Today, tai chi has spread worldwide. Most modern styles of tai chi trace their development to at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun. The origins and creation of tai chi are a subject of much argument and speculation. However, the oldest documented tradition is that of the Chen family from the 1820s.
The term "t'ai chi ch'uan" literally translates as "supreme ultimate fist", "boundless fist," or "great extremes boxing" . The concept of the "supreme ultimate" appears in both Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy where it represents the fusion or mother of Yin and Yang into a single ultimate represented by the Taijitu symbol. Thus, tai chi theory and practice evolved in agreement with many of the principles of Chinese philosophy including both Taoism and Confucianism. Tai chi training first and foremost involves learning solo routines, known as ''forms'' . While the image of tai chi chuan in popular culture is typified by exceedingly slow movement, many tai chi styles have secondary forms of a faster pace. Some traditional schools of tai chi teach partner exercises known as ''pushing hands'', and martial applications of the postures of the form.
Tai chi chuan is generally classified as a form of traditional Chinese martial arts of the Neijia branch. It is considered a martial art — an art applied with — to distinguish its theory and application from that of the . it has developed a worldwide following among people with little or no interest in martial training, for its benefit to health and . support its effectiveness as an alternative exercise and a form of martial arts therapy.
Focusing the mind solely on the movements of the form purportedly helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity. Besides general health benefits and stress management attributed to tai chi training, aspects of traditional Chinese medicine are taught to advanced tai chi students in some traditional schools. Some martial arts, especially the Japanese martial arts, use a uniform for students during practice. Tai chi chuan schools do not generally require a uniform, but both traditional and modern teachers often advocate loose, comfortable clothing and flat-soled shoes.
The physical techniques of tai chi chuan are described in the tai chi classics as being characterized by the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination in relaxation, rather than muscular tension, in order to neutralize or initiate attacks. The slow, repetitive work involved in the process of learning how that leverage is generated gently and measurably increases, opens the internal circulation
The study of tai chi chuan primarily involves three aspects:
* Health: An unhealthy or otherwise uncomfortable person may find it difficult to meditate to a state of calmness or to use tai chi as a martial art. Tai chi's health training therefore concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind. For those focused on tai chi's martial application, good physical fitness is an important step towards effective self-defense.
* Meditation: The focus and calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of tai chi is seen as necessary in maintaining optimum health and in application of the form as a soft style martial art.
* Martial art: The ability to use tai chi as a form of self-defense in combat is the test of a student's understanding of the art. Tai chi chuan martially is the study of appropriate in response to outside forces; the study of yielding and "sticking" to an incoming attack rather than attempting to meet it with opposing force.
History and styles
There are five major styles of tai chi chuan, each named after the Chinese family from which it originated:
The order of verifiable age is as listed above. The order of popularity is Yang, Wu, Chen, Sun, and Wu/Hao.
When tracing tai chi chuan's formative influences to Taoist and Buddhist monasteries, there seems little more to go on than legendary tales from a modern historical perspective, but tai chi chuan's practical connection to and dependence upon the theories of Neo-Confucianism is claimed by some traditional schools. In these legends, Zhang Sanfeng as a young man studied Tao Yin breathing exercises from his Taoist teachers and martial arts at the Buddhist Shaolin monastery, eventually combining the martial forms and breathing exercises to formulate the soft or internal principles we associate with tai chi chuan and related martial arts. Zhang Sanfeng is also sometimes attributed with the creation of the original . These 13 movements are in all forms of tai chi chuan. Its subsequent fame attributed to his teaching, Wu Tang monastery was known thereafter as an important martial center for many centuries, its many styles of internal kung fu preserved and refined at various Taoist temples.
These family trees are not comprehensive. Names denoted by an asterisk are legendary or semi-legendary figures in the lineage; while their involvement in the lineage is accepted by most of the major schools, it is not independently verifiable from known historical records. The Cheng Man-ch'ing and Chinese Sports Commission short forms are derived from Yang family forms, but neither are recognized as Yang family tai chi chuan by standard-bearing Yang family teachers. The Chen, Yang and Wu families are now promoting their own shortened demonstration forms for competitive purposes.
