WELCOME TO VIETNAMESE SHAOLIN KIENANDO KUNGFU
THE HISTORY OF TAI CHI
of Tai Chi Chuan Movements illustrated by the Queen of Tai Chi Chuan - Gao
Grand master Nguyen Lam performing Tai chi Chuan form in Tai chi Chuan class at
CSUN University in Northridge CA, USA.
[I am deeply grateful to Peter Lim both for his
excellent papers on the history of Tai Chi Chuan, and for his personal
communications to me, in providing a background for this historical overview.
Any errors are, however, entirely my responsibility.]
There exists a very ancient history in China of
movement systems that are associated with health and philosophy. In some sense
one can see all of these as contributing to the climate in which Tai Chi was
From the very origins of Taoism in the sixth century
BC, sages like Lao Tsu wrote in the Tao Te Ching:
Yield and Overcome;
Bend and be straight.
He who stands of tiptoe is not steady.
He who strides cannot maintain the pace.
Later, in the period of the Three Kingdoms (220 to 265
AD) there was a physician Hua-tu'o who relied not only on medicine but also
taught the 'movements of the five creatures' -- tiger, deer, bear, ape and birds
-- a system he called Wu-chi chih hsi. He believed that the body needed
to be regularly exercised to help with digestion and circulation and only by
doing so could a long and healthy live be achieved. He advocated a system of
imitating the movements of these animals to help exercise every joint in the
body. His teaching, and its connection with the movements of animals, is
probably the earliest pre-cursor of Tai Chi.
In the sixth century A.D. Bodihdharma (called Ta Mo
in China) came to the Shao-Lin Monastery and seeing that the monks there were in
poor physical condition from too much meditation and not enough movement, his Eighteen
Form Lohan Exercise. Over time these grew to be the precursors of the Wei
Chia (outer-extrinsic) school of exercise, by which is meant all the schools
of kung-fu and other martial art forms which take an 'external' approach. This
is in contrast to the Nei Chia (internal-intrinsic) school of which Tai
Chi is a member, that take a fundamentally 'internal' approach. In the eighth
century AD (the Tang dynasty) philosophers like Hsu Hsuan- p'ing developed a
'Long Kung-fu' of 37 forms. Of these certain ones such as:
The apocryphal founder of Tai Chi was a monk of the Wu
Tang Monastery, Chang San-feng to whom have been ascribed various dates
and longevity's. Some scholars doubt his historical existance, viewing him as a
literary construct on the lines of Lao Tzu. Other research and records from the
Ming-shih (the official chronicles of the Ming dynasty) seem to indicate that he
lived in the period from 1391 to 1459 (he may have been born earlier and lived
later: these are simply some dates associated with him).
Linking some of the older forms with the notion of
yin-yang from Taoism and stressing the 'internal' aspects of his exercises, he
is credited with creating the fundamental 'Thirteen Postures' of Tai Chi
corresponding to the eight basic trigrams of the I
Ching and the five elements. The eight 'postures' are:
His theories, writings and practices were elaborated
sometime later by Wang Chung-yueh and his student Chiang Fa. Wang
apparently took the thirteen postures of Chang San-feng and linked them together
into continuous sequences, thus creating something which resembles the
contemporary Tai Chi Chuan form. His student Chiang Fa taught Tai Chi to the
villagers of a town on Honan (almost all of whom were called Chen) and thus
began the first family school of Tai Chi Chuan.
Herein lies one of the most contentious and perplexing
areas of Tai Chi history and scholarship. Some scholars feel that rather than
bringing Tai Chi to the Chen village Chiang Fa simply discovered the Chen
villagers practiciing this art. Others maintain that the Chen family's so-called
'Cannon Pounding' (Pao Chui) was a distinct martial art that undoubtedly
influenced Chiang Fa's teaching but that it was not the same as Tai Chi.
Another of Wang's students was Chen Chou-t'ung
who quarreled with Chiang Fa. The former then established the so-called Southern
School of Tai Chi, an interesting an colourful branch of Tai Chi which
subsequently disappeared. Chiang Fa continued with the mainstream 'Northern'
school of Tai Chi which survives today.
Whatever their respective contributions, from Chiang-Fa
and the Chen villagers in Honan emerge all of the surviving branches of Tai Chi
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Monday September 10, 2007