Tai means great, Chi means spirit and Chaun means fist
Tai chi chuan is Traditional, Simplified and an internal Chinese martial art, often practiced with the aim of promoting health and longevity. Tai chi chuan’s training forms are well known as the slow motion routines that groups of people practice together every morning in parks around the world, particularly in China. Some medical studies support its effectiveness as an alternative exercise and a form of martial arts therapy. Tai chi chuan is considered a soft style martial art â€” an art applied with internal power to distinguish its theory and application from that of the hard martial art styles. There are many different styles of tai chi chuan, but most modern schools can trace their development to the system originally taught by the Chen family to the Yang family starting in 1820.
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Yang Chengfu in a posture from the Yang style tai chi chuan solo form known as Single Whip cir. 1931.
The Mandarin term “tai chi chuan” literally translates as “supreme ultimate boxing” or “boundless fist,” but may better translate to “great extremes boxing,” with an emphasis on finding balance between two great extremes. The concept of the “supreme ultimate” is the symbol of the Taijitu meant to show the principles of Yin and Yang duality of Taoist 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 and foremost involves learning solo routines, known as forms ( 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 partner exercises known as pushing hands, and martial applications of the postures of the form.
Tai chi chuan was created as a form of traditional Chinese martial arts of the Neijia (soft or internal) branch. 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. 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 will 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 the first step in 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 principles of good Tai Chi. 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.
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History and styles
Wu style being demonstrated at a tournament in Toronto, CanadaThere are five major styles of tai chi chuan, each named after the Chinese family from which it originated:
Wu or Wu/Hao style of Wu Yu-hsiang (Wu Yuxiang)
Wu style of Wu Ch’uan-yÃ¼ (Wu Quanyuo) and Wu Chien-ch’uan (Wu Jianquan)
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’Ã¼an) 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 , Pinyin dÇŽoyÇn) 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.
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