Tai chi chuan (traditional Chinese: 太極拳; simplified Chinese: 太极拳; pinyin: tàijíquán; Wade-Giles: t'ai4 chi2 ch'üan2) is an 'internal' Chinese exercise and martial art. Tai chi is typically practised for a variety of reasons: its soft martial techniques, demonstration competitions, health and longevity. Consequently, there exist a multitude of training forms, both traditional and modern, which correspond to those aims. Some of Tai chi chuan's training forms are well known to Westerners as the slow motion routines that groups of people practice together every morning in parks around the world, particularly in China.
Today, tai chi- has spread worldwide. Most modern styles of tai chi- trace their development to at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun. Who actually created tai chi is a subject of much argument and speculation; the oldest documented tradition is that of the Chen family from the 1820s.
The Mandarin term "tai chi chuan" is often translated as "supreme ultimate fist" or "boundless fist," but may better translates to "great extremes boxing," with an emphasis on finding a central balance between two great extremes. An archaic symbol-concept is the Taijitu meant to show the principles of duality philosophy. Thus, tai chi- theory and practice evolved in agreement with many of the principles of Chinese philosophy and Taoism in particular. Tai chi- training first involves learning solo routines, known as forms (套路 taolu). While the image of tai chi chuan in popular culture is typified by exceedingly slow movement, many tai chi- styles (including the three most popular, Yang, Wu and Chen) have secondary forms of a faster pace. The other half of traditional tai chi- training (though many modern schools disregard it entirely) consists of partnering exercises known as pushing hands, and martial applications of the postures of the form.
In Western countries Tai Chi Chuan is often known simply as "Tai Chi" (with a corresponding emphasis on health practise and a de-emphasis on martial art training). Tai Chi Chuan is less frequently called "Taijiquan" or simply "Taiji" and these expressions preserve a strong connotation of martial/competition skill.
Tai chi chuan is generally classified as a form of traditional Chinese martial arts of the Neijia (soft or internal) branch. It is considered a soft style martial art — an art applied with internal power — to distinguish its theory and application from that of the hard martial art styles.
Since the first widespread promotion of tai chi's health benefits by Yang Shaohou, Yang Chengfu, Wu Chien-ch'uan and Sun Lutang in the early twentieth century, it has developed a worldwide following among people with little or no interest in martial training for its benefit to health and health maintenance. Medical studies of tai chi support its effectiveness as an alternative exercise and a form of martial arts therapy.
Some call it a form of moving meditation, as focusing the mind solely on the movements of the form purportedly helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity. Besides general health benefits and stress management attributed to tai chi training, aspects of Traditional Chinese medicine are taught to advanced tai chi students in some traditional schools. Some martial arts, especially the Japanese martial arts, use a uniform for students during practice. Tai chi chuan schools do not generally require a uniform, but both traditional and modern teachers often advocate loose, comfortable clothing and flat-soled shoes. 
The physical techniques of tai chi chuan are described in the tai chi classics (a set of writings by traditional masters) as being characterized by the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination in relaxation, rather than muscular tension, in order to neutralize or initiate attacks. The slow, repetitive work involved in the process of learning how that leverage is generated gently and measurably increases and opens the internal circulation (breath, body heat, blood, lymph, peristalsis, etc.).
The study of tai chi chuan primarily involves three subjects. Traditional schools cover these aspects of tai chi practice simultaneously, while many modern schools focus on a single aspect, depending on their goal in practicing the art. These subjects are:
An unhealthy or otherwise uncomfortable person may find it difficult to meditate to a state of calmness or to use tai chi as a martial art. Tai chi's health training therefore concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind. For those focused on tai chi's martial application, good physical fitness is an important step towards effective self-defense.
The focus and calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of tai chi is seen as necessary in maintaining optimum health (in the sense of relieving stress and maintaining homeostasis) and in application of the form as a soft style martial art.
The ability to use tai chi as a form of self-defense in combat is said to be the most effective proof of a student's understanding of the art's principles. The study of tai chi chuan martially is the study of appropriate change in response to outside forces; the study of yielding and blending with outside force rather than attempting to meet it with opposing force.
History and styles Edit
There are five major styles of tai chi chuan, each named after the Chinese family from which it originated:
* Chen style (陳氏) * Yang style (楊氏) * Wu or Wu/Hao style of Wu Yu-hsiang (Wu Yuxiang) (武氏) * Wu style of Wu Ch'uan-yü (Wu Quanyuo) and Wu Chien-ch'uan (Wu Jianquan) (吳氏) * Sun style (孫氏)
The order of verifiable age is as listed above. The order of popularity (in terms of number of practitioners) is Yang, Wu, Chen, Sun, and Wu/Hao. The first five major family styles share much underlying theory, but differ in their approaches to training.
