Tai Chi Chuan - Origins
Translation: Supreme Ultimate Fist/Form
What is Tai Chi Chuan and when did it begin?
Firstly, as a brief explanation, the name probably stems from the Taoist theory of yin and yang (circa 1200 BC). Incidentally, the symbol commonly referred to as yin and yang or "the Yin Yang" is correctly called Tai Chi (meaning Supreme Ultimate). Tai Chi Chuan is incorrectly called Tai Chi as a nickname or shortening of its name. Tai Chi Chuan is a Martial Art or Boxing style of the Internal school of Chinese Boxing. The Internal styles are characterised by their use of softness and internal power or Jin, rather than hard techniques and brute strength.
When did Tai Chi Chuan begin?
Tai Chi Chuan has a traceable history dating back to the late 1700s. When Wang Chung-Yueh wrote the first Treatise on the Yin Fu Lance, this is considered to be the first book on Tai Chi Chuan. Wang Chung-Yueh was known to be living in 1771 and was taught by Chen Wang-Ting (circa 1700). (It is commonly acknowledged that what is now referred to as Tai Chi Chuan originated with the Chen family, though it's roots may be older still.) From this point on, Tai Chi Chuan has a well-documented history, with some notable exponents - the most famous of which must be Yang Lu Chan (1799 1872). He was renowned for his great fighting ability, many of his challenges have become legendary and synonymous with supreme skill. The challenges he faced were a common practice within his cultural environment at that time - something that still lingers on in the East, though to a lesser extent, and is far less common in the West. Yang's original style has produced several variations which are regarded as styles in there own right, as has the Chen family's original form.
Present day Tai Chi Chuan is without doubt far removed from those early days, even for those who maintain traditional values (and I mean this without disrespect). Why is it far removed? Tai Chi Chuan has evolved and continues to do so. Yang Lu Chan is credited with the first ever modification of the original Chen form/forms. Over the years modifications have continued to occur, developing into, for example:
- differing styles
- development and introduction of short forms (mid 1970s onwards)
- balancing of left and right movements in the forms
- omission of the more difficult physical aspects of the forms
Change after all, as the Taoists teach us, is the natural order of all things.
Another more recent change has been the fellowship amongst the differing schools and styles - coming together to share knowledge, greeting each other with the open hand of friendship instead of the clenched fist of challenge as was often the way in the past.
However, one often reads in martial arts magazines how one style is not as good as another or has divided into two camps, those who train for martial reasons and those who prefer the health aspects of the art. These are sub divisions of a whole and for some never the twain shall meet. This is an eternal sea raging upon itself. One question comes to mind: Does it matter?
I have no doubt there are many reasons why someone would want to practice Tai Chi Chuan and those reasons, whatever they are, should be adequate, provided people are taught honestly and openly. Maybe another change we could learn is to live and let live and enjoy the vibrancy of viva la difference.
What is Tai Chi Chuan?
Tai Chi Chuan is a sophisticated, yet simple, martial art which follows old Taoist philosophies and exercises that harmonise with nature, complemented by their nei chia chi kung technology.
Tai Chi Chuan is not truly characterised by slow movements though to the untrained eye this is the most obvious trait. Tai Chi Chuan is characterised by all the principles that govern it, among them:
- Yuan (roundness)
- Yun (continuity)
- Man (slowness)
- Ching (body lightness) etc.
No matter the style the principles remain the same though the order may differ from teacher to teacher or style to style. The proper instruction of these principles allows the practitioner to extract the full benefits of Tai Chi Chuan, giving them the options of its uses, ie martial and or health.
To my mind Tai Chi Chuan is a wonderful art, as much a pathway to self-discovery as it is a method of learning martial techniques or health-promoting exercises, and is well worth the years of practice required to learn it.
Sifu D Kerr, LSOM
Reference: Lees Modified Tai Chi Chuan