A short survey of the history and legend
The Wudang Taoist School – 12th Century
In his own preface to the ‘Encyclopedia of Taijiquan’ published in 1933, Yang Cheng-Fu recorded a sentence attributed to his grandfather Yang Lu-Chan. “Taijiquan was created by Zhang San-Feng at the end of the Song Dynasty. Development continued through one, Wang Zhongyue, Chen Zhouting, Zhang Songki, Jiang Fa.”
Xu Zhiyi said something similar in his ‘General Introduction to Taijiquan’, published in 1927 by the ‘Weng Hua Publishing House’ “The Northern section of the Wudang art was Li Yishe’s ‘Observations on Taijiquan’. The first draft was published in 1867. The first sentence of this draft observes that, “Taijiquan was created by Zhang Sanfeng in the Song Dynasty”. However, when it was published in 1881, the opening sentence was changed to read: “No one knows who was the creator of Taijiquan”.
In li Jiyings ‘Taijiquan Textbook’, he included a preface by li Ruidong, who concluded that, “The creator of the Northern section of the Wudang school was the true upholder of the Zhang Sanfeng theory”.
From the Journals of Lu Kun, we learn:
Zhang Sanfeng is recorded to have been widely read and well aqainted with the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. He considered Taoism to be the true reflection to the universe. He founded the School of Wudang Taoism and created a system of pugilism practise called Taijiquan. He stands a milestone in Chinese Wushu.
Joseph Lee in ‘The History of Chinese Science and Technology’ remarked, “The name of Zhang Sanfeng is now firmly related with Taijiquan, a major school of Chinese Wushu”. He goes on to say, “if one really wants to track down the roots of Taijiquan one cannot fail to value Zhang Sanfengs theistic thoughts on Taoism”.
In ‘The Origins of Wudang Taiji’ Du Yuwan says, “Taijiquan is generally said to be passed down from Zhang Sanfeng, but when we get down to the roots we find its beginnings further back in history”.
In 1990 the magazine ‘The Soul of Wushu’ published a series of articles entitled ‘The Original Taijiquan’. One contribution came from the chief Taoist monk of the Temple Baijun (White Cloud) in Beijing. ‘An Shenyuan’. When questioned by reporters, remarked that, “In the school of Taoism, apart from Zhang Sanfeng, there were many other talented people who have contributed much to the formulation and development to Taijiquan”.
There is no historical documentation on the life of the legendary Zhang Sanfeng. It is difficult to factually attribute the creation of Taijiquan to one Zhang Sanfeng. He is however a most important reference when discussing the philosophy behind Taijiquan.
One tradition suggests that Taiji developed in the 12th century during the Song Dynasty. Emperor Huizong (reigned 1101-1126) is reputed to have summoned a Taoist priest to attend the capital of Kaifeng. Zhang Sanfeng is said to have received the imperial summons to travel from Mount Wudang.
On his journey he was attacked by a band of robbers and was forced to retreat. During his rest he was visited by the spirits of Wudang mountain and received an inspirational new Wushu routine. The following day Zhang Sanfeng used his inspired skills to defeat 100 bandits.
A second legend attributes the same Zhang Sanfeng to be living in the Yuan dynasty. In this story, while studying the mysteries of Taoism and trying to get to grips with the secrets of immortality, he observed the posturing of numerous animals. One day he saw a snake and crane fighting and was inspired, by the Yin and Yang qualities of their attacks and evasions, to develop the art of Taijiquan. So Zhang Sanfeng is accredited with restructuring martial arts along inspirational lines. As a Taoist monk, he connects the art with the philosophy of Yin and Yang, the I’Ching and its Paqua diagrams. The connection between Taijiquan, Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching are implicit in the legend of Zhang Sanfeng.
Another popular thesis claims that the founder of Taijiquan remains unknown, but that its development can be traced to Wang Tsung-Yeuh of Shanzi Province.
According to the thesis, Wang Sung-Yeuh introduced the system to Honan Province during the Ch’ien Lung period (1736-1795) of the Ch’ing Dynasty. The value of Wangs contribution is enhanced by his authorship of ‘Treatise on Taijiquan’. This manual on Taijiquan has remained as an inspirational guide to generations of practitioners.
In volume 16 of the ‘Journal of Beijing Institute of Physical Education’, it states that Jiang Fa began his study of Taijiquan with Wang Sung-Yeuh. He was instructed by Wang for ten years and grasped the substance of the art. He was well versed in both the Northern and Southern versions of the Wudang Internal Wushu Arts. He was considered an expert and authority in this field.
