This is an oft-discussed subject, with a lot of misinformation being passed around.

First of all, Taijiquan (this is the current official pinyin spelling) is a martial art, developed about 450 years ago by General Chen WanTing of Chen village. Chen village is near the northern Xiaolin temple. General Chen had a family system of martial arts and he also was able to see the martial systems of the many soldiers under his command. There was also an influence from the Xiaolin temple. After his retirement, he returned to Chen village and developed, or more properly codified his fighting system, which would eventually be called Taijiquan.

“Taiji” can be translated as grand ultimate and “quan” as fist or boxing. Many people call this “Grand Ultimate Boxing”. However, “Taiji” refers to the Taiji symbol, also known as the Yin Yang symbol. So Taijiquan means the boxing style based on Yin and Yang. This is consistent with the current teachings of the present Chen masters. There is also some confusion caused by using the old Wade-Giles transliteration system for “Tai Chi”. Qi is also written as Chi and many people thing that Tai Chi Chuan means “grand Qi boxing”.

Qigong is the current name for a wellness or health system that has evolved over about 7000 years. It has been called Daoyin (another name for Yoga in Chinese), Neigong (internal exercise) and other names. Qigong is sometimes translated as breath work, but this is incorrect. This error was caused by the Chinese government simplifying the characters used to write Chinese. The original symbol for Qi was the character that meant “biological energy”, formed by the characters for cooking rice and air (or breath). The current character is the air or breath character alone.

Taijiquan is a martial art. Taiji for health is like saying boxing for health or Karate for health or wrestling for health. Taijiquan does use a number of movements that are common to some Qigong forms. However, unless you have developed neijing (internal strength) and fajin (short power) the movements are mostly ineffective. Taijiquan masters state that there are three pillars of Taijiquan training: The Taijiquan forms, Push Hands (sparring) and Qigong. Qigong is taught as a separate skill in Taijiquan. This is also true in the other Chinese internal arts of Bagua Zhang and XingYiquan.

Qigong is also taught outside of any martial art, and as an addition to other Chinese martial arts that are not internal, such as Xiaolin Gong Fu, White Crane Gong Fu etc.
Qigong systems have been handed down as part of religious teachings from Daoist and Buddhist traditions, and have been handed down as part of a specific healing system.

Some people will argue that doing “Tai chi for health”, without any martial component does have a beneficial effect on ones health. This is true, as does doing many Qigong forms improperly or without the full system. Teaching Tai Chi for health or teaching Taiji without the martial components is like teaching baseball without using a bat and having only two bases and believing this is as beneficial as teaching real baseball. Qigong is as much a part of Bagua Zhang and XingYiquan, but you don’t see Bagua or XingYi for health being taught. Perhaps this is because Bagua and XingYi are seen to be more martial than Taijiquan, or in most cases, less watered down.

The benefits of doing real Taijiquan as a martial art results in you really learning how to defend yourself and you have learned Qigong forms that are used to benefit your Taijiquan skills and health. Doing real Qigong forms results in greater health benefits than doing partially transmitted or what are known in China as “empty” forms.
Proper Qigong forms are comprised of the movements (or static stances or positions), proper breathing (breath control), Qi flow, meditations, guided meditation, visualizations and intent. Leaving out one of these elements reduces the effectiveness of the Qigong forms.

There are several styles of Taijiquan: Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu hao, Sun, Fu and others. There are variations of the styles also, such as the Chen Laojia or old large frame, and Xinjia, or small frame. There are also new government designed Taiji forms. Today several of the high level Taijiquan masters now travel outside of China and are teaching around the world.

Qigong has many more styles or systems than Taijiquan. Many are old forms handed down over the ages, others are newer systems created by various experts in Chinese medicine, martial arts and religious studies. The newer systems are leaning towards a more western philosophy. Traditional Chinese medicine did not treat symptoms or diseases like western medicine, but treated the individual. Thus five different people with the same complaints (symptoms) would get five different treatments, based on the practitioner’s assessment of each person. Today, common forms are prescribed based on the general diagnosis. An example of this would be the Guolin family Qigong that is used for cancer treatment in many parts of China.

It is very difficult to learn a martial art from a book or a video, but many people seem to think it is possible to learn Qigong in this way. In reality, you would need dozens of books and hundreds of videos to get a complete transmission of a system. A main reason for this is the divided levels of teaching traditionally used in China. The first level is what is taught publicly to students, the second level is taught to “In-door” students or disciples. The highest level is reserved for family. Exceptions are made, as in the case of Yang Luchan, who was taught high-level Chen Taijiquan skills. Yang later created Yang style Taijiquan for the public.

If you are looking for a good Taijiquan teacher, you can see if the teacher is able to use his or her martial skills in sparring. It is difficult to test the skills of a Qigong teacher. There are those who hand out certifications for a few hours of study and a monetary remuneration. It takes about 5 years of study and practice under qualified teachers to obtain a proper grounding in a system.

Jeff Smoley has been practicing martial arts for 49 years and Qigong for 33 years. He holds dan (black belt) rank in two styles of Jujutsu. He is a lineage holder and master of Zhou family Qigong, through his father-in-law, Dr. Zhou Peigen. He has studied several systems of Qigong and is co-founder of Jade Power Qigong (YuLiQigong). More information is available at and

Author's Bio: 

Jeff Smoley has been practicing martial arts for 49 years and Qigong for 33 years. He holds dan (black belt) rank in two styles of Jujutsu. He is a lineage holder and master of Zhou family Qigong, through his father-in-law, Dr. Zhou Peigen. He has studied several systems of Qigong and is co-founder of Jade Power Qigong (YuLiQigong).