Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) is a Chinese ‘internal’ martial art, widely practised as a mind-body exercise for health and wellbeing – it is often referred to simply as ‘Tai Chi’ – the word ‘Chuan’ translates as fist or boxing. The exact origins of Tai Chi Chuan are still debated and historically was known by other names, such as ‘Cotton Boxing’.
Tai Chi, Yin & Yang
The name Tai Chi Chuan appears to have been adopted around the mid-1800’s, when the art was named after the philosophical concept of Tai Chi (Taiji) – an ancient concept from Chinese (Daoist) philosophy and cosmology, depicted in the well-known ‘Tai Chi Tu’ or Yin / Yang symbol. The word ‘Tai’ translates as great, ultimate or supreme, and ‘Chi’ or ‘Ji’ as pole or polarity. The term Tai Chi literally means ‘great polarity’ (note the word ‘Chi / Ji’ in the term Tai Chi / Taiji is a completely different word from the ‘Chi’ in Chi Kung / Qi Gong).
In Tai Chi Chuan practice, the Yin / Yang concept is relevant to interaction, relationship, balance and harmony, pairs of opposites, polarity or duality – e.g. up & down, left & right, lightness & heaviness, harness & softness, etc.
Tai Chi & Wu Chi
Traditional writings on Tai Chi Chuan (known as the ‘Tai Chi Classics’), contain the following phrase:
‘Tai Chi comes from Wu Chi and is the mother of Yin and Yang. In motion, Tai Chi separates, in stillness, Yin and Yang fuse and return to Wu Chi’
Wu Chi is symbolised by an empty circle and translates as ‘no polarity’, referring to wholeness, non-duality, resolution, integration of opposites and unity beyond apparent differences – ‘Wu Chi’ therefore has a equivalent meaning to the word ‘Yoga’.
The practice can be seen as a journey from Tai Chi to Wu Chi – for example, through the process of integrating of discrete awareness of separate elements (Tai Chi) into whole body awareness (Wu Chi), or in the journey from uncomfortable and awkward initial stages of learning, to the point where the practice becomes more natural and effortless (Wu Wei).
Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi Chuan practice includes solo exercises, flowing movement sequences (forms), partner exercises and martial arts training.
The main styles of Tai Chi Chuan are Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun, plus a few other variations – these refer to historical teachers’ names or families of teachers e.g. Yang style was founded by Yang Lu Chan (1789 to 1872), and carried on by future generations of the Yang family and their students. Beyond the main styles, there are many variations, offshoots and sub-lineages, created by subsequent generations of teachers, which continues to the present day.
Internal Martial Arts & Beyond – The Wider Context
Tai Chi Chuan is included within a wider group of Chinese ‘internal martial arts’ collectively termed ‘Neijia’, which includes generally less well known arts such as Baguazhang, Xingyiquan and Yiquan – and beyond this grouping, these arts sit within the vast culture of ‘Chinese Boxing’. Wider still, there are other (internal) martial arts and body-mind practices from Asia & other cultures which share common ideas (e.g. aikido, silat, systema, hatha yoga, somatic, body-mind practices).
My Tai Chi Background
My main Tai Chi Chuan lineage comes from Cheng Man-ch’ing (1902 to 1975) and his students – a branch of Yang style Tai Chi Chuan – I’ve met and trained with many teachers in this approach over the past 25 years – the main influence in recent years has been Bret Hall, who was a student of Carol Yamasaki, Benjamin Lo and Liu Xiheng. More recently, I’ve been learning Wu style Tai Chi and Baguazhang via Paul Rogers and his student Paul Britten.
My Teaching Approach
The main Tai Chi Chuan form taught is the ‘37 Form‘ sequence (a simplified ‘Yang style’ Tai Chi form developed in the 1940’s by Cheng Man-ch’ing of around 60-70 movements). The workshop programme also includes Baguazhang for Beginners, and coming soon, Wu Style Tai Chi with Paul Britten.
See also About Partnerwork section