It’s All Chinese To Me!

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There are a lot of foreign words on this site.  I know it can get confusing.  I speak Chinese, and even I get confused!

So in this  post, I’d like to define Chinese terms and names in a way that you can easily understand.  Click on each term below to see the definition.  If you have questions, please post them in the comments section below.


The Chinese character Qi (氣) means energy.

The character Gong (功) means cultivation

Qigong is the art of energy cultivation.  It is sometimes spelled Chi Kung instead.  Both spellings refer to the same Chinese characters.

Qigong is an ancient self-healing art. It was a well-kept secret for centuries and was virtually unknown in the US until recently. The exercises involve simple physical movements, gentle breathing techniques, and a relaxed, meditative state of mind.

Qigong is also a branch of Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture, herbal medicine, and Chinese massage.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi Chuan is an ancient Chinese martial art that was developed by hermits and monks for spiritual cultivation, health, and self defense.

The Chinese character Tai (太) means great.  

The character Chi (極) means ultimate.  (Note that it is a difference character than Qi, or “energy”.)

A third character, Chuan (拳) is often forgotten.  It means “fist”.  This is an abbreviation of an older term, Chuan Fa, which literally means Fist Art.  A modern translation would be Kung Fu, or Martial Art.

Together, Tai Chi means Great Ultimate and refers to the ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang.  A better translation of Tai Chi is Cosmos.Putting all three words together, we get Great Ultimate Fist Art.  A better translation would be Cosmos Kung Fu. 

Tai Chi is often considered a branch of Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture, herbal medicine, and Chinese massage. 


The word Zen is actually a Japanese word that comes from the Chinese word Chan (禪).  In both languages, it means meditation. Zen can also refer to Zen Buddhism, a branch of Buddhism that began with Bodhidharma in the 6th Century AD. 

Zen can have other meanings depending on the context.  If you say “I need more Zen in my life,” then it means that you need more peace, balance, and harmony.  If a practitioner says, “I had a glimpse of Zen,” then it means that she had a deep experience in meditation where she caught a glimpse of Enlightenment.


The Chinese word Shaolin (少林) refers to the Shaolin Temple.  Built in 497 AD, the Shaolin Temple became famous not just in China, but around the world.  The great Bodhidharma arrived at the temple in 527 AD and began teaching. 

Thanks to Bodhidharma’s influence, the Shaolin Temple is recognized as the birthplace of Zen, as well as Shaolin Kung Fu and Shaolin Qigong.  Many martial arts trace their lineage back to the Shaolin Temple, including Tai Chi Chuan.

You may be interested in reading my article: The Legacy of Shaolin


The Chinese word Sifu (師父) means “teacher and father”.  It is pronounced “see foo” using the Cantonese dialect, or “sher foo” in Madarin.  Traditional Chinese masters regarded teaching as a heavy responsibility, like the responsibility of a father toward his children.  Thus, a Sifu is both a teacher and a father to his students, which means that he (or she) does not merely teach them skills and techniques, but also ensures that they lead meaningful, rewarding lives.


Bodhidharma (達摩, or Da Mo, in Chinese) was a crown prince in the ancient kingdom of Kanchiporam (in present-day India) who renounced the throne in order to spread the highest spiritual teachings to the East  (which is present-day China).

In 527 AD, the great Bodhidharma, arrived at the Shaolin Temple in China.  When he arrived, he found that the monks were weak, sickly, and unable to concentrate on meditation.  To remedy the problem, he taught them 3 sets of Qigong techniques:  The 18 Luohan Hands, Sinew Metamorphosis, and Bone Marrow Cleansing.  These arts later evolved into Shaolin Kung Fu, as well as Tai Chi Chuan.

To read more about Bodhidharma, read my popular article, The Man Who Made Shaolin.

Zhang San Feng

Zhang San Feng (張三丰) is the patriarch of Tai Chi Chuan.  He was a legendary Taoist priest who lived in China in the 13th Century AD.  After graduating from the Shaolin Temple, he went to Wudang Mountain to cultivate spiritually.  It was there that he developed the art that is now called Tai Chi Chuan.

To read Zhang San Feng’s amazing Tai Chi treatise, click here.


The Chinese word Luohan (羅漢) is a translation of the Sanskrit word Arhat (अर्हत ).  All of these words refer to a highly developed spiritual practitioner. 

At the Shaolin Temple in China, Bodhidharma taught a Qigong set called The 18 Luohan Hands (十八羅漢手).  The word Luohan continued to be used for centuries, inspiring various forms of Qigong and Kung Fu.

Yi Jin Jing (Sinew Metamorphosis)

In romanized Chinese, The Classic of Sinew Metamorphosis is written Yi Jin Jing (易筋經), which is pronounced as follows:

  • ee (like the letter “e”)
  • gin (rhymes with “pin”)
  • jing (rhymes with “sing”).

Sinew Metamorphosis is not just a set of calisthenics to develop tendons, muscles, and bones (which is how some people view it).  For us, Yi Jin Jing is a set of powerful Qigong techniques that bring a wide variety of benefits: fast reflexes, Internal Force, courage, righteousness, and spiritual cultivation. 

Click here to read more about Sinew Metamorphosis.


The Chinese word dantian (丹田) literally means “elixir field”, but a better translation would be “energy center”.   It is located slightly below and slightly behind your belly button.  The traditional measurement, which uses the width of your own thumb, is 3 thumb-widths below and 2 thumb-widths behind.  But this is a rough guide, and in reality, dantian can be in slightly different locations for different people.

Qigong, Tai Chi, and Shaolin classics consistently refer to dantian, specifically to a golden, pearl-sized ball of energy.  When you cultivate dantian long enough, you will feel exactly what the classics describe.

Check back often.  More coming soon…

Mindfully yours,
Sifu Anthony

I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world to use qigong for their own stubborn health issues. I teach online courses, and also lead in-person retreats and workshops.
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3 Responses to It’s All Chinese To Me!

  1. Edward D. Anderson September 3, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Sifu 私服:

    This is a most informative addition to the website. I would suggest you go to and add the Chinese ideograms for each term. As you know from your studies of Chinese, these are evocative in and off themselves.

    Thanks for adding this additional information when time permits.

    • Sifu Anthony September 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

      Hi Ed,

      I’m planning to add Chinese characters later. Thanks for the input.

      By the way, you can’t always trust Google translate, especially with Chinese. What did you mean to write with the characters 私服?

      Here are the characters for Sifu: 師父

      All the best,
      Sifu Anthony

    • Sifu Anthony September 5, 2012 at 9:54 am #

      Ed, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve added Chinese characters for most of the terms.

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