A lot of misinformation has spread about Tai Chi. The art is a very effective way to ease stress, improve health, and develop self-defense skills. So why am I asked so often if Christians can study Tai Chi?
I need to let you know that I grew up in Southern, conservative, fundamentalist Christian churches. I was baptized.
I can also tell you very clearly that there is nothing religious about Tai Chi or any other martial art, including boxing, wrestling, fencing, karate, or taekwondo.
Americans are not always well-informed about other cultures, and sometimes they jump to conclusions about things they don't understand. My daughter had a yin-yang sticker on her notebook in junior high school, and a couple of girls accused her of being Satanic.
My daughter, a very sweet girl, learned a lot during that time about how ignorant and narrow-minded some people can be. Often, however, these people are reflecting what they've heard elsewhere.
Naturally, not all Christians are this way -- I've been a member of Methodist churches as an adult that were very tolerant of other views.
There is nothing Satanic about the yin/yang symbol and absolutely nothing religious about Tai Chi. You can believe anything you want from a spiritual perspective and still enjoy Tai Chi.
Let's look at it from different perspectives. Tai Chi is a martial art. As far as I know there is nothing in Christianity that prohibits the use of self-defense if you are attacked? I don't remember being taught anything like that in Sunday School. There was a lot of fighting in the Old Testament, as I recall. David was pretty good with weapons. He had to be, to slay Goliath.
Another tremendous benefit of Tai Chi is the relaxation that comes from using it as moving meditation. Is there something in Christianity that forbids its members from relaxing and calming themselves? Perhaps some of the zealous ones believe instead of calming the mind you should turn it all over to Jesus. If that works for you that's fine. But there is nothing religious about relaxing, calming, meditating.
Let's look at chi kung -- you don't stand there thinking of Satan or Jesus. You think of your breathing, energy visualization, and calming the mind and body. It's very restful and replenishes your system just like taking a nap. There is nothing religious about taking a nap.
Some people -- when meditating -- try to feel a connection between themselves and the universe. But this is not in conflict with Christianity, either. If God created the universe, why would you NOT want to be One with it?
There is nothing religious about that but I suppose if you need to, you could assume that you are becoming One with God.
After the terrorist attacks of 9-11, I was at a very intelligent fundamentalist Christian's home (a relative of mine) watching the news. The anchor was interviewing a rabbi and a priest. During the interview the priest indicated that he and the rabbi would eventually meet again when they died -- in heaven. I turned to my Christian relative and said, "Jews don't really believe in heaven, do they?"
This very intelligent Christian replied, "I don't know what they believe and I don't want to know."
I was stunned at the willing lack of understanding -- the conscious dismissal of knowledge that would shed light on a different belief. I believe knowledge is understanding, and drove away from his house that day very disappointed, realizing that he was not as intelligent as I previously thought.
This article was triggered by something I saw online recently -- Christian Tai Chi. The site was designed by a man who -- for some unknown reason -- believed that he couldn't follow Jesus and study Tai Chi at the same time. So instead of giving it up, he modified it to reflect Christianity.
I found this attitude to be quite extremist. Would this person feel that bowling has to be modified to reflect his religion? How about baseball or basketball? A martial art is no different from any sport -- coming from another country does not make it different. It requires practice to develop physical skills just like any other sport.
A week or so ago, I received yet another email from someone asking if Tai Chi was compatible with his Christian beliefs. I decided to write this article after seeing the Christian Tai Chi ad and receiving the email so closely together.
Tai Chi was developed in a nation that is predominantly Taoist and Buddhist. Karate was developed in a non-Christian nation. Taekwondo was developed in a non-Christian nation. So was Krav Maga (Jewish). The fact that it was developed in a non-Christian nation does not make it non-Christian. Fireworks were created in China. I don't know of anyone who attends a Fourth of July celebration that avoids watching fireworks because they are anti-Christian, do you?
I've studied Taekwondo and never heard anything religious mentioned. I know a lot of Christians who are deep into karate and it doesn't seem to be an issue at all. They're fine folks and I consider them among my favorite people in the world.
I've been in hundreds of Tai Chi classes as a student and I've taught hundreds of classes and nothing religious has ever been discussed. Only relaxing, calming, and body mechanics to help you develop powerful martial arts.
In fact, the centering aspects of tai chi can help you remain calm in any crisis. Instead of reacting to tension with anger, you can relax and think things through more rationally. I've used this in potentially violent situations and was able to "turn the other cheek" to avoid violence.
The bottom line is simple -- the next time someone wonders if studying Tai Chi will violate their religious principles, tell them to stop being silly and open their minds to knowledge from other parts of the world. It might just improve their lives.