Kung Fu, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi
These are a family of Chinese exercise arts that include physical training for martial and healing purposes, simultaneously cultivating our mind and body. Each form of practice has its own focus and outward appearance, but they are as if looking at different branches of a single tree.
Kung fu (literally as ‘work effort’) and can be thought of as putting in a sustained effort at something over a period of time. When we put in time to practice and cultivate any skill, this is developing kung fu. It is also a term that represents a family of martial arts that focus on conditioning and training the body to prolong life in the face of adversity. Its roots are in self defense but its benefits include maintaining the body in good form to prevent debilitating disease and building focus and discipline that we can bring into any aspect of our life.
Qi gong (literally ‘energy work’) is a diverse body of exercises that condition the body, mind, and spirit. There is 'soft' qi gong which is meditative and used for healing and cultivating longevity; and 'hard' qi gong, which is more physically intense and is a powerful way to build strength and condition the vitality of the body and spirit, also promoting health and longevity. Qi gong is Chinese or Taoist yoga. It incorporates postures, breathing techniques, isometrics, simple movements, and meditation.
Tai chi, or tai chi chuan, (literally ‘grand ultimate’ or ‘grand ultimate fist’ respectively) is soft style of kung fu. It is practiced at a slow tempo as a moving meditation that incorporates martial and healing techniques simultaneously. It is treasured for its rehabilitative capacities and is often recommended for those with limited phyicsical mobility such as the elderly or those recovering from illness or injury.
Physical activity is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. We should find a practice that provides the type of healing and conditioning that we as individuals need in order to live a healthy life. Kung fu and qigong condition us to prevent debilitation. Tai chi and qigong are great for rehabilitation. They all (when used appropriately) reduce stress, improve body function and fitness, and help calm the mind.