What is Tai Chi?

A quick introduction.

Tai Chi Chuan(also spelled T’ai Chi or Taijiquan) is a Chinese Internal Martial Art.

An Internal Art will use focus and internal energy as opposed to the external energy and muscle power displayed by an External Martial Art (like Kung Fu, Karate or Tae Kwon Do).

In China, the three traditional Internal Arts are Hsing Yi (a very effective combative art practised in the old days by the guards of the spice and silk convoys), Pa Kua Chang (a very coiling art based on the movements of the mythical Dragon) and Tai Chi Chuan, which translates as “Grand Ultimate”. The Universal Symbol (Taiji) illustrates the ultimate balance between the universal energies of Yin and Yang.

In Japan, Aikido is based on the very same principles as Tai Chi and is also an Internal Art.
Originally, Tai Chi is said to have been invented by Zhang Sanfeng, a Shaolin Monk during the Song Dynasty, observing a fight between a snake and a crane. The coiling movements of the snake inspired him to create a new, softer and more evasive Martial Art.

There are 4 main styles of Tai Chi Chuan: Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun. Other styles do exist outside these but are not as widely practised.

The style I have been studying and am teaching is Yang, and it’s the style most practised in the Western World. Within the Yang style are different forms, a “form” being a succession of steps in a particular order.

The original Yang form derived directly from the first Tai Chi form practised by the Chen family. It was created by Yang Lu Chan. His grandson Yang Chen Fu taught a slightly “modernised” version of this form and his form is called the Traditional Long Yang Form.

Professor Cheng Man Ching was a disciple of Yang Chen Fu and created his own form, a simplified and shorter version of the traditional one, and a form that would be more accessible to Westerners.
Later in the 20th century, other forms were created, mainly the widely practised 24 step form and the competition 42 step form (Tai Chi is a competitive sport in China and with all the different styles, standards were needed for judging).

Today, Tai Chi is mainly practised for its health benefits. It has in this sense become a “Health Art”. Although we can say that practising Tai Chi for health will open your eyes to the Martial Arts origins and strong self-defence techniques even if you choose not to practise them, and practising Tai Chi as a Martial Art will give you robust health.