The Shamanic Origins of Tai Chi

y the multi-disciplined warrior, the techno-shaman, can scale the walls of ignorance and shed light over the prevailing darkness. The warrior spirit must guide this process.”
The Warrior’s Edge, Alexander, Groller, Morriss

Under the moonlight, in a village somewhere in the Golden Triangle, the Ka-ren Shaman moved slowly and methodically. He was showing us the movements taught him by his Shaman, which had been passed down through the tribe for generations. The Shaman moved strikingly similar to a Tai Chi master.

The Golden Triangle is a roughly drawn geographic area that overlaps the borders of three countries: Myanmar in the west, Laos in the east, and Thailand in the south. This area gets its soubrette from its most profitable export, the golden excretions of the poppy – opium. The terrain of small brown mountains and narrow forested valleys is ideally suited to guerrilla tactics. In the past this incomprehensible landscape acted as a barrier against the encroachments of the Burmese, Chinese, and Cambodian empires, allowing the area’s idigeonous hill tribes to maintain their own autonomy. More recently, the triangle’s remoteness continues to keep much of civilization at bay. Both Buddhist and Christian missionaries have failed to convert but a small number of the people away from their ancient animist beliefs. The Shaman or medicine man still plays an important role in the life of the isolated villages. In 1987 the author visited with the Ka-ren in one of the more remote areas of the Triangle. There he was fortunate enough to spend an evening with a Shaman and witness his Spirit Dance. It was there that the connection between this tradition and that of the Chinese martial arts seemed to meld.

Tai Chi has often been described and written about as form of meditation, a moving meditation. The purpose of meditation is to alter one’s consciousness in order to achieve a variety of goals from relaxation and healing, to extending one’s lifespan and many believe, developing supernatural abilities. The picture that most often comes to mind when we consider meditation is that of the Yogi, the Buddhist, and the Taoist, sitting cross-legged in a temple. The key ingredients are silence, stillness, and solitude. Contrast this image with one of continually flowing, and sometimes explosive movements of Tai Chi, and it would appear to be the antithesis of the conditions needed for meditation. From where then did this unique concept, the linking of physical movement with an altered state of consciousness, originate?

The five elements and their associated heraldic animals represent an ancient knowledge of how heavenly forces could be manipulated to affect earthly destinies. The central ritual of Taoist magic consists in the ability to call up the forces of these Spirit-Generals and indicates that the heraldic Animals are indeed the essence of supernatural powers.

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