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|Also known as||Tàijí; T'ai chi|
|Country of origin||Greater China|
|Creator||Chen Wangting or Zhang Sanfeng|
|Olympic sport||Demonstration only|
|Literal meaning||"Taiji Boxing"|
|Part of a series on|
|Chinese martial arts (Wushu)|
Tai chi (simplified Chinese: 太极; traditional Chinese: 太極; pinyin: Tàijí), short for T'ai chi ch'üan or Tàijí quán (太極拳), sometimes colloquially known as "Shadowboxing," is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for defense training, health benefits, and meditation.
Yang Shaohou, Yang Chengfu, Wu Chien-ch‘üan and Sun Lutang promoted the art for its health benefits beginning in the early 20th century. Its global following often for its benefit to personal health. Medical studies of t‘ai-chi support its effectiveness as an alternative exercise and a form of martial arts therapy.
Many forms are practiced, both traditional and modern. Most modern styles trace their development to the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu (Hao), Wu, and Sun. All trace their historical origins to Chen Village.
Yin and yang
The concept of the taiji, in contrast with wuji ("without ultimate"), appears in both Taoist and Confucian philosophy, where it represents the fusion or mother of yin and yang into a single ultimate, represented by the taijitu symbol . Tai chi theory and practice evolved in agreement with Chinese philosophical principles, including those of Taoism and Confucianism. Zou Yan (鄒衍; 305 BC – 240 BC) was a Chinese philosopher best known as the representative thinker of the Yin and Yang School (or School of Naturalists) during the Hundred Schools of Thought era in Chinese philosophy.
Taijiquan is a fist system based on the dynamic relationship between Yin and Yang.
While tai chi is typified by its slow movements, many styles (including the three most popular: Yang, Wu and Chen) have secondary, faster-paced forms. Some traditional schools teach partner exercises known as tuishou ("pushing hands"), and martial applications of the postures of different forms (taolu).
Internal vs external
In China, tai chi is categorized under the Wudang grouping of Chinese martial arts—that is, arts applied with internal power. Although the term Wudang suggests these arts originated in the Wudang Mountains, it is used only to distinguish the skills, theories and applications of neijia (internal arts) from those of the Shaolin grouping, or waijia (hard or external) styles.
Some martial arts require students to wear a uniform during practice. In general, tai chi does not specify a uniform, although teachers often advocate loose, comfortable clothing and flat-soled shoes.
The physical techniques of tai chi are described in the "T‘ai-chi classics", writings by tai chi masters. The techniques are characterized by the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination and relaxation, rather than muscular tension, in order to neutralize, yield or initiate attacks.
- Meditation: The focus and calm cultivated by the meditative aspect of tai chi is seen as necessary for maintaining health (in the sense of relieving stress and maintaining homeostasis) and in the application of the form as a soft style martial art.
- Movement: Tai chi is the practice of appropriate change in response to outside forces, of yielding to and engaging an attack rather than meeting it with opposing force. Physical fitness is an important step towards effective self-defense.
- Traditional Chinese medicine is taught to advanced students in some traditional schools.
Tai chi training involves five elements:
- taolu (solo hand and weapons routines/forms)
- neigong and qigong (breathing, movement and awareness exercises and meditation)
- tuishou (Push Hands drills)
- sanshou (Striking techniques).
Tai Chi was known as "大恒" during the Warring States period. The silk version of I Ching recorded this original name. Due to the name taboo of Emperor Wen of Western Han Empire , "大恒" changed to "太極.". Sundial shadow length changes represent traditional Chinese Medicine with four elements theory instead of Confucian politician-based five elements theory. In the beginning, the color white was associated with Yin, while black was associated with Yang. Confucianism uses the reverse.
|太極||t‘ai chi||tàijí||the relationship of Yin and Yang|
The English language offers two spellings, one derived from Wade–Giles and the other from the Pinyin transcription. Most Westerners often shorten this name to t‘ai chi (often omitting the aspirate sign—thus becoming "tai chi"). This shortened name is the same as that of the t‘ai-chi philosophy. However, the Pinyin romanization is taiji. The chi in the name of the martial art is not the same as ch‘i (qi 气 the "life force"). Ch‘i is involved in the practice of t‘ai-chi ch‘üan. Although the word 极 is traditionally written chi in English, the closest pronunciation, using English sounds, to that of Standard Chinese would be jee, with j pronounced as in jump and ee pronounced as in bee. Other words exist with pronunciations in which the ch is pronounced as in chump. Thus, it is important to use the j sound. This potential for confusion suggests preferring the pinyin spelling, taiji. Most Chinese use the Pinyin version.
