Taichi is an ancient exercise originating from Mainland China that promotes self-awareness and boosts physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Its movements are slow, graceful yet rigidly disciplined and is grounded on sensitivity and timing.
History of Taichi
The origins of Taichi is traced back to the Taoist monk Chang San Feng (1279-1368), a former government official who after retirement from public service retired to the Holy Mountain of Wudang Shan in Mainland China in solitude.
It is said that while Chang was in meditation by the stream of Wudang, he had a dreamy vision. In his dream, he saw a crane bird and a snake about to battle. When the crane bird darted towards the snake, the snake slithered back to avoid the bird’s attack. When opportunity presented itself for the snake to attack the crane bird, the bird raised its wings and flew. Neither of the two creatures succeeded to harm the other because each used their individual skill, sensitivity to the opponent and timing to avoid a perilous attack.
Inspired by his dreamy vision, Chang created a series of exercise drills and movements that captured the movements of the snake, the bird crane and eventually the tiger, monkey and sparrow. The very principle of Tai Chi is rooted in the philosophy of Taoism that is grounded on meekness, humility and balance with nature. Taichi’s core principle is to stay strongly rooted yet flexible when faced with adversity. Following the principle of nature, Tai Chi practitioners are like trees that are able to bend their bodies with the strong wind yet remaining firmly rooted to the ground. Tai Chi practitioners are taught to remain relaxed in the face of an attack, increase their sensitivity to their opponent’s likely movement with intent to deflect the attack and use minimum force to neutralize the attacker.
Today, several key Chinese families have evolved the ancient practice of Taichi since Chang’s time. Taichi has also evolved from traditional martial arts to a daily exercise regime that helps develop a healthy mind, body and spirit. Taichi’s full name is Tai Chi Chuan translated as supreme ultimate fist or supreme ultimate boxing.
Among the families in Mainland China who have evolved the practice of Tai Chi and built it into a disciplined art include Chen Wangting (1600-1680) who integrated Shaolin boxing, and Chi Kung breathing . His direct descendant is Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang now based in Australia and is recognized today as the world’s leading proponent of the art. Grandmaster Chen has schools all over the world and teaches in Europe, Russia and the United States. Another direct descendant is Grandmaster Chen Zheng Lei based in Mainland China but regularly teaches the Chen style Tai Chi in many parts of Europe, Japan and the United States. Chengjiaogou Village in Mainland China has become a popular destination for Tai Chi practitioners worldwide. The Chengjiagou Taiji Centre has trained more than 10,000 students since it opened in 2001. The Cheng style today is heavily martial arts with explosive movements, jumps, foot stomps and roars.
Another of the ancient practitioners is Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872), a native of Yongnian Province, China whose style of Tai Chi is the world’s most popular and most practiced today. Yang is credited with creating the Hand Form preferred by the non-extremist Martial Arts practitioners. The Yang style of Tai Chi has helped popularized this Martial Arts discipline and has made it more accessible to the less athletic.
Another practitioner is Wu Yu Xiang (1812-1880) who was inspired by a performance of Yang Lu Chan. Wu learned both the styles of the Chen and Yang, mixed these and developed the Wu Style. The Wu style has been improved by the Hao family hence the Wu (Hao) style.
A most recent style of Tai Chi is the Sun Style, developed by Sun Lutang (1860-1932). The Sun style incorporates the discipline of Shaolin Kung Fu with the Wu (Hao) style.
In the 19th century, Cheng Man-Ching (1900-1975) created the shortened version of the popular Hand Form that has caused Tai Chi to become popular and more accessible in North America.
Why Tai Chi
Tai Chi is a low impact exercise that stresses mental focus, balance and harmony of the mind, spirit and physical body. By achieving a meditative state of mind and a seamless flow of singular postures and drills, a balance of the yin and yang in the body is obtained and a flow of healthy chi energy is passed.
The discipline of Tai Chi is grounded on the philosophy of the Yin and Yang , where everything in the universe is balanced and equal, opposite yet complementary. Yin is night, the moon, cold, female, soft, slow and passive. Yang is day, the sun, hot, hard, male, quick and fast. Without darkness, there is no light; without the male, there can be no female. The Tai Chi symbol is half black and half white.