Updated: Jun 5, 2021
The easiest way to understand the difference between Qigong and Tai chi is to point out the following key aspects:
1. Tai chi (Taiji) is a martial art - Yes, traditionally it is a real martial art but it is very difficult to master if practiced for martial art purposes. 2. Qigong and Tai chi both require the practitioner to work with Qi.
The focus of Qigong is the building of health. In building health, one's body, mind and spirit are strengthened.
Tai chi can be put into 2 main categories: One being for health and the other for martial arts. Before developing the martial aspects the practitioner must first build up health and strength as a foundational level practice and yet, the practitioner can practice Tai chi exclusively for health. This is the most widespread way that Tai chi is practiced today. Whether Tai chi is practiced for health or martial art purposes, it helps to develop a clear and active spirit. This is just like a fierce Tiger that is ready to fight at any moment and meet the sudden, changing daily challenges of Life and then ready to sit back just as fast as it got up and snooze blissfully until it's time to fight again.
Qigong teaches one how to relax the body and mind and learn and understand how Qi behaves and how to harness it to develop health and personal power.
Tai chi requires a relaxed body and it utilises martial art principles to strengthen the Body and Spirit of the practitioner. Not to mention, a good fighter is calm and never celebrates violence. You could say that Tai chi practiced for health is like practicing Qigong with a 'Martial Edge'. As a result, both Qigong and Tai chi develop health but with a different emphasis but share a common ground.
In general, Tai chi is more challenging than Qigong and for this reason, practicing Qigong before Tai chi is a good idea so that one can start to develop a foundation in working with energy, moving into the inner landscape of the human being and being aware of the different ways to develop the innate faculties that make one Whole.
To summarise, Qigong teaches one to work with Qi to build health. Tai chi takes those skills and utilising martial art principles, teaches one to strengthen the body and activate the spirit.
If you had to choose one first, choose Qigong. If you want to practice both at once, good for you!