Chen Chang-Xing (1771-1853)
Chen Chang-Xing was a student of history and literature. It is recorded that he began his study of Taijiquan when he was six. He studied Wushu arts with Jiang Fa for 20 years and made rapid progress.
In his book, ‘Taijiquan Proper’, by Du Yuwang, he passes the opinion without evidence, that Wang Sung-Yueh and Jiang-Fa both trained in the nature of Zhang San-Feng Wudang International Boxing.
The discovery of Wang Tsung-Yueh’s manual, ‘Treatise on Taijiquan’. It is claimed that Wang ‘Sung-Yueh’ was ‘Jiang Fa’s’ teacher and ‘Jiang Fa’ was in turn Chen Chang-Xings teacher.
Whilst stories of Zhang San-Feng can be very appealing, historical authenticity remains questionable. Whether he developed the art of Taijiquan, Mount Wudang is noted for its scenic beauty and has been a centre of Taoism since the 7th century. According to historical records preserved at the mountain, there have been two persons named Zhang San-Feng.
In ‘A Guide to Chinese Martial Arts’, by Li Tianji and Du Xilian one Zhang San-Feng was renowed for his combat skills and lived in the ‘Song Dynasty’ (960-1279). The other, a celebrated Taoist, lived during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was very adept with swordplay.
There have been many tales handed down about these figures. Both men combined Taoist spiritual cultivation with their Wushu skills. Nevertheless, many researchers of Wushu history consider there to be insufficient evidence to name either one of them as the founder of Taijiquan.
Chen Wang Ting, 9th generation of the Chen family
Whatever the legends of its earliest origins, Taijiquan can be traced to Wenxian County, Henan Province. Here we have the earliest connections to its present form. However, even here we come across contradictions. The local people have two explanations regarding its precurser. The first and perhaps the most commonly accepted is that Taijiquan was created by Chen Wang-Ting and the place of its origin was the Chen family village of Chenjiaqou.
The other version claims it was brought from Shanxi Province by the previously mentioned Jiang Fa. Jiang Fa is reputed to have brought the art to his home village, Xiaoliu also in Wenxian County.
Both Chen and Jiang were acknowledged as accomplished Wushu masters. Chen Wang-Ting in his latter years, researched Wushu methods for self defence, finally developing a new style of his own. Jiang Fa was to become a highly skilled Wushu master.
Whether or whichever of these men developed or created Taijiquan, it was from this period that the spread and transmission was to take place.
There is a connection with Chen Wang Ting and Taoist internal theories. In a poem he wrote, “The Huang Ting is my constant companion”. (The Huang Ting Jing) is an important early Taoist canon on health through breathing exerice.
Chen Wang Ting is documented as the founder of the Chen Style Taijiquan tradition. He is credited with the creation of five routines and in addition taught Pao Tui and Long Chuan. He served as an army officer in the early 17th Century.
The original Chen Style was referred to as the Large Frame Style, now more commonly known as Lau Jar (Old Frame). The Old Frame consisted of 83 moves.
During the 19th generation, modification to the routine was to take place by Chen Chang-Hsin. This was also acknowledged to be Large Frame, but was to become known by its practitioners as Hsin Jar (New Frame).
Another modification took place by Chen Chin-Ping. He changed the movements of Hsin-Jar, making the movements tighter and smaller. At the time of these changes Chen Chin-Ping was a resident in the village of Zhaoboa. His Form is referred to as the Zhaoboa Jar to distinguish ot from Lao Jar and Hsin Jar.
During the 20th century members of the Chen family have created forms with a reduced number of movements. These creations have generally eliminated the many repetitions that appear in the Old Style. 19th Generation Master Chen Xiao-Wang has created Chen Style 38 Forms, Master Feng Zhigang has contributed Chen 24 Forms, Master Kan Gui Xiang has produced 36 Forms Chen Style Taijiquan.
A further contribution came from the Chinese State Wushu Authorities. This was to facilitate the growing popularity of Taijiquan competition. The Chinese Wushu Association of China organised a group of masters and professors to develop standardised routines for competition to include Yang, Chen, Wu and Sun Styles. The Chen style developed has 56 Forms. The routine is a merger of traditional sets one and two.
Chen Style Taijiquan remained very much a family and village art until Chen Fa-Ke (17th generation 1887-1957) was invited to Beijing in the 1920’s. He was the first of the Chen family to teach publicly and make the departure from traditional methods.
Chen Xiao-Wang (19th generation) is the grandson of the famous master Chen Fa-Ke and is the head of the Chen tradition. Chen Xiao-Wang is living in Australia.
