Taijiquan or T’ai-chi ch’uan or “Supreme Ultimate Boxing” is one of the finest products of Chinese philosophy and culture. Based upon the principles of the I Ching and the philosophy of Lao Dze, T’ai-Chi Ch’uan is a system of rounded, fluid, balanced movements to be practiced daily for health and peace of mind. When the movements have been mastered, one’s intrinsic energy developed, and one’s equilibrium stable, the movements and postures of t’ai-chi can be employed to neutralize aggressive actions directed at the self and to counterattack.Among the inner martial arts T’ai-Chi Ch’uan is by far the most popular. T’ai-Chi Ch’uan is practiced by millions of Chinese every day and thousands of Americans. T’ai-chi is a philosophical concept referring to the harmonizing of yin and yang. If yin is the shady slope of the mountain and yang the sunny slope, then t’ai-chi is the peach where they meet. In ancient Daoist texts, t’ai-chi can also mean the Polestar. Again, this connotes the balance of yin and yang. The Polestar is the unmoving pivot around which the constellations seem to rotate; stillness within motion, yin balanced by yang. The T’ai-Chi Ch’uan art cultivates these qualities of balance and harmony.The question has often been asked if qigong is form of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan. It is just the opposite. T’ai-Chi Ch’uan can be considered a form of qigong. The solo exercise follows all of the guidelines for qigong posture and breathing. It shares with Yiquan standing meditation a strong emphasis on developing a particular qigong skill, peng jing, commonly translated “ward-off power.” Peng jing means that any particular part of the body or the body as a whole has a buoyant fullness, capable of rebounding incoming force. The body is filled with ch’i in the same way a basketball is filled with air, the force evenly dirstributed across the rounded surface. When an object hits the ball, it bounces back. Of course the ball must be firmly rooted, connected to the ground, so that there is a base from which the rebound can occur. In the martial arts, peng jing means that one can discharge an opponent with little expenditure of energy. Peng jing is also healing because it can prevent or lessen injury from any kind of impact.T’ai-chi ch’uan is a whole body of qigong, encouraging free and unobstructed circulation of qi. According to T’ai-Chi Ch’uan instructor Stuart Olson’s work, The Intrinsic Energies of T’ai Chi Ch’uan , “The idea of ‘free circulation’ is to permeate all the bones and flesh, every minute cranny and crevice, with not only ch’i [qi], but blood as well. This is what the Chinese call ‘nourishing life’ ( yang sheng ).”
After careful and intensive study of the world around them, the ancient Chinese philosophers developed the concept of “T’ai-chi” or “The Grand Terminus.” Understanding this t’ai-chi philosophy that influenced traditional Chinese culture provides a necessary foundation for the study of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan. T’ai-chi may be seen as the root of the tree of wisdom, in its ability to enrich every branch of knowledge. The objectives of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan include harmony of the mind, promotion of health, and the attainment of rejuvenation and longevity.
History of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan
Although there are various stories about the founding of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan, Chang San-Feng, who certainly was the greatest teacher of the system, in generally given major credit. Chang San-Feng was also known as Chang Tung and Chang Chun-pao. His ancestors lived on Dragon-Tiger Mountain, a Daoist historical site in Kiang-Hsi Province in the southeast of China. Chang San-Feng was born at midnight on April 9, 1247, and the anniversary of this day is now celebrated by followers of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan with dining, drinking, and demonstrations of t’ai-chi ch’uan.
