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History of Taiji

Many people are fascinated with the mystical taiji (Tai Chi) legend of the Taoist monk, Zhang Sanfeng, who allegedly invented taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) through dreaming about or observing a fight between a snake and a crane in Wu-dang Mountains. Although there were historical implications and various circumstantial factors involved in the popularity of the Zhang Sanfeng legend, it is, for the most part, human nature to enjoy and believe in legendary stories. As filmmakers continue to make films with this half-legendary and half-fictional character, Zhang Sanfeng, based on the stories written by famous Chinese martial arts novelists such as Jing Yong, this legend will continue to live for centuries. People always enjoy passing on this kind of legendary story to future generations like the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood.

Most of the practitioners' unawareness of Taijiquan being an effective health exercise as well as an in-depth internal martial arts training can be explained in terms of Taijiquan's evolution and practice. After years of research and study of historical documents by Taiji practitioners and scholars, it is now believed that most of the major styles of Taijiquan currently practiced (e.g., Chen, Yang, Wu as in Wu Yuxiang, Wu as in Wu Jianquan, Sun) were all derived, directly or indirectly, from Chen Family Taijiquan. Their origins can be traced back to a small village located in Henan, China, with the name Chenjiagou, literally, Chen Family Ditch.

Chen Wangting (1600-1680), a warrior, a scholar, and a ninth generation ancestor of the Chen family, invented Taijiquan after a lifetime of researching, developing, and experiencing martial arts. A born warrior and a master of martial arts, Chen Wangting served the Ming Dynasty in its war against the succeeding Qing Dynasty. Because of the political turbulence, natural disasters, and human calamities during his time, Chen Wangting's ambition was not fulfilled. In his old age, Chen Wangting retired from public life and created a martial arts system based on his family martial arts inheritance, his own war experiences, and his knowledge of various contemporary martial arts styles. In his creation of Taijiquan, Chen Wangting combined the study of Yi Jing, (i.e., "Scriptures of Changes"), Chinese medicine, theories of yin yang (i.e., the two opposing yet reciprocal energies generated from Taiji, expressed in taijiquan as the hardness vs. the softness, the substantial vs. the insubstantial, etc.), the five elements (i.e., metal, wood, water, fire, earth), the study and theory of Jingluo (i.e., meridian circulation channels along which the acupressure points are located), and methods of Daoyin (i.e., channeling and leading internal energy) and Tuna (i.e., deep breathing exercises). A poem written by Chen Wangting in his old age evidenced the significance of the Daoist methods of cultivating one's energy and body in Chen Wangting's reclusive life, "...Once bestowed upon with imperial favor and grace but all in vain, I, now old and feeble, was accompanied only by a scroll of 'Huang Ting' (i.e., a Daoist scripture detailing methods of Daoyin and Tuna) by my side...". In addition to these ancient Chinese internal theories, medicine, and Daoist methods, scholars (e.g., Hao Tang, Liuxin Gu) had also discovered that the boxing art created by Chen Wangting contained names of twenty-nine postures of the thirty-two postures recorded in Qi Jiguang's Quan Jing Jie Yao Chapter (i.e., Chapter on the Quick and Outlined Scriptures of Boxing, Scroll 14) in Qi's Ji Xiao Xin Shu (i.e., New Book of Illustrated Recordings on Effectiveness). Moreover, besides the connection between Qi Jiguang's Quan Jing Jie Yao Chapter and Chen Wangting's bare-hand forms, all the long spear posture names mentioned in Qi Jiguang's Chang Bing Duan Yong Talk (Talk on Long Weapon in Close-Contact Use, Scroll 10) in Ji Xiao Xin Shu could also be found completely incorporated in the posture names of the Chen Family Spear Set. Therefore, after other popular theories--some fabricated for political or self-expedient purposes--regarding the origin of Taijiquan, e.g., the Zhang Sanfeng legend, the Wang Zongyue (whose Taijiquan Lun, i.e., Taijiquan Theory, was frequently quoted as one of the classics in the study of Taijiquan)/Jiang Fa theory, etc., have all been refuted and found either unsubstantiated historically or contradictory chronologically with historical facts, scholars had concluded that Chen Wangting was the one who created and developed totally new and different boxing and weapon set movements, postures, and applications in his own martial arts system possibly with the inspiration of the names from Qi's book, which was in turn a digested record of names, forms, and postures from many martial arts schools in Qi's time (Tang, H. & Gu, L., 2004). In this unique and unprecedented martial arts system, Chen Wangting created and invented seven sets of empty-hand forms, a long fist form of one-hundred-and-eight postures, one Paochui (i.e., Canon Fist) set, push-hand techniques for two people, and training methods for spear, saber, sword, truncheon, jian, spear-thrusting for two people, and long-pole (Gu, L., 1983; Chen, Q., 2002).

