T'ai Chi: The Story of Its Beginning

Denise Tracy

There was a young man who grew up in China. Everyone said that he was so calm and peaceful, he should become a monk. Not wanting to displease his family and friends by telling the truth, the young man let them think he was indeed peaceful and calm. Inside, however, the young man was filled with feelings of doubt, joy, love, happiness, sadness—and many questions. Because he wanted others' approval, he kept his feelings and questions to himself. He went on looking calm and peaceful to everyone.

When he was old enough, he entered the monastery, because everyone said he looked so peaceful and calm. They did not know of his secret inner life. Everyone was pleased because they felt he would be a great monk.

For years, he practiced sitting calmly and peacefully, and his masters were pleased. Little did they know that behind that calm exterior bubbled energy, exuberance and still more questions. The young man kept all these things to himself.

After years at the monastery, the young man was to be tested for his deep, inner religious peace. He was to go to a mountain top to meditate daily for many months, and on a final day the master would observe his meditation.

He went to the mountains for many days. He sat and sat and sat. He looked very calm and peaceful on the outside, but on the inside, his mind was filled with the crane's flight, fire and shadows, and the earth's elements, as well as questions of beginnings and endings. He did not tell anyone of the scenes and questions that filled his mind.

One day, he was at the top of the mountain sitting peacefully, pretending to be calm, meditating and preparing for the day of his exam (which was only two weeks away), when a fly landed right on the end of his nose. He tried wiggling his nose to get the fly off. This did not work. He wiggled his nose again. What a stubborn fly! Next, he waved his hand and the fly danced. As he waved his hand, he discovered how joyful it felt to move. The fly then landed on his nose again. The young man waved his other hand. This, too, felt wonderful.

The fly began to turn circles and move with the wind and earth. The young monk leaped and laughed, dancing with the fly. As the days passed, the young man looked forward to his dancing and moving with the fly. He lost all track of time—hours, days, or minutes. He knew only the joy of moving in harmony with the elements, earth, water, fire, wood, wind, and metal.

The young man went to the top of the mountain on the day of his exam, but he had forgotten that this was a most important day. He saw the fly and they began their dance together, earth, water, fire, wood, wind, metal. They moved with focused energy and great joy. Neither the fly nor the young man noticed the Master of Masters seated, watching their movements.

After a while, the Master of Masters approached. The young man grew silent, embarrassed and fearful. He was supposed to be calm and meditative. He looked down in shame. He had failed his training.

The Master of Masters then said, "Young man, you must teach me this movement. You use the energy of the life force to mirror the earth, fire, wind, sky, birds, and water. This focused energy complements our study of inner peace. Since all is in balance, we need stillness and energy; we need peace and activity; we need meditation and movement.

"Teach me. Then you will teach all the monks this new miracle of focused energy."

So from one young man whose creativity spilled over to dance with a fly came a meditation of movement called "T'ai Chi."