Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Can We Do "Tai Chi"?

Dr Alex Tang wrote a good discussion on "Christian and Tai Ji Quan" (Read the entire article here):

"There are Christians who believe that Christians should not involve themselves in all types of martial arts because these martial arts have their origin from the Eastern religious traditions (Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Animism). However there are other Christians who believe that it is possible to separate the physical aspects of the martial arts from their spiritual aspects. Then the physical aspects can be practiced as a form of exercise and for self-defense. One example is taiji quan, which can be, practiced by all age groups especially the elderly. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been many examples of the Christians taking a pagan festival, removing its spiritual contents and adopting it as a Christian festival. Notable examples is Christmas (worship of Saturn by Romans and Yule festival by the Scandinavians) and Sunday (Sun God Day).

For those Christians who believe it is possible to separate the physical and spiritual aspects of taiji and embrace the physical aspects as a form of exercise, I would offer the following guidelines:

(1) Regard the graceful rhythmic movements of taiji quan as physical exercise, as one would with aerobics. Remember that our bodies are temples of God (1 Corinthians 3:16) and we are to take good care of it.

(2) Meditate on the goodness of God as you go through the various movements. Do not leave your mind blank but use the time for Christian meditation and prayer. The Bible also teaches about the need to achieve balance in our body, mind and soul.

(3) Discuss your reservations with your instructor. Find out his or her view of taiji and whether the instructor regard taiji as purely a physical exercise or religious. Avoid instructors who regard taiji as religious exercise. See what is being taught in the advance classes. Some instructors only introduce religious meditation and instructions in the advanced classes. Learn from instructors who regard taiji quan as exercise.

(4) Avoid learning in dojo or hall that have a shrine. Traditional dojo is a place devoted to religious exercises watched over by the dojo’s spirits. Open spaces like a park would be an ideal place to practice taiji.


When Paul was teaching about food offered to idols, he is teaching in a culture similar to ours (Romans 14:14-18). He taught there is nothing wrong with eating food offered to idols as long as we are convinced that it is alright. What corrupt our soul is not what we eat but what is in our hearts. However, if by eating food offered to idols will stumble a fellow Christian, then we are to avoid it. It is the same with taiji quan. If we are convinced that we can benefit from it as a physical exercise, are aware of its spiritual snares and it does not stumble our brothers and sisters then we should practice it. Let us remind ourselves that our mandate is to redeem culture and the Holy Spirit who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world."


Yip Khiong said...

A lot of people mistaken Taiji as something developed by the Mount
Wudang priest Zhang Sanfeng (around the beginning of the Yuan Dynastry
or at the end of the Ming Dynasty) and link Taiji to Taoist
spirituality. Historical research shows that Taiji originated as a pure
fighting system of the Chen family residing in Henan Chen Village, and
it began roughly in the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the
Qing Dynasty). It became well-known in Beijing after a Taiji proponent
defeated other martial artists in a series of fighting competition in
Beijing. As it grew popular, Taiji was modified to become an easier and
easier exercise to accommodate to the rich who could not take too much
hard-work in the training. And it became mainly a healthy exercise
rather than a fighting system. Not many today are well-trained in Taiji
as a fighting/self-defense art. Its modern glory days (when Taiji was
still being used as a fighting art against other martial art proponents)
was between 1930s - 1960s. These generation of masters who had real
fighting experience had passed away.

I was practicing Taiji at MacRitchie a number of years ago when the Rev
Lee Hwai Kwang (Presbyterian minister - father of the (retired?)
Presbyterian minister Rev Lee Choon Kau) passed by and started talking
with me. He was at that time with a martial friend and they were also
into such things.

Christianity and Taiji do not conflict, unless one practice the
adulterated forms of Taiji (later on some Taiji practitioners started to
add in Taoists elements into Taiji to make it more mysterious, and that
in turn make it more attractive to the Westerners which in turn means
$$$ for some Taiji teachers).

Yip Khiong

DDD said...

You do know that some truly conservative Christians do not celebrate Christmas, don't you? Also, Sunday is not a pagan holy day which was adapted by Christians; that is totally false. Sunday is the day which Christ rose again from the dead (ie Easter Sunday), and thus the choosing of Sunday as the Lord's Day was done early on in the history of the Church.

Alex Tang said...

hi yip khiong,

Thank you for your informative comment. I agree with you that there are many schools of Taiji Chuan. Most however attribute its founding to Zhang Sanfeng who was a Taoist priest and was looking for the exilir of imortality. I do know the Chen family has also been accreditated with the founding of the martial arts.

I am glad that we agree that Taiji Chuan as an exercise form, devoid of its spiritual components are acceptable to Christians.

Alex Tang said...

hi ddd,

Thank you for your comment. I am not aware that truly conservative Christians do not celebrate Christmas. I do know however, that the Greek Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas in January.

