On April 25th, 2021, we celebrate World Tai Chi & Qigong Day once more. World Tai Chi & Qigong Day (WTCQDay) has been going since 1999. Presently, it is observed on the last Saturday in April all around the world. It all started in 1998 when Bill Douglas staged a mass tai chi demonstration with his Kansas City Tai Chi Club. Nearly 200 participants showed, and the story got picked up by CNN. That exposure catapulted WTCQDay into the international spotlight and positioned Douglas as a global tai chi spokesperson. Today, half of the states in the United States have officially proclaimed WTCQDay along with many other nations. More than a hundred cities in eighty nations are expected to participate this year.

If you're new to tai chi and qigong, WTCQDay is about expanding awareness for these venerated arts. It is an opportunity for practitioners around the world to gather and celebrate their practice. Schools and clubs host practice sessions and mass demonstrations to showcase and promote tai chi and qigong. YMAA has always participated in some manner and there are even a few reports in the archives that give snapshots of activities held in 2010, 2011, and 2014.

For newcomers, the title of the day is a bit confusing. The official website calls it 'World Tai Chi Day,' 'World Tai Chi & Qigong Day,' and 'World Tai Chi & Chi Kung Day.' Alternatively, some affiliates of World Tai Chi Day will use the older romanization 'World T'ai Chi and Ch'i Kung Day' or the new pinyin romanization for Mandarin 'World Taiji and Qigong Day'. This is an artifact of how challenging translating Chinese into English can be. Don't let it bother you. Every practitioner learns that you can't get too hung up on the spelling soon enough. 

The Pandemic Proof Martial Art

However, the pandemic changed everything. Last year, WTCQDay was scheduled right when the world was shutting down and sheltering in place. All manner of mass gatherings were cancelled, including WTCQDay celebrations all over the planet. As we all tucked away in our own private bubbles, the absence of WTCQDay felt as if the continued growth of these arts might be hampered.

But as fate would have it, it was quite the opposite. Tai chi and qigong adapted to pandemic conditions surprisingly well. These arts are well suited for the brave new world of remote learning. They are ideal healthy regimens for wellness and stress relief, which everyone craved in quarantine. Sales of tai chi books and DVDs, as well as qigong books and DVDs, were robust. And although mass gatherings are ill advised, small tai chi and qigong groups are naturally socially distanced (if Push Hands is avoided) and wearing a mask is no impediment. Of all the myriad styles of martial arts, none are as well-suited for online learning as tai chi and qigong.

Tai Chi is an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

What's more, 2020 brought an honor to tai chi that it has been seeking for decades. Tai chi was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). China has been campaigning for tai chi's inclusion in this illustrious list for years and rightly so. The announcement was made during the online meeting of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage held on December 14 to 19, 2020, in Kingston, Jamaica. By December, China had largely contained their COVID outbreak so there were some mass demonstration celebrations. Thousands of practitioners gathered at a mass demonstration in Tekes County in China's Xinjiang region.

Demo at Kansas City, MO. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Coming Together for Tai Chi and Qigong

One of the most enjoyable aspects of WTCQDay is the mass demonstrations. Generally tai chi and qigong are solo practices, which is what makes them so ideal for practicing at home. Mass demonstrations are another aspect of practice that is beginning to spread globally through observations of events like WTCQDay. The opportunity to recite a form synchronized with a large group of people is an extremely special experience. Douglas's initial group of 200 or so is still a decent number by American standards. Most of our demonstrations number in the hundreds at best. When it comes to mass demonstrations, China is king. Their demos number in the tens of thousands.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the 'Largest martial arts display (multiple venue)' is for a 2015 tai chi mass demo held in Jiaozuo, which is part of the Chen Village scenic area where Chen Style Tai Chi originated. That record stands at 53,803 participants. The previous record was staged in 2009 to honor the one-year anniversary of the Beijing Olympics. Held at the Olympic stadium, 33,996 tai chi enthusiasts demonstrated simultaneously in the summer rain.

You Can Be a Part of a Mass Demo

Mass demonstrations are a hallmark mainstay of WTCQDay and if you ever get the opportunity to participate, they are not to be missed. Generally, all attendees are welcome, no matter what your skill level (although if you're new to tai chi or qigong, it's best to stay near the back). Often, for some of the events, the audience is invited to join even if they have no experience. These are practiced slowly so it is easy enough to follow along, although you'll get more out of it if you have a basic grasp of the form beforehand.

When you participate in a mass tai chi or qigong demonstration, the power is palpable. You can really feel the qi. It is an utterly unique and enlightening sensation that reaffirms the human connection and the energy intrinsic within these arts. When you fall into that groove with the group, it is transformative. It flows. It feels like channeling. This can be felt when performing a synchronized form within just a small group on a lesser level. However, when it's a large group of fifty, a hundred, or even more, the feeling is incredible.

Hopefully, next year, the pandemic will have subsided, and the world will be open again. We truly hope that mass tai chi and qigong demonstrations will return for World Tai Chi & Qigong Day 2022. Until then, here are some instructional resources for you to get ready:

Tai Chi Resources for Beginners

The most practiced tai chi form:

Video: Simplified Tai Chi for Beginners - 24 Form by Helen Liang

Book: Simplified Tai Chi Chuan 24 & 48 Postures with Applications (2nd Edition Revised) by Liang, Shou-Yu, Wen-Ching Wu

The most popular Tai Chi traditional form:

Video: Yang Tai Chi for Beginners—Learn Tai Chi Step-By-Step with Master Yang by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

Book: Tai Chi Chuan, Classical Yang Style—The Complete Form and Qigong (Revised 2nd Edition) by Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming

The Root of Traditional Tai Chi:

Video: Chen Tai Chi: First Form (74-posture Yi Lu) by Chenhan Yang

Here are some free resources for getting started from the YMAA article archive:

'How Do You Learn Taijiquan?' by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

'What's It All About?  Tai Chi' by David Silver

'Learning Training Sequences of Taijiquan' by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

'Tips for Selecting a Tai Chi Class' by Dr. Peter Anthony Gryffin

'Begin Learning Chen Tai Chi' by Chenhan Yang

The above is an original article by Gene Ching, staff writer for YMAA Publication Center.