Myths & magic

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Qi myths

Some instructors talk about qi a lot. Qi is made to sound like 'fairy dust' - it can magically cure all ailments and impart amazing powers. This is clearly not true.


There are a number of books that suggest that neigong is some sort of magic power. It is not. These books reflect superstition, not insight.

The dark arts?

In the distant past little was known about Taoism. Many of its adherents belonged to sects and esoteric schools. Others were hermits who lived in remote places.
Teachings from books with curious names such as The Way and Its Power, Book of Changes, The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings were treated with suspicion.
Secrecy, rumours of great power and deliberate obfuscation led to tai chi being regarded with considerable fear and superstition.


A few so-called Taoist groups erroneously interpreting the teachings as being 'religious' rather than science e.g. in Borneo, Taoism has inexplicably been mixed with Indian 'fakir' practices.
In China, Taoism was blended with Confucianism, Buddhism and Ancestor Worship to form a ritualistic hybrid featuring strange costumes and deities.
These misconceptions and ignorance arose from a complete lack of understanding.


As a martial art tai chi has something of a credibility problem. Talking about qi or magic really does not help.
To make matters worse, the origin and history of tai chi is so old that very little is known about how it came to be developed. There are many myths, legends and folklore, but no provable facts.

Modern times

In modern times tai chi has been rigorously tested by medical/science professionals determined to gauge its benefits.
It has fared well; garnering a reputation for being a very healthy approach to physical, emotional and psychological health.

Legendary skill

The government of 1950's China were so impressed by tai chi that they used it to resolve a national health crisis.
A 2008 Stanford University experiment proved the striking power of tai chi.
Master Chen Xiang generated a force 14 times his body weight when striking. 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds.

In order to function beyond the use of ordinary strength, you must study what seems inconvenient and then work to make it efficient.

(Kuo Lien-Ying)

Ancient times

Imagine that somebody with the ability to
generated a force 14 times his body weight wanders into your village 2500 years ago and hits someone...
What would people think? Bear in mind that this is an agricultural society, virtually everyone is a peasant and education is not widespread. Most people could not read.
The ability to strike to strike with 14 times your body weight seems extraordinary in the 21st Century. How would it seem in the past?

Arcane knowledge

Being privy to secret knowledge about the Tao, the workings of the human body, natural power and combat would have been a remarkable thing 2500 years ago.
Such a person might well have been seen as a sage, a mystic, a magician or a sorcerer. Of course, none of these descriptions are accurate.
The individual simply knew something that others did not. They had knowledge that was uncommon. They were not magical; they possessed no superhuman skills.

Chinese cinema

For decades Chinese cinema has shown images of ancient masters magically flying through the trees or striking people with uncanny power.
It is easy to see where the origins of these myths/ideas lie. Superstition. Ignorance.


Before people could read, knowledge was passed down by stories and songs. Some of the texts featured in The Tai Chi Classics are still referred to as a 'song'.


Imagine living in ancient China... The sage teaches songs to select people, who must repeat the words precisely and put the teachings into practice.
If the song was taught to an 'outsider' the words would mean nothing because they lacked context.

Instruction manual

The songs were primitive instruction manuals, and nothing more. You could not transform lead into gold... To the uninitiated the words were unintelligible and the meaning indecipherable.
Yet, understand the song and you can gain power...

Try this...

Take a copy of The Tai Chi Classics and ask a friend/colleague/partner to share their thoughts on the text with you
. Try explaining the bagua diagram to them.

Specialist knowledge

It is not hard to see how ancient knowledge may easily have seemed incomprehensible to peasants in ancient China.
But then, this is no different to an accountant trying to explain 'book keeping' to a person who has no head for numbers. There is no magic here.

Lost art

An inspiring final thought is the realisation that the skills, insights and wisdom of the Ancients are still pretty astonishing today. These teachings have never been widely taught.
When a new student encounters authentic tai chi for the first time they usually find the experience quite surprising. The more they learn, the more incredible it gets


So, whilst you will never be Gandalf or Harry Potter, you will explore the roots of the myths and legends. You will learn the origin of the superstitions: the mysteries and the secrets...
But only if you have the tenacity and the patience to endure the long years of practice. It will be a pretty interesting journey...

Worth reading

An ancient art
The lost art?
The Old Ways
Technical skills

The Way and Its Power

school database

Page created 18 April 2006
Last updated 16 June 2023