A Very Brief History
There are lots of various legends on the creation of taijiquan, several of them are
variations of how the legandary Zhang San-feng, a daoist monk from Mt Wudang created
the style around 1300AD but there is no evidence to back any of these theories. However,
Wudang taijiquan does exist and is becoming ever more popular, but its origins are
shrouded in mystery.
It was not until the mid 17th century that taijiquan as practiced by the Chen family was formally documented as taijiquan. At this time taijiquan was relatively unknown and only practiced in rural areas of Henan province. In the early 19th century Yang Luchan was taught by Chen Changxing. After returning home to Hebei Province Yang Luchan created Yang style taijiquan. Yang Luchan then started teaching his style in Beijing and began to make taijiquan more popular throughout China. Other styles to emerge in the mid 19th centaury were Wu and Sun styles. In 1956 a group of taijiquan experts organised by the state physical culture and sports commission created a new modern style based on Yang Style taijiquan, after Mao Zedong issued a proclamation to promote physical education in the new Republic of China and also in an effort to transform traditional martial arts into modern sports.
Whats the difference between Tai Chi Chuan and Taijiquan?
There is no difference other than the spelling, Tai Chi is the dated Wade Giles system
of translating Chinese into English and Taiji is modern pinyin.
Phonetically taijiquan is pronounced; tie-jee chew-an.
Tai translates as the highest supreme and Ji is grand ultimate, in Daoist philosophy this is known as the combination of Yin and Yang. Quan translates as fist, boxing or fighting, so you could say taijiquan is either, highest supreme fist, or Yin and Yang boxing.
What is Taijiquan?
Taijiquan is a martial art, although the main practice of taijiquan could be described as meditation in motion. It is a slow moving martial exercise system that is renowned for its health building and therapeutic values. Taijiquan is practiced in set sequences of movements known as forms; each form consists of various numbers of martial movements that should seamlessly flow from one to the next in a continuous fluid manner. Within the Chanquanshu taijiquan classes we focus more on the health aspects and leave the martial aspects for the Quanshu classes.
Why is Taijiquan good for health?
It is well known fact that exercise is imperative to maintaining health. However the amount and type of exercise that has the greatest benefits to a person’s health are under a great deal of debate. Almost everyone agrees that an individual who has very little physical activity is at a far greater risk of ill health, yet at the other end of the scale many people believe that tense, athletic, cardio pumping gymaholics are also at risk.
Taijiquan stays very much in the middle ground. It is enough of a cardiovascular exercise to maintain health and relative general fitness, without overworking the heart. It exercises the lungs and massages other internal organs through diaphragmatic breathing. It maintains natural healthy muscle tone without introducing tension. It improves flexibility and joint movement through relaxation and along with a healthy diet it will maintain weight.
One of the main reasons exercise is imperative to health is that the human body produces a constant supply of toxins. Every cell in the body has chemical reactions that will produce waste products that need elimination, most of which exit through the skin. It requires body movement to bring these toxins to the surface. If there is no movement in the body it also causes adhesions in the connective tissues which also restrict the movement and elimination of toxins. When first viewed from the outside it doesn't appear that there is a great deal of movement within the taijiquan movements, but there is actually a great deal of very subtle expansions and contractions within every movement that separates, massages and frees the connective tissues and eliminates toxins.
In essence Taijiquan is a relaxed moderate exercise without tension, stresses and
strains that has a far greater range of internal motion than other types of exercise.
Why is taijiquan an exercise for the mind as well as the body?
Work has become less physically demanding over the years as technology has progressed, however things have become more mentally demanding. Not only work but more and more leisure activities are designed to stimulate our minds and senses. Over stimulation of the mind can drain vital resources leaving the body depleted of essence and Qi energy, this can have a negative influence on our emotions and make the body more susceptible to illness and disease.
Slowing the breath within Taijiquan calms the mind allowing the practitioner to enter a meditative state of awareness. The taijiquan practitioner then learns how to turn the meditative awareness inward to focus on the feeling of the movements, physical structure and guiding the internal flow of qi energy. This exercise for the mind provides mental clarity and can minimise the desire for mental stimulation. Slow smooth movements along with slow smooth diaphragmatic breathing, postural alignments that allow for muscular relaxation and a meditative awareness all combine to make Taijiquan such a relaxing exercise both mentally and physically.
What is Qi energy?
No one English word can adequately capture Qi’s meaning. In its broad sense it could be viewed not so much a force added to lifeless matter but the state of being of any phenomena. There is also a more narrow and specific meaning as well. Qi takes on different forms due to resonance, function and quality. Within the human body there are various types of Qi each with very specific primary, secondary and other functions. One of these basic principles of Chinese medicine is that to bring about good health a person’s Qi energy needs to be free flowing, balanced and of good quality.
The practice of Taijiquan aids the flow of Qi energy through what is known as muscle tendon meridians. This accelerated yet gentle flow has a dredging, cleansing effect on the channels themselves, but also directly affects the Qi energy within. Taiji practice aids the flow of Qi through the body, cleansing and transforming its quality, improving its function and harmonising a balanced state.
What are Yin and Yang?
Yin and Yang are used to describe qualities rather than entities. These complimentary opposites are neither forces nor material entities. They are convenient labels used to describe how things function in relation to each other.
Yin qualities belong to the shady side of the slope like cold, rest, passivity, interior, downwards, inwards, decrease, stillness etc.
Yang qualities belong to the sunny side of the slope like heat, activity, excitement, upwards, outwards, increase, movement etc.
The practice of Taijiquan follows the principles of Yin and Yang.
Every Yang active movement is followed by an inactive Yin movement. The Yang active movements concentrate power and intent whereas the Yin movements are inert and rely on Yang’s subsided momentum. The body is full and expansive within the Yang movements and empty and contracted within the Yin. Breathing in (yin) occurs within the Yin movements in comparison to breathing out (yang) which occurs within the Yang movements and so on.