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Taijiquan Symbol

The lower dantian in taijiquan: yin and yang rotate, while the core reverts to stillness (wuji)

T'ai chi ch'uan or tàijíquán, often shortened to t'ai chitaiji or tai chi in English usage, is a Traditional  internal Chinese martial art practised for both its defense training and its health benefits. It is also typically practised for a variety of other personal reasons: its hard and soft martial art technique, demonstration competitions, and longevity. As a result, a multitude of training forms exist, both traditional and modern, which correspond to those aims. Some of t'ai chi ch'uan's training forms are especially known for being practised with relatively slow movement. Medical research has found evidence that t'ai chi is helpful for improving balance and for general psychological health, and that it is associated with general health benefits in older people.  

Taijiquan (太極拳, T'ai chi ch'uan) is also a modern wushu style famous for slow, relaxed movements, often seen as an exercise method for the elderly, and sometimes known as "T'ai chi" in Western countries to those otherwise unfamiliar with wushu. This wushu form is a modern recompilation based on the Yang (楊) style of Taijiquan, but also including movements of the Chen (陳), Wú (吳), Wǔ (武), and Sun (孫) styles. Taijiquan is considered a "Neijia" (Internal Style) of Wushu.

NameEdit

The term "t'ai chi ch'uan" translates as "supreme ultimate fist", "boundless fist", "supreme ultimate boxing" or "great extremes boxing". The concept of the taiji ("supreme ultimate"), in contrast with wuji ("without ultimate"), appears in both Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy, where it represents the fusion or mother of Yin and Yang into a single ultimate, represented by the taijitu symbol Taijitu Taiji. T'ai chi ch'uan theory and practice evolved in agreement with many Chinese philosophical principles, including those of Taoism and Confucianism.

HistoryEdit

When tracing t'ai chi ch'uan's formative influences to Taoist and Buddhist monasteries, there seems little more to go on than legendary tales from a modern historical perspective, but t'ai chi ch'uan's practical connection to and dependence upon the theories of Sung dynasty Neo-Confucianism (a conscious synthesis of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian traditions) is claimed by some traditional schools. T'ai chi ch'uan's theories and practice are believed by these 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. However, modern research casts serious doubts on the validity of those claims, pointing out that a 17th-century piece called "Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan" (1669), composed by Huang Zongxi (1610–1695 A.D.), is the earliest reference indicating any connection between Zhang Sanfeng and martial arts whatsoever, and must not be taken literally but must be understood as a political metaphor instead. Claims of connections between t'ai chi ch'uan and Zhang Sanfeng appeared no earlier than the 19th century.

History records that Yang Luchan trained with the Chen family for 18 years before he started to teach the art in Beijing, which strongly suggests that his art was based on, or heavily influenced by, the Chen family art. The Chen family are able to trace the development of their art back to Chen Wangting in the 17th century.

What is now known as "t'ai chi ch'uan" only appears to have received this appellation from around the mid-1800s. There was a scholar in the Imperial Court by the name of Ong Tong He, who witnessed a demonstration by Yang Luchan at a time before Yang had established his reputation as a teacher. Afterwards Ong wrote: "Hands holding Taiji shakes the whole world, a chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heroes." Before this time the art may have had a number of different names, and appears to have been generically described by outsiders as zhan quan (沾拳, "touch boxing"), mian quan (绵拳, "soft boxing") or shisan shi (十三式, "the thirteen techniques"). In 1956 the Chinese Sports Committee brought together four t'ai chi teachers (Chu Guiting, Cai Longyun, Fu Zhongwen, and Zhang Yu) to create a simplified form of t'ai chi as exercise for the masses. The creators truncated the traditional family style t'ai chi forms to 24 postures . This was eventually inducted into the growing modern Wushu Sport.

Styles Edit

There are five major styles of t'ai chi ch'uan, each named after the Chinese family from which it originated:

  • Chen-style (陳氏) of Chen Wangting (1580–1660)
  • Yang-style (楊氏) of Yang Lu-ch'an (1799–1872)
  • Wu- or Wu (Hao)-style (武氏) of Wu Yu-hsiang (1812–1880)
  • Wu-style (吳氏) of Wu Ch'uan-yu (1834–1902) and his son Wu Chien-ch'uan (1870–1942)
  • Sun-style (孫氏) of Sun Lu-t'ang (1861–1932)

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 major family styles share much underlying theory, but differ in their approaches to training and techniques. There are now dozens of new styles, hybrid styles, and offshoots of the main styles, but the five family schools are the groups recognized by the international community as being the orthodox styles.

