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16.41) Taijiquan (T'ai Chi Ch'u"an)


This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel faq@idempot.net with numerous contributions by others.

16.41) Taijiquan (T'ai Chi Ch'u"an)

(Contributors: William Breazeal - breazeal@tweedledee.ucsb.edu,
Michael Robinson - robinson@cogsci.berkeley.edu,
Simon Ryan/Peter Wakeham - s.ryan@trl.oz.au)


One of the three orthodox "internal" styles of Chinese martial art
(the other two being Xingyiquan and Baguazhang). The term
"Taiji" refers to the ancient Chinese cosmological concept of the
interplay between two opposite yet complementary forces (Yin and Yang)
as being the foundation of creation. "Quan" literaly means "fist"
and denotes an unarmed method of combat. Taijiquan as a martial
art is based on the principle of the soft overcoming the hard.

ORIGIN: Chenjiagou, Wen County, Henan Province, China.


The origins of Taijiquan are often attributed to one Zhang Sanfeng
(a Taoist of either the 12th or 15th century depending on the
source) who created the art after witnessing a fight between a snake
and a crane. These stories were popularized in the early part of this
century and were the result of misinformation and the desire to
connect the art with a more famous and ancient personage. All of the
various styles of Taijiquan which are in existence today can be
traced back to a single man, Chen Wangding, a general of the latter
years of the Ming Dynasty. After the fall of the Ming and the
establishment of the Qing Dynasty (1644), Chen Wangding returned to
the Chen village and created his forms of boxing. Originally
containing up to seven forms, only two forms of Chen Style
Taijiquan have survived into the present.

The Art was only taught to members of the Chen clan until a promising
young outsider named Yang Luzhan was accepted as a student in the
early part of the 19th century. Yang Luzhan (nicknamed "Yang without
enemy" as he was reportedly a peerless fighter) modified the original
Chen style and created the Yang style of Taijiquan, the most
popular form practiced in the world today. Wu Yuxiang learned the Art
from Yang Luzhan and a variation of the original Chen form from Chen
Jingbing (who taught the "small frame" version of Chen Taijiquan)
and created the Wu style. A man named Hao Weizhen learned the
Wu style from Wu Yuxiang's nephew and taught the style to Sun
Ludang, who in turn created the Sun style (Sun was already an
established master of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang when he learned
Taijiquan. He combined his knowledge of the other arts when
creating his style). Yang Luzhan had another student, a Manchu named
Chuan You (or Quan You), who in turned taught the Art to his son, Wu
Jianchuan (or Jianquan). Wu Jianchuan popularized his variation of
the Yang style, which is commonly refered to as the Wu Jianchuan
(or Jianquan) style. In recent times (this century) there have been
many other variations and modificationsof the Art, but all may be
traced back through the above masters to the original Chen family form.


Complete Taijiquan arts include basic exercises, stance keeping
(Zhanzhuang), repetitive single movement training, linked form
training, power training (exercises which train the ability to issue
energy in a ballistic pulse), weapons training (which includes
straight sword, broadsword, staff and spear), and various two-person
exercises and drills (including "push-hands" sensitivity drills). A
hallmark of most styles of Taijiquan is that the movements in
the forms are done quite slowly, with one posture flowing into the
next without interruption. Some forms (the old Chen forms for example)
alternate between slow motion and explosive movements. Other styles
divide the training into forms which are done slowly at an even tempo
and separate forms which are performed at a more vigorous pace. The
goal of moving slowly is to insure correct attention is paid to proper
body mechanics and the maintenance of the prerequisite relaxation.


Training exercises can be divided into two broad categories: solo
exercises, and drills which require a partner. A beginner will usually
begin training with very basic exercises designed to teach proper
structural alignment and correct methods of moving the body, shifting
the weight, stepping, etc. All of the Taijiquan arts have at
their very foundation the necessity of complete physical relaxation
and the idea that the intent leads and controls the motion of the
body. The student will also be taught various stance keeping postures
which serve as basic exercises in alignment and relaxation as well as
a kind of mind calming standing meditation. A basic tenet of all
"internal" martial arts is that correct motion is born of absolute
stillness. Once the basics are understood, the student will progress
to learning the formal patterns of movement ("forms") which contain
the specific movement patterns and techniques inherent in the style.