The Yang Family Taijiquan
Yang Li-Chan came from Yongnian County, Hebei Province, North China. Coming from a poor family he left home quite young to seek work of a menial nature. It is recorded that he was employed by the Chen family in the village of Chen Jiaou. While he was with the Chen family, he acquired the art of ‘Lao Jia’ (Old Frame) Taijiquan, ‘Tui Shou’ (Push Hands) and Weapon training.
After spending 20 years with his teacher, Chen Chang-Xing, he returned to his family home in Yongnian. He had become a skillful Wushu master. His martial expertise was held in high regard by his contemporaries and was referred to as Soft Fist or Cotton Boxing. His skill was appreciated for its flexible attack and defence and the ability to overcome the very strong.
Yang Lu-Chan travelled to Beijing where he was engaged by the Royal Court to teach Wushu. As his fame spread for his boxing skills he was nicknamed ‘Yang the Invincible’.
Yang Chien Hou’s son Yang Chen-Fu was to become perhaps the most famous name associated with Taijiquan during the 20th century. Yang Cheng Fu’s sons and descendants have continued the Yang tradition since his passing in 1936. There is no photographic evidence of Yang Lu-Chan’s Taijiquan but it is generally accepted that modifications and revisions have been initiated by the succeeding generations into what is referred to as Da Jia (Big Frame). Standardisation began with Yang Chien Hou and continued with Yang Cheng Fu.
Yang Cheng Fu is reputed to have taught many hundreds of students and popularised Taiji throughout China. He carried his Wushu to many areas of China, Nanjing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Hankou. Thus he continued the work initiated by his father and grandfather first from the village and then the capital and now throughout China, precipitating its introduction to the rest of the world.
There is of course pictorial records of Yang Cheng-Fu. His 10 Essentials for training along with family records. From his photographs Yang Cheng-Fu can be seen as a big man. It is recorded that he could deliver a stunning blow with very little show of action. When he struck an opponent he would be thrown back serveral metres. While many pugilistic schools may consider injuring the opponent as the main objective, Yang Cheng-Fu was renowned for his ability to neutralise and overpower without injuring his opponent.
The Tang tradition passed to his three sons Yang Shou Chung (1909-1985), Yang Zhen-Ji and Yang Zhan-Dow. These two still teach in China and conduct seminars throughout the world.
Yang Cheng-Fu trained many famous practitioners and their lineage can be traced today. These include :
- Fu Zhongwen
- Dong Ying-Jieh
- Chen Wei-Ming
- Cui Yishi
- Li Chunnian
- Wu Huichuan
Cheng Man Ching (1901-1975)
Cheng Man Ching was a remarkable person. He was a master of the ‘Five Excellences’, Medicine, Caligraphy, Poetry, Painting and Taijiquan. He published ‘Chengs 13 Chapters of Taiji Boxing’ in 1950. In 1967 in collaboration with Robert W. Smith, they published ‘Tai Chi’, the Supreme Ultimate exercise for health, sport and self defence.
In their book, it is said that the author, Cheng Man-Ching, learned personally from Yang Cheng-Fu for nearly a decade. Whilst the Yang family do not place any emphasis or even refer to a relationship between Yang Cheng Fu and Cheng Man-Ching. In the introduction to the translation of Cheng Man-Chings book, ‘Cheng Tzu’s 13 Postures’, his widow, Madame Cheng, remarks that her husband was Yang’s last disciple and studied with im for six years. It would appear that Cheng Man Ching is little known in mainland China. This may have some political significance as he was a supporter of Chiang Kai Shek. He moved to Taiwan after the fall of China to Mao Tse Tung.
Cheng Man-Ching took from the Yang style many elements into his creation of ‘Chengs 37 Steps’. His method, whilst deleting many of the repetitions from the Yang Long Form retained the principles and characteristics of the Yang family. With the exclusion of China, Chengs form enjoys wide favour including Taiwan, Malaysia, USA and Europe.
Cheng Man-Ching in addition to being an expert, should be seen as a pioneer, bringing Taijiquan to the West, where it was virtually unheard of.
Like all masters of Taijiquan hes emphasised relaxation, health and well being. He was the first to simplify and shorten the Long Form. Accessible to a larger audience his system includes Push Hands and Weopons.
Many Cheng Man Ching practitioners consider this style to be separate in its uniqueness.