Tai chi's formative influences came from Taoist and Buddhist monasteries, as recounted in legend. Nevertheless, some schools claim that tai chi sprang from the theories of Song dynasty Neo-Confucianism (synthesis of Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian traditions, especially the teachings of Mencius). These schools believe that tai chi theory and practice were formulated by Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng in the 12th century, at about the same time that the principles of the Neo-Confucian school were rising.
However, modern research doubts those claims, pointing out that a 17th-century piece called Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan (1669), composed by Huang Zongxi (1610–1695), is the earliest reference indicating a connection between Zhang Sanfeng and martial arts. Claims of connections between tai chi and Zhang Sanfeng appeared no earlier than the 19th century.
Yang Luchan trained with the Chen family for 18 years before he started to teach in Beijing, which strongly suggests that his work was heavily influenced by, the Chen family art. The Chen family trace their art back to Chen Wangting in the 17th century. Martial arts historian Xu Zhen claimed that the tai chi of Chen Village was influenced by the Taizu changquan style practiced at nearby Shaolin Monastery, while Tang Hao thought it was derived from a treatise by Ming dynasty general Qi Jiguang, Jixiao Xinshu ("New Treatise on Military Efficiency"), which discussed several martial arts styles including Taizu changquan.
What is now known as tai chi appears to have received this appellation around the mid-19th century. Imperial Court scholar Ong Tong witnessed a demonstration by Yang Luchan before Yang had established his reputation as a teacher. Afterwards Ong wrote: "Hands holding Tai chi shakes the whole world, a chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heroes." Before this time the art may have had other names, and appears to have been generically described by outsiders as zhan quan (沾拳, "touch boxing"), Mian Quan ("soft boxing") or shisan shi (十三式, "the thirteen techniques").
In 1956 the Chinese government sponsored the Chinese Sports Committee (CSC), which brought together four wushu teachers to truncate the Yang family hand form to 24 postures. This was an attempt to standardize t‘ai-chi ch‘üan for wushu tournaments, because many tai chi teachers had either moved out of China or stopped teaching after the Chinese Civil War. They wanted to create a routine that would be much less difficult to learn than the classical 88 to 108 posture solo hand forms.
Another 1950s form is the "97 movements combined t‘ai-chi ch‘üan form", which blends Yang, Wu, Sun, Chen, and Fu styles.
In 1976, they developed a slightly longer demonstration form that would not require the traditional forms' memory, balance, and coordination. This became the "Combined 48 Forms" that were created by three wushu coaches, headed by Men Hui Feng. The combined forms simplified and combined classical forms from the original Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun styles. Other competitive forms were designed to be completed within a six-minute time limit.
In the late 1980s, CSC standardized more competition forms for the four major styles as well as combined forms. These five sets of forms were created by different teams, and later approved by a committee of wushu coaches in China. These forms were named after their style: the "Chen-style national competition form" is the "56 Forms". The combined forms are "The 42-Form" or simply the "Competition Form".
In the 11th Asian Games of 1990, wushu was included as an item for competition for the first time with the 42-Form representing t‘ai-chi ch‘üan. The International Wushu Federation (IWUF) applied for wushu to be part of the Olympic games.
The five major styles of tai chi are named for the Chinese families who originated them:
- Chen style (陳氏) of Chen Wangting (1580–1660)
- Yang style (楊氏) of Yang Luchan (1799–1872)
- Wu Hao style (武氏) of Wu Yuxiang (1812–1880)
- Wu style (吳氏) of Wu Quanyou (1834–1902) and his son Wu Jianquan (1870–1942)
- Sun style (孫氏) of Sun Lutang (1861–1932)
The most popular is Yang, followed by Wu, Chen, Sun and Wu/Hao. The styles share underlying theory, but their training differs.
