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Tai Chi History

There is a belief that nobody really created Tai Chi Chuan, but rather, it was synthesized from various systems of movements and meditative exercises that were already present in China long before its existence. By the turn of the Zhou Dynasty (1122 – 249 B.C.), kung fu had developed into sophisticated systems with profound philosophies and principals of yin-yang, the five elements and the baqua, symbol for the philosophy and principal of the eight directions. Masters of the past used these profound philosophies to create styles like: Small Nine Heavens, 13 Styles, 37 Gestures, and Taoist Long Fist, that were very similar to what we know as Tai Chi Chuan nowadays. In the old days there were no separation of internal and external kung fu.

In the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD) there was a Taoist Priest, Li Dao Zi, that was famous for his Taoist Long Fist that was known as “Before Birth Long Fist.” Also during this period was another great master named Xu Xuan Ping who took this Taoist Long Fist and changed the name to “37 Gestures.” During the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD) a master named Cheng Bi changed some of the moves in this form and renamed it to “Small Nine Heavens.”

A very important development took place when a Taoist master, Chang San Feng (born 1247 AD), completed his training at a monastery on Mount Hua and retreated to Mount Wudang in search for immortality during the Southern Sung Dynasty (1127 – 1279 AD). While at Mount Wudang he witnessed a fight between a crane and a snake. This gave him the inspiration to modify this old long fist form. Combined with his knowledge of the I-Ching (Book of Changes) he created a new form that emphasized chi training and changed the name to “Wudang 32 Pattern Long Fist” and eventually became known as “Wudang Tai Chi Chuan.” Tai Chi Chuan was first referred to as an ‘internal martial art’ in his manuscript, “Theory of Tai Chi Chuan.” Although internal arts were in existence long before Chang San Feng, he was the first recorded to reform, refine and label it as an internal art and therefore he is generally credited as being the founder of the internal arts.

Cheng San Feng's form was passed onto Wang Zhong Yue, who wrote a manuscript named “The Theory of Tai Chi Chuan and Explanation in Practicing Internal Exercise” in the years of 1522 – 1566 AD. It was handed down to Jiang Fa who in return handed it down to 9th generation of Chen’s family – Chen Wing Ting, a scholar general of the late Ming Dynasty, who supposedly transformed it into the Tai Chi Chuan of Chen Jia Gou (Chen Family Village) thus founding Chen style Tai Chi Chuan.

There is a story that Yang Lu-Chan became a servant for the Chen family in lieu of learning their family style. Yang would wake up before dawn to observe the Chen family secretly practicing. When he was discovered he was asked to show what he knew. Since he had absorbed so much by what he had seen, Yang was "adopted" by the Chen family and was taught directly. He then took what he learned from Chen Tai Chi and modified it to create Yang style Tai Chi Chuan.

There is another story that Yang style Tai Chi Chuan is not a modified Chen style at all but instead a completely different style. A Taoist style called Yu Chou Tai Chi Chuan (Universal Tai Chi Chuan) that was taught to Yang Lu-Chan by a disciple of Chang San Feng.

As the story goes, after Yang Lu-Chan left Chen village he met a disciple of the "Hidden Immortal Sect" and learned a new style of Tai Chi Chuan. It was this style that Yang Lu-Chan taught that became known as “Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan.” This story is a lot easier to believe since Yang Tai Chi Chuan is a complete style that seems to have been developed over time and is extremely close to the philosophy and principals of Taoist Kung Fu. It would only make sense that the roots came from a long history and development of Taoist kung fu. Whether Yang Lu-Chan modified it or combined it with his previous knowledge of Chen style Tai Chi Chuan is really unknown, but we do know that Yang Tai Chi Chuan evolved from generation to generation. Yang Lu-Chan’s son, Yang Jian Hou, improved on the techniques for health by extending and expanding the movements into what we see now as Yang Tai Chi Chuan. When Yang Cheng Fu, grandson of Yang Lu-Chan, was teaching in the south, he changed all the difficult postures to slow movements with higher stances that were easier to practice, since most of his students belonged to the royal family who didn’t want to practice hard with very low stances. Thus creating the Yang “37 Postures” short form.

The original Yang Tai Chi Chuan form taught by Yang Lu-Chan was said to consist of 78 postures, but through a series of generations it slowly developed into many different versions. These styles or versions are different for different people, that is what the Chinese refer to as “a thousand people, a thousand styles.” Even each posture has its owe different way in performance which resulted in many variations within the style. These variations are more a representative of their different lineages than it is of different styles. It is still Yang style Tai Chi Chuan even though there are many different versions of the same form. What you must understand is that the forms are only vehicles to understanding Tai Chi Chuan. It is each students responsibility for their own individual study and comprehension of what Tai Chi Chuan truly is. The study is that of a life time, but in the process everyone can enjoy its beauty, strength and effectiveness as a martial art and health enhancement system.