Besides his own claim to fame as a Wushu master, Chen Chang-Xing passed his art to Yang Lu-Chan. So he has a special role in the development of Taijiquan. The First Routine (Lao Jia) is the oldest recorded Form and the consensus is that all others are derived from it. This was the routine practised by Chen Chang-Xing. It emphasises the quality of Chang-Ssu-Chin (Silk Reeling Practise). This is utilised to develop inner strength. In can develop spiralling energy through the whole of the body and limbs. In the exercise one gains understanding of Yin and Yang, substantial and insubstantial.
Chen You-Pen is credited with the development of the ‘Chen New Style’ (Xin Jia). This Form is very popular with modern practitioners and employs characterisitics of Pao Tui (Canon Fist) with its fast release of energy (Fa-Jing). This is combined with ‘Old Family Style’, (Lao Jia) which illustrates Silk Reeling and less obvious use of explosive energy.
Chen Fake (1887-1957)
Chen Fake is 17th generation of the Chen family and great grandson of Chen Chang-Xing. Chen Fake brought modification and change to his great grandfathers style. He is also recognised as the first member of the Chen family to bring his art to the public’s attention. He left his family home in 1927 and travelled to Beijing to introduce Chen Style.
Chen Xiao-Wang (1946-)
19th generation of the Chen tradition and grandson of the celebrated Chen Fake. His main source of inspiration was his father Chen Zhao-Xu.
Chen Xiao Wang currently resides in Sidney, Australia. He teaches and travels to many countries and has developed a 38 Step Routine.
Wu Yu-Xiang (1812-1880)
Wu Yu-Xiang, founder of the Wu style, lived in the village of Yongnian, Hebei Province. This is of course the home town of Yang Lu-Chan. Wu came from a wealthy stock, unlike Yang Lu-Chan, and was considered to be a scholar. He was impressed by Yang’s skill and received instruction from him. He decided to make a trip to Chen Jia Gao in Henan, his intention to progress his knowledge in the Chen village. However, Yang Lu Chan’s teacher was now quite old and was too ill to instruct. On hearing of Chen master Chen Qing-Ping, he journeyed to the village of Zhao Bao Zhen, a township in Henan not far from Chen Jia Gou. The style of Chen Qing-Ping was to be known later as Zhao Bao style.
Wu closely researched Taiji theories and principles. Experimenting with philosophical premise he later developed Wu Style’s unique characteristics. Derived from the small Zhao Bao Zhen style of Chen Qing-Ping, it is practised with simplicity, clarity, compactness, soft and slow movements. The stance is upright with strict footwork. Movement is of short range.
Li Yi-Lu (1832-1892)
Nephew of Wu Yu-Xiang continued his uncle’s work contributing to the instructions on ‘Taji Theory and Priciples’, this eventually became the training manual of all Tajiquan practitioners. Whilst this Wu Style is the least known of the five major styles and the style with a small following, Wu Yu-Xiang scholarly approach left its mark for posterity. His brother’s discovery of, and Wu’s translation and interpretation of what is known as the ‘Tai Chi Classics’ is a major claim to fame and a development of profound importance to succeeding generations.
The Tai Chi classics are considered to be the ultimate guide to correct practice, a book of wisdom and a system of self cultivation for body, mind and spirit.
Hao Wei-Chen (1849-1920)
Hao Wei-Chen was a disciple of Wu Yu-Xiang. This style is referred to as Hao Style and sometimes as Wu style, also Wu/Hao style. So from Wu Yu-Xiang we have several possibilities.
- Wu Style = Wu Yu-Xiang
- Li Style = Li Yi-Lu
- Hao Style = Hao Wei-Chen
- Wu/Hao Style
The present commentary is unable to present any clarification on the differences of these influences. That there are some differences is indicated by the recent organisation of the first Hao Style Taijiquan Association of China. This was formed by 5th generation master Dan Yu Kui in tribute to grandmaster Hao Wei-Chen, in order to distinguish it from the other Wu Style.
Sun Lutang (1861-1932)
Sun Lutang was over 50 when he met Hao Wei-Chen. He was already a skilled martial artist and was renowned for his proficiency at Paqua Chang and Hsing-I-Chuan. After much research with the two systems and Hao Style Taiji he created his own Sun Style of Taijiquan. His daughter Sun Jian Jun describes his method as employing Paqua’s Stepping System, Hsing-I’s legs and waist movement and Taiji’s body softness. Its movements are nimble, using open and closed hand methods. A feature of the Sun style is its agile footwork, which advances and retreats in a nimble fashion.
Wu Chien-Chuan (1870-1942)
Developed the more popular of the two Wu styles. He learned from his father Wu Quan-You (1834-1902) who had in turn learned from Yang Ban Hou, the second son of Yang Lu-Chan. The movements are compact, gentle and unhurried and is considered second in popularity to its precurser, Yang Style. Can be referred to as Medium Frame.
