This is one of the most common questions I am asked. Both use the same “technology.” Soft, slow gentle movement, with the same postural alignment, and the mind, breath and movement connected. So what is the difference?
Qi gong or “energy exercise/breath work” is generally used to describe movements that are used to recover and maintain good health. Tai chi does the same but is a martial art so its health benefits are a by product and a neccessity for it being a fighting art. Often the movements are more demanding because each posture has a martial meaning that doesn`t care for accessablity. Certainly the difference between the Eternal Spring, the simple moving Qi gong we teach to beginners and the brush knee walking, the first posture learnt in the Tai chi, is considerable. With brush knee walking taking about 4 weeks for most people to get a basic level of coordination in the body. The Eternal spring is much more instant an understanding as the first few movements are so simple.
But the ease with which a beginner gets it is almost irrelevant. People resonate with different paths and if a student gets hooked on the beauty of learning the tai chi form or the Qi gong state then that is simply an opportunity for growth and develoment of the mind, body and Qi and should be taken.
What is not apparant to the beginner is the difference between Tai chi & Qi gong and how they develop the practitioner. This only became clear to me with Master Liu Ji Fa`s visit to our school in summer 2015. He is a 4th generation disciple of the Wu family from Shanghai and a world class proponant of pushing hands. In the many seminars he held and I attended, I realised that Tai chi is a cooperative art. We develop and evolve through the cooperation of our fellow students. The peer group is so much more important than in a Qi gong class. Through pushing hands our self and others egos are revealed and slowly dissolved. This only occurs through pushing hands, coming out of our shell and sharing our revelations and our problems. Rewiring our brain with new neural pathways creates a mindset of looking at things in a new way uncluttered by old beliefs. This is a definition of youthfullness and counters the hardening of attitudes that can sometimes define ageing.
Qi gong on the other hand is a solitary affair, we learn in class but practice alone. The Qi gong state deeply nurturing, the evolution of this feeling and ability is a personal journey back to stillness and the uncarved block.
Ultimatly both are the same. Two halves of the same coin, yin and yang methods that need the other to support growth in the other. Qi gong develops the Qi essential for Tai chi and Tai chi develops the character in away Qi gong cannot. Meditation is the baseline for everything, but that is another story for another day