Origins of Tai Chi
origins of tai chi go back many hundreds of years. The
person who is traditionally credited as being the 'founder'
of tai chi is the monk Chang San-feng, who was stationed
at the Wu Tang monastery, and, depending upon sources,
lived somewhere between 960AD and 1460 AD, although some
scholars question his existence at all, ascribing him
to a mythical figure.
theory is that Chang San-feng originated a style that
combined both existing combat techniques and other movements,
primarily designed to increase the flow of chi energy
through the body, thus creating a form that was a physical
manifestation of Taoist thinking.
Going back even further, the ancestors of tai chi can
be seen in the sixth century: Bodhidharma visited the
Shao-lin monastery, and developed a system of excersise
for the monks, who he saw in poor physical condition
from too much meditation. This was known as the Eighteen
Form Lohan Excersise. Later, in the eighth century,
this was developed into a 37-form 'Long Kung-Fu', which
unlike other schools of Kung-fu, was based upon a 'soft'
or internal approach, rather than a 'hard' external
Looking back even further than this, we can see that
in the third century, the physician Hua-tu'o created
a system of excersise to aid digestion and circulation,
based upon the movements of animals and birds. The effect
of this system was to move every part of the body.
Tai Chi Chuan, the original combat form of Tai Chi,
translated means Supreme Ultimate Fist, 'chuan' meaning
a method of boxing or combat. Unlike many other martial
arts, which were 'aggressive' or outward, Tai Chi Chuan's
main principle was that of a 'soft' combat - absorbing
the opponent's aggressive energy and using it against
him. This is a principle of yin and yang, a balance
of opposites where soft is used to overcome hard: the
maxim "four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds" or
"overcome a weight of a thousand carries by four ounces"
is often used. Imagine an opponent twice your weight
throwing a powerful punch - the Tai Chi Chuan adept
would step back, absorb the punch by grasping the fist
and pulling it past him, using his opponent's own forward
energy and motion to overbalance the attacker. Or he
might respond in any number of ways, always using the
Although 'soft', this was a very violent form, designed
for killing and maiming (lest we forget), in an efficient
and scientific way. Modern non-violent tai chi as a
form on its own, rather than being a part of chuan,
was developed much later, as the need for combat gradually
decreased - although the tai chi practitioner is always
aware that the forms that he is using are the same as
those of combat, but slower. In the eighteenth century,
Yang Lu-chan removed the label of 'secrecy' on the form,
and started his own 'Yang' style of tai chi, becoming
known at the imperial court as 'Yang the Unsurpassable'.
After his death, one of his students, Chen Hsui-feng,
became head of the Yang School. One of Yang Lu-chan's
sons, Yang Pan-hou, had a student called Wu Quan-yu,
whose son; Wu Chien-chuan became disillusioned with
the Yang style and created his own 'Wu' style.
Another of Yang Lu-chan's sons, Yang Chien-hou, had
three sons, one of which, Yang Chen-fu, is largely responsible
for popularising the Yang style and bringing it to the
West in this century. He became known as 'Yang the Invincible'