What is Tai Chi
The Chinese characters for Tai Chi Chuan can be translated as the "Supreme Ultimate Force". The notion of "supreme ultimate" is often associated with the Chinese concept of Yin-Yang which represents the ancient Chinese understanding of how things work dynamic duality in all things.
Tai Chi is the graceful, health-giving art form practiced daily by millions of Chinese, young and old alike. Tai Chi, as it is practiced in the west today, can perhaps best be thought of as a moving form of yoga and meditation combined.
There are a number of so- called forms which consist of a sequence of movements. The form has a slow-motion, soft, and graceful with smooth and even transitions between movements that hides its true combat origins. Through the gradual building of one's inner energy, known as chi, one discovers how soft truly does overcome hard and how in combat, an ounce of energy can defeat a thousand pounds of force. Tai Chi is known as an internal art because of its emphasis on internal chi power, rather than on external physical power. For many practitioners the focus in doing Tai Chi is not, first and foremost, martial, but as a meditative exercise for the body. For others the combat aspects of Tai Chi are of considerable interest.
Health Benefits of Tai Chi
Tai Chi is to foster a calm and tranquil mind, focused on the precise execution of these exercises. Learning to do the movements and posture correctly provides a practical avenue for learning about such things as body balance, body alignment, control rhythm of movement via proper breathing, and correcting body structure and alignment. Tai Chi's movements and shifts of balance that strengthens the legs while conditioning the tendons and ligaments of the ankles, knees, and hips, increasing their range of motion and making them more resilient, less prone to injury. The constant body weight shifts via the movements train balance and body awareness, leading to confident ease of movement within the form and in everyday life. Tai Chi is a physical exercise that focuses the mind while conditioning the body.
Western Science recognizes the following benefits of practicing Tai Chi: increased oxygen uptake and utilization (more efficient breathing), reduced blood pressure, slower declines in cardiovascular power, increased bone density, increased strength and range of motion of joints, greater leg strength, knee strength, and flexibility, reduced levels of stress hormones during and after practice, improved immune function, and heightened mood states. The ancient art of Tai Chi uses gentle flowing movements to reduce the stress of today's busy lifestyles and improve health.
The Styles of Tai Chi Quan
Over time a variety of styles or schools of Tai Chi have evolved. These reflect both a growth and development of the form in general, as well as differences of style.
Most of the different schools or styles of Tai Chi have been given the surnames of their founders. The following are the principal schools of Tai Chi that are in existence today.
Chen Style was created by Tai chi founder Chen Wang-Ting based on his military and boxing experiences. At the 14th generation, around the late 1700s and early 1800s, Chen's style spilt into the "old-frame" and the "new-frame" versions. The New frame was taught by Chen Yu-Pen, and the Old frame by Chen Chang-Hsing. Chen Style was only taught for its members only. It was at this time that an outsider learned the art and started opening it up to the rest of the world.
These days, students can learn several versions of the Chen style - including the old frame, new frame and modern forms- as well as offshoots which developed in towns located near the Chen family village. There are many variations of Chen style.
A novel part of the Chen style is the multitude of explosive movements: jumps, strikes and kicks. There is an emphasis on "silk-reeling energy", or the spiraling energy that flows from the feet to the hands. It is difficult to practice the Chen style correctly because of the ease with which excessive force and muscle tension can creep into its movements. Perhaps this is why some hard stylists can do impressive imitations of this style - but without using the correct concepts. It may also be the reason the Chen style appeals to martial arts students who need a tangible sense of speed and force.
The Wu or Wu (Hao) style is a separate family style from the more popular Wu style of Wu Chien-ch' an. Wu Yu-hsiang's style was third among the five Tai Chi families in seniority and is fifth in terms of popularity. Hao style is a distinctive style with small, subtle movements; highly focused on balance, sensitivity and internal ch'i development.
Three major offshoots stemmed from Wu Yu-Hsiang: the Li, the Hao and the Sun styles. The Sun style Tai Chi was developed by Sun Lu-T'ang who was considered expert in two other internal martial arts styles. The Sun style is considered small frame. It employs many "step-ups" into its techniques, and this fact makes it somewhat similar to Xingyiquan. The Sun style also used short stances and straight leg kicks, but jumps have been taken out of its repertoire. It is said that the art melded Baguazhang Chang's steps, Xingyiquan leg and waist methods, and Tai Chi softness. Sun style Tai Chi is well known for its smooth, flowing movements which omit the more physically vigorous crouching and leaping from other styles. The footwork of Sun style is unique, when one foot advances or retreats the other follows. It also uses an open palm throughout the entirety of its main form, and exhibits small circular movements with the hand. Its gentle postures and high stances make it very suitable for geriatric exercise and martial arts therapy.
Wu Yu-Hsiang was the founder of Wu Style. He studied under Yang Lu-chan for an extended time. He then traveled to the Chen family village, and for three months he studied the new-frame style, with Chen Ching-Ping. After that, Wu founded his own version of Tai Chi, which is now called the Wu style. Wu Style is the second most popular form of Tai Chi in the world today, after Yang style.
Yang Lu-chan (1799 - 1872) learned the old-frame style from Chen Chang-Hsing. This is the most commonly practiced form of Tai Chi in the world today. Pacing is uniformly slow, even, and gentle throughout the form, with no variation in speed during transitions. Continuity rolling movements, steady in pace, and rounded in shape without break or pause, is the key. The hand form is loose and open for the most part; fists are not clenched during punches.
There are many new forms such as the "24 from "developed in 1956 by Committee on Mainland China. These were developed as calisthenics exercise methods and for competition. For example the 24 Simplified form is mainly Yang style used for exercise, but others such as the 48 Forms combine several styles methods into one form. Simplified sword forms have also been developed for exercise and competition.