A brief history of tai chi

Tai chi is a part of Wu Shu (Kung Fu). As a means of keeping fit and preventing and curing diseases, it has been widely practiced among the Chinese people since the 16th century. Before this, these exercises had a different name, for example, The 13 Forms, Long Form, Shadow Boxing, etc. About 200 years ago, the name tai chi was given to this kind of exercise because the movements were slow, flowing and balanced like Yin and Yang, a small part of a large universe, always moving.

The words tai chi come from classical Chinese literature, the ‘I Ching’, which is 3000 years old. ‘Tai’ means ‘the greatest’ and ‘Chi’ means ‘polar, no end to the whole universe’. We are told in the I Ching of a state of harmony that exists in all of nature. It is the starting point of life.

The tai chi symbol shows a circle divided equally into a light and a dark sector, Yin and Yang. The division between Yin and Yang is not just a straight line, it is a graceful curve, suggesting movement and interplay of opposites. Light (Yang) changes into darkness (Yin) and then back again. Tai chi embraces all aspects of nature and her processes, visible and invisible, positive and negative, physical and spiritual, negative power (yielding) and positive power (action). These two powers, Yin and Yang, oppose and yet complement each other. This theory can be used to explain everything in the world.

The effects of tai chi have much to do with its characteristic features:

– Exercises require a high degree of concentration with the mind free of distractions.

– The movements are slow and uninterrupted, like a flowing stream.

– Breathing is natural and performed in rhythmic harmony with body movements. From the point of view of sports medicine, these characteristics are important factors contributing to the prevention and treatment of diseases.

Tai chi exercises have an approximately 500 year history handed down from one family to another. This created many different styles, even within the same style. The five most popular styles are Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao and Sun. The Yang is the most popular and in 1956 the Chinese authorities decided to create a National Chinese Standard Form (the 24 Yang style tai Chi forms), making it easier and more popular for everyone to learn and maintain their health.

Information below from Master Li Tianji’s book “a guide to Chinese Martial Arts”:

In the original form of Taiji Quan (Tai Chi Chuan) there were leaps, stamping and bursts of sudden movements, in later years it lost its fiercer movements, becoming softer, slower and more even. Hence, it became more suitable for practise by the old and the young, ideal as a health exercise. It developed into several different schools, the major ones of which are:

  1. The Chen Style: this is the original form from Henan developed by the Chen family. It did not reach Beijing until 1928. This style retains some of the old jumps, stamps and bursts of strength, interweaving forceful and graceful movements. With many twists and turns, it is quite strenuous.
  2. The Yang style: developed from the Chen style by Yang Luchan, its present form was developed by his grandson Yang Chengfu. It is currently the most popular style in China. Its movements are even and relaxed, with many wide arcs.
  3. The Wu style: developed in Beijing by Wu Quanyou, a man of the Manchu nationality, and his son Wu Jianquan on the basis of their practice of the Yang style. Surpassed in popularity only by the Yang style, its movements are gentle, compact and unhurried, executed in arcs of a medium range.
  4. The Hao style: originally developed by Wu Yuxiang, who studied the Chen style in Henan. Wu’s disciple, Hao Weizhen, brought it to Beijing. it is characterized by simplicity, clarity, and compactness, with soft and slow movements, their range small, and strict footwork and upright stances.
  5. The Sun style: at the end of the Qing dynasty, Sun Lutang first studied Xingyi, then Bagua , and finally the Hao style, on the basis of which he developed his own style. Its movements are nimble, using fluctuations of open and closed hand methods. A distinct feature of the Sun style is its footwork, which advances and retreats nimbly.