PhilosophyEdit

The philosophy of t'ai chi ch'uan is that, if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certainly to be injured at least to some degree. Such injury, according to t'ai chi ch'uan theory, is a natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force. Instead, students are taught not to directly fight or resist an incoming force, but to meet it in softness and follow its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, meeting yang with yin. When done correctly, this yin/yang or yang/yin balance in combat, or in a broader philosophical sense, is a primary goal of t'ai chi ch'uan 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." Traditional schools also emphasize that one is expected to show wude ("martial virtue/heroism"), to protect the defenseless, and show mercy to one's opponents.

Characteristics Edit

Main Article: The Thirteen Postures of Tai Chi

Also: The Five Levels of Skill in Taijiquan

Competitive contemporary taiji is distinct from those traditional styles it draws from, in that it typically involves difficult holds, balances, jumps and jump kicks. Modern competitive tai ji requires good balance, flexibility and strength. Tai Chi is a complex martial arts that take years to properly cultivate and understand. Every Taichi practice begins with some Chikung training first, as this is paramount for an Internal Style.

Training and TechniquesEdit

The core training involves two primary features: the first being taolu (solo "forms"), a slow sequence of movements which emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing and a natural range of motion; the second being different styles of tuishou ("pushing hands") for training movement principles of the form with a partner and in a more practical manner. Taijiquan also puts a heavy emphasis on three elements: Intention, Reverse Breathing and Spine Alignement (straight at all times)

Solo (taolu, neigong and qigong)Edit

The taolu (solo "forms") should take the students through a complete, natural range of motion over their centre 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 various forms. The major traditionas of aesthetics, but there are also many obvious similarities that point to their common origin. The solo forms – empty-hand and weapon – are catalogues of movements that are practised individually in pushing hands and martial application scenarios to prepare students for self-defense training, all of them following the "original 13 movements". In most traditional schools, different variations of the solo forms can be practised: 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. Breathing exercises; neigong ("internal skill") or, more commonly, Chikung ("life energy cultivation") and Silk Reeling, are practiced to develop qi ("life energy") in coordination with physical movement and zhan zhuang ("standing like a post") or combinations of the three. These were formerly taught only to disciples as a separate, complementary training system. In the last 60 years they have become better known to the general public.

Chikung involves coordinated movement, breath, and awareness used for health, meditation, and martial arts training. While many scholars and practitioners consider t'ai chi ch'uan to be a type of Chikung, the two are commonly distinguished as separate but closely related practices, with Chikung playing an important role in training for t'ai chi ch'uan, and with many ta'i chi ch'uan movements performed as part of Chikung practice. The focus of Chikung is typically more on health or meditation than martial applications.

Partnered (tuishou and sanshou) Edit

T'ai chi ch'uan's martial aspect relies on sensitivity to the opponent's movements and centre of gravity dictating appropriate responses. Effectively affecting or "capturing" the opponent's centre of gravity immediately upon contact, is trained as the primary goal of the martial t'ai chi ch'uan student. The sensitivity needed to capture the centre 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 through taolu ("forms"), tuishou ("pushing hands"), and sanshou ("sparring"). T'ai chi ch'uan 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, knees, and feet are commonly used to strike, with strikes to the eyes, throat, heart, groin, and other acupressure points trained by advanced students. Chin na, which are joint traps, locks, and breaks are also used. Most t'ai chi ch'uan 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.

In addition to the physical form, martial t'ai chi ch'uan schools also focus on how the energy of a strike affects the other person. A palm strike that looks to have the same movement may be performed in such a way that it has a completely different effect on the target's body. A palm strike that could simply push the opponent backward, could instead be focused in such a way as to lift the opponent vertically off the ground, breaking his/her centre of gravity; or that it could terminate the force of the strike within the other person's body with the intent of causing internal damage.

Most aspects of a trainee's t'ai chi ch'uan development are meant to be covered within the partnered practice of tuishou, and so, sanshou ("sparring") is not as commonly used as a method of training, but more advanced students sometimes do practice by sanshou. Sanshou is more common to tournaments such as wushu tournaments.

Weapons Edit

Variations of t'ai chi ch'uan involving weapons also exist such as taijijian. The weapons training and fencing applications employ:

  • the jian, a straight double-edged sword, also practiced as taijijian;
  • the dao, a heavier curved saber, sometimes called a broadsword;
  • the tieshan, a folding fan, also called shan and practiced as taijishan;
  • the gun, a 2m long wooden staff and also practiced as taijigun;
  • the qiang, a 2m long spear or a 4m long lance.
  • A matched set of two feng huo lun.

More exotic weapons still used by some traditional styles include:

  • the large dadao and podao sabres;
  • the ji, or halberd;
  • the cane;
  • the sheng biao, or rope dart;
  • the sanjiegun, or three sectional staff;
  • the feng huo lun, or wind and fire wheels;
  • the lasso;
  • the whip, chain whip and steel whip.

