might initially be turned off by the martial art component can feel more confident and comfortable in pursuing the practice for their desired purposes.

The points mentioned above are indicative of the way my Taijiquan school and I approach this dual nature of Taijiquan. My reason for taking up Taijiquan and Qigong was originally motivated by health challenges. Since this time I have developed a strong interest in the internal martial aspects which has deepened my practice and the benefits I get from it. The school I teach for Jinli-Wushu Tai Chi School can be found here

Taijiquan for Relaxation and Health:

The transformation of Taijiquan from a martial art to a practice focused on health and relaxation is rooted in its rich history and cultural evolution. While Taijiquan has deep martial roots, its adaptation as a health-promoting and meditative practice can be attributed to various factors.

Depiction of Zhang Sanfeng legendary figure in Chinese martial arts
Zhang Sanfeng

The origins of Taijiquan are shrouded in mystery, adding an aura of intrigue to its rich history. Legends and myths intertwine, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of this ancient martial art. Some trace its roots back to the legendary Taoist sage Zhang Sanfeng, who is said to have developed Taijiquan after witnessing a fight between a snake and a crane. Others attribute its origins to Chen Wangting, a 17th-century martial artist from the Chen village. However, historical documentation is scarce, and the passing down of Taijiquan knowledge often involved secretive and exclusive teachings.

Assuming, Taijiquan was developed as a martial art by Zhang Sanfeng. Its origins date back to the 12th century, with influences from various martial arts styles and Taoist philosophy. Taijiquan was initially practiced by martial artists as a means of self-defense and combat training.

However, over the centuries, Taijiquan underwent significant changes, influenced by societal and cultural shifts. During the Ming and Qing dynasties in China, a shift towards internal martial arts occurred, emphasizing the cultivation of Qi (vital energy) and the development of internal power. This shift placed greater emphasis on the health benefits and spiritual aspects of martial arts practices.

Furthermore, the influence of Taoist philosophy and concepts of harmony, balance, and Yin-Yang principles played a crucial role in the development of Taijiquan as a practice for health and relaxation. Taoist principles advocate the pursuit of harmony with nature, moderation, and the cultivation of a balanced lifestyle. These concepts aligned well with the slow, flowing movements, and the emphasis on relaxation and mind-body integration in Taijiquan. (See my Blog post on YinYang and Taijiquan )

Another significant influence on the transformation of Taijiquan was the introduction of the concept of “Neigong” or internal cultivation. Neigong focused on harnessing internal energy and cultivating inner strength through specific exercises, breath control, and meditative practices. This internal cultivation aspect further solidified Taijiquan’s shift towards health and relaxation.

Chen Fake and Yang Chengfu

In the early 20th century, the efforts of influential Taijiquan masters, such as Yang Chengfu and Chen Fake, played a crucial role in popularizing Taijiquan as a health-promoting practice. They emphasized the health benefits, stress reduction, and the cultivation of relaxation and balance through the practice of Taijiquan. Their teachings focused on slow and gentle movements, deep breathing, and mindful awareness, highlighting Taijiquan’s potential for improving overall well-being.

Taijiquan’s transformation into a practice for health and relaxation gained further momentum in the 20th century when it was promoted as a form of exercise by the Chinese government. Recognizing its potential benefits for public health, Taijiquan was incorporated into health programs and introduced to the general public. This led to the widespread acceptance and adoption of Taijiquan as a holistic practice encompassing physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Today, Taijiquan is practiced by millions of people worldwide primarily for its health benefits and relaxation properties. The slow, flowing movements, emphasis on relaxation, breath control, and mindfulness make it an ideal practice for stress reduction, improving balance, flexibility, and overall fitness. Scientific research has also provided evidence of Taijiquan’s positive effects on cardiovascular health, immune function, pain management, and mental well-being.

When practiced with a focus on relaxation and health, Taijiquan emphasizes slow and controlled movements, deep breathing, and mindfulness. Here are some key aspects:

  1. Fluid Movements: Taijiquan’s graceful, flowing movements are designed to cultivate relaxation and cultivate energy flow (Qi) within the body. The slow and gentle nature of these movements allows practitioners to release tension, improve flexibility, and enhance body awareness.
  2. Mind-Body Connection: Taijiquan encourages the integration of mind and body. Through focused attention and mindfulness, practitioners develop a heightened sense of body awareness, promoting relaxation and the release of physical and mental stress.
  3. Stress Reduction: Regular practice of Taijiquan promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural mood enhancers. The emphasis on deep breathing and relaxation techniques helps reduce anxiety, alleviate stress, and improve overall mental well-being.
  4. Balance and Posture: Taijiquan cultivates balance, stability, and correct body alignment. The slow movements, combined with weight shifting and weight transfer techniques, enhance core strength, coordination, and posture. It can be particularly beneficial for older adults in preventing falls and maintaining balance.
  5. Health Benefits: Numerous studies have shown that Taijiquan offers many health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, increased flexibility, lowered blood pressure, enhanced immune function, and reduced chronic pain. It is also known to improve sleep quality and boost cognitive functions.

For those interested in health benefits you may enjoy these previous blog posts; Unlocking Holistic Health: The Power of Taijiquan for Mind, Body, and Spirit and, Learning Qigong & Taijiquan – developing new motor skills

If you are attracted to Taijiquan for its numerous health benefits you can continue on a journey of perfecting this art form purely for health, well-being, and longevity. This pursuit may be in the form of creating greater flow or making the practice more mindful and meditative. Or as a relaxing form of movement.