There are now dozens of new styles, hybrid styles and offshoots of the main styles, but the five family schools are the groups recognised by the international community as being orthodox. Zhaobao Tai Chi, a close cousin of Chen style, has been newly recognised by Western practitioners as a distinct style. The designation internal or nei chia martial arts is also used to broadly distinguish what are known as the external or wai chia styles based on the Shaolinquan styles, although that distinction is sometimes disputed by modern schools. In this broad sense, all styles of tai chi (as well as related arts such as Pa Kua Chang and Hsing-i Ch'üan) are therefore considered to be "soft" or "internal" martial arts. Many styles list in their history that tai chi was originally formulated by a Taoist monk called Zhang Sanfeng and taught by him in the Taoist monasteries at Wu Tang Shan .
When tracing tai chi chuan's formative influences to Taoist and Buddhist monasteries, there seems little more to go on than legendary tales from a modern historical perspective, but tai chi chuan's practical connection to and dependence upon the theories of Sung dynasty Neo-Confucianism (a conscious synthesis of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian traditions, esp. the teachings of Mencius) is readily apparent to its practitioners. The philosophical and political landscape of that time in Chinese history is fairly well documented. Tai chi's theories and practice are therefore believed by some schools to have been formulated by the Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng in the 12th century, at about the same time that the principles of the Neo-Confucian school were making themselves felt in Chinese intellectual life. Zhang Sanfeng as a young man studied Tao Yin (導引, Pinyin dǎoyǐn) breathing exercises from his Taoist teachers and martial arts at the Buddhist Shaolin monastery, eventually combining the martial forms and breathing exercises to formulate the soft or internal principles we associate with tai chi chuan and related martial arts. Zhang Sanfeng is also sometimes attributed with the creation of the original 13 Movements of Tai Chi Chuan. These 13 movements are in all forms of tai chi chuan. Its subsequent fame attributed to his teaching, Wu Tang monastery was known thereafter as an important martial center for many centuries, its many styles of internal kung fu preserved and refined at various Taoist temples.
This family tree is not comprehensive.
LEGENDARY FIGURES | Zhang Sanfeng* circa 12th century NEI CHIA | Wang Zongyue* | | THE 5 MAJOR CLASSICAL FAMILY STYLES | Chen Wangting 1600-1680 9th generation Chen CHEN STYLE | +-------------------------------------------------------------------+ | | Chen Changxing Chen Youben 1771-1853 14th generation Chen circa 1800s 14th generation Chen Chen Old Frame Chen New Frame (Small Frame) | | Yang Lu-ch'an Chen Qingping 1799–1872 1795–1868 YANG STYLE Chen Small Frame, Zhaobao Frame | | +---------------------------------+-----------------------------+ | | | | | Yang Pan-hou Yang Chien-hou Wu Yu-hsiang 1837–92 1839–1917 1812–80 Yang Small Frame | WU/HAO STYLE | +-----------------+ | | | | | Wu Ch'uan-yü Yang Shao-hou Yang Ch'eng-fu Li I-yü 1834–1902 1862–1930 1883–1936 1832–92 | Yang Small Frame Yang Big Frame | Wu Chien-ch'üan | Hao Wei-chen 1870–1942 Yang Shou-chung 1849–1920 WU STYLE 1910–85 108 Form | | | Ip Tai Tak Sun Lu-t'ang Wu Kung-i 1929-2004 1861–1932 1900–70 SUN STYLE | | Wu Ta-kuei Sun Hsing-i 1923–72 1891–1929 MODERN FORMS from Yang Ch`eng-fu | | | +--------------+ | | Cheng Man-ch'ing | 1901–75 | Short (37) Form | | Chinese Sports Commission 1956 Beijing 24 Form . . 1989 42 Competition Form (Wushu competition form combined from Sun, Wu, Chen, and Yang styles)
Notes to Family tree tableEdit
Names denoted by an asterisk are legendary or semi-legendary figures in the lineage, which means their involvement in the lineage, while accepted by most of the major schools, isn't independently verifiable from known historical records.