Since the arrival of the Peoples Republic (1949) much effort has been applied to promote and popularise the cultural arts of China.
Taking the inspiration from the Yang Style, the physical culture and sports departments have developed the :
- 24 Simplified – Taijiquan Designed for the novice.
- 32 Step Sword – The routine was promoted as an introduction to the Double Edge Sword, again for the beginner.
Both of these forms figure prominently on the curriculum of Universities throughout China.
- 88 Routine Taijiquan – This is also based on the Yang Style and follows the order of traditional taijiquan movements. Designed for the more advanced student.
- 66 Form Composite Routine – Takes movements from various styles, Yang, Wu, Sun, Chen, etc. Intended for the more experienced practitioners.
- 48 Form Composite Routine – With its basis in the Yang Style, also draws inspiration from the features of other styles. Again, appropriate for the more experienced student.
- 42 Competition Routine and 42 Competition Sword – Both these routines were developed for the growing increase in Taijiquan competition. The development of these routines were under the supervision of the State Physical Culture and Sports Commision and/or the Chinese Wushu Association of China. These routines are based on traditional Forms and reflect the accumulated knowledge and experience of many Taijiquan masters. Before their introduction, these routines are examined by committee and the designers will have consulted many historical documents to retain structure and characteristics. The consensus was that these modern Forms, while retaining traditional features, embody higher degrees of difficulty in technical execution. This was aimed at raising standards for competition. Unlike traditional routines, which place a higher loading to one side of the body, the modern routines consist of more symetrical movements and reflect a balanced development of the body.
Li Tian-Ji (1914-1996)
Learned his martial arts skills from his father, Li Yulin (1888-1965). Li Yulin trained his Taijiquan with Sun Lu-Tang and learned Yang Style from Li Jing-Lin.
Li Tian-Ji first mastered Shaolin Quan. He learned Hsingi Chuan, Paqua and Taijiquan form his father. He became the world authority on the Wudang Sword. He was the instigator and creator of the first Wushu Academy in Northern China.
At the request of Chou En-Lai, China’s Prime Minister, he formed the committees of which he was chairman, to create 24 Step Simpified Taijiquan, 32 Sword Routine, 66 Combined Routine, 48 Combined Routine and the 88 Yang Style Routine.
Taijiquan Family Tree
Showing only key figures in development
This is a simplified version of Family Tree. However it does show the creators of the:
- Chen Style
- Yang Style
- Wu Style, old
- Wu/Hao Style
- Wu Style
- Sun Style
- Cheng Man Ching
There represent the most popular styles practiced worldwide.
The Chen Style is acknowledged as the first. Yang Style is considered the most popular. The style of Cheng Man Ching is derivative from the Yang Style. Whilst a Taijiquan pioneer in the west, he is generally unknown in mainland China.
Yang style 85 Posture Long Form.
Yang Cheng-Fu (1883-1936)
The most influential teacher of the 20th century devised his ten important points as a guide to correct training.
- Hold the head straight with ease
- Sink the chest and raise the back
- Relax the waist
- Distinquish solid and empty
- Sink the shoulders and elbows
- Use the mind and not brute force
- Co-ordinate your upper and lower body
- Unify the internal with the external
- Stillness in motion
The Yang family moto
- ‘ZHIN’ – Diligence
- ‘HEN’ – Perseverance
- ‘LI’ – Respect
- ‘ZHEN’ – Sincerity
Cheng Man Ching’s 37 Forms
- Grasp Sparrows Tail (left)
- Grasp Sparrows Tail (right)
- Grasp Sparrows Tail Rollback
- Grasp Sparrows Tail Press
- Grasp Sparrows Tail Push
- Single Whip
- Lift Hands
- Lean Forward
- Stork Spreads Wings
- Brush Knee and Twist Step (left)
- Play the Lute
- Step Forward, Deflect, Parry and Punch
- Withdraw and Push
- Cross Hands
- Embrace Tiger and Return to Mountain
- Punch Under Elbow
- Step Back and Repulse Monkey (right)
- Step Back and Repulse Monkey (left)
- Diagonal Flying
- Wave Hands like Clouds (right)
- Wave Hands like Clouds (left)
- Squatting Single Whip
- Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (right)
- Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (left)
- Separate Right Foot
- Separate Left Foot
- Turn and Kick with Heel
- Brush Knee and Twist Step (right)
- Step Forward and Strike with Fist
- Fair Lady Works at Shuttles (right)
- Fair Lady Works at Shuttles (left)
- Step Forward to Seven Stars
- Step Back and Ride the Tiger
- Turn Body and Sweep Lotus Kick
- Bend Bow and Shoot the Tiger
Chapter Two: The second half of the 20th Century
Taijiquan is a major division of the traditional Chinese Wushu and has a recorded history of some three hundred years. During the early 1950’s the State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports of China published the simplified set of Taiji Boxing consisting of 24 Forms.
