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The form is designed to increase natural strength, nurture relaxation and intuitive responsiveness, provide skills for physical combat, and lead the practitioner to master focus, discipline, balance, and external and internal awareness. As a combat form, it is one of a number of ancient martial arts which are designed to be employed primarily for defense.
"T'ai Chi Ch'üan" loosely translates as "Supreme Ultimate Boxing" or "Grand Ultimate Fist". It is closely associated with the practice of Taoism, and incorporates many Taoist principles into its practice.
The following quotes were taken from one of the first writings published on the internal arts written in the late 1800s by Li I-yu, translated by Douglas Wile in Lost T'ai-Chi Classics of the Late Qing Dynasty. This quote conveys the flavor in the practice of this martial art.
T'ai Chi styles There are several major styles of T'ai Chi Ch'üan:
Wudang (武當) - Wudang style T'ai Chi Ch'üan concentrates on the spiritual or even transcendental level of T'ai Chi Ch'üan, as a result it is not practised by many today. There is a modern style by the name Wudan, but this is a more practical, self-defense oriented style similar to Wu style.
It is reputed to have been invented by the Taoist priest Zhang Sanfeng (Wade-Giles: Chang San-feng) in the 13th century. Wudang kung fu was first taught to Taoist priests in the Purple Summit Temple on Mount Wudang[?], where Zhang Sanfeng developed it. However, it was a secular disciple, Wang Zongyue, who first called the art T'ai Chi Ch'üan.
Chen style (陳氏) - Of the many T'ai Chi Ch'üan styles that exist today, the Chen style is best known for its martial art aspects.
Historically documented from the 1700s, it originates in the Chen Clan Village in Wen County (溫縣陳家溝), Henan Province. The first documented teacher was Chen Changxing[?] (陳長興 Chen2 chang2 xing1) (1771-1853). One legends says Chen learned t'ai chi from Jiang Fa (蔣發 Jiang3 Fa1).
Some martial art historians claim that Wang Zongyue taught Wudang to the Chen family, but this cannot be confirmed. On the other hand, the Chen family claims that it was Wang Zongyue who learned T'ai Chi Ch'üan from them.
Yang style (楊家) - The most popular and widespread style, concentrating primarily on health-improvement.
It was developed in the early 1800s. The founder of Yang style was Yang Luchan (楊露禪), aka Yang Fukui (楊福魁) (1799-1872), who studied under Chen Changxing and later modified Chen style t'ai chi to produce Yang style.
Yang Luchan passed his art to
Cheng Man-ch'ing (Zheng Manqing), a student of Yang Chengfu, shortened and simplified the Yang form, supposedly to emphasise the health benefits and make it more accessible. According to his students, the changes were introduced to make it more practical as a fighting art. Cheng's style is particularly popular in Taiwan, Southeast Asia and the U.S.A. (where Cheng spent his final years).
Wu style of Wu Yuxiang (武家) - founded by Wu Yuxiang (武禹襄) (1813-1880).
Wu style of Wu Chuanyou (吳家) - founded by Wu Chuanyou (吳全佑) (1834-1902).
Sun style (孫家) - It was developed by Sun Lutang (孫祿堂) (1861-1932), who was expert in all three internal martial arts styles (Xingyi, T'ai Chi and Bagua). He absorbed the best of the Chen, Yang and Wu (Wu Yu Xiang) styles to develop his own style, which is characterized by small circular movements and high stances.
T'ai Chi training and techniques The term "t'ai chi" is held to be related to the t'ai chi t'u (taijitu), more commonly known as the "yin-yang" diagram. T'ai chi techniques thus balance yin (soft/receptive) and yang (hard/active) principles in a number of ways.
T'ai chi training works on the Taoist principle that in order to become hard, one must first be soft; in order to be fast, one must first be slow; and in order to develop strength, one must cultivate weakness. The core of training is the solo form, a slow sequence of movements which emphasise natural movement and relaxation. The solo form is essentially a catalog of movements that are practiced individually in application scenarios to prepare for combat.
Other training exercises include:
T'ai Chi combat techniques are similar to those found in other Chinese martial arts, with an emphasis on close physical proximity and fluid responsiveness. Pushes and open hand strikes are more common than punches, and kicks are usually to the legs and lower torso. Elbows and shoulders are commonly used to strike, and there are a number of locks (chin na), particularly applied to put pressure on the opponent's elbows. Despite its "soft" image, t'ai chi techniques can be lethal or incapacitating, with strikes to the eyes, throat, heart, and groin commonly used. However, most T'ai Chi forms are both trained and physically designed to be employed for defense. Recently there has been some divergence between those who practice T'ai Chi as a combat technique, and those who are more interested in its benefits to physical and mental health.