Traditionally, single patterns of movement were learned and repeated
over and over until mastered, only then was the next pattern taught.
Once the student had mastered an entire sequence of movements
individually, the movements were taught in a linked sequence (a
"form"). The goal of training is to cultivate a kind of "whole body"
power. This refers to the ability to generate power with the entire
body, making full use of one's whole body mass in every movement.
Power is always generated from "the bottom up," meaning the powerful
muscles of the legs and hips serve as the seat of power. Using the
strength of the relatively weaker arms and upper body is not
emphasized. The entire body is held in a state of dynamic relaxation
which allows the power of the whole body to flow out of the hands and
into the opponent without obstruction.

The Taijiquan arts have a variety of two person drills and
exercises designed to cultivate a high degree of sensitivity in the
practitioner. Using brute force or opposing anothers power with power
directly is strictly discouraged. The goal of two person training is
to develop sensitivty to the point that one may avoid the opponent's
power and apply one's own whole body power wher the opponent is most
vulnerable. One must cultivate the ability to "stick" to the opponent,
smothering the others' power and destroying their balance. Finally,
the formal combat techniques must be trained until they become a
reflexive reaction.

Modified forms of Taijiquan for health have become popular
worldwide in recent times because the benefits of training have been
found to be very conducive to calming the mind, relaxing the body,
relieving stress, and improving one's health in general.

Modern vs. Traditional training methods

Traditionally, a beginning student of Taijiquan was first required
to practice stance keeping in a few basic postures. After the basic
body alignments had settled in, the student would progress to
performing single movements from the form. These were performed
repetitively on a line. After a sufficient degree of mastery had been
obtained in the single movements, the student was taught to link the
movements together in the familiar long form. Now, it is not uncommon
for a student to be taught the long form immediately, with no time
being spent on stance keeping or on basic movement exercises. Since
the Long Form trains all of the qualities developed in the basic
exercises, this does not really produce a dilution of resulting
martial art. It does however make it more difficult for beginner to
learn. The duration of the basic training depends on the student and
the instructor; however, it would not be unusual for a relatively
talented student, with good instruction, to be able to defend
themselves effectively with Taiji after as little as a year of


Chen Wangding's original form of Chen style Taijiquan is often
refered to as the "Old Frame" (Laojia) and its second form as
"Cannon Fist" (Paochui). In the latter part of the 18th century, a
fifth generation decendant of Chen Wangding, Chen Youben simplified
the original forms into sets which have come to be known as the "New
Style" (Xinjia). Chen Youben's nephew, Chen Jingbing, created a
variation of the New Style which is known as the "Small Frame" (Xiaojia)
or "Zhaobao" form. All of these styles have survived to the present.

The Yang style of Taijiquan is a variation of the original Chen
style. The forms which were passed down from the Yang style founder,
Yang Luzhan have undergone many modifications since his time. Yang
Luzhan's sons were very proficient martial artists and each, in turn,
modified their father's art. The most commonly seen variation of the
form found today comes from the version taught by Yang Luzhan's
grandson, Yang Zhengfu. It was Yang Zhengfu who first popularized
his family's Art and taught it openly. Yang Zhengfu's form is
characterizes by open and extended postures. Most of the modern
variations of the Yang style, as well as the standardized Mainland
Chinese versions of Taijiquan are based on his variation of the
Yang form.

Yang Luzhan's student, Wu Yuxiang combined Yang's form with the
Zhaobao form which he learned from Chen Jingping to create the Wu
style. This style features higher stances and compact, circular
movements. His nephew's student, Hao Weizhen was a famous
practitioner of the style, so the style is sometimes refered to as the
Hao Style. Hao Weizhen taught his style to Sun Ludang, who combined
his knowledge of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang to create his own

Yang Luzhan had another student named Zhuan You (or Juan You),
who in turn taught the style to his son Wu Jianchuan (or Jianquan).
This modification of the Yang style is usually refered to as the
Wu Jianchuan (or Jianquan) style. This form's movements are smaller
and the stance is higher than the popular Yang style.

In summary, the major styles of traditional Taijiquan are the
Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu Jianchuan (or Jianquan) and Sun. All other "styles"
are variations of the above.

Non-martial Taiji variants.

There are modified forms of Taiji which are devoted mostly to health
enhancement and relaxation. The movements retain the flavor of
Taijiquan, but are often simplified.


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