Dozens of new styles, hybrid styles, and offshoots followed, although the family schools are accepted as standard by the international community. Other important styles are Zhaobao tàijíquán, a close cousin of Chen style, which is recognized by Western practitioners; Fu style, created by Fu Chen Sung, which evolved from Chen, Sun and Yang styles, and incorporates movements from Baguazhang (Pa Kua Chang); and Cheng Man-ch'ing style which simplifies Yang style.
Most existing styles came from Chen style, which had been passed down as a family secret for generations. citation needed] The designation internal or neijia martial arts is also used to broadly distinguish what are known as external or waijia styles based on Shaolinquan styles, although that distinction may be disputed by modern schools. In this broad sense, all styles of t'ai chi, as well as related arts such as Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, are, therefore, considered to be "soft" or "internal" martial arts.[
Choy Hok Pang, a disciple of Yang Chengfu, was the first known proponent of tai chi to openly teach in the United States, beginning in 1939. His son and student Choy Kam Man emigrated to San Francisco from Hong Kong in 1949 to teach t‘ai-chi ch‘üan in Chinatown. Choy Kam Man taught until he died in 1994.
Sophia Delza, a professional dancer and student of Ma Yueliang, performed the first known public demonstration of tai chi in the United States at the New York City Museum of Modern Art in 1954. She wrote the first English language book on t‘ai-chi, "T‘ai-chi ch‘üan: Body and Mind in Harmony", in 1961. She taught regular classes at Carnegie Hall, the Actors Studio, and the United Nations.
Zheng Manqing/Cheng Man-ch'ing, who opened his school Shr Jung t‘ai-chi after he moved to New York from Taiwan in 1964. Unlike the older generation of practitioners, Zheng was cultured and educated in American ways,[clarification needed] and thus was able to transcribe Yang's dictation into a written manuscript that became the de facto manual for Yang style. Zheng felt Yang's traditional 108-movement form was unnecessarily long and repetitive, which makes it difficult to learn. He thus created a shortened 37-movement version that he taught in his schools. Zheng's form became the dominant form in the eastern United States until other teachers immigrated in larger numbers in the 1990s. He taught until his death in 1975.
Norwegian Pytt Geddes was the first European to teach tai chi in Britain, holding classes at The Place in London in the early 1960s. She had first encountered tai chi in Shanghai in 1948, and studied with Choy Hok Pang and his son Choy Kam Man (who both also taught in the United States) while living in Hong Kong in the late 1950s.
This section possibly contains original research. (June 2020)
- This lineage tree is not comprehensive, but depicts those considered the "gate-keepers" and most recognised individuals in each generation of the respective styles.
- Although many styles were passed down to respective descendants of the same family, the lineage focused on is that of the martial art and its main styles, not necessarily that of the families.
- Each (coloured) style depicted below has a lineage tree on its respective article page that is focused on that specific style, showing a greater insight into the highly significant individuals in its lineage.
- Names denoted by an asterisk are legendary or semi-legendary figures in the lineage; while their involvement in the lineage is accepted by most of the major schools, it is not independently verifiable from known historical records.
The Cheng Man-ch‘ing (Zheng Manqing) and Chinese Sports Commission short forms are derived from Yang family forms, but neither is recognized as Yang family tai chi by standard-bearing Yang family teachers. The Chen, Yang, and Wu families promote their own shortened demonstration forms for competitive purposes.
3rd gen. Yang
Yang Big Frame
4th gen. Yang
Short (37) Form
|Chinese Sports Commission|
Beijing (24) Form
42 Competition Form
(Wushu competition form
Chen, Yang, Wu & Sun styles)
The primary purposes of tai chi are health, sport/self-defense and aesthetics.
More traditional practitioners hold that the two aspects of health and martial arts make up the art's yin and yang. The "family" schools present their teachings in a martial art context, whatever the intention of their students.
Tai chi's health training concentrates on relieving stress on the body and mind. The slow, repetitive process of learning how to generate leverage gently and measurably increases internal circulation (breath, body heat, blood, lymph, peristalsis).
