The Roots of Tai Chi


TaiJi Quan - Tai Chi Chuan

A brief history & description  

- the common translation for this name is Supreme Ultimate and although this translation is OK it is not the most accurate one for the actual practice of the martial/healing art of Taiji Quan. A much better and more accurate translation is Supreme Polarity.

The only way to understand why Supreme Polarity is a more correct term is to understand the very nature of the physical practice and the historical context of its first unveiling to the world sometime in the early to mid 1800's.

Up until this time in China's Martial Arts (Kung Fu) history most people practiced in a very hard physical way where being stronger than the opponent was understood as the best way to be. But when the great master Yang Lu-chan was asked to demonstrated his skill at the Imperial Palace by taking on the best of the imperial guards in hand to hand combat, his technique was by comparison so seemingly soft and relaxed without any obvious use of strength that it was described as being in supreme polarity to their use of great physical strength and power.

Of course Master Yang defeated all of these challengers.

Quan (Chuan) this word means Fist or a closed hand and is used to represent a method, system or form of boxing or martial art. A more commonly used term is Kung Fu.

There are basically two ways of spelling this art, the old way - Tai Chi Ch'uan and the new way - Tai Ji Quan or Taijiquan. In my opinion neither can represent the actual sound or pronunciation perfectly, its more like a mix of the two. However the first part of the name is pronounced using the Ji (Jee) sound and not the Chi sound. Throughout this site I will use both spellings but they both mean the same thing.

The beginning

The origins of Taijiquan stem from the art of Wudang Shan Dim-Mak, literally meaning Wudang Mountain Press Artery, however, Dim-Mak is more commonly known as death point striking or 'death touch'. This incredible art was founded by a genius called Chang San-feng who was born around the year 1247.

Chang was a very intelligent, educated and cultured person, an expert in medicine and many forms of exercise, meditation and martial arts. Using all this knowledge and skill and blending it with the profound philosophy of Dao (way of naturalness and understanding) the I-Ching, (Book of change) Ba Gua (Eight Trigrams) and Wu Hsing (Five Elements), he developed his own system to contain everything a human being needed to develop to their maximum potential and to be in harmony with nature and the governing principals of the universe. Although his art was based around the pinnacle of military strategy and the most efficient way of taking away another persons life, deep within the system are the most profound and effective methods of physical, mental (emotional) & spiritual self cultivation ever created. It was his overriding desire to develop a single system combining both fighting & healing methods that could free a person from whatever was hindering them reaching their highest physical, mental and spiritual levels.

The next development

Many years later a man called Yang Lu-chan 1799-1872 had learned this whole Wudang system from a man called Jiang Fa, a descendant of the Chang San-feng Wudang system. Before Yang had met and learned from Chiang Fa he had already learned and mastered the very effective boxing method of the Chen family, their system was known as Chen Pao Chui or Cannon Pounding and was a very effective and rather subtle family variation of the great Shaolin style of martial arts.

Yang Lu-chan had spent many years of fanatical dedication to his study of the Chen's Pao Chui style & would have been reluctant to give this up completely. So he kept the basic form of the Chen style and incorporated all the principals, methods & techniques of the Wudang system. His new system was now unique & also superior to that of the Chen's.

When teaching back in his hometown, his method became known as Hao Quan (loose boxing) and also Mien Quan (Soft Cotton Boxing) As Yang taught & travelled around, he developed a great reputation. Some years later he arrived in the capital city of Peking (Beijing) & was asked to demonstrate his art at the Emperor's Imperial Palace where he became employed as the chief coach to the Imperial Guard. It was at this time that the scholar Ong Tong He witnessed Yang's great skill & wrote about him -

Hands holding Taiji shakes the whole world,
A chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heroes.

It was because of what Ong Tong He wrote about Yang, that it became known as Taiji Quan.
Up until this time no other martial art was ever called Taiji Quan. Even Yang himself was never known to use the term Taiji Quan when referring to his style of martial art.

In the early 1900's the famous Yang Cheng-fu, grandson of Yang Lu-chan simplified the art so that all the people of China could benefit from the great health benefits of Taiji practice.

Taijiquan contains training Forms for various Weapons including:

  •     Staff

  •     Broadsword

  •     Straight sword

  •     Long spear

It also contains methods & forms for training with short sticks & knives.

Taijiquan contains the following three levels:

  •     Self Healing

  •     Self defence

  •     Medical healing of others

All the major movements or Postures in the Original Long Yang Form work on all of these three levels.
It is possible to achieve a decent level of Self Healing without learning any of the next 2 levels.
In learning the level of Self Defence you automatically gain an amount of Self-Healing & develop a foundation for Medical Healing. It is impossible to achieve the final and highest level of Medical Healing without having mastered the previous 2 levels first.

Modern Times

Yang Cheng-fu's New Style Taiji was changed in 1956 by the Chinese State Physical Culture Committee and many new short forms were created. These forms are inferior & incomplete shadows of the original Yang Taiji art. Yang Cheng-fu himself said that to change & simplify his form further would surely lead to disaster.

Song of the Real Meaning of Tajiquan

No shape, no shadow.
Entire body transparent and empty.
Like a stone chime suspended from West Mountain.
Tigers roaring, monkeys screeching.
Clear fountain, peaceful water.
Turbulent river, stormy ocean.
With your whole being, develop your life.

Allowing the magic of Taiji to enter your life means being open to the currents and forces of nature within yourself and the world around you.
Whether it is a gentle summers breeze, or a violent hurricane.
The delicacy of a tiny kitten, or the awesome power of a roaring tiger, crashing down a mountainside with eyes blazing.
All must be embraced, cultivated & understood.
Only then, can all be released & one can carry the tiger back to the mountain & ride the dragon back to the void.
                                                  Christian Edwards - Rugby Tai Chi Club