Tai Chi is an Evolving Art
What is now called Tai Chi Chuan has its roots in the WuTang mountain area of China in the T’ang Dynasty (A.D. 618-906). This system had evolved from the earlier martial art now known as Sholin Kung Fu which was introduced to China by a Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma around A.D. 475. Sholin was quite hard, with emphasis on speed and power.
This was modified by Chang San-Feng. He was a Confucian early in his life then, at some point, encountered a Daoist sect and was moved by its philosophy. This philosophy of soft overcoming hard, flowing energy builds momentum, not forcing events but responding to them, observing nature and aligning with it, combined with the yin/yang and orderly philosophy of his previous Confucian studies, combined with the Buddhist martial arts training was the foundation of a new martial art – Tai Chi Chuan.
Tai Chi keeps evolving. From a martial art to a meditative health practice. From 108 or more moves to an 8 move form. From where we are now to who knows where we are headed. I have spent the better part of my Tai Chi teaching career modifying the form and continue to do so. It keeps it interesting, challenging, and fun for me, and I encourage other instructors to do the same. I don’t think it is a virtue to do the form exactly as you were taught, after some years. Just make sure you adhere to the founding principles of our art and feel free to express the unique “you”.
What is….
Tai Chi Chuan or Taiji is a soft, internal martial art developed in China over the course of more than one thousand years. It has evolved into a complete system of exercise, meditation that has world wide appeal.
The Form. There are various interpretations of the solo form. Tai Chi started out as an 8 movement (taken from the eight basic energies of Tai Chi – peng, lu, ji, an, tsai, lieh, jou, kao). The form evolved into 108 moves, or even more, in a quest to gain greater understanding of the principles, as well as more exercise. The Form is actually a pantomime of real movements done in a slow and steady speed.
Breathing. An important aspect of Tai Chi training is the study of Chi Kung (QiGong). This involves conscious breathing with movement. The basic pattern involves breathing in as the arms are moved towards the body, and breathing out as the arms move away from the body, but, of course, there are variations that contradict this principle .There are hundreds, if not more, QiGong exercises practiced for all sorts of reasons.
Chi or Qi. This is the idea that dominates the study of Tai Chi Chuan. The Universe is composed of Chi, as is our body. Tai Chi involves the conscious attention to gathering this energy, concentrating it, circulating it to all parts of the body for health, wellness, and martial skills.
Tui Shou. Known as Push Hands, Join Hands, Sensing Hands. It is the study of how the principles of yin and yang, gather and release, soft over hard, relaxation under pressure, all relate to Tai Chi and make it an effective internal art. This study involves two people standing with the toes of the feet close together and sending energy back and forth to challenge the partner’s balance, flexibility, and knowledge of Tai Chi principles. There are fixed step practices, restricted step, and moving step, all leading to free style inter-action. Most people study fixed step with various pre-determined patterns.
San Shou. Partner form. The most advanced of all the Tai Chi forms. Two 44 movement forms are blended together to make a flowing dance like form that explains the martial aspects of the Tai Chi forms. It trains the body to react to various incoming energies. Can also be practiced as a solo form.
Walking Stick or Cane. Although not a traditional Tai Chi weapon form, this is usually the first I teach to students. There is a longer solo form, but the one I teach is a partner form with 11 movements taught on each side. There is a transition so it can be practiced as a round or as an effective solo form. As a note, the cane is the only possible weapon one is allowed to take on an airplane.
Dao – Saber or Broadsword. The first weapon I studied and one of my favorites. The saber is a heavy, single edged weapon and therefore the movements tend to be large with a swinging motion. The saber warriors were in the second line of defense behind the spear carriers, and tended to focus on cutting the horse riders down. There is also a very simple, short partner saber applications form with nine moves per side. Easy to learn.
Jian or Double Edge Sword. This is the ultimate weapon form for most Tai Chi players. It is more subtle than the saber, the moves smaller and more compact. It uses thrusting, poking and slicing predominantly. A traditional Tai Chi weapon. Many of the great sword players were women as opposed to mostly men who used the saber. There is also a very good partner sword form with 30 moves on each side.
Spear. A weapon form for the more hardy souls. The spear can be quite long and heavy or shorter and lighter. The same form can be used with staff. Poking and thrusting are the predominate moves. This form is not often taught as it takes a lot of room to learn and practice, especially in a class situation. It works well to train this in a park setting. The Yang form has 63 moves and is a workout. Develops upper body strength, and is quite fun.
Fan. I am sorry to say I never learned the fan form, but have seen some lovely demonstrations. I know there is a special martial fan that has sharp, reinforced edges. It is quite exciting to see and hear the fan when it is snapped open or closed.
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