Tai Chi Chuan (or taijiquan) literally means “Grand Ultimate Boxing”. Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese martial art; in addition to its martial value, it has become known throughout the world as a means of maintaining health, promoting fitness and rejuvenating both body and spirit. Often referred to as a form of moving meditation, regular practice of Tai Chi strengthens muscles, tendons and ligaments; improves balance and flexibility; relieves stress; and improves digestion and weight control. Health care professionals both in China and in the West recognize Tai Chi as an outstanding low-impact form of exercise suitable for people of all ages.
There are many stories surrounding the origins of Tai Chi, some going back as far as the Tang Dynasty (618-905 AD). Tai Chi’s origins are most commonly ascribed to Zhang Sanfeng, born in 1247 during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD). After studying Shaolin Kung Fu, Zhang Sanfeng is said to have become a Taoist recluse on China’s Wudang Mountain. Here he incorporated Taoist qigong (intrinsic energy work) and philosophy (specifically the theory of Yin and Yang) into his Shaolin boxing. Perhaps the most well-known legend holds that Zhang was inspired to create his new martial art after watching a snake use its sinuous and fluid movements to successfully fend off an attacking bird.
Formal historical records trace Tai Chi’s origins to the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD). Chen Wangting, an army officer under the Ming, returned to his home in Henan province after the Ming Dynasty’s collapse. He there began teaching Tai Chi Chuan, which has been consistently passed down to successive generations to this day. In the early nineteenth century, a martial artist named Yang Luchan was the first outside of the Chen family to be taught their art. Having moved to Beijing, Yang taught his Tai Chi to students both within and outside of his family; his grandson, Yang Chengfu, is widely credited with standardizing the modern Yang style of Tai Chi.
Tai Chi today
The Yang style of Tai Chi is thought to be the most widely practiced martial art in the world today. Its widespread popularity is based in part on its accessibility. The slow, graceful movements which characterize Yang style Tai Chi can be learned by students of all ages and fitness levels. With regular practice, the student of Tai Chi Chuan will find balance and harmony between mind and body. This balance and sense of well-being will increasingly be felt not only during the practice of Tai Chi but throughout one’s day and one’s life.