This simplified form has gained widespread popularity both in China and abroad. The first English publication appeared in 1980. The 24 Step was devised as an introduction to the art and can be seen as a stepping stone for those wishing to pursue more difficult and strenuous routines. After the simplified 24 Steps the 32 Sword Form was choreographed. Both routines were taken from the Yang Style Taijiquan. Later the complete Yang Form was presented as the 88 Forms Taijiquan. Again based on Yang Style, it preserves the order of the traditional Taijiquan movements, while expressing the character of the Yang Style. Special attention was paid to collecting and assessing these materials which were to be evaluated and verified by a committee of Taijiquan masters and coaches with Li Tian-Ji as their chairman. Because of the ancient tradition of handing down martial arts from master to pupil in the manner of word of mouth and personal presentation, literary sources and teaching materials are scarce. Much of this information is scattered widespread throughout China. The famous masters of the early 20th century have passed away, leaving a legacy of unrecorded history and facts.
The development in the second half of this century give practitioners a wide choice of traditional forms and more recently recorded, innovative sets to choose from. Moreover the new materials are aptly supported by video technology, photographic and written records to promote and sustain interest. There is no doubt that this progressive movement has fuelled the continuing worldwide interest in the arts of Chinese Wushu.
During the 1980’s the 42 International Combined Competition Routine appeared. Embracing elements of four major styles – i.e. Cheng, Yang, Wu and Sun. Mainly based in the Yang Style and exhibiting a veneer of the Chen, Wu and Sun Style. This innovation took place alongside six other Wushu routines, namely, Nanquan, Changchuan, Jian, Dao, Gun, Qiang (Shortfist, Longfist, Double Edge Sword, Broad Sword, Cudgel and Spear).
China was granted host country to the Eleventh Asian Games and for the first time the National Sport of Wushu was to be included. This major sports event took place in 1990 in Beijing, with many hundreds of martial systems existing in China. To present a national competition the previously mentioned Seven Routines were prepared. The Asian Games attracted forty seven countries and is the biggest international competition in th sports calendar, second only to the Olympics.
The first World Wushu Championships took place in Beijing in 1991. Both of these events featured the New Routines. At the Third World Wushu Championships 53 countries attended the venue in Baltimore, USA, 1995. By this time the 42 Combined Taijiquan was established as the International Compulsory Routine.
In addition to the 42 Routine there is the 48 Combined Form. This was the first set to depart from the formula of the traditional routines, again based on the Yang Style but incorporating features from some other styles. It also includes Yun Shou (Cloud Hands) moving both to the left and right.
During the 1980’s, competition forms were prepared for the four major styles. These standardised forms are designed for a duration of six minutes. Traditional forms can last as long and longer than 20 minutes and the time factors made them unsuitable. The interest and participation in competitions has a growth worldwide both in audience and competitors.
At the start of the Year 2000, Wushu, including Taijiquan, was recognised by the International Olympic Committee.
Chapter Three Practise Method
Taijiquan is a number of choreographed movements known as the Taiji Forms. Considered to be an inspired form of Qigong. There are five major styles, Chen, Yang, Wu, Woo, Sun. Also lesser known styles such as Hao, Li, He, Song, Zhaobao, Zhang Sanfeng.
The are varying numbers to these Forms, ranging from 24, to 108, depending on the respective schools and the method of counting.
When practicing Taijiquan the forms are practiced slowly. The movements should contain and exhibit the following characteristics :
Relax the body, cultivate a quiet mind, breathing should be natural, all the movements are circular in content, exhibit both softness and firmness, co-ordination of lower and upper limbs with the trunk is essential. The Form should be even, continuous, gently flowing, light and agile. One should exert the correct amount of force, there should be expression.
Whether one is learning traditional or newly compiled Forms, Taijiquan’s characteristic features should be maintained and expression given to its essentials.
The following quotation is taken from a lecture :
“Taijiquan often referred to as Ta’i Chi Ch’uan has gained popularity during the latter half of this century, as a physical exercise beneficial to health, well being, balance, harmony, mental equilibrium and the promotion of internal strength.
