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Taoist Tai Chi - Tai Chi for beginners

What is Tai Chi?
Meaning and Spelling

Meaning of Tai Chi

Tai Chi - Chenjiagou
Depending on the sources, Tai Chi can be defined as “a Chinese system of physical exercises designed especially for self-defense and meditation,” “a Chinese system of slow meditative physical exercise designed for relaxation and balance and health,” or “an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits.”

But what do those Chinese words mean? Tai Chi is actually short for Tai Chi Chuan, which is written this way in Chinese:


Tai means supreme, grand, or great.
Chi means ultimate, extreme, or what is on top.
Chuan means fist, palm or boxing

More precisely, the two words “tai” and “chi” mean “Supreme Ultimate,” which represents the “Cosmos” with its operating principles of yin and yang. Chuan is the short form for "Chuan Fa" meaning "fist techniques." Chuan Fa refers to what Westerners would call “Kung Fu”.

By shortening Tai Chi Chuan to Tai Chi, we remove the martial dimension of this discipline, and we emphasize the health and harmony aspects.

Incidentally, the word “Chi” of Tai Chi doesn’t designate the energy current that moves through the body when we do the exercises, even though the Chi is very present in Tai Chi!

Spelling of Tai Chi

Spelling of Tai Chi
If you are confused about the spelling of Tai Chi, you are not alone! So far, I have found the following spellings:

tai chi
tai ji
tai chi chuan
t'ai chi ch'uan
and even thai chi, but this was creative spelling!

I probably forgot some, but you get the picture! So why so many spellings? The reason is that all those words come from Chinese, a language that is not written with our Latin letters, but with ideograms, i.e. visual symbols representing words rather than the sounds. Each ideogram – such as 太 – has to go through “romanization,” a process that converts other writing systems to Roman (Latin) script.

Over the years, there has been a variety of Romanization systems, including the Wade-Giles and the pinyin systems. Therefore “t'ai chi ch'uan” in the Wade-Giles system becomes “taijiquan” in the pinyin system. This is as simple as that!

Depending on the system used, the English spelling changes too, but the pronunciation stays the same. I have decided to use “Tai Chi” – without any apostrophes – because it seems to be the most common spelling on the Web, and also the one that makes the most sense to my own mind. And I hope it makes sense to you too!


Taoist Tai Chi - Tai Chi for beginners: Yin-Yang symbol

Taoist Tai Chi - Tai Chi for beginners: Chinese characters for Tai Chi Chuan