Tai Chi v Qigong What’s the Difference?

Tai Chi v Qigong at Meadowlark Gardens

One of the most frequently asked questions I hear from my students is “Tai Chi v Qigong, what’s the difference?” The short answer: Tai Chi, or Taiji, (the whole spelling thing is addressed below) is a martial art, and Qigong, or Chi Kung, is broad term for “working or developing the bioelectric “vital” energy of your body”.

While it can be said that both arts have similar emphasis, and probably stem from common origins, there are some significant differences in how they are practiced.

Tai Chi v Qigong — the Practice

There are a multitude of Qigong methods and forms, ranging from seated or standing meditation to some vigorously, motion-rich forms. People all over the globe use Qigong to relax, heal and connect their minds and bodies to the energy flow. Qigong does not have a martial art component. There are comparatively fewer forms and methods of Tai Chi than Qigong and all forms—though quite often only approached from a health and wellness perspective—are rooted in martial application. The martial nature of Tai Chi also shows itself in the complexity of the motions. The typical Qigong movements are noticeably less complex and have a greater tolerance for variance. Also, while Tai Chi is a form of Qigong, Qigong is not a form of Tai Chi (sort of like soup is a type of food, but food is not a type of soup).

Chi-vs-Qi or Tai Chi v Qigong

Tai Chi v Qigong — the Biggest Difference is the “Chi”

The most telling difference between Tai Chi (Taiji) and Qigong (Chi Kung) is in the translation of the word “chi”—which brings us back to the spelling.

Tai Chi v Qigong — the Spelling

You’ll see Tai Chi spelled in several different ways: Tai Chi, T’ai Chi, T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Tai Ji, Taiji, Taijiquan, etc. Regardless of spelling, they are all referring to the same art. Similarly, Qigong is written as Qigong, Chi Gong, Chi Kung, Ch’i Kung, etc. The basic difference in the various spellings is the method used to convert the Chinese characters into a letter-based alphabet. The two main methods are Wade-Giles (T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Ch’i Kung), and Pinyin (Taijiquan and Qigong). While both systems seem to try to phonetically spell the terms, in my opinion, the correct pronunciation falls somewhere in between the two with Pinyin usually coming closer.

Commonly, you’ll see the shorthanded Wade-Giles (WG) “Tai Chi” (without apostrophes) and Pinyin (PY) “Qigong” together. Why mix these two methods? They are mixed together mainly because they are the most recognizable forms of the words. Most will recognize (and therefore search for) “Tai Chi” but not “Taijiquan”, and recognize “Qigong” but not “Ch’i Kung”. Even the annual global event (celebrated in over 80 nations), World Tai Chi and Qigong Day, uses the mix.

Here is a great article that can help you distinguish which system you are looking at. And here is a conversion table in case you are brave enough to try this yourself at home!

Tai Chi v Qigong — the Meaning

Keep in mind that Taiji, or Tai Chi is actually a shortened version of the full name of the art Tai Chi Chuan.

Tai means supreme, grand, or great.
Chi means ultimate, extreme, or what is on top.
Chuan means fist, palm or boxing

Tai Chi Chuan Characters

The Qi or Chi in Qigong, on the other hand, is composed of two Chinese characters, meaning air and rice. Breathing air provides the body with oxygen, and rice contains glucose—which the body uses as fuel to make energy in the form of heat and electricity. So, put quite simply, Qi is bioelectric energy. One of the goals of Qigong practice is to provide a greater quantity and quality of Qi by enhancing one’s “battery”.


Chi means life force or vital-energy
Kung means skill that is cultivated through steady practice

Tai Chi v Qigong — the Pronunciation

The biggest contributor to the misperception that the “chi” in both names is the same, stems from how “chi” is normally pronounced. The tendency is to say “tie chee” and “chee gong” leads many to believe that the same meaning of “chee” is being referred. However, the “chee” in Tai Chi (Taijiquan or Taiji) implies the word “extreme or ultimate”, while the “chee” in Ch’i Kung (Chi Kung, Qigong, etc.) means “vital energy, or the breath of life”. Chi Kung is roughly translated “energy work (or exercise, nurture, etc.)” and Tai Chi’s approximate translation is “supreme ultimate”—quite a difference.

So really the biggest difference between Chi Kung and Tai Chi is the actual meaning of the work “chi.” Now that you know the difference, go practice your Qigong, or your Tai Chi, then grab a cup of Chai tea and enjoy the warm relaxing flavors! 🙂