The goal of this article is to:
1) introduce you to some names and places that will eventually become critical.
At some point in everyone’s development an understanding of the origin of tai chi becomes essential. Typically you begin to be in a conversation about yoga/work/religion/running and you say; “that sounds like tai chi.” A need arises to understand how tai chi can be related to so much simultaneously and your historical pursuit begins.
2) give you confidence in the great tradition that you are now part of.
It is humbling and exciting to know that by lifting your hands in the opening movements for the first time that you have just joined millions, and billions across the centuries who are reconnecting with their source energy. Tai chi is not typically what we grew up with. Development comes slowly at times and history provides us with a blueprint to know that we are building into something truly unique.
Meditation and Martial Application Develop
Bodhidharma was an Indian monk who traveled to China in the 6th Century teaching Buddhist sutras and meditation. He stayed at the Shaolin Temple for several years and found the monks to be weak in body and mind. He encouraged physical discipline and taught a yoga-based exercise set to extend and improve their meditation thereby improving their health and practice. A group of eighteen monks (now revered as Lohan – heroes) created a system of exercises (Shao-lin Chuan) that are the basis for all qigong and martial arts forms including tai chi chuan.
In 722 AD Shao-lin received special acclaim from the Emperor who was visiting the area. Up through the 14th Century hundreds of external forms were developed based on movements in nature and also spread to neighboring Asian countries to create arts like Tae Kwan Do and Karate.
The Internal Arts are Created
Chang San-Feng, a Taoist teacher, mastered the external martial arts of Shaolin Temple and became a bodyguard of the Emperor’s Court in Beijing. He returned to the mountains of his youth and together with other masters dedicated himself to the development of a non-violent form of practice. Here it is recorded that he developed a soft “internal martial art” which relied on energies from within. His efforts were based on medical knowledge and Taoist philosophy.
Fast forward again to the 17th Century where the Ming Dynasty strongly encouraged scholars to study tai chi and record forms and uses currently in existence. Legend has it that a local or traveling boxer taught the Chen family a system of exercises that resembles what we know today.
In the 19th Century a servant of the Chen family, Yang Lu-Ch’an learned the system, moved to Beijing to teach and further develop it, thus creating the Yang System. Three independent systems, Wu, Wu Hao and Sun by Sun Lu-Tang developed out of Yang Style. All current forms are either directly from these lineages or developed off of these lineages such as Cheng Man-Ch’ing Style, who studied and taught Yang Style before leaving China in 1949 for political reasons.
To Summarize the Origins of Tai Chi
1400 years spent studying nature and the body’s processes resulted in the movements of tai chi. Masters of the external styles applied internal knowledge to the movements and development ensued for 500 more years. Development and practice continues with five main families and with you. By practicing tai chi you consciously decide to understand the inherent power that your body was intended to manifest.
Additional Reading: Origin of Tai Chi