The Way and Its Power
Tao Te Ching/Daodejing

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Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching (Daodejing) is the name of the Taoist book which features the underlying precepts of tai chi. It is sometimes translated as The Way and It's Power. This is quite a dramatic title.
What is "the Way"? What is "its power"? These are the questions facing every earnest student.

The Way

Tao Te Ching is not a religious or philosophical book. It is an attempt to explain something that eludes explanation. This may sound absurd. However, imagine trying to explain 'love' to somebody...
It is not that easy. Love is not a thought. It is not a word. It is a feeling.

The Tao Te Ching is a very beautiful learning and meditation book. It is like a Zen koan: either you dismiss it as nonsense, or you have to dig in to understand it. It immediately takes you out of that intellectual confinement of getting stuck with ideas, with what you think you know.

(Chungliang Al Huang)

Words are symbols

Try to explain 'wind'... Wind exists but can we feel it? Do we feel wind itself or the air and dust particles moved by wind? 'The way' must be felt without intellectualisation.
It must be seen through its effects.

The Science of the Essence

Tao Te Ching is not a fanciful book. Read it scientifically. You will notice many insights that can be directly incorporated into your tai chi practice. The insights are tangible, concrete. And they work.

Understanding Tao Te Ching

If you struggle to understand Tao Te Ching, consider reading around the central text and/or try other translations. Zen books, Chuang Tzu, Krishnamurti and other sources may yield better understanding.
Also, you may want to be patient. Just read a verse a day. Over time you will become familiar with the themes of the book, and 'the Way' may seem to be somewhat less obscure.


Solving the mysteries of Tao Te Ching is an important part of learning the art. There is more to the art than physical exercise. This is a journey of discovery.
Unless you undertake the journey with genuine curiosity and wonder, you will not get very far. Enthusiasm, tenacity and endurance are necessary. You must penetrate the mysteries of the art.

The power

If 'the Way' is difficult to comprehend, 'the power' may prove even more challenging for you. Te refers to a power that can be used but not kept.
By according yourself with the Way, you find that things flow. You gain use of power.


Putting this into practice involves a combination of biomechanics, sensitivity, structure, perception and balance, rhythm and timing. The effect is often quite astounding.
It may even look 'magical', but it is not magic at all. It is the direct application of Tao Te Ching. If you are successful in according yourself with the Tao, then your application of tai chi will be graceful.
There will be no exerting or forcing. Ease, gentleness, appropriateness... these are the hallmarks of skill.


Taoism is the study into the nature of things. It is an attempt to feel the how, the way of existence and accord yourself with its character.
In any aspect of life there is an opportunity to flow easily with what is happening.

Tai chi without the Tao

If your tai chi does not contain the insights and lessons of Tao Te Ching, you possess an empty shell. Your instructor may be skilled enough to provide you with a working system.
However, without the Tao, the deeper understanding is absent. The principles and insights of Taoism are essential to tai chi.
The art was built with these in mind; it was intended to accord your body with 'the Way' in order to borrow 'its Power'.

The Tao Te Ching is a lucid masterpiece on the art of living.

(Doug Marsh)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023