WHAT IS TAI CHI?
This traditional Chinese martial art is classified as
a soft style or internal. It is a very gentle form of
exercise, suitable for people of any age or level of fitness,
and a superior method of self-defence. Its slow, flowing,
continuous movements relax, strengthen and energise the
body while allowing the mind to rest, thus bringing about
physical and mental well-being.
What does the word Tai Chi mean?
The Mandarin term "tai chi chuan" literally
translates as "supreme ultimate fist" or "boundless
fist", but may better translate to "great
extremes boxing", with an emphasis on finding balance
between two great extremes. The concept of the "supreme
ultimate" is the symbol of the Taijitu meant to
show the principles of Yin and Yang duality of Taoist
In Western countries Tai Chi Chuan is often known simply
as "Tai Chi".
Tai chi's theories and practice are believed by some
schools to have been formulated by the Taoist monk Zhang
Sanfeng in the 12th century, at about the same time that
the principles of the Neo-Confucian school were making
themselves felt in Chinese intellectual life. Zhang Sanfeng
as a young man studied Tao Yin breathing exercises from
his Taoist teachers and martial arts at the Buddhist Shaolin
monastery, eventually combining the martial forms and
breathing exercises to formulate the soft or internal
principles we associate with tai chi chuan and related
are five major styles of tai chi chuan,
each named after the Chinese family from which it originated:
• Chen style
• Yang style
• Wu or Wu/Hao style of Wu Yu-hsiang (Wu Yuxiang)
• Wu style of Wu Ch'uan-yü (Wu Quanyuo) and
Wu Chien-ch'uan (Wu Jianquan)
• Sun style
In modern times tai chi is priactised also for its aestetic
appeal as well as for its benefits to physical and mental
Training and techniques
The core training involves two primary features: the
first being the solo form, a slow sequence of movements
which emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing
and a natural range of motion; the second being different
styles of pushing hands for training movement principles
of the form in a more practical way.
Tai chi's martial aspect relies on sensitivity to the
opponent's movements and center of gravity dictating
appropriate responses. Effectively affecting or "capturing"
the opponent's center of gravity immediately upon contact
is trained as the primary goal of the martial tai chi
student. The sensitivity needed to capture the center
is acquired over thousands of hours of first yin (slow,
repetitive, meditative, low impact) and then later adding
yang ("realistic," active, fast, high impact)
martial training; forms, pushing hands and sparring.
The ability to use tai chi as a form of self-defence
in combat is said to be the most effective proof of
a student's understanding of the art's principles. The
study of tai chi chuan martially is the study of appropriate
change in response to outside forces; the study of yielding
and blending with outside force rather than attempting
to meet it with opposing force.
Tai chi as sport
Since 1950s Wushu teachers in China have developed several
forms of tai chi for the purposes of demonstration that
didn't involve the complete memory, balance and coordination
requirements of the traditional forms. There are 24,
48 and 67 Combined Forms, based on classical forms from
four of the original styles; Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun.
In the late-1980s, the Chinese Sports Committee standardized
many different competition forms. These modern versions
of tai chi chuan (almost always listed using the pinyin
romanization Taijiquan) have since become an integral
part of international wushu tournament competition.
The International Wushu Federation (IWUF) applied for
wushu to be part of the Olympic games, but were denied
official status for the sport.