Tai Chi

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T’ai Chi Ch’uan (also transliterated as “Taijiquan”), is a “soft” martial art belonging to the “Internal Family” (Nei Jia), along with such martial arts as Pa Kua Chang (Baguazhang), and Hsing-I Ch’uan (Xingyiquan). T’ai Chi complements the more exertive, “external” (Wai Jia), martial arts, like Karate and Muay Thai. Translated, T’ai Chi Ch’uan means “Ultimate Boxing” or “Limitless Fist,” and can be traced back to the ancient Taoist “Chang, San-Feng,” though the practice may have existed for thousands of years before that time in a more rudimentary form and under a different name. Regardless of when or exactly by whom it was started, T’ai Chi appears to be directly linked to and rooted in Taoist principles of Yin and Yang.

Chang, San-Feng was said to have originally been a Shaolin monk, trained as a fighter. Later in life, he decided to leave the monastery to become a Taoist hermit and give up the life of a warrior in search of tranquility. One way he employed seeking tranquility was by integrating the Taoist notions of overcoming superior force through yielding into martial arts.

It is said that Chang, San-Feng created 13 original postures, which were then linked together into a continuous flowing combination of movements that most people today associate with T’ai Chi Ch’uan. There are several different styles of T’ai Chi that have been said to have emerged from him; these being based on and named after the people who were involved n the development of this martial art. Some of the styles are as follows:

Chen Style: Founded by Chen, Wang-Ting, a soldier and fighting aficionado. He began compiling different T’ai Chi movements in the mid 1500’s and passed them on to his family members until the early 1800’s when the Chen style split into “New” and “Old” frame movements. Around this time, people outside of the Chen village began learning the style. It is suggested by Chen historians today that the Chen style of T’ai Chi did not originate from Chang, San-Feng and the Wu Dang Temple original T’ai Chi, but was a later development from an existing local Kung-Fu style, which was practiced slowly and approached in a similar manner to the Taoist, Chang, San-Feng style.

Yang Style: Founded by Yang, Lu-Ch’an in the 1800’s. Yang was believed to have taken a job as a servant for the Chen family solely to learn the art by watching; since at that time the Chen village did not teach their art to outsiders. Eventually, after being discovered, he was taught the Chen style by Chen Chang Xin who – in addition to learning the Chen village system – was taught by Jiang Fa who was in turn taught by Wang Tsung Yueh; all supposedly composing a separate lineage to the Taoist Wu Dang Temple and Chang, San-Feng. Some historians theorize that this is why it was acceptable for Chan Chang Xin to teach him, since it was not the family style being taught, but a separate Taoist T’ai Chi Ch’uan from Jiang Fa. Following the mastery of this Yang, Lu-Chan became a martial arts teacher for the Manchu government, but also taught townspeople.

Old Yang Style: The old version of Yang style T’ai Chi is sometimes called the “Tsung Version” since it is said to have originated with Jiang Fa, whose teacher was Wang Tsung Yueh. This style of Yang T’ai Chi is also called “Large Frame,” since it employs deeper stances and bigger, more open movements than the “New Yang Style,” taught by Yang, Lu-Chan’s grandson Yang, Cheng-Fu (and further modified by Cheng, Man-Ch’ing).

Old Wu Style: Founded by Wu Yu-Hsiang in the 1800’s, after studying both Yang and Chen styles. Wu wrote the textbook about T’ai Chi entitled “Expositions of Insights Into the Practice of the Thirteen Postures.” This style is credited as the foundation of the next three systems:

Li Style: Founded by Li I-Yu, Wu’s main disciple. This style is documented in several texts, including “The Five Character Secrets and Essentials of the Practice of Form and Push Hands,” and is considered the first of the Small Frame T’ai Chi styles (styles using tighter, small-circle movements and short stances).

Hao Style: Founded by Hao Wei-Chenn, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. This is also a small frame style. Hao was influenced by studies in several T’ai Chi styles including Li, Yang and Sun.

Sun Style: Founded by Sun, Lu-T’ang, who coined the phrase I This style is another small frame style but is noted for having replaced jumps with small steps also called “lively pace.” This was due in part to the integration of Bagua techniques (Sun also implementing Hsing-I techniques, as he was a master of all three internal arts). This style is the first documented system to have been passed on by a daughter; Sun Shu Rong (third generation).

New Wu Style: Founded by Wu, Quan-Yu, a Manchurian member of the Imperial Guard in Beijing. He learned Tai Chi Chuan from the founder of Yang Style, Master Yang, Lu-Ch’an. Quan You’s area of specialization was neutralization. Quan Yu had three primary disciples: His son Wu, Jian-Quan, Wang, Mao-Zhai and Guo-Fen. Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan developed into two branches in Beijing, one from earlier students of Chaun You, and the other from students of Wu, Jian-Quan. Wu, Jian-Quan modified the forms taught to him by his father. He utilized a narrower circle and created many new ways to apply the form in a practical manner. In 1924, Master Wu, Jian-Quan, along with colleagues, Xi-Yu Sheng, Yang, Shaou-Hou and Yang, Cheng-Fu founded a famous martial arts school. This had an important effect in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan as it became available to the general public for the first time.

Yang, Cheng-Fu Style: Founded by Yang, Cheng-Fu, the grandson of Yang, Lu-Ch’an. He taught T’ai Chi in the form that many of us know it today, at the Central Kuo Shu Institute, and then later in Shanghai. He is credited with emphasizing the health benefits of the arts and popularizing it amongst the educated class.

Cheng, Man-Ch’ing Style: Founded by Cheng, Man-Ching, a chief disciple of Yang, Cheng-Fu. He was one of the first to bring T’ai Chi to the United States, and subsequently popularized it; emphasizing the health benefits and ease of learning the “Small Frame” Yang, Cheng-Fu style. Cheng, Man-Ch’ing further modified the form of his teacher by eliminating repetitions of the same movements, and condensing it into a shorter variation.

Chen, Pan-Ling Style: Founded by Chen, Pan-Ling. An engineer by trade, Chen, Pan-Ling sought to refine all existing styles of T’ai Chi to their mechanical perfection. He extensively studied Yang and Wu style, then spending extensive time at the Chen village to incorporate their variations of movements as well. Like Sun, Lu-T’ang, Chen, Pan-Ling was a master of all the three well known “Nei Jia,” and there is some evidence of them in the Chen, Pan-Ling form; as well as hybridization of Yang, Wu and Chen movements.

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