I read in a article that although taiji quan originated as an martial art, it later evolved into a form of taoism and its set forms, pushing hands are equivalent to Taoist alchemy.
Does anyone know if this is true?
All depends on the teacher. Many old school masters attached Taoist / Confucian / Buddhist ideologies to their respective arts. To this day no one has been able to solidly "prove" anything.
Why would calisthenics and pushing hands have anything to do with "Taoist alchemy?"
The Taoist alchemical practice of ingesting various combinations of heavy metals and other ingredients in hopes of finding the elixer of immortality sounds vary far removed from the practice of wrestling drills.
Right, I was referring to the mind\body alchemy in The Taoist Classics by Thomas Cleary
As I understand it, the Taoists used two main types of approaches: external and internal. External refers to ingesting or topically applying various substances (what I call "potions and lotions"). Internal refers to various kinds of breathing, meditation, and movement techniques designed to change the body and nervous system from the inside-out.
Based on my own research (exclusively from English language sources) I wrote the following passage in my extended article on "Wu Style Ta Chi Chuan as a Martial Art". The full article can be read or downloaded here:
I think that the mental/awareness training of staying neutral, along with static posture and form training combine together. Basically the goal of Tai Chi training is to remain as calm as possible by activating the parasympathetic nervous sytem (instead of the "fight or flight" sympathetic responses). This has a lot of benefits: increased peripheral bloodflow, wider visual field, finer motor control, increased touch sensitivity, etc.) If this this what you mean by internal alchemy, then I agree.
Tai Chi Chuan evolved from a combination of three main influences that blend in a unique way to create the martial art:
· Taoist philosophical principles – Understanding the basic principles of Taoist thought will lead to a very calm and centered mind that deals with all change in a natural and harmonious way. It allows one to function under very stressful circumstances without triggering animal-level “fight or flight” instincts (reacting with resistance and tension even when confronted with clearly superior force). Instead, one is able to become supremely sensitive to the physical and emotional intent of the opponent, and smoothly respond to their aggressive actions with a minimum of energy expenditure or disturbance.
· Taoists meditation and yogic practices – Diligent and correct practice of the Tai Chi movement sequence (the “slow form” or “long form”) as well as supplemental study of internal energy practices (“Nei Gung” or “Chi Gung”) will lead to the development of internal energy (“chi”) in the practitioner. The chi can be moved efficiently to any part of the body and is the motivating power used to deliver attacks. The goal is to rewire the body and central nervous system in order to upgrade your overall constitution and be able to deliver whole-body power to the point of the attack seamlessly. It can be likened to the uncoiling of a whip. Power originates from the relaxed movement of the handle and no part of the whip is moving much faster than the adjacent segments. However, when properly coordinated, this smooth wave-like motion results in an extremely violent snapping power delivery at its tip. By developing an awareness and control of very subtle internal body functions the Tai Chi fighter in effect upgrades their power source, replacing the tensing of isolated large muscles with the smooth and coordinated flowing of chi.
· Traditional Chinese Kung Fu fighting techniques – There is a very long tradition spanning thousands of years of martial arts development in China. Tai Chi borrowed this alphabet of fighting techniques, and blended them with the mental training and internal power delivery described above. The key emphasis is on the seamless transition between techniques, both offensive and defensive. In fact the Tai Chi fighter is able to yield and defend (yin) with one part of their body while simultaneously counterattacking (yang) with another, all the while maintaining their physical center of balance and mental composure. Tai Chi’s specialty is counterattacking subtly from unexpected fighting angles that take full advantage of weaknesses in the opponent’s balance, momentum, and psychological state.
Let's start with a definition:
"Alchemy: the forerunner of modern chemistry, its chief aims being to transmutate base metals into gold and to discover the elixer of life."
Referring to calisthenics and breathing exercises as "alchemy" only clouds the point (although it sounds cool as hell).
Since "chi" has nothing to do with the practice of martial arts, "Internal" or otherwise, discussions of the subject are best left to practitioners of Chinese medicine.
Just like discussions about how to train for fighting are best left to fighters.
I see your point.
After writing my article a while ago, I have been coming around to the same point of view regarding chi. I have been struggling with how to teach Tai Chi to westerners who are not steeped in Chinese culture, and it seems to me that using obscure and complicated concepts does not help anyone.
My own take is that all that is required to do Tai Chi is "physics and skill". You have to have a good understanding of body mechanics/structure/alignments (your own and the opponent's). Beyond that you train for sensitivity , mental non-reactivity, and awareness. If the concept of "chi" helps someone to relax and smoothly propogate whole-body kinetic energy to the point of attack, that's great. For me personally other visualizations and exercizes help a lot more.
I guess what I am saying is that the proof of a fighting system is in the training methods and teaching lineage. Either the art can be trasmitted to the next generation or it begins to degenerate. I do not think that one even has to be aware of the concept of "chi" to learn Tai Chi. If you follow the training curriculum consistently with a competent teacher, you will learn the functional skills and reap the benefits.
If Tai Chi Chuan is going to survive outside of the orient it must be transplanted into a western thought framework. We can not possibly take all of the cultural baggage along. I know that this will sound heretical to many Tai Chi practitioners, but this is a "discussion board" after all...
I'd been training with my first Taijiquan teacher in Taiwan for about three years and he had never brought up the subject of "chi."
One day he was talking about cultivating internal force, so I asked him "what about chi?"
His reply was "The more you think about it the slower you progress."
You could start by explaining to them that the art is called "Tai Ji Chuan"
not "Tai Chi"