top of page

Certificates Instead of Shi Fus: The Question of Regulation

©2021 Kenneth S. Cohen

Because of the unique nature of various healing and/or spiritual healing traditions, mistakes might be made regarding regulation and certification when we group them together under generic categories such as energy medicine, complementary medicine, biofield therapy, etc. For example, since Islam, Christianity and Buddhism are all “religions” (even though the category of religion did not exist in ancient India — Dharma is not religion), should we assume that requirements for ordination are the same in all three? Or if we were to host a philosophy of religion conference, would we tell the caterers— “No specific food needs among these three groups, since they are all religions.”

Similarly, we cannot assume that regulation or certification is appropriate for each healing tradition. Rather each must be examined individually and definitions and characteristics of that tradition should be sought from an internal or emic perspective, that is from those who participate/practice within the tradition, rather than by primarily referencing those who are on the outside looking in.

As an example, Qigong and Tai Chi schools and organizations have their own ways of establishing competency and accountability. Probably the most common is the master-apprentice model and the discipleship ceremony (拜師禮) in which select students take vows of dedication to a particular lineage tradition and thereafter address the teacher and classmates by kinship terms such as shi fu (teacher father) and shi mei (younger sister).

More recently, some schools have gone the route of certification. For example, my Tai Chi Teacher, Grandmaster William C. C. Chen starting in the early 1970s became one of the first to offer Tai Chi teaching certificates after a three to four-year course of intensive study. The certificate does not, however, imply completion of the curriculum, as great teachers such as Grandmaster Chen continue to be a resource for learning and improvement.

State administration and enforcement of certification and/or licensure of Qigong and related practices may violate established cultural protocols, some of which are hundreds if not thousands of years old. It is important to remember that Tai Chi and Qigong are closely related, and in so far as Tai Chi is practiced for health, it may be considered a subset of Qigong. In 2020, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) included Tai Chi as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” How can any government organization presume to regulate or control disciplines that, by definition, cannot be grasped or quantified?

Images from

1 comment

Recent Posts

See All


I'd love to hear more about this - especially your thoughts on Qigong certifications in the West.

What are the benefits or pitfalls of this practice from your perspective? Thank you!

bottom of page