The Cheng Man-ch'ing and Chinese Sports Commission short forms are derived from Yang family forms, but neither are recognized as Yang family tai chi chuan by standard-bearing Yang family teachers. The Chen, Yang and Wu families are now promoting their own shortened demonstration forms for competitive purposes.
Training and techniques Edit
As the name tai chi chuan is held to be derived from the Taiji symbol (taijitu or t'ai chi t'u, 太極圖), commonly known in the West as the "yin-yang" diagram, tai chi chuan is therefore said in literature preserved in its oldest schools to be a study of yin (receptive) and yang (active) principles, using terminology found in the Chinese classics, especially the Book of Changes and the Tao Te Ching.
The core training involves two primary features: the first being the solo form (ch'üan or quán, 拳), a slow sequence of movements which emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing and a natural range of motion; the second being different styles of pushing hands (tui shou, 推手) for training movement principles of the form in a more practical way.
The solo form should take the students through a complete, natural, range of motion over their center of gravity. Accurate, repeated practice of the solo routine is said to retrain posture, encourage circulation throughout the students' bodies, maintain flexibility through their joints and further familiarize students with the martial application sequences implied by the forms. The major traditional styles of tai chi have forms which differ somewhat cosmetically, but there are also many obvious similarities which point to their common origin. The solo forms, empty-hand and weapon, are catalogs of movements that are practiced individually in pushing hands and martial application scenarios to prepare students for self-defense training. In most traditional schools different variations of the solo forms can be practiced: fast–slow, small circle–large circle, square–round (which are different expressions of leverage through the joints), low sitting/high sitting (the degree to which weight-bearing knees are kept bent throughout the form), for example. Template:Chinese martial arts The philosophy of the style is that if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certain to be injured at least to some degree. Such injury, according to tai chi theory, is a natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force. The collision of two like forces, yang with yang, is known as "double-weighted" in tai chi terminology. Instead, students are taught not to directly fight or resist an incoming force, but to meet it in softness and "stick" to it, following its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, the result of meeting yang with yin. Done correctly, achieving this yin/yang or yang/yin balance in combat (and, by extension, other areas of one's life) is known as being "single-weighted" and is a primary goal of tai chi chuan training. Lao Tzu provided the archetype for this in the Tao Te Ching when he wrote, "The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong."
Tai chi's martial aspect relies on sensitivity to the opponent's movements and center of gravity dictating appropriate responses. Effectively affecting or "capturing" the opponent's center of gravity immediately upon contact is trained as the primary goal of the martial tai chi student. The sensitivity needed to capture the center is acquired over thousands of hours of first yin (slow, repetitive, meditative, low impact) and then later adding yang ("realistic," active, fast, high impact) martial training; forms, pushing hands and sparring. Tai chi trains in three basic ranges, close, medium and long, and then everything in between. Pushes and open hand strikes are more common than punches, and kicks are usually to the legs and lower torso, never higher than the hip depending on style. The fingers, fists, palms, sides of the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, back, hips, blade of the foot, knees and feet are commonly used to strike, with strikes to the eyes, throat, heart, groin and other acupressure points trained by advanced students. Joint traps, locks and breaks (chin na) are also used. Most tai chi teachers expect their students to thoroughly learn defensive or neutralizing skills first, and a student will have to demonstrate proficiency with them before offensive skills will be extensively trained. There is also an emphasis in the traditional schools that one is expected to show wu te (武德), martial virtue or heroism, to protect the defenseless and show mercy to one's opponents.
Other training exercises include:
- Weapons training and fencing applications employing the straight sword known as the jian or chien or gim (jiàn 劍), a heavier curved sabre, sometimes called a broadsword or tao (dāo 刀, which is actually considered a big knife), folding fan also called san, wooden staff (2 m) known as kun (棍), 7 foot (2 m) spear and 13 foot (4 m) lance (both called qiāng 槍). More exotic weapons still used by some traditional styles are the large Dadao or Ta Tao (大刀) and Pudao or P'u Tao (撲刀) sabres, halberd (jǐ 戟), cane, rope-dart, three sectional staff, Wind and fire wheels, lasso, whip, chain whip and steel whip.
- Two-person tournament sparring (as part of push hands competitions and/or sanshou 散手);
- Breathing exercises; nei kung (內功 nèigōng) or, more commonly, ch'i kung (氣功 qìgōng) to develop ch'i (氣 qì) or "breath energy" in coordination with physical movement and post standing or combinations of the two. These were formerly taught only to disciples as a separate, complementary training system. In the last 50 years they have become more well known to the general public.