A brief history of Tai Chi

By Amy Alderman

Let’s cram 4,000 years of history into one small Web page, shall we?

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese practice of self-defense, which is also a form of Qigong (Chi Kung), a 4000-year-old Chinese practice, which can be translated to energy cultivation or breath work. Qigong is a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent.

A legend named Chang San Feng as the founder of Tai Chi who was inspired by the battle between a graceful crane and an alert and recoiling snake. Over the centuries, Tai Chi was secretly passed down from father to son in the Chen village in Northern China.

In the mid-1800s, Yang Lu Shan became the first outsider of the Chen family to learn Tai Chi. When he became commander of the imperial guards, he taught Tai Chi to his men. Eventually, Tai Chi became popular in martial arts circles and three main styles emerged, including wide frame Yang style after Yang Lu Shan.

Cheng Man Ch’ing (Creative Commons license)

The Chen style of Tai Chi was named after the Chen family in Northern China, utilizing fast and slow movements and bursts of power.

Wu style, developed by Wu Jianquan, a student of Yang Lu Shan, utilizes higher stances and compact motions.

Early in the 1900s, Yang Lu Shan’s grandson, Master Yang Cheng Fu modified his family’s form, and in the 1930s, his student Cheng Man Ch’ing shortened and simplified the form to make it accessible as a health exercise.

By the late 1960s, Tai Chi spread to the United States and Europe. Grandmasters Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo and William C.C. Chen and other students taught tai chi to thousands of students.

Of course, there are now excellent instructors across the world carrying on these ancient traditions. They use their individual skills and talents to help others gain the many benefits of these practices.

However you choose to do Tai Chi, know that ancient history will be alive in your practice.

Learn more about how present day teachers and science inform Ài Tai Chi at the About page.

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