According to legend, Chang San-Feng was born a wise man because he had the arched back of tortoise and the figure of a crane. His large round eyes were considered a symbol of intelligence and longevity. At twelve years of age he began studying the Chinese classics. Because of his good memory and keen perception, he was eventually able to become a goverment official. Chang San-Feng spent some time meditating and planning his future during a visit to Ko-Hung Mountain, where Ko-Hung, a minister in the reign of Emperor Yuan (290-370 A.D.), was said to have become immortal. After the death of his parents, he resigned from his government position and returned to his birthplace long enough to give his property away to relatives. Then accompanied by two young boys, he set out to wander the mountains for thirty years visiting old temples in the hope of meeting a wise man. Finally, he settled in midwestern China in the beautiful, green Pao-Gi Mountains which have three pointed peaks, or San-Feng in Chinese. It is said he mastered the well-known Shao-Lin Chuan during that time.Shao-Lin Chuan (fist or boxing) is an exercise invented in the famous Shao-Lin Buddhist temple in Ho-Nan, a northern province of China. The treasures of the Shao-Lin Temple were called the five Chuans. Each chuan was named for the animal best exemplifying its attributes. The chuans originally had only six postures each. At the present time, however, each chuan has over one hundred postures. Having mastered these five chuans, a player cna develop many variations. The original chuans are:
- Dragon Chuan – training attention and spirit; emphasizing lightness, stillness and change.
- Tiger Chuan – strengthening the bones, emphasizing jumping up and down.
- Leopard Chuan – practicing the application of force; emphasizing jumping and fighting.
- Snake Chuan – practicing inner breathing, prolonging the body; becoming very sensitive and active.
- Crane Chuan – training concentration, stability, accuracy and determination to defeat the opponent.
All styles, names and clans of Chinese martial arts are generated from Shao-Lin Chuan, the prototypical Chinese martial art. However, T’ai-Chi Ch’uan differs from other martial arts because Chang San-Feng added the theory of the I Ching and Daoist breathing techniques, or qigong, to Shao-Lin Chuan. Therefore, the way of practice transcends martial art toward will, mind, body and nature – very close to the practice of the Dao itself, or the way of nature.
Now let us return to Chang San-Feng’s life. In 1314, at the age of sixty-seven he finally met a Daoist, Ho-Lung, whose name means “fire dragon.” This hermit taught Chang the method of being immortal, but Chang practiced in the high mountains for four years with very little achievement. He then moved to Wu-Tang Mountain and finally, after staying there for nine years, became aware of the truth and Dao. Thus, according to legend, Chang San-Feng was born at the end of the Sung Dynasty and lived through the whole Yuan Dynasty to the reign of Tein-Chung in the Ming Dynasty, a period of more than 200 years.
There are different stories as to how Chang San-Feng created T’ai-Chi Ch’uan. One, that he created it in his dreams, may seem improbable. According to another story, when he lived in Wu-Tang Mountain, Chang heard birds making an unusual noise and saw them all staring down at the ground where a serpent was lifting its head and watching upward. A moment later, a magpie, spreading its wings, descended to attack the serpent, which moved slightly to escape the attack, but maintained its usual circular shape. So, the contest continued, up and down, back and forth, several times til Chang stepped out of the door. Immediately the magpie flew away and the serpent disappeared. Chang then realized the truth of softness over firmness and created T’ai-Chi Ch’uan. Another legend is that when Chang San-Feng saw the monks practicing boxing on Wu-Tang Mountain, he thought they used too much force and outer strength and therefore lacked balance. If the yin and yang were balanced inside the body, one would be less clumsy. Accordingly, he used the principles from the Dao of nature, the t’ai-chi diagram and the I Ching to develop T’ai-Chi Ch’uan. The purpose of the movements in T’ai-Chi is to transfer the ch’i, or intrinsic energy, to the shen, or spirit, and to use inner rather than outer force. After Chang San-Feng, the famous T’ai-Chi masters included Wang Tsung, Chen Tun-Chow, Chang Sung-Hsi, Yeh Chi-Ma, Wang Tsung-Yueh, and Chiang Fah. Finally, Chiang Fah taught T’ai-Chi Ch’uan to Chen’s family.