Those Christian historians that I have studied noted that the early church celebrate the Eucharist on Saturday. This was changed to Sunday by a degree of Emperor Constantine after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean that it is acceptable for Christians to believe and practise anything related to 'chi' in terms of personal health and wellbeing i.e. food, exercise, medical aspects including traditional/alternative medicine and health gadgets for example?

Daud said...

imho, there will be good ground for objection if the practice of 'chi' gets near to the occultic. For example i know one 'sifu' who waves his hands around, passing the chi to others and people start dancing, falling on the ground, laughing etc..

But if just physical exercise, i think it is possible to remove it from the taoist context :)

Lowell Ballard said...

About Romans 14:14-18, I think you may want to read the full section and related verses in context. (Or you can see my analysis at

While it can be confusing if you just read those verses out of context, when you read everything in context it is clear that Paul was actually arguing against eating meat sacrificed to idols.

To do otherwise would have been going against the agreement with Jesus' apostles in Jerusalem. Also, note his comment that eating meat sacrificed to idols ties us to the idols like communion ties us to the church.

Martial arts moves could still be acceptable under the "meat sacrificed to idols" analogy, but it would have to be the equivalent of buying meat in the marketplace. I would argue that would mean using whatever works best in a fight and removing the meditation (even Christian meditation), breathing and focusing which don't add much to the fighting ability but do have significant Hindu meanings.

This is an important concept to get right. My kids just last Sunday were taught "Contemplative Prayer" in my church, which is another eastern practice (clearing your mind) that is edging its way into Christianity. The Christian college where I work promotes contemplative prayer as well.

In the future, there may be a gap forming between those that accept "Christian" mysticism and the basic oneness of religions, and those that hold only to the Bible, reason and the exclusiveness of Jesus. In the rush to stop Islamic extremism, the exclusiveness taught by Jesus may become socially unacceptable as well.

I hope that helps. Not getting this right may have broader implications than just in gym class.

Lowell Ballard

Lana said...

To Anonymous in response to Christians participating in "Chi" related practices. I'm a Christian and I'm also Taiwanese. As far as my upbringing the word "Chi" isn't as mysterious and ethereal as Americans make it sound. Growing up I was taught simple things, like eating a lot of fried foods would make my chi fiery and give me pimples. At that time I only took "chi" to mean temper... which it does (In fact the Chinese word for getting angry is "shun chi"). Anyways it was pretty basic advice, fried foods do give you pimples and make you irritable and bloated. DUH. Most of the chi balancing is based on common sense, from my perspective especially in a dietary sense. For example they say ice cream cools down your chi. Well of course it does, because its cold. lol. Anyways to me its motherly common sense. There's always going to be the superstitious weirdos that make a big show and "pass chi to others" but I think you'll know what is going to far when you see it. I don't think you're going to be participating in "non christian activities" if you eat more cucumbers than fried chicken and lychee to calm down your zits. etc. Anymore than you you would be non christian for being a vegetarian or taking perscription medication

Anonymous said...

Are there alternative chinese excercises that chiristian can do for health beenfits like Tai chi?

Alex Tang said...

Try Pilates. Or go for a brisk walk.

Taylre said...

I read somewhere that a Christian woman found that by re-imagining chi as God's presence or the Holy Spirit or the joy of living in God's world running through her, instead of her so-called "life energy", Tai Chi even brought her closer to God. Would that be unChristian, since Tai Chi was maybe originally taoist?

samuel said...

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samuel said...

thanks your articles helps !

Anonymous said...

To Lowell:

" best in a fight and removing the meditation (even Christian meditation), breathing and focusing which don't add much to the fighting ability but do have significant Hindu meanings."

Breathing, my friend, is EVERYTHING in a fight. You know what happens when you get scared as someone is about to hit you? You hold your breath. When you hold your breath you are not breathing, when you are not breathing you are not effective at anything, let alone defending yourself. Breathing calmly and deeply is essential, and if a fight is longer than a minute, you need great control over your breath or else you get puffed, your arms drop and your gone.

Focusing on what one is doing is, I think, important no matter what! Take the focus out of a self defense application and you get thuggery. Heaven forbid if people do Taiji and it helps them relieve their stress. I see a lot of stressed people in my medical practice, and guess what?? Some of them are Christians!!! Yes, even though they go to Church etc, they are still stressed. What stresses them? Guilt? Fear? Or more mundane things like financial obligations? All of these make us live in our heads, not in our bodies. If God did indeed create us, obviously he wanted us to occupy the vessel. But we don't. The body is seen as a vehicle to move our heads from place to place. Yet diseases of the body will kill us. Diabetes, cancer, obesity. These effect Supers and Brights equally. Why not embrace something that allows us a bit of peace?

All this fear and foreboding about the afterlife means we forget to live in the moment, and do something creative and wonderful in the world.

jtyoung said...
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