taijiTaiji Quan, more commonly written as Tai Chi Chuan, is translated as Grand Terminus Boxing or Grand Ultimate Boxing.

While popular legend claims that the Daoist priest Zhang Sanfeng, upon witnessing a crane and a snake in a life-and-death struggle was inspired to create Taiji Quan, historical facts credit Chen Wangting (1600-1680), also called Qinting, of Chenjiagou village in Henan province, as the father of Taijiquan.

taiji lineageFor nearly two centuries Taiji remained a closely guarded secret to be passed on within family members at Chen village. Yang Fukui, who styled himself Yang Luchan, was sold at 10 years of age to Chen Dehu’s household as a servant, where Chen Changxing, an important descendant of Chen Style Taiji, was teaching the art. Desiring to learn, Yang secretly watched the great master Chen Changxing instruct Taiji in the courtyard. Every evening Yang would climb a wall and observe Chen family members go through the various Taiji postures and would later practice on his own what he had seen. During a practice session, Yang Luchan was discovered by Chen Changxing and was asked to demonstrate what he had learned. Yang had been practicing assiduously and Chen Changxing was so impressed that he formally accepted Yang Luchan as a disciple.

Yang Luchan (1799-1872) was from Yongnian in Hebei Province and after learning Taiji in Chen Village returned to his hometown to practice and refine the art. Here Yang Luchan made several changes to the original movements and left out many movements that contained high jumping and foot stomping. What he compiled has since become known as Yang Shi Taiji (Yang Style Taiji). Yang Luchan eventually moved to Beijing where he took on all comers without ever facing defeat. He was called Yang Wudi, “Yang the Invincible.” Eventually he was invited to teach Taiji to the Imperial Family and his fame grew far and wide. The Taiji he created has been continuously developed by his sons, grandsons, and disciples into today’s best known and most widely practiced style of Taiji.

The characteristic features of Yang Style Taiji are pleasant expansive movements and natural actions that are governed by the Daoist Theory of Yin and Yang. This concept started with the observation of nature and the environment, and its theory holds that all natural phenomena consist of two complementary and opposing aspects: firmness and softness, activity and inactivity, substance and function, yielding and unyielding. This theory is represented by the Yin and Yang symbol that is commonly known as the Double Fish Diagram that is synonymous with Taiji practice.

Like other Neijia (Internal Methods), Taiji incorporates Zhan Zhuang (Post Standing) and Nei Gong (Internal Training) as preliminary and fundamental training in order to develop proper posture, learn correct breathing and gain a sense of rooting. Loosening and limbering exercises are also practiced to increase overall flexibility. These training methods are refined as progress is made.

A great deal of training in Taiji involves the practice and refinement of the various movements that are strung together in a sequence, commonly described as a form. Routine practice is guided by the Yin and Yang Theory as well as numerous other principles. Simply repeating the form over and over without conscious awareness avails to little more than light exercise and will yield none of the benefits derived from sound practice.

In order to achieve Internal Skill in Taiji, practice methods must conform to and be guided by the principles so as to cultivate Shen (Spirit), Yi (Intent) and Qi (Internal Energy).

Song (Relaxation) is a key word in Taiji practice. This word is represented by a Chinese character that depicts loose, hanging hair. Likewise, we want to loosely relax the joints and muscles of the body in order to stimulate circulation and increase the flow of Qi. The Great Master Yang Chengfu while teaching his students gave this advice: “First and always relax,” “Relax some more,” and, further, “Be more relaxed.”

The principle Yi Zai Xian (Intent in First Place) is also important in Taiji. Every step and every move should be completely guided by the intent. From the beginning movement until closing the form there must be no lapses of intent.

Ding Tou Xuan (Suspend the Head-Top) is another important principle that gives life to all movements. The feeling should be as if the top of the head is propping up the ceiling. One must be careful not to raise the chest.

Xin (Heart/Mind) must be active; Yi (Intent) leads all movements, Yuan (Roundness) emphasizes that movements should be round with the aim of harmonizing the Internal and the External. The Yun concept expresses that movements should be performed at an even and slow speed and Shu requires that movements be coordinated and performed in an easy, comfortable, and loose manner.

Sinking and Rooting are terms often heard while expounding Taiji theory. These are only attainable by achieving proper body alignment and synchronization of movements while maintaining Zhong Ji (Central Equilibrium) and relaxation. This stage of achievement is necessary in order to issue Fajin (Rebounding or Explosive Force).

However, form practice, the ability to root, and relaxation are still not enough to enable you to apply the techniques in a violent encounter. Taiji training encompasses various methods to elevate one’s skill and understanding so that the art can be applied in fighting. Chief among these practices is Tui Shou (Pushing Hands). Post standing and form practice is about understanding yourself; Push-Hands practice is about understanding your opponent.

Tui Shou is based on the principle of yielding to an oncoming force and redirecting that force back to its source. It is conducted with a partner and includes a variety of methods; these can generally be classified as Fixed Step, Moving Step, and Free Style Pushing Hands.

Training begins with fixed patterns. Here movements are performed with controlled slow speed and predetermined direction. The goals are to gently stick to your partner and to learn to yield and move with him, thus redirecting the oncoming force without losing your center. Learn to listen with your skin and to react to the lightest touch. The Taiji Classics state that “A fly cannot alight on your body without setting it in motion.” This stage of Tui Shou should be well developed before moving on to more advanced pushing practice.

Moving Step Push-Hands also employs predetermined hand patterns but here footwork is involved. Advancing and retreating while sticking to your partner and redirecting his force adds difficulty and heightens sensing and rooting skills.

After practicing Fixed Step and Moving Step methods it is natural to move to Free Style Push-Hands. Here there are no predetermined patterns and both partners move and react at will. While this stage provides the most challenge and the greatest opportunity to advance one’s skill in Push-Hands, it also presents dangers. Forgetting the fundamental principles in order to win at all costs is intrinsic to the ego. If not controlled, one can rapidly regress and develop bad habits that will be hard to overcome. In Taiji we often hear the phrase “Investing in Loss.” This basically means not to be greedy for victory nor resentful and vengeful when you are pushed.

Yi Rou Ke Gang (Overcoming Hardness with Softness) is one of the principles that distinguishes Taiji from other Martial Arts styles. This skill is awakened through form practice and nurtured in Push-Hands practice until it can be applied naturally in fighting. Bi Bu Dong Wo Bu Dong means “The opponent does not move, I do not move.” Bi Yi Dong Wo Xian Dong means “Once the opponent moves, I arrive before him.” These principles form the foundation for Taiji fighting strategy and along with Post Standing, form practice, and Push-Hands provide a platform to nurture and develop fighting skills.