What is in a name? That which we call a rose, would by any other name… oh, you’ve heard the rest.
The names we use for our most essential creations are VERY important. In traditional Chinese martial arts, the names of movements in forms or the forms themselves, describe not only the physical characteristics but also the application and deeper meanings. Let’s take a look at the name T’ai Chi Ch’uan (TaiJiQuan) and what possible meaning is implied.
Before we discuss it, let’s talk about the Romanization of this name. The Wade-Giles Romanization system spells it T’ai Chi Ch’uan. This means that the “T” and second “Ch” sounds are aspirated and not voiced. The word Chi is voiced, so that sounds like a “J” sound. The current system called PinYin spells it TaiJiQuan. I will use the Pinyin here since it is the most recent and accurate system and doesn’t require you understand the significance of the apostrophe.
Yin-Yang or TaiJi?
The most common translation of the word 太极 (TaiJi) is “Grand Ultimate” or “Supreme Ultimate.” Therefore, since “Quan” means closed fist, people refer to TaiJiQuan as the Grand Ultimate Fist. In early Chinese philosophy, however, the Symbol for Taiji is the circle we typically call a yin-yang. In fact, the yin and yang symbol and the concepts behind it are pretty much synonymous with the martial art of TaiJi. The vast majority of Tai Chi practitioners will tell you that the principles of yin and yang are the central guiding theories of TaiJiQuan. These are interlocking symbols of polar opposites that flow from one extreme to the other in an endless cycle. There are a multitude of interpretations of the yin-yang relationship, but I am going to bypass that and talk about what TaiJi actually represents.
Quantum Theory and TaiJi
You see the martial art is not called yin-yang, it is called TaiJi. The TaiJi symbol is the fused and unseparated yin-yang polar opposites. The TaiJi is the undifferentiated moment before thought divides the world into “this and that.” The TaiJi is the universe before the “Big Bang,” the world before light divides it to day and night, and the moment before mind names and describes the world. TaiJi is the “undifferentiated all of reality.” If you were to sit and gaze on a tree, before thoughts enter your mind, you and the tree are ONE. There is no separation in that moment between you and the tree. Then a thought arises and names the object TREE and names you NOT A TREE. Thought just separated TaiJi into “this and that” or yin and yang. TaiJi is the eternal now, and yin and yang is the world after the appearance of thought separates that world. If you prefer a quantum mechanical description, you would say that TaiJi is the superposition of the multiple potential states of spin, or wave-particle duality, etc., before we observe the world and force it into a single state. In quantum theory, this is called collapsing the wave function, and it happens by the simple act of measuring or observing matter. Remember the schrodinger’s cat paradox. The Cat is both alive and dead because the light is both a wave and a particle, as long as you are not observing it. It is in a state of TaiJi, not Yin-Yang.
Really Cool Fist
I know if I were creating a new martial art and called it Grand Ultimate Fist, that would be a pretty cool name. In fact, I could tell somebody I am going to go off in the woods and practice “really cool fist.” However, the mind-altering nature of TaiJiQuan requires a vastly more significant name. When your mind exists in the eternal NOW, before naming and dividing reality into “this and that” you are at absolute PEAK performance. Your reflexes are as fast as they will EVER be. You leave all agenda and form behind and move with perfect accommodation to your opponent.
What we know about the name TaiJi:
1. It is the state of matter and mind BEFORE things are separated into polar opposites and thousands of forms we see around us.
2. Yin-yang is only potentials in the TaiJi diagram, not actual states. They do not exist yet in TaiJi.
It’s All About The Moment
Therefore TaiJi is not actually about Yin-Yang, but about a state of being before there are yin and yang. My opinion is that TaiJi is about being completely in the present moment before conscious thought slows us down. The ancients recognized this peak state and named their art after the philosophical state of being that exists before the world is divided by thought as well. They call their art TaiJiQuan, and not YinYang Quan to capture this “undifferentiated all of reality” moment.
Next time we will discuss the half–second cost of conscious thought. You will start to really understand why the TaiJi state is the ultimate peak performance state, pursued by every athlete in every sport.