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Taiji Quan literally means "Grand Ultimate Fist" and is a centuries old Chinese discipline for health, relaxation, meditation, self-defense and self-cultivation. Practicing this art will help improve one's blood circulation, balance, relaxation and a strengthening of the nervous system. The stretching movements can make the body more limber and the muscles more toned. A sense of well being is created as tension is released. Because the emphasis is on relaxation and inner calm rather than strength, it can be learned by anyone, regardless of age, sex, or athletic ability.

The philosophy of Taiji quan is rooted in Taoism and in the I Ching, or "Book of Changes". The movements and inner teachings are derived from the complementary relationship between Yin and Yang, two fundamental forces that create and harmonize the universe through their interaction. The interaction of Yin and Yang is vital to the practice of Taiji since, physically and mentally, the practitioner is continually shifting between empty and full, soft and hard in order to achieve a proper and evolving physical and mental equilibrium. It also provides the practitioner with the power to adapt to circumstances and gain the necessary leverage to deal with a martial opponent.

As a martial art, it belongs to one of the "inner" schools, as it is based on yielding and cultivating inner energies which allows one to yield yet maintain contact. At the same time, Taiji quan does have the capability to produce physical strength by the proper repetition of the movements. In addition to generating the qi, or inner energy, which revitalizes the system, it also produces jing, sometimes referred to as inner strength.

Taiji is intimately connected with Qigong, an ancient discipline that involves the mind, breath, and movement to create a calm, natural balance of energy. As a meditation, Taiji quan harmonizes mind and body, fostering an inner peace that nourishes a continuing awareness.


History

There are many theories about the origin of Taiji quan. Some suggest that it was created by Zhang San Feng in the Song Dynasty (961-1279 AD) while others believe it was created by Han Gong Yue and Cheng Ling Xi in the Liang Dynasty (502-557 AD). Still others say that it was created by either Xu Xuanping or Li Daozi of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Yet all theories have never been proven by any existing historical records. The most common folktale is that Zhang San Feng; a Taoist monk and master of Shaolin Kung Fu observed a battle between a crane and a snake. He was extremely impressed with how the snake deftly avoided each of the crane's blows through soft evasive maneuvers. He then combined these fighting techniques with what he had learned from Shaolin and added the Taoist interpretations of the theories of yin and yang.

Actual historical records do exist showing that in the 17th Century, Taiji was being practiced among Chen family members at the Chen Jia Gou village which is located in Wen Xian County in Hunan province. The most prominent practitioner was Chen Wang Ting - a scholar and a martial artist. To his martial arts training, he added his knowledge of ancient psychological exercises, the positive and negative philosophies from the Book of Changes and medical theories of passages and channels of blood, airflow and energy inside the human body.

Styles

There are presently five major styles of Taiji: Yang, Chen, Wu, Wu Yuxiang and Sun. Although different in style and form, practitioners from every style must be relaxed and focused on each movement. The spine is the pivot around which the body moves with energy being generated from the spine and waist to the arms and legs. Movements are performed in a slow or fast continuous manner with hardness embedded in softness.


Yang Style

The originator of this style was Yang Lu Chuan (1800-1873) from Yongnian in Hebei Province. His teacher was Chen Chang Xing of Chen Jia village. Over time, Yang Lu Chuan modified some of the more difficult moves in the form such as leaps and ground stomping which tend to injure the knees and lower back when done improperly. Later on, his son shortened the form that was further simplified into a more modern version by his grandson, Yang Cheng Fu.

When practicing this style one must relax to form softness that transforms into hardness thus combining hard and soft. Yang Taiji is also known as "Da Jia" or "Big Frame" and consists of three sub routines - high-posture, middle-posture and low-posture.


Chen Style

Chen style Taiji is divided into the old and new frame. Chen Wang Ting created the old frame or "Lao Jia" which originally consisted of five forms also known as the 13 move Chuan. These were combined into a long-style form of 108 moves and a second form known as "Pao Chui" or Cannon Fist. This knowledge was passed on to Chen Changxing and Chen Youben, both of Chen's village. The characteristic of this style is in its jumps, leaps, silk reeling movements and Fa Jing (explosion of energy). Currently at Wu Tan, the three levels of training consist of the short form (36 movements), Lao Jia or "Old Frame" form (72 movements) and Pao Chui or "Cannon Fist".


Wu Style

Wu style Taiji was created by Quan Yu (1834-1902), a Manchu who lived in Daxing (Bejing), Hebei province. He studied Taiji under Yang Lu Chuan and later mastered the short form under Yang's second son Yang Banhou. Quan Yu's son Jianquan (1870-1942) changed his family name to Wu as he was brought up as a Han national and not a Manchu. Wu Jianquan changed his father's style and left out the leaps, jumps and stomping. The Wu Style Taiji is also known as "Zhong Jia" or "medium frame" Taiji.


Wu Yuxiang Style

Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) of Yongnian, Hebei originally learned Taiji from Yang Lu Chuan. He also studied under Chen Qingping and followed the principals from Wang Zongyue's treatise on Taiji. Wu eventually wrote the "Ten Essential Points of Martial Artists" and "The Four-Word Poetic Secrets of Tai Chi: Apply, Cover, Combat and Swallow".

In the Wu Yuxiang style, the chest and abdomen are kept upright while the body is moving. The outside movement of the body is initiated by the circulation of qi inside the body and by internal adjustments of going from substantial to insubstantial. The two hands do not cross into each other's area and never extends past the foot. The Wu Yuxiang Style is also known as "Xiao Jia" or "small frame" Taiji.


Sun Style

Sun Lu Tang (1861-1932) from Dingxian County in Hebei Province was a master of Xingyi Quan [Mind Will Boxing] and Bagua Zhang [Eight-diagram Palm]. In 1911, he learned the Wu Yuxiang style of Taiji from Hao Weizhen. Then Sun Lu Tang took the best elements of Wu Yuxiang Taiji, Xingyi Quan and Bagua Zhang and created the Sun style of Taiji. The distinct characteristic of this style is in the practitioner's ability to use nimble and adept footwork whether they are advancing or retreating. These movements are connected to each other either in closing or opening stances when the direction is changed.