BRIEF HISTORY OF TAI CHI CHUAN
The most widespread story of the beginning of Tai Chi Chuan is that of Chang San-Feng (1279-1368 AD).
The legend states that the Taoist monk Chang San-Feng one day heard a noise outside his house, going to his window he ob served a snake with raised head, hissing at a crane in a tree. When the bird flew down and attacked with his beak, the snake turned away and attacked the crane’s neck with his tail. Stabbing again and again, the crane was unable to land a solid blow. The snake twisting and dodging was always out of reach. From this Chang San-Feng learned the value of yielding in the face of strength.
Studying the movements of the snake and crane, other wild animals, qigong and natural phenomena, and taking what he learned, Chang San-Feng devised Tai Chi Chuan. Movements such as Cloud Hands, Snake Creeps Down, and White Crane Flaps It’s Wings are vivid examples of natures’ lessons. It is obvious that many years of observation, meditation and transformation were spent by Master Chang San-Feng in giving birth to Tai Chi Chuan.
The exact details are unknown, but eventually Tai Chi Chuan was passed to a family named Chen in Honan Province. The Chen clan kept Tai Chi Chuan a secret for fourteen generations. It was forbidden for anyone to teach it outside the family or to teach it to anyone with a bad disposition. Around the end of the eighteenth century, a young man named Yang Lu-Chan, having an active interest in self defense, learned of the Chen clan’s secret. He went to Henan Province, to the house of Chen and sought a job as a servant. Discovering where and when the Chen family practiced, he spied upon them and practiced when he was alone. One night old Master Chen himself discovered Yang Lu-Chan practicing and was so impressed by Yang’s enthusiasm that he broke a four hundred year tradition by accepting Yang as a student.
The five primary family styles of Tai Chi Chuan are Chen, Yang, Old Wu, Wu, and Sun. The Yang style is the traditional form from which many other Tai Chi Chuan forms were taken. Tai Chi Chuan went through several alterations as it was passed from master to student. Some alterations were so divergent that they were recognizably different. This is how the Wu Style and Sun Style systems were created. Even with-in the recognizable forms of Tai Chi Chuan, slight differences occurred which further divided even the five main styles. The Yang style is the most traditional and popular form practiced in mainland China today.
Around 1954 the Chinese government brought the families together and created a set of standardized ‘Beijing’ forms that could improve the health of the population and you will see these practiced during the early mornings in the parks of China.
Many of the Tai Chi masters relocated to Taiwan before the Cultural Revolution. There they practiced their family forms together and introduced them to other countries. Yang Ch’eng-fu, Cheng Man-ch’ing, Marshall Ho’o and Tchoung Ta-tchen, among others, helped introduce Tai Chi to the United States for it’s health benefits.
Most recently, Tai Chi was beautifully showcased during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China with 2008 Masters performing in amazing unison.
Thanks to Sempai Jane Burkheimer for taking the time to write this up and send it over.