When practising one should remain erect and comfortable, relaxed, calm and natural. The mind should be concentrated and serene, consciously guiding the movements, so as to reflect the requirements spoken of in the ancient boxing manuals.
‘First in the mind, then in the body’
‘Use the mind to move the Qi’
‘Use the Qi to move the body’
‘The will and the Qi are the monarch’
‘Commanding the bones and flesh which are the subjects’
Breathing should be deep, natural and regular and as far as possible, in time with the movements and the exertion of the force. One should not be tense, or use awkward strength, and remember the principle.
‘The Qi is not harmful when the spine is straight’.”
Delivered by a distinguished Taijiquan Expert – Master Li Tian-Ji, 1912-1996.
Taijiquan’s practise method is the same for all styles, consisting of three elements:
Individual Form Practise, Hand and Weapon play,
Dual Application and Combat Practise.
The most widely practised part of the system will be the Individual Routines. As we have discussed earlier, these vary from style to style in length, speed, time, complexity, strength and strenuousness.
Individual practise can include single posture practise such as the Taiji 37 Postures, Taiji Internal Exercises, Taiji Standing Pole, and Taiji Basic Skill Exercise. Dual application and combat consists of two persons working together to develop the applications from the Forms.
Push Hands is used by all Forms of Taijiquan to develop and test the individuals equilibrium skills, high speed reactions and introduce combat skills taken from the Taiji Routines.
Posture should follow the principles descried in Yang Cheng-Fu’s 10 Essential Points:
Head: Held naturally as being supported by cotton from the centre of the crown. Tongue resting on the roof of the month. Eyes level following the dominant limbs.
Neck: Erect, without tension.
Shoulders: Relaxed, soft and sloping.
Elbows: Always lowered and natural, never lift above the wrist.
Chest: Relaxed, never puffed out in army fashion. Do not slump shoulders and collapse the chest.
Back: Spine erect, pelvis tilted forward, relaxed.
Waist: Soft, flexible, relaxed and sunken.
Bottom: Tucked in.
Legs: Firm and solid, feet rooted, knees not locked.
Method of Moving and Training
When practising Taijiquan, the body should remain relaxed and natural. The movements should be slow, smooth and light. Though movements should be agile and light, they should remain centred and rooted. Movement should contain the principle of spirals and arcs, co-ordination and continuity. Mind involvement is implicit in the instruction ‘the mind leads the movements’, a meditative stillness in motion in degrees is illustrated in levels of attainment. Breathing should remain natural, deep, long and smooth. With continual training breathing will combine with movement, but should never be forced for this purpose. In each movement the whole framework of the body must be in use, the four limbs, trunk and head should move as one. One part moves, al the component parts move. This movement should be from the centre of gravity.
For the novice, the most important thing is to remember these points and grasp the priciples. Each movement of the Form should be practised many times. It is not necessary to look for quick success. Benefits are progressive, persistent practice is the mode for a high level of achievement.
In China, it is a common practise to train early morning and evening, repeating the Form many tmes. If time does not permit, it is recommended to practise at least once a day.
The actions of the feet should be light but firm and take an example from gentle movements of a cat while the legs should illustrate the principle of distinguishing substantial from insubstantial.
Relaxation of the body and mind makes us ask what is real relaxation and what does in mean in Taijiquan and to the Chinese. To pay attention 100% to the movements and eliminate all extraneous thoughts will bring quietness to the mind and nervous system. Relaxation of the whole body implies conscious attention to all parts of the skeletal framework, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and internal organs. Relaxation also means opening and stretching of the joints and limbs. The overall benefits to the Taiji practitioner is a feeling of deep sunkeness and heaviness. This heaviness is the key to rooting and sinking the Qi to Tan Tien and the earthing of Yongquan Acu point in the feet. The most repeated word in Taijiquan is ‘relax’, or is Chinese ‘Sung’. In the West it is common to interpret this idea as collapse, as if throwing oneself down in an armchair. This of course has nothing to do with the previous description. The feeling of sunkenness and heaviness should not be confused with softness and floppiness. This form of relaxation disolves rigidity and stiffness. The development can progress deeper over the years with training and closely resembles what can be observed with infants. Notice when a baby grasps your finger while remain relaxed. You can experience a feeling of great firmness in their grasp. This feeling of heaviness in not confined to any specific part of the body but to the whole. The resultant rootedness gives a clue to Taiji force, a form of tenacious energy arising from emptiness (Jing). This is referred to in the Taijiquan anecdote, “The needle hidden is the cotton wool”. We have a similar expression in the West, “The iron fist in a kid glove”. So Taijiquan relaxation gives rise, or perhaps it would be more correct to say lower the gravity, induce heaviness, bring about sunkenness which in turn lays a foundation for vigorous action. This organisation requires obvious use of the mind and can help in the understanding of “Let the mind lead the Qi, use the Qi to move the body”.