HealthEdit

In the last twenty years or so, t'ai chi ch'uan classes that purely emphasise health have become popular in hospitals, clinics, as well as community and senior centres. This has occurred as the baby boomers generation has aged and the art's reputation as a low-stress training method for seniors has become better known.

As a result of this popularity, there has been some divergence between those that say they practice t'ai chi ch'uan primarily for self-defence, those that practice it for its aesthetic appeal, and those that are more interested in its benefits to physical and mental health. The wushu  aspect is primarily for show; the forms taught for those purposes are designed to earn points in competition and are mostly unconcerned with either health maintenance or martial ability. More traditional stylists believe the two aspects of health and martial arts are equally necessary: the yin and yang of t'ai chi ch'uan. The t'ai chi ch'uan "family" schools, therefore, still present their teachings in a martial art context, whatever the intention of their students in studying the art.

Modern SportEdit

In order to standardize t'ai chi ch'uan for wushu tournament judging, and because many t'ai chi ch'uan teachers have either moved out of China or had been forced to stop teaching after the Communist regime was established in 1949, the government sponsored the Chinese Sports Committee, who brought together four of their wushu teachers to truncate the Yang family hand form to 24 postures in 1956. They wanted to retain the look of t'ai chi ch'uan, but create a routine that would be less difficult to teach and much less difficult to learn than longer, classical, solo hand forms. In 1976, they developed a slightly longer form also for the purposes of demonstration that still would not involve the complete memory, balance, and coordination requirements of the traditional forms. This became the Combined 48 Forms  that were created by three wushu coaches, headed by Men Hui Feng. The combined forms were created based on simplifying and combining some features of the classical forms from four of the original styles: Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun. As t'ai chi ch'uan again became popular on the mainland, more competitive forms were developed to be completed within a six-minute time limit. In the late-1980s, the Chinese Sports Committee standardized many different competition forms. They developed sets to represent the four major styles as well as combined forms. These five sets of forms were created by different teams, and later approved by a committee of wushu coaches in China. All sets of forms thus created were named after their style, e.g., the "Chen-style national competition form" is the 56 Forms , and so on. The combined forms are The 42-Form  or simply the Competition Form. Another modern form is the "97 movements combined t'ai chi ch'uan form ", created in the 1950s; it contains characteristics of the Yang, Wu, Sun, Chen, and Fu styles blended into a combined form. The wushu coach Bow Sim Mark is a notable exponent of the "67 combined form ".

These modern versions of t'ai chi ch'uan (often listed as the pinyin romanization "taijiquan" among practitioners, teachers and masters) have since become an integral part of international wushu tournament competition, and have been featured in popular movies, starring or choreographed by well-known wushucompetitors, such as Jet Li and Donnie Yen.

In the 11th Asian Games of 1990, wushu was included as an item for competition for the first time with the 42-Form being chosen to represent t'ai chi ch'uan. The International Wushu Federation (IWUF) applied for wushu to be part of the Olympic games, but will not count medals.

Practitioners also test their practical martial skills against students from other schools and martial arts styles in tuishou ("pushing hands") and sanshou competitions.

AttiresEdit

In practice traditionally there is no specific uniform required in the practice of t'ai chi ch'uan. Modern day practitioners usually wear comfortable, loose t-shirts and trousers made from breathable natural fabrics, that allow for free movement during practice. Despite this, t'ai chi ch'uan has become synonymous with "t'ai chi uniforms" or "kung fu uniforms" that usually consist of loose-fitting traditional Chinese styled trousers and a long or short-sleeved shirt, with a Mandarin collar and buttoned with Chinese frog buttons. The long-sleeved variants are referred to as Northern-style uniforms, whilst the short-sleeved, Southern-style uniforms. The colour of this clothing is usually, all white, all black, black & white, or any other colour, mostly being either all a single solid colour or a combination of 2 colours: one colour being the actual clothing and the binding being a contrasting colour. They are normally made from natural fabrics such as cotton or silk. These uniforms are not a requirement, but rather are usually worn by masters & professional practitioners during demonstrations, tournaments and other public exhibitions.

There is no standardized t'ai chi ch'uan ranking system, and not all schools use belt rankings. Some schools may present students with belts depicting rank, similar to dans in Japanese martial arts. A simple uniform element of respect and allegiance to one's teacher and their methods and community, belts also mark hierarchy, skill, and accomplishment of practice in one school's style and system. During wushu tournaments, masters and grandmasters often wear "kung fu uniforms" which tend to have no belts. Wearing a belt signifying rank in such a situation would be unusual.

Taolus Used in Modern Wushu Edit

Other Forms/Taolu used by Taijiquan Practicioners Edit

Other Forms/Taolu With Weapons used in Taijiquan Edit

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