Tai Chi Chuan – What is it, history and types of Tai Chi

What for Westerners may be a combat sport, for people on the other side of the world represents a way to achieve a balance between mind, body, and soul. Tai chi or Tai chi Chuan is a martial art of Chinese origin, which in its translation means “empty hand”.

In China, Tàijí is a word composed of the particles tài which means extreme, and jí, related to limit, which although it has been heard for millions of years, began to have greater importance in the 21st century. So much so that it is practiced as a discipline by millions of people around the world. Considered a meditation in movement, Tai chi could have positive effects on sick people, however, much more than what has already been written will have to be studied to scientifically prove this hypothesis.

What is Tai chi Chuan?

Linked to Taoism and Yoga, Tai chi Chuan or Tai Ji Quan, is a method of relaxation that helps reduce stress, improves flexibility and helps balance the body with the mind.

It was born as a martial art or combat technique, but is currently used in therapeutic treatments, based on traditional Chinese medicine ensures that the mood affects the immune system of people, so this practice would bring healing to a sick body and calms a restless mind.

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History of Tai chi

The literature specialized in explaining what Tai chi is, its history and health benefits, is varied. However, for many it is not clear the origin of this technique created in the Asian continent. Among the versions that have been written, its origin is attributed to the Hindu monk called Bodhidharma, who would have come to China years before Christ, during the mandate of the emperor Wu del Liang, to give his teachings about Buddhism.

Established in a Shaolin temple, legend has it that the Buddhist monk used to climb a mountain to meditate, what was known as chana state or chan meditation, once this level was reached, he began to do exercises with some movements that imitated the animals that were around him.

When Bodhidharma returned to the city, he noticed that his Chinese peers could not resist the days of fasting, since they seemed to lose strength easily, so he decided to teach them everything he had learned during his time on the mountain. The secret was to achieve harmony between what was thought and how it acted, ie mind-body balance.

Another story is that the Taoist monk Zhang San Feng witnessed a fight between a crane and a snake during his meditation on the Wu Dang Shan mountain. The monk was struck by how the snake drained in a circular fashion, in order to avoid the crane, which responded by going up and down in its flight.

This combat made Zhang San Feng understand how to combine the strength of the crane with the flexibility and movements of the snake, thus creating Tai chi.

Historic Sustenance of Tai Chi

More documented records indicate that during wartime the Chinese spread martial arts as a defense, not only to learn how to use weapons and defeat the enemy with force but with intelligence.

Chen Wang Ting, commander of the garrison of Wenxian district in Chenjiagou, who, according to history, managed to understand the principle of uniting strong and soft movements to obtain victory.

Chén Wáng Tíng encouraged the use of tranquillity in the face of the impatience of the adversary, thus making his opponent unbalanced and lose the encounter. One had to be more skillful and respond gently to harshness.

Tai chi Chuan was based by the commander on the doctrine of Yin and Yang, a new technique that mixed the breathing Tai Chi exercises practiced by the Chinese for millennia with Yi, awareness-intention and some of what was taught through Kung Fu or Nei Gong.

In the village of Chenjiagou, they began to practice different movements, mostly circular and pushing the air with the hand, which was known as Tui Shou. Meditation and balance made it possible to grasp the weak points of the opponent in full concentration of triumph. It is like using the enemy’s own strength to defeat him.

However, none of those who are credited with the origin are given credit for the diffusion, this merit is taken by Yáng Lù Chán, who was also called Yáng Fukui or Yáng el invincible, a guide to the martial arts of the imperial family of Beijing.

His contributions to this technique were sufficient to recognize him as the father of the Yang style of Tai chi Chuan. Yáng Lù Chán made Tai chi a family technique that he passed from generation to generation and took it to Beijing, from where it spread throughout the country.

How did it go from being a combat art to a contribution to health? Faced with the old adage that every crisis is an opportunity, the Chinese population did not lose the benefits of Tai chi, after communism banned the practice of martial arts throughout the nation, Tai chi spread as a way of releasing tensions and improving the lifestyle of the population.

Which of all the stories about the origin of Tai chi is real? There may not be a precise answer, but it seems that it was not just one man who devised and promoted the technique. But as one of the greatest inventions in the world, is the result of many minds that were perfecting the idea to reach what is known today, perhaps even continue in that process of evolution and within a few years will reach future generations in a different way.

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Modalities of Tai chi

Although Tai chi is one in its conception, five main modalities are known, styles with particular movements, postures and exercises that will depend on the physical condition of those who put it into practice.

Tai chi Chen

The Chen style takes the practitioner from relaxation to the highest point in just one movement, making it a more complex modality, although it can be exercised by anyone who achieves the right discipline. At first it was known as “the 13 postures” and owes its name to the contributions of Chén Wáng Tíng.

Tai chi Yang

Based on the thoughts of Yáng Lù Chán, in its Yan modality, Tai chi drives long and calm movements, without altering the rhythm of breathing or the impulse that is exerted. Because of its principles, it is recommended for beginners or older adults.

Tai chi Wu

It is one of the most practiced in the world. Its foundation is very similar to that of Yang, but with modifications that made it less complex in its postures and softer in its movements. Its creator was Wu Quan You, a student of Yáng Lù Chán.

Tai chi Sun

Sun Lu Tang combined the fundamentals of martial arts known as Xingyiquan and Baguazhang with Tai chi. He provided knowledge about the cultivation of Qi as a fundamental tool to achieve balance.

It is one of the most recent styles of Tai chi and of greater mobility because it has different currents. In his practice the body acquires a higher position and the point of the balance does not fall on a single foot, but both are placed at an angle of 45 º to achieve movements of great flexibility and speed.

It differs from other Tai chi modalities in that in each transition an open-closing movement is achieved.

Tai chi Wû

The Wû style is one of the most unknown and few practiced beyond China. Its creator, Wu Yuxiang, promoted precise and high postures with simple movements, in which combat techniques were not the basis.

Later it was modified by Hao Yue Ru, a master of martial arts, who included in the movements slow jumps and leveled, although it conserves fast movements of the original style.

The so-called Hao style is the most practiced in China with the name of the Hao style of Tai chi Chuan, in order to differentiate it from the rest of the modalities of Wu Yuxiang.

Although there are other known modalities of Tai chi, these are the most practiced and widespread in the world, to which are added others of lesser scope but equally exercised as: Xin Yi, Wu Dang, Zhaobao Taijiquan style or Zheng Zong and Hulei, all under the principle of unifying the being through the balance of mind, body and soul or spirit.