In the 21st century, tai chi classes that purely emphasize health are popular in hospitals, clinics, community centers and senior centers. Tai chi's low-stress training method for seniors has become better known.
As a martial art, tai chi emphasizes defense over attack and replies to hard with soft. The ability to use tai chi as a form of combat is the test of a student's understanding of the art. This is typically demonstrated via competition with others.
Wushu is primarily for show. Forms taught for wushu are designed to earn points in competition and are mostly unconcerned with either health or self-defense.
The philosophy of Taiji is to keep Yin and Yang in flux. When two forces push each other with equal force, neither side moves. Motion cannot occur until one side yields. Therefore, a key principle in tai chi is to avoid using force directly against force (hardness against hardness). Lao Tzŭ provided the archetype for this in the Tao Te Ching when he wrote, "The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong."
Conversely, when in possession of leverage, one may want to use hardness to force the opponent to become soft. Traditionally, tai chi uses both soft and hard. Yin is said to be the mother of Yang, using soft power to create hard power.
Training involves two primary features: taolu (solo "forms"), a sequence of movements that emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing and a natural range of motion; and tuishou ("pushing hands") for training with a partner and in a more practical manner. Traditionally, Taijiquan also has Dan Shi (Single Form Practice) which practice a specific movement from Taolu.
Solo (taolu, neigong and qigong)
Taolu (solo "forms") is a choreography that serves as the encyclopedia of a martial art. Tai chi is often characterized by slow movements in Taolu practice, and one of the reasons is to develop body awareness. Accurate, repeated practice of the solo routine is said to retrain posture, encourage circulation throughout students' bodies, maintain flexibility, and familiarize students with the martial sequences implied by the forms. The traditional styles of tai chi have forms that differ in aesthetics, but share many similarities that reflect their common origin.
Solo forms (empty-hand and weapon) are catalogues of movements that are practised individually in pushing hands and martial application scenarios to prepare students for self-defense training. In most traditional schools, variations of the solo forms can be practised: fast / slow, small-circle / large-circle, square / round (different expressions of leverage through the joints), low-sitting/high-sitting (the degree to which weight-bearing knees stay bent throughout the form).
Breathing exercises; neigong (internal skill) or, more commonly, qigong (life energy cultivation) are practiced to develop qi (life energy) in coordination with physical movement and zhan zhuang (standing like a post) or combinations of the two. These were formerly taught as a separate, complementary training system. In the last 60 years they have become better known to the general public.
Qigong versus tai chi
Qigong involves coordinated movement, breath, and awareness used for health, meditation, and martial arts. While many scholars and practitioners consider tai chi to be a type of qigong, the two are commonly seen as separate but closely related practices. Qigong plays an important role in training for tai chi. Many tai chi movements are part of qigong practice. The focus of qigong is typically more on health or meditation than martial applications. Internally the main difference is the flow of qi. In qigong, the flow of qi is held at a gate point for a moment to aid the opening and cleansing of the channels.[clarification needed] In tai chi, the flow of qi is continuous, thus allowing the development of power by the practitioner.
Partnered (tuishou and sanshou)
Tai chi's martial aspect relies on sensitivity to the opponent's movements and center of gravity, which dictate appropriate responses. Disrupting the opponent's center of gravity upon contact is the primary goal of the martial t‘ai-chi ch‘üan student. The sensitivity needed to capture the center is acquired over thousands of hours of first yin (slow, repetitive, meditative, low-impact) and then later adding yang (realistic, active, fast, high-impact) martial training through taolu (forms), tuishou (pushing hands), and sanshou (sparring). Tai chi trains in three basic ranges: close, medium and long. Pushes and open-hand strikes are more common than punches, and kicks are usually to the legs and lower torso, never higher than the hip, depending on style. The fingers, fists, palms, sides of the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, back, hips, knees, and feet are commonly used to strike. Targets are the eyes, throat, heart, groin, and other acupressure points. Chin na, which are joint traps, locks, and breaks are also used. Most tai chi teachers expect their students to thoroughly learn defensive or neutralizing skills first, and a student must demonstrate proficiency with them before learning offensive skills.
