“Is Tai Chi Always Related to Eastern Meditation Practices?”


I was interested to read your response to the email regarding Christians training in martial arts and I agree with it. I have a related question. Is Tai Chi always related to Eastern meditation practices? I like the peacefulness and gracefulness of the movements but I am hesitant to learn it myself as I fear it is another form Eastern meditation.

You ask a very good question. In Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, the chapter on “The Martial Arts” has a number of interesting quotes, comments and practical advice useful for Christians considering involvement in the martial arts (Ankerberg and Weldon, Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1996; pp. 351-378).

Probably the first question we need to answer is whether or not Eastern meditation is inherently bound up with Tai Chi. Can the physical exercises be separated from the meditative elements of Tai Chi? Historically, “the development of Tai Chi is often credited to Chang San-Feng (ca. 1260-1368)…His strong interest in the I Ching and other occult pursuits were well known and, in part, eventually led him to develop Tai Chi” (Ankerberg & Weldon, 363). The origin of Tai Chi appears to have strongly influenced the philosophical rationale for its various movements. For instance, one text states: “[T]he movements of Tai Chi Chuan and the [I Ching] hexagrams upon which they are based are both methods of describing the circulation of psychic energy in the body of the meditator” (Da Liu, Tai Chi Chuan and I Ching, New York: Perennial/Harper & Row, 1978; cited in Ankerberg & Weldon, 366).

But does this mean that the physical movements cannot be separated from the Eastern meditation practices? It seems to depend on who you ask. One book on Tai Chi states, “The great majority [in China]…have always engaged in it, and do so still, quite without mystic or religious purpose” (Edward Maisel, Tai Chi for Health, New York: Dell/Delta, 1972; cited in Ankerberg & Weldon, 369). However, another source declares, “The ancient and elegant system of Chinese exercise known as T’ai Chi Ch’uan is designed primarily to maintain and enhance health by giving full expression to the life-force, or ch’i, of the universe, embodied in each of us…Tai Chi is more than a mere physical exercise…it is a silent meditation, an energizing exercise…a daily ritual and prayer…It embodies the vibrant philosophy of Taoism…” (Jerry Mogul, “Tai Chi Chuan: A Taoist Art of Healing,” Part One, Somatics: The Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences, Autumn 1980; cited in Ankerberg & Weldon, 369).

Personally, I would be hesitant to say that Tai Chi exercise programs ALWAYS incorporate Eastern meditation practices. However, it would probably be true to say that they OFTEN incorporate such practices. Thus, I would be extremely careful about becoming involved with Tai Chi. Here are three important principles to help one in making a wise, informed decision about a Tai Chi exercise program:

1. What is the world-view of the instructor teaching the class? If the instructor embraces Eastern philosophical and religious ideas this will almost certainly come out in how the class is conducted. Ankerberg and Weldon write, “In large measure, the religious or nonreligious nature of martial arts instruction depends more on the instructor than on any other factor” (354). If the instructor embraces Eastern ideas, I would definitely avoid the class.

2. “It may also be prudent to observe an advanced class. This will help the prospective student determine whether Eastern philosophy is taught only as the practitioner progresses” (Erwin de Castro, et al., “Enter the Dragon?” Part 2, prepublication copy, Christian Research Journal, 1994; cited in Ankerberg & Weldon, 373). Again, if you notice Eastern ideas surfacing in advanced classes, I would avoid even beginning your training there.

3. Carefully seek God’s guidance in prayer.

Like many of the issues we face in life, I doubt whether this one is completely black or white. However, I would carefully avoid involvement in any form of Tai Chi which incorporates Eastern thought and practices. Since many programs likely do incorporate such things, I would be very cautious about becoming involved in this discipline. However, if you are able to find a completely non-religious program, taught by an instructor who does not hold any Eastern philosophical and religious ideas, and if you have carefully sought God’s guidance in prayer and have a clean conscience about participating, then I doubt that the physical exercises are somehow wrong or sinful in themselves. That’s my opinion, at any rate.

God bless you,

Michael Gleghorn
Probe Ministries

Dr. Michael Gleghorn is both a research associate with Probe Ministries and an instructor in Christian Worldview at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona.. He earned a B.A. in psychology from Baylor University, a Th.M. in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Theological Studies (also from Dallas Theological Seminary). Before coming on staff with Probe, Michael taught history and theology at Christway Academy in Duncanville, Texas. Michael and his wife Hannah have two children: Arianna and Josiah. His personal website is michaelgleghorn.com.

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