Chen Changxing (1771-1853), the 14th generation Chen patriarch, was the first to teach Chen Taijiquan to an outsider, Yang Luchan (1799-1872). Vowing to his master to never teach Taijiquan to the public or use its name, Yang was finally taught the Chen family martial art. He later traveled to Beijing and became known as "Yang the Invincible." True to his oath, Yang formulated his own Taijiquan form based on Chen Family Taijiquan's first form (Lao Jia Yi Lu) and became the founder of Yang Taijiquan. Another possible reason for Yang Luchan to formulate his own Taijiquan form might be due to the fact that during those days, the Yang family was employed by the Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty to manage the practice and teaching of war. As Manchus were considered the oppressive foreign rulers by the people in their sovereignty (i.e., the Han people), the Yang family probably decided to teach the Manchus only the boxing form, but not the boxing methods nor its applications. Manchus were taught to be soft as cotton so they would not use Taiji to attack or kill. Direct Yang family members and close disciples, on the other hand, were secretly taught both the hard and soft aspects of Taiji. Yet, the soft taiji form started to gain its popularity and gradually Taiji was recognized and associated with the soft form while people in Chen Village continued to practice both the soft and the hard forms. It's also uncertain when the name "Taijiquan" was given to this Chinese martial arts system. It's very likely that there was no name for Taijiquan when Chen Wangting initially developed this martial arts system because he meant to pass it down to his descendant. It is common for a Chinese family to develop their own style of martial arts. These arts then become known as the style of the family. Chen Wangting didn't know the martial arts system he created would one day become one of the most popular health exercises in the world. The name taijiquan was given later possibly because this unique martial arts system was created based on the principles and theory of Taiji, "Grand Ultimate or Extreme" – yin and yang reaching the ultimate balance and regenerating from each other. Today there are five major popular styles evolved and developed with individual variations and transformations from the original boxing art created by Chen Wangting (Gu Liuxin, 1983; Chen Qingzhou, 2002):

1)Chen Style: Various Chen styles--including Da Jia (Big Frame), Xiao Jia (Small Frame), Lao Jia (Old Frame), Xin Jia (New Frame), etc.--are continued to be practiced by Chen Family descendants and disciples. It is generally characterized by fast-slow, soft-powerful, and up-down spiral movements with jumping, punching, and qin na. It contains two basic empty-hand forms. The first form is soft and slow, also known as Yi Lu (First Form), while the second form is powerful and fast, also known as Er Lu (Second Form) or Pao Chui (Canon Fist). The Da Jia system, which Chen Changxing taught to his descendants and students, is commonly referred to as "Lao Jia". A modified "Lao Jia" system, which Chen Fake and his second son, Zhaokui, taught in Beijing, is known to be the seed of Xin Jia (of the original Da Jia). The modified "Lao Jia" system (Xin Jia) has more obvious coiling, spiraling, and large circular movements when compared with Lao Jia, which has a more direct martial arts approach with smaller and more subtle circles. Currently, the Xin Jia system is still undergoing the process of being modified and changed. Chen Zhaopi, a nephew of Chen Fake, insisted on maintaining and preserving the original postures and sequence of the Lao Jia system and passed this unmodified system to his students and descendants. One of his disciples, Chen Qingzhou, has taught the Lao Jia system unchanged and without any influence of Xin Jia. However, his other disciples including famous Chen descendants such as Chen Xiaowang and Chen Zhenglei also learned Xin Jia from Chen Zhaokui.

2)Yang Style: It is characterized by slow and even expansive tempo movements. This style was developed by Yang Luchan based on Da Jia Yi Lu (Big Frame First Form), which he learned from Chen Changxing. This "unchanged" Da Jia system which Chen Changxing taught Yang Luchan and his descendants are commonly referred to as Lao Jia (Old Frame). It is known that Yang Luchan and his sons never taught Er Lu (Second Form) openly to the public; rather, it was passed down only to Yang's own family descendants and a few close indoor disciples.

3)Wu (as in Wu Yuxiang/Hao): It is characterized by a small and compact frame, soft and slow tempo with upright postures and the tailbone tucked forward. This style was developed by Wu Yuxiang also from Da Jia Yi Lu (Big Frame First Form), which he learned from Yang Luchan, and from Xiao Jia (Small Frame), which he learned from Chen Qingping (also known as Zhaobao Jia). Hao Weizhen of Wu Taiji lineage later taught Sun Lutang, who developed another branch of taiji styles, which is now called Sun Style.

4)Wu (as in Wu Jianquan): It is characterized by gentle and slow movements like the Yang style, but with tight, compact, and apparent leaning postures. This style was developed by Wu Jianquan, who learned from his father Quanyou. Quanyou, a Manchurian, learned his taiji from both Yang Luchan and his son Yang Banhou, whose style was described as more compact and less expansive (i.e., Xiao Jia) in comparison with the Yang styles practiced by Yang Luchan and Yang Chengfu.

5)Sun Style: It is characterized by a high stance with fast paces and a unique dexterous, tight, and compact style. This style was developed by Sun Lutang based on the Taiji he learned from Hao Weizhen and his earlier Xingyi and Bagua training.

For generations, the practice of Taijiquan has been compromised to the extent that it has lost its original essence. Of the major styles practiced today, Chen family Taijiquan continues to offer the most complete training system including qigong, empty-hand forms, silk-reeling exercises, push-hand practice, weapon sets, etc. It has gone through the least amount of change as a martial art and preserved most of the training methods as well as some of the most unique training tools (e.g., Taiji ruler, Taiji sphere, etc.). Therefore, although a person is not required to be athletic in order to learn Chen Taiji, patience, consistent practice, and time commitment are essential for a Chen Taiji learner to truly benefit from this ancient internal martial arts system. Beginning students usually start with Yi Lu, qigong, and silk-reeling exercises to help them establish a strong foundation and to prepare them if they wish to continue and further pursue the martial aspects of the system. It is hoped that through the promotion of Traditional Chen Taijiquan, the public will again recognize Taijiquan not only as a health exercise, benefiting both mental and physical health, but also a truly valuable Chinese martial arts system.

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