Lineage of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan
T’ai-Chi Ch’uan has been recorded in formal documents since the time of Chen Wang-Ting. Chen wwas born in Ho-Nan province in northern China during the late sixteenth century and was appointed as an army office in San-Tung privince in 1618. He returned to his birthyplace at the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in 1644. At the time he began teaching Taji Quan, in consisted of five Lu , or routines. He also taught two additional Lu: Pao-Twi , which means the punches are very fast and violent, like cannon shots; and Long Quan , which has 108 postures.From generation to generation many new teaching methods were accumulated, and many excellent boxer produced. In each of the five generation after Chen Wang-Ting there was a famous t’ai-chi expert. Chen Chang-Hsin (1771-1853) united and simplified Chen’s T’ai-Chi Ch’uan to a first routine of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan, and a second routine of Pao-Twi. Chen Yu-Ben simplified the movements even further in order to meet the requirement and needs of the era; i.e., strict martial arts training was not stressed as much because the gun had been introduced into Chinese weaponry, a development which was to greatly affect all the martial arts. Another, Chen Chin-Ping incorporated the Shiao-jar style for busier and tighter movements. The first routine of Chen Chang-Hsin’s t’ai-chi ch’uan is the oldest known form, from which all other forms have been derived. It has simple movements, more softness and less firmness. Both quality and quantity of movement require softness.
T’ai-Chi Ch’uan was considered a family treasure of the Chen’s and was kept secret, rarely being shown to people outside the family. For instance, Chen Chang-Hsin taught his son and his relatives, but only two persons with other family names: Yang Lu-Chan and Li Pei-Kuei. Yang, especially, learned this extraordinary skill with extreme patience and effort.Yang Lu-Chan (1799-1872) was born in Ho-Pei Province in northern China. His ancestors were farmers. He was small and thin but fond of the martial arts. At first, he learned the thirty-three long-form movements of a hard boxing style from Shao-Lin, and old boxer, who felt that Yang had great boxing talent and was capable of high achievement if he had the right guidance from a superior master. The old man then told him of the Chens, and Yang went to them in hopes of becoming a student. However, as he had a family name other than Chen, he was refused. He stayed on as a farm worker to wait for any chance to learn T’ai-Chi Ch’uan. Finally, Chan Chang-Hsin discovered Yang’s intention and deeply impressed by Yang’s sincerity, Chen accepted him as a student. The story goes that Yang had worked there for several years without learning anything about t’ai-chi ch’uan. Then one night, awakening from his sleep, Yang heard the Heng-Haah sound from the next house. Peeping through the fence, he saw Chen Chang-Hsin teaching his students T’ai-Chi Ch’uan. From then on, he watched and practiced right away before returning to his bedroom. Yang concentrated on these daily lessons, made surprisijng progress, and on occasion was even able to beat Chen’s advanced students. Chen realized Yang’s talent and potential and taught him all the skills, techniques and secrets of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan.After learning T’ai-Chi Ch’uan from Chen Chang-Hsin, Yang Lu-Chan returned to his birthplace and gave t’ai-chi lessons to his neighbors. He had many students. Years later, Yang left for Beijing, the capital, to teach t’ai-chi to the royal family and Yang’s T’ai-Chi became quite well known. It is disputed whether he taught the inner teachings and training of t’ai-chi to the royal family or just the exterior forms. If the inner teachings were lost at this time then most of the Yang style t’ai-chi ch’uan would be incomplete and really nothing more than a slow moving external form.
Yang , who had a strong character, was very fond of contests of strength with other boxers. He traveled throughout northern China with his luggage and spear on his back. Hearing of any excellent fighters, he would visit them and match skills. Although he was skilled, he never in his life hurt anyone seriously. His enthusiasm for pugilistic art and his sense of honor won people’s respect. Because he never lost a contest and had no rival, he earned the title Yang Wu-Ti, or Yang with No Rival. Yang did not look like a boxer; however, he often lifted and flung his opponents even though they weighed twice as much as he. Nobody knew the source of his strength (the inner or internal teachings?). There are many legends about him which can be read in any numerous books on T’ai-Chi Ch’uan.Yang’s T’ai-Chi Ch’uan became very popular and was taught to a large number of people. As a result, there are many variations, in which the number and names of the postures are the same, although the movements are executed differently. Therefore it is important to discover the basic principles of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan and focus your practice on those, which are also known as the essence of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan. Here are some words of experience from the great master known as Dong Yingjie.Here at Daoyin Chuan Study Group we teach the Yang Family Style T’ai-Chi Ch’uan:Yang Solo Forms:
Yang Push-Hands and Partner Practice:
Yang Weapons Forms: