Tai Chi Chuan

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Supreme Ultimate Boxing
Western Spellings: Tai Chi Chuan, Taijiquan, Tàijíquán, T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Tai Chi, Tai Ji Quan, Taiji, Tai Ji Chuan
On spelling (transliteration): A proliferation of translation methods over the last century has given rise to a number of different spellings of the same Chinese characters (words). Some examples are listed above. For the sake of consistency, on this website, unless an exact spelling is required (as in a title, quote or organization) the apostrophes are generally eschewed in favor of whole words.

Tai Chi Chuan (Tai-Ji Quan, spelling in Pin Yin) is an ancient Chinese martial art system of physical exercise for health, vitality, longevity and self-defense. In the Orient, Tai Chi is practiced daily by millions of people. Its roots reach back thousands of years into Chinese culture. It belongs to the predominantly Taoistic influenced internal or softer chinese martial art systems called Neijia. Other Neijia Systems are Ba Gua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan and Liu He Ba Fa. Tai Chi Chuan is divided in different styles which are named after the chinese family who did develop and hand it down.

Tai Chi Chuan is generally translated as "Supreme Ultimate Boxing."

Tai Chi, "Supreme Ultimate" is an all-embracing term which suggests a harmony with the universe in the Taoist tradition.

The Tai Chi form is a vehicle by which one can attain this harmony. It is said that a regular practitioner of Tai Chi Chuan gains the strength of a lumberjack and the pliability of a child.

There are five major styles of Tai Chi, each named after the Chinese family from which it originated:

The order of verifiable age is as listed above. The order of popularity (in terms of number of practitioners) is Yang, Wu, Chen, Sun and Wu/Hao. The major family styles share much underlying theory, but differ in their approaches to training.

History of Tai Chi Chuan

The origins of Tai Chi Chuan go back to around the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) in China. As the story goes, Chang San-feng (zhang zhang feng), a Taoist priest, was meditating on Wu-Tang Mountain, in Hupei province. One day he heard a noise outside and found that a bird was attacking a snake. Chang watched as the bird attacked the snake's head and the snake yielded at his head and struck with his tail. Then the bird attacked the snake's tail and the snake yielded at his tail and attacked with his head. When the bird attacked the snake's belly the snake yielded at the belly and attacked with both his head and his tail. In the end the bird gave up and flew away. Chang was so impressed with the beauty and efficiency of the snake's defense that he decided to create a martial art using the yielding (yin) and attacking (yang) method of the snake. He combined the thirteen postures (see below) with Taoist philosophy and exercises to create Tai Chi Chuan. Chang then wrote what is known as the Tai Chi Chuan Classic (tasi jis quan jing) a very important read for those studying Tai Chi Chuan (see the Resources page for links to translations of the Classics).

Later on, Chang San-feng passed Tai Chi Chuan to his disciple, Wang Tsung-yueh (wang zong yue), who wrote more "Tai Chi Classics". And later the art was passed to the Chen family, who kept it hidden from outsiders for hundreds of years. Eventually Yang Lu Chan was able to learn and master Tai Chi Chuan from the Chen family and teach it to others. This is how Tai Chi Chuan became so widely known. Tai Chi Chuan became popular when Yang changed the form to make it less physically demanding.

Yang LuChan (1799-1872) was taught TaiJi, Pushing Hands and weapons by a famous master of Chen Family :Chen ChangXing. After thirty years Yang left the Chen family village, in Henan province, to teach TaiJi in Beijing. In order to popularise TaiJi and make it more accessible, he gradually deleted the difficult actions which involved jumping, leaping, explosions of strength and foot stoping. Yang's grandson, Yang ChenFu continued this trend to develop what is known as the "Big Frame" of yang style TaiJi. Yang ChenFu should be given full credit for the continued popularisation of TaiJi.

The Chen family style of TaiJi still retains its original forms, complete with the vigorous explosions of entergy. The first set of the Chen old style contains the twining "silk reeling" energy and the changes of tempo and vigor which truly gives a balance of yin and yang which seems to be missing from the more recent styles.

For students who already possess some knowledge of the other schoools, ptracticising Chen style TaiJi is extremely intersting. They begin to appreciate how their old style was devised, and fill in the missing details. But be warned, your old style may well come to feel so dull and unintersting in comparison that, like me, you will become hooked on Chen style TaiJi!

Terry Ryan
Qi Magazine Issue 1, November 1991

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So... Tai Chi is Really a Martial Art?

Tai Chi Chuan, which means supreme ultimate boxing or fist, or simply "Tai Chi", as it is commonly known, is at its most advanced level, a martial art.

How can this be, you ask? How is it possible that such a slow-moving exercise can be a martial art? One answer is, moving slowly trains you to move quickly. Tai Chi is a very precise art, involving highly coordinated movement. Doing the form quickly is not helpful in achieving the level of coordination necessary to perform Tai Chi in a martial context. Crucial details get lost.

Another answer is that the postures have martial applications. All that is needed is a teacher who knows them and can explain them well. Some of them are obvious, like a punch or push. Some of them are not, like "prepare for ward off left", or the "withdraw after punch". A skilled teacher can give you a wide assortment of attacks and defenses, some obvious, some not, from the Tai Chi form.

What is needed is for you to practice your form first, and as you do, work these techniques, the obvious and the not, into you body through daily practice. Then be instructed in, and play, Push Hands, so that you can learn about balance and body dynamics through a sport application (in the same way that many Ju Jitsu poeple practice their throws in the sport of Judo so that they can gain expertise against a knowledgeable and resisting opponent).

After learning those skills in your Push Hands, it will naturally turn into a martial art, as these skills translate well into the martial arena. Of course if you already have a martial art, these skills will improve what you are already doing. If you do not have any other martial skills, Tai Chi will provide them.

However, it should be stated, that not everyone who practices Tai Chi is practicing a martial art. The vast majority are practicing Tai Chi for its meditative and health benefits, and quite frankly, just because it feels good.

And, simply practicing Tai Chi does not make one a martial artist, even though the fundamental principles are there. One needs to study it for its martial aspects. With an appropriate teacher you can learn things in Tai Chi form that are developed and showcased in the Push Hands: softness, yielding, pushing, pressing, rooting and neutralizing to name a few. Then these attributes will become a potent martial art.

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