Martial schools focus on how the energy of a strike affects the opponent. A palm strike that looks to have the same movement may be performed in such a way that it has a completely different effect on the opponent's body. A palm strike that could simply push the opponent backward, or instead be focused in such a way as to lift the opponent vertically off the ground, changing center of gravity; or that it could project the force of the strike into the opponent's body with the intent of causing internal damage.
Most development aspects are meant to be covered within the partnered practice of tuishou, and so, sanshou (sparring) is not commonly used as a method of training, although more advanced students sometimes practice by sanshou. Sanshou is more common to tournaments such as wushu tournaments.
Variations of tai chi (taiji) involving weapons also exist. Weapons training and fencing applications employ:
- the jian, a straight double-edged sword, practiced as taijijian;
- the dao, a heavier curved saber, sometimes called a broadsword;
- the tieshan, a folding fan, also called shan and practiced as taijishan;
- the gun, a 2 m long wooden staff and practiced as taijigun;
- the qiang, a 2 m long spear or a 4 m long lance.
More exotic weapons include:
- the large dadao and podao sabres;
- the ji, or halberd;
- the cane;
- the sheng biao, or rope dart;
- the sanjiegun, or three sectional staff;
- the feng huo lun, or wind and fire wheels;
- the lasso;
- the whip, chain whip and steel whip.
Attire and ranking
In practice traditionally no specific uniform is part of tai chi. Modern day practitioners usually wear comfortable, loose T-shirts and trousers made from breathable natural fabrics, that allow for free movement. Despite this, t‘ai-chi ch‘üan has become synonymous with "t‘ai-chi uniforms" or "kung fu uniforms" that usually consist of loose-fitting traditional Chinese styled trousers and a long or short-sleeved shirt, with a Mandarin collar and buttoned with Chinese frog buttons. The long-sleeved variants are referred to as Northern-style uniforms, whilst the short-sleeved, are Southern-style uniforms.
The clothing may be all white, all black, black and white, or any other colour, mostly a single solid colour or a combination of two colours: one colour for the garment and another for the binding. They are normally made from natural fabrics such as cotton or silk. They are usually worn by masters and professional practitioners during demonstrations, tournaments and other public exhibitions.
Tai chi has no standardized ranking system, except the Chinese Wushu Duan wei exam system run by the Chinese wushu association in Beijing. Most schools do not use belt rankings. Some schools present students with belts depicting rank, similar to dans in Japanese martial arts. A simple uniform element of respect and allegiance to one's teacher and their methods and community, belts also mark hierarchy, skill, and accomplishment. During wushu tournaments, masters and grandmasters often wear "kung fu uniforms" which tend to have no belts. Wearing a belt signifying rank in such a situation would be unusual.
Seated tai chi
Traditional tai chi was developed for self-defense, but it has evolved to include a graceful form of seated exercise now used for stress reduction and other health conditions. Often described as meditation in motion, seated tai chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements. Seated tai chi exercises is touted by the medical community and researchers. It is based primarily on the Yang short form, and has been adopted by the general public, medical practitioners, tai chi instructors, and the elderly. Seated forms are not a simple redesign of the yang short form. Instead, the practice attempts to preserve the integrity of the form, with its inherent logic and purpose. The synchronization of the upper body with the steps and the breathing developed over hundreds of years, and guided the transition to seated positions. Marked improvements in balance, blood pressure levels, flexibility and muscle strength, peak oxygen intake, and body fat percentages can be achieved.
Clinical studies exploring tai chi's effect on specific diseases and health conditions exist, but their inconsistent approaches and quality prevent firm conclusions.
Tai chi has been promoted for treating various ailments, and is supported by the National Parkinson Foundation and Diabetes Australia, among others. However, medical evidence of effectiveness is lacking and research has been undertaken to address this. A 2017 systematic review found that it decreased the falls in older people.
A 2011 comprehensive overview of systematic reviews of tai chi recommended tai chi to older people for its physical and psychological benefits. No conclusive evidence showed benefit for any of the other conditions researched, including Parkinson's disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis.
