One question I get asked a lot is why have I used the name Black Tortoise Tai Chi. In this blog post I’ll explain the imagery and significance of the name.
Black Tortoise Tai Chi is easy to remember and as an image it contains a lot of significance for Tai Chi.
First of all for westerners the tortoise is a slow moving and relaxed animal that matches the common perception of Tai Chi. Also a tortoise has a hard shell and can defend itself in a peaceful manner something else that has a resonance with Tai Chi. In Chinese mythology the tortoise is the younger brother of the dragon and as an animal the tortoise signifies a long and peaceful life and again these are core benefits of Tai Chi.
Secondly the Black Tortoise is one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations. It is sometimes called the Black Warrior of the North . Although its name in Chinese, Xuánwu, is often translated as Black Tortoise in English, it is usually depicted as both a tortoise and a snake, specifically with the snake coiling around the tortoise. In ancient China, the tortoise and the snake were thought to be spiritual creatures symbolizing longevity.
Finally the Black Tortoise Immortal (sometimes called the Black Warrior of the North) is one of the higher ranking and more revered Taoist deities in China. He is revered as a powerful immortal, able to control the elements, and capable of great magic. He is particularly revered by martial artists. He is portrayed as a warrior in imperial robes, his left hand is in the “three mountain hand seal” while the right hand holds a sword, which is said to have belonged to Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals. A legend says that he borrowed the sword to subdue a powerful demon, and now after being successful he always holds his sword tightly or else it would magically return to it’s owner. To me this story signifies that this immortal always maintains his martial power by continually holding on to his sword and this reminds us that we must hold on to the martial aspects of Tai Chi as we practice or else lose it’s self-defense benefits.
For all these reasons I think that Black Tortoise Tai Chi is a name that contains images of an art that gives us a healthy long peaceful life but without letting go the martial tradition that gave it life.