The spiralling arc like movements of Taijiquan should manifest from the legs and waist and conform to a principle found in nature. While a strong flat wind can be destructive, the spiral of a typhoon whirlwind wreaks havoc in its capacity to lift and uproot objects in its path. This is also seen in the undertow in tidal movements of the sea.
The movements of Taijiquan should be initiated in the legs, controlled by the waist and expressed in the hands and fingers. All parts of the body should move in step, illustrating a balanced whole. It is the actions of the legs and waist which combine to form the basis of all Taijiquan actions.
The spirit should be lifted to Baihui Auc Point on the top of the head (Heaven). Sink the energy to the feet Yongquan Acu Point (Earth), bring the concentration to Tan Tien (Humanity). This represents a traditional Chinese view of mans place in the universe, but it explains the contradiction in sinking and mobile agility and helps understand Yang Cheng Fu’s essentials for practise. Lift the spirit, sink the energy, mind in Tan Tien.
Tui Shou Practise (Push Hands)
Historically, Taijiquan first surfaced as a martial art and whilst the majority of practitioners train for the health benefits, there is a nucleus of students who still pursue and gain martial insights to the Forms of Taijiquan.
These insights can be researched by exploring the priciples of Taijiquan’s 13 Kinetic Postures, Tui Shou (Push Hands), Ta Lu (Expansive Pulling), Jing, Fajing and the application of the Hand Forms.
The Thirteen Kinetic Postures:
- Peng: Ward Off.
- Lu: Roll Back (pull).
- Ji: Press or Squeeze.
- An: Push.
- Tsai: Pluck.
- Li: Split or Twist.
- Zhou: Elbow Stroke.
- Kao: Shoulder Stroke.
The Four Directions:
- Jin: Step Forward.
- Tui: Step Backward.
- Ku: Look to the Left.
- Pan: Look to the Right, and
- Zhongding: Central Equilibrium.
To understand Tui Shou (Push Hands Practise) and Ta Lu (Expansive Pulling) it is necessary to study the 13 Basic Elements (Fire, Water, Metal, Wood and Earth). Zhongding is to connect with the earth. Without this connection one cannot successfully manipulate the 13 Postures. If Zhongding is absent it is impossible to support the principles of substantial and insubstantial.
Tui Shou and Ta Lu are important elements in Taijiquan training. While opinions vary as to the degree that these functions compliment/supplement sparring and free fighting, they nevertheless have combat attributes of a unique nature. Tui Shou is practised with a partner. The first requirement is to acquire the ability to Stick (Adhere) to an opponent. This in turn facilitates tactile listening. Through listening ones neutralising skills develop. These skills should develop alongside the ability to root oneself. These techniques progress and become the groundwork for the ability to uproot and opponent.
Quote for the Journal of Beijing Institute of Physical Education.
“Taiji Hand Pushing is one of the most useful means for the realisation of internal power. By Hand Pushing one may gain the momentum of indomitable spirit, a solid fisting frame with the feet placed firmly on the ground. A body posture that can withstand an attack from eight directions and most importantly a really superb skill to know oneself and the opponent. To know oneself and the opponent is the skill to ‘understand the operation of force executed by an opponent.’
However this skill as such will never be easily acquired until the practitioner begins to throw himself into the exercise of Hand Pushing”
In the practise of Taijiquan Forms, Tui Shou, Ta Lu, an essential understanding of the principles can be obtained. Principles in accord with Zhongding (Rootedness) and the other 12 Kinetic Postures.
The Substantial Energy (Internal Strength) of the 13 Kinetic Postures.
The understanding and ability to use Substantial Energy (Jing) to uproot an opponent.
All styles of Taijiquan movements embrace martial arts application sequences. These are not always understood by non martial artist and the uninitiated. Some consider the applications to be hidden in the nebulus movements of the forms.
In the Yang Style Longform these applications number 37. The rest of the Forms are repetition. The rule of application varies from school to school, also to some extent to the innovative imagination of practitioners. In the training of applications and Two Man Routines, one should not deviate from applying the principles drawn from the Taiji classics.
Since the ‘Quan’ in Taijiquan means Fist it would be fair assumption that when a school or teacher refers to his system/curriculum as ‘Taiji’, the dropping of the fist element implies that he teaches the health and relaxation aspects of Taijiquan and excludes the applications and fist methods.