However, after years of practice, you may develop an interest in the internal martial art applications of Taijiquan. This may be from a place of cultural context or for a deeper understanding of the particular movements you are doing in your routines.

Taijiquan as an Internal Martial Art:

Beyond the focus on relaxation and health, Taijiquan has a deeper layer as an internal martial art. This aspect incorporates principles of combat, self-defense, and the development of internal power. Here are some key elements:

Push hands
Push hands Beijing sports university
  1. Martial Applications: Taijiquan’s slow, controlled movements conceal powerful martial techniques. The art incorporates concepts such as yielding, redirection of force, and leverage to neutralize and counter an opponent’s attack. The practice can involve partner exercises, push hands, and martial applications to develop practical self-defense skills.
  2. Internal Power Development: Taijiquan places a strong emphasis on developing internal power or “Neijin.” This involves cultivating relaxation, correct body alignment, and coordinated movement with breath control. The integration of the body’s internal energy pathways (meridians) and the mind’s focused intention allows practitioners to generate power and apply it efficiently. (Please see below for a more detailed description of Neijing*)
  3. Sensitivity and Timing: Taijiquan as an internal martial art emphasizes sensitivity to an opponent’s movements and the ability to harmonize with their energy. This heightened awareness enables the practitioner to redirect and neutralize incoming attacks with minimal force, relying on timing, positioning, and the principle of “four ounces deflecting a thousand pounds.”
  4. Practical Self-Defense: Taijiquan’s internal martial art aspect equips practitioners with practical self-defense skills that can be utilized in real-life situations. Through the cultivation of relaxation, agility, and strategy.

Engaging in Taijiquan solely for health and relaxation is a commendable choice, as it offers a multitude of benefits for the mind and body. However, delving into the internal martial art aspect of Taijiquan can further deepen your practice and unlock hidden layers of its wisdom. By exploring the martial art side, you can gain a deeper understanding of the intricate mechanics and principles that underlie graceful movements. This knowledge enhances your body awareness, cultivates greater sensitivity, and refines your coordination. The internal martial art aspect challenges you to explore the depths of your physical and mental capabilities, fostering discipline, focus, and resilience. It provides an opportunity to tap into your inner strength and discover a harmonious balance between power and softness.

Additionally, embracing the martial art aspect of Taijiquan allows you to connect with its rich historical and cultural heritage. You become a part of a lineage that spans centuries, learning from the wisdom and experiences of those who have come before you. Exploring the martial applications of Taijiquan not only hones your self-defense skills but also provides a fascinating glimpse into the practical effectiveness of its techniques. This knowledge instills confidence and empowers you with a sense of inner strength and personal security. By bridging the gap between health and martial aspects, you can uncover a profound integration of body, mind, and spirit, transforming your Taijiquan practice into a holistic and deeply fulfilling journey of self-discovery and self-mastery.


Taijiquan offers a unique and multifaceted practice that encompasses both health and relaxation as well as martial art aspects. While some individuals may initially be turned off by the martial art component, it is essential to address these concerns and highlight the broader benefits of this ancient practice for the betterment of human health.

By tailoring the teaching approach to prioritize relaxation, mindfulness, and body alignment, Taijiquan instructors can create a welcoming environment for those primarily interested in health and well-being. Emphasizing the gentle and flowing movements, breath control, and the cultivation of inner peace helps individuals experience the transformative power of Taijiquan in their daily lives.

Furthermore, it is crucial to clarify that the martial aspect of Taijiquan is optional and not a mandatory part of the practice for those seeking health and relaxation benefits. By emphasizing that Taijiquan offers a non-competitive, non-confrontational path focused on personal growth and well-being, potential students can feel reassured and more inclined to explore this ancient art.

The provision of a supportive and inclusive learning environment, where open communication and individualized guidance are prioritized, fosters a sense of comfort and encourages students to progress at their own pace. By addressing their specific concerns and adapting the training accordingly, instructors can create an environment that resonates with students seeking a gentle and low-impact practice.

Ultimately, Taijiquan offers a holistic approach to health and relaxation, encompassing physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It is a practice that can be tailored to individual goals and preferences, allowing each practitioner to embark on a personal journey of self-discovery and self-improvement.

So, whether one is drawn to Taijiquan for its physical benefits, stress reduction, improved balance, or inner tranquility, it is a versatile practice that can be adapted to meet diverse needs. By embracing the essence of Taijiquan and its inherent principles, individuals can unlock the transformative power of this ancient art and experience the profound impact it can have on their overall well-being.

Let go of any hesitations, embrace the beauty of Taijiquan, and embark on a path that integrates relaxation, health, and self-cultivation. Discover the essence of this ancient practice and allow Taijiquan to enrich your life, both physically and mentally, as you journey towards improved health, inner harmony, and a deeper understanding of yourself.

Yours in Taijiquan

Sifu Peter


Neijing, often translated as “Internal Energy” or “Internal Power,” is a fundamental concept in various Chinese internal martial arts, including Taijiquan. It refers to the cultivation and harnessing of internal energy within the body. Neijing involves the understanding and utilization of subtle energy flows, body mechanics, and the integration of mind and body to achieve optimal performance and efficiency. Through specific training methods and principles, practitioners aim to develop internal strength, power, and sensitivity.

At its core, Neijing emphasizes deep relaxation, proper body alignment, and the coordination of breath with movement. It focuses on utilizing the body’s intrinsic energy rather than relying solely on muscular force. By developing a strong connection between the physical body and the mind, practitioners can tap into their internal energy, facilitating fluid and efficient movements. Neijing also emphasizes the importance of rooting oneself to the ground, allowing for stability, balance, and the transfer of power through the body.

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