A 2015 systematic review found that tai chi could be performed by those with chronic medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, and osteoarthritis without negative effects, and found favorable effects on functional exercise capacity .
In 2015 the Australian Government's Department of Health published the results of a review of alternative therapies that sought to identify any that were suitable for coverage by health insurance. T‘ai-chi was one of 17 therapies evaluated. The study concluded that low-quality evidence suggests that tai chi may have some beneficial health effects when compared to control in a limited number of populations for a limited number of outcomes.
- During the Qing dynasty, Wang Yuanwai lived in Beipinggao village. He was threatened by a gang of highwaymen, unless he surrendered his valuables. He sent for assistance from Chen Suole, who was away, according to his teenaged sons Shenru and Xunru. The boys volunteered to help instead. They convinced the messenger to tell Wang Yuanwai to give the bandits liquor. They formed a plan and that night, traveled to the Wang residence in Beipinggao,. They jumped over the fence of the rear garden and found Wang Yuanwai. He told them that the highwaymen, numbering around twenty, were drunken in his guest hall. While peeping in, Shenru pushed Xunru into the hall and extinguished several candles by throwing peas at them. Xunru leapt onto a beam and taunted the panicked bandits who had seemingly started fighting each other, saying, "So you still will not hand over your weapons and surrender? Gods number one and two are here." Some tried to escape the frenzy, but were attacked by Shenru, standing at the door.
- In the 1940s, a man known as "Big Spear Liu" came to Shanghai's "big world," the city's major performance and entertainment center. Liu asked the doorkeeper, "Are there any good hands around here?", looking for a skilled opponent to challenge. The doorkeeper told "Big Spear Liu" of Tian Zhaolin (student of Yang Jianhou). Liu set off to find him. He found Tian Zhaolin and immediately demanded to spar by each striking the other three times, to which Tian Zhaolin responded that it may not be necessary. He said, "Just let me touch you. If you can tolerate my touch, you win." Liu, sensing a fool and an effortless victory, immediately agreed. The two men approached and Tian Zhaolin reached out his hand to touch Liu's chest. Within a few moments, Liu's facial muscles started to contort. Soon he grimaced and his face showed signs of intense pain. Spear Liu pulled away and, after recovering, commented, "I have travelled throughout five provinces and various cities but until today I have never seen such a profound skill." Energy, including that of tai chi, may be thought of as transmission by wave. Earlier generation adepts in tai chi had an expression—"hitting the cow on this side of the Mountain." This phrase referred to hitting an opponent's front side while the pain and effect were felt on the back side. In years past, people who sparred with Yang Shaohou often described him as having an energy like electricity. That is, it caused painful sensations in the muscle and even on the skin surface. Tian Zhaolin, coming from that background, also knew this method.
- At the age of 60, Huang Sheng Shyan demonstrated his abilities in tai chi by defeating Liao Kuang-Cheng, the Asian champion wrestler, 26 throws to 0 in a fund raising event in Kuching, Malaysia.
In popular culture
- Waterbending in the Nickelodeon shows Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2008) and The Legend of Korra (2012–2014) is modeled on Taijiquan.
- In the Dead or Alive series, the character Leifang is a taijiquan prodigy.
- In the TV show Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the character of Agent Melinda May uses tai chi and later teaches it to Agent Skye/Daisy Johnson, the superhero known as Quake.
- Belly of the Beast, a 2003 action movie starring Steven Seagal.
- Out for a Kill, an action film starring Steven Seagal.
- Drunken Tai Chi is a kung fu comedy movie starring Donnie Yen.
- In Thomas and Friends, Yong Bao teaches Thomas tai chi so that he can stop Lei the goods van safely in the episode "Runaway Truck".
- In the 2019 film Joker, Joaquin Phoenix performed an unscripted tai chi dance in his portrayal of the titular character after his first murders.
- In an early scene of the movie Easy Rider, Jack, a resident of the commune, (portrayed by actor Robert Walker Jr.) can be observed performing tai chi in the background.
- Modern forms were featured in movies, starring or choreographed by well-known competitors, such as Jet Li and Donnie Yen.
- Wan Zonghua is a tai chi master played by Wu Yue from Ip Man 4: The Finale.
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