Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, February 04, 2024

A Scientific Approach to Taijiquan Practice

Over at Thoughts on Tai Chi, there was a post about applying the scientific method to ones practice. An excerpt is below. The full  post may be read here.


I was thinking about healthcare in ancient China, not necessarily in terms of “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, or “TCM”, but more how advanced the overall healthcare was in older times. I thought I should do some digging to find more about this subject and luckily I stumbled on some very interesting articles covering the Han dynasti, the same time as the Huangdi Neijing and the Suwen, which is the most important of the historical texts on Chinese medicine. So I read more about this time era, and was surprised by my findings. I bet you can’t even imagine how advanced China was at this time.

I will reveal more of my findings, but first I think I should explain more about why this era is important. The Han-dynasty stretches from 202 BC – 9 AD, 25–220 AD, and preceded by the short lived Qin Dynasty (221–206 BCE) starting with the reign of the person we here call “the Yellow Emperor,” or Qin Shi Huangdi.

This period, with these two dynasties especially, were very important for the future of whole China. Huangdi means “Yellow Ruler” in Chinese, or “emperor”. This was the first emperor of China, who united the country. Amongst other things, he standardized the Chinese characters, units of weight and measure, built roads, and started to unite guard towers together into what today is known as the Great Wall.

His own time and the following dynasty was a time of development and science. A lot of thoughts and science from that time influence Chinese people even today, especially when it comes to attitudes to foods, exercise and general health. Much of the philosophy of Chinese medicine and “internal exercise” as what is today called qigong and neigong stems from this time as well.

So why is all this important? Well, because the philosophy around Tai Chi Chuan is influenced by this time era as well. A lot of concepts, terms and ideas are found in different kinds of practice and ideas of neigong, qigong and Tai Chi can also be found in the Huangdi Suwen.

But it’s more to this, and it’s here where the rest of the story fits in. You see, science, medicine and healthcare, were all much more advanced in this time than what most people here understand. What is called TCM today is just a part of a much bigger picture. There was indeed some of the traditional Chinese medicine and the same kind of philosophy we still find today in TCM, the foundations of TCM. But at the same time, the scientific approach and methods we can find in Western medicine and healthcare were also prevalent.

Already in the Han dynasty, there were not only hospitals, but they also had mobile teaching and research units, and health stations. They had an advanced understanding of anesthesia, and aseptic techniques were also quite advanced for their time. This also made surgeries possible. Surgeries 2000 years ago? Really? Yes, they had medical surgeons performing surgeries like cesarean sections, dental extractions, and even the removal of tumors. They recorded the patients and maintained detailed medical records for patients.

They also develop sophisticated diagnostic techniques and they used dietary therapy amongst other things. But when it comes to diagnostic techniques, herbal medicines and diet, the so called “Chinese traditional medicine” is present as well.

In fact, back in those times, “western” type of medicine and “traditional Chinese medicine” were not separated. It all existed as a whole. There was a scientific understanding and a holistic approach together at the same time.

So what is good to know is that the separation into a “western medicine” on one hand and a “traditional Chinese medicine” on the other hand, is in fact a relatively modern, new “thing”. Originally, they were parts of the same whole and it was never supposed they would be separated like this.

So what does this mean for us studying Tai Chi and similar “stuff”? Well, it means that the philosophy and concepts we use in our own practice were never meant to exist in a vacuum or as an autonomous system of thought. Instead, this terminology, or what we call “philosophy”, was meant to be used together with, and as tools for, a scientific approach. And for many hundreds of years ago, it was used in science.


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