There’s so many lineages and practices that one can choose from in order to consider themselves “Taoist.” They can be one or any combination of many practices and philosophies involving martial arts, energy work, spiritual work, philosophical work. Actually, you really don’t need any of it, or maybe just one of them, to consider yourself Taoist because Taoism means the study of the “way” or “path,” and many times it means that it’s the practice and realization of the way the universe works in order for you to live in harmony with it for a better life. You can actually call yourself “Taoist” by just understanding the basic principles of Yin/Yang and Wu-Wei, and building from there.
I actually started through simple philosophy via the book, “The Tao of Pooh.” It’s a really awesome primer into Taoist philosophy if you ever want to get started. And from there you can get into deeper stuff. Actually, before even that, I bought a book of random Taoist principles and sayings back in 1995, but found it a bit too rudimentary, kind of like how oversimplified infographics and jpeg-quotes are nowadays on facebook and tumblr. But even before that book, my first awareness of Taoism was through my mom. In 1992 she was reading this book, which I learned later on in life was a book about qigong, and started walking all weird. I was like “Mom, what are you doing?” She said that she was walking like a bear because it had some health benefits, and called it Taoism. I was like “…okay.”
Little did I know that I’d evolve so deeply into that path that I’ve fallen down this enormous, almost infinite, rabbit hole that I could never ever go back. Taoism can be deeper than mere philosophy, and it’s more than just “a way of life.” It’s indescribable.
Some people call themselves Taoists because they’re awesome at martial arts and realized the Tao through martial arts. And that’s cool too. Even though I’ve studied tae kwon do, muay thai, eskrima, and shaolin kung fu, I don’t really consider myself a “martial artist.” Plus I have modern weaponry for self defense, use your own assumptions of what they may be, though I prefer to run. And if I do practice a martial art, it’s because I love the movements and use them as a form of qigong.
Other people choose to call themselves Taoists because they study the Tao Te Ching or Zhuangzi and try to live by those principles. And that’s great too. And sometimes they also (or solely) learn stuff like Chinese astrology or Feng Shui geomancy. And that’s cool too. It’s all Taoism.
As for me, I call myself Taoist because of my healing practice of healing myself and others through medicine and spiritual practice. But for me, I enjoy reading esoteric Taoist scriptures, meditating/neigong, and contemplating “Not-Two” because they enhance my healing practice. I feel like the more I understand the Tao in its highest and deepest levels, the more I can understand the universe, humanity, and the human body in their highest and deepest levels, therefore the more I effective I am at healing myself and others.
So there’s a myriad of ways to practice Taoism, and to narrow it down, I choose Traditional Chinese Medicine (physical medicine), Medical Qigong (energetic shamanism), and Quanzhen Longmen Pai Taoism (spiritual practice). They’re the best for me as an individual and what my endeavors are.