Sunday, 5 July 2009

History of Taiji

According to legend, a Taoist immortal named Zhang San Feng (12th century) created internal martial arts. It is said that he had studied Kung Fu at Shaolin and later became an ascetic at Wudang mountain in central China. After observing a fight between a snake and a crane and seeing the interplay of Yin and Yang, he is said to have mixed what he learnt at Shaolin with Dao Yin, a primitive type of Qigong, and the principles of Taoism into a martial art. He was said to have created the 13 principles of Taiji and wrote them into the first part of the Taiji classics.
Zhang San Feng was believed to have taught a man named Wang Zong Yue. Not much is known about him, other than that he wrote the second part of the Taiji classics.
However, there is no concrete evidence that Zhang San Feng existed and the first written evidence of Taiji comes from the Chen clan in Henan province. They migrated from Shanxi province in ancient times and settled in Chen Jia Gou, a village close to the Yellow River and Shaolin Temple. Chen Wang Ting (1600s), a Ming dynasty general is credited by the Chen family as the founder. It is certain that he codified various theories and techniques on internal kung fu into two long forms and push hands excercises. Some sources suggest that Chen Wang Ting had learnt this internal kung fu from Wang Zong Yue.
Chen Chang Xing is another famous master of the Chen family. It was him who in the early 1800s taught the first non family member, a man named Yang Lu Chan. It was said that Yang learnt Taiji by working as a servant for the Chen family and pretending to be deaf and dumb. This way the family were confident that Yang wouldn't let out the secrets of Taiji. Yang practiced what he saw and heard in secret. Eventually, the Chen family found out what happened, but were so impressed at his skill level that Chen Chang Xing accepted him as a disciple. Yang eventually moved to Beijing, where he taught his sons Yang Jian Hou, Yang Pan Hou and a man named Wu Yu Xiang, creator of Wu (武)style and writer of the third part of the Taiji classics, from whom three generations later, a disciple named Sun Lu Tang, a famous internal martial art master, created Sun style. Yang Jian Hou passed it to his son Yang Cheng Fu and Yang Pan Hou passed it to his disciple Wu Quan Yu, who created Wu (吴) style Taiji.
Yang Cheng Fu is credited as codifying what we commonly see as Taiji today.He took away the hard, powerful movements, jumps and stomps and made the form softer and more flowing, with expansive stretching movements. This was more suitable for the general public and he became a very famous master in China. Yang Cheng Fu had a famous student, a man named Zheng Man Qing (Cheng Man Ch'ing),who feld to Taiwan with the Guomindang before moving to America and being one of the first masters to teach westerners. He simplifiedyang style further into the 37 movement form, which is very soft and is commonly practiced in the west.
The name Taiji (太极), often seen in English as T'ai Chi, roughly translates as The Supreme Ultimate and represents the interplay of the forces of Yin and Yang. The symbol of Yin and Yang is known as Taijitu in Chinese.

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