Five major classical family styles
Training and techniques
As the name "tai chi chuan" is held to be derived from the Taiji symbol , commonly known in the West as the "yin-yang" diagram, tai chi chuan is therefore said in literature preserved in its oldest schools to be a study of ''yin'' and ''yang'' principles, using terminology found in the Chinese classics, especially the Book of Changes and the Tao Te Ching.
The core training involves two primary features: the first being the , a slow sequence of movements which emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing and a natural range of motion; the second being different styles of pushing hands for training movement principles of the form in a more practical way.
The solo form should take the students through a complete, natural range of motion over their center of gravity. Accurate, repeated practice of the solo routine is said to retrain posture, encourage circulation throughout the students' bodies, maintain flexibility through their joints and further familiarize students with the martial application sequences implied by the forms. The major traditional styles of tai chi have forms which differ somewhat cosmetically, but there are also many obvious similarities which point to their common origin. The solo forms, empty-hand and weapon, are catalogs of movements that are practiced individually in pushing hands and martial application scenarios to prepare students for self-defense training. In most traditional schools, different variations of the solo forms can be practiced: fast–slow, small circle–large circle, square–round , low sitting/high sitting , for example.
The philosophy of the style is that if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certain to be injured at least to some degree. Such injury, according to tai chi theory, is a natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force. Instead, students are taught not to directly fight or resist an incoming force, but to meet it in softness and follow its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, meeting yang with yin. Done correctly, this yin/yang or yang/yin balance in combat, or in a broader philosophical sense, is a primary goal of tai chi chuan training. Lao Tzu provided the archetype for this in the Tao Te Ching when he wrote, "The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong."
Tai chi's martial aspect relies on sensitivity to the opponent's movements and center of gravity dictating appropriate responses. Effectively affecting or "capturing" the opponent's center of gravity immediately upon contact is trained as the primary goal of the martial tai chi student. The sensitivity needed to capture the center is acquired over thousands of hours of first ''yin'' and then later adding ''yang'' martial training; forms, pushing hands and sparring. Tai chi trains in three basic ranges, close, medium and long, and then everything in between. Pushes and open hand strikes are more common than punches, and kicks are usually to the legs and lower torso, never higher than the hip depending on style. The fingers, fists, palms, sides of the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, back, hips, knees and feet are commonly used to strike, with strikes to the eyes, throat, heart, groin and other acupressure points trained by advanced students. Joint traps, locks and breaks are also used. Most tai chi teachers expect their students to thoroughly learn defensive or neutralizing skills first, and a student will have to demonstrate proficiency with them before offensive skills will be extensively trained. There is also an emphasis in the traditional schools that one is expected to show , martial virtue or heroism, to protect the defenseless and show mercy to one's opponents.
In addition to the physical form, martial tai chi chuan schools also focus on how the energy of a strike effects the other person. Palm strikes that physically look the same may be performed in such a way that it has a completely different effect on the target's body. A palm strike could simply push the person forward, be focused in such a way as lift them vertically off the ground breaking their center of gravity, or terminate the force of the strike within the other person's body with the intent of causing internal damage.
Other training exercises include:
*Weapons training and fencing applications employing the straight ''sword'' known as the ''jian'' or ''chien'' or ''gim'' , a heavier curved ''sabre'', sometimes called a ''broadsword'' or ''tao'' , folding '''' also called ''san'', wooden staff known as '''' , 7 foot '''' and 13 foot ''lance'' . More exotic weapons still used by some traditional styles are the large ''Dadao'' or ''Ta Tao'' and ''Pudao'' or ''P'u Tao'' sabres, '''' , ''cane'', ''rope-dart'', ''three sectional staff'', ''Wind and fire wheels'', ''lasso'', ''whip'', ''chain whip'' and ''steel whip''.
*Two-person tournament sparring ;
*Breathing exercises; ''nei kung'' or, more commonly, ''ch'i kung'' to develop ch'i or "breath energy" in coordination with physical movement and or combinations of the two. These were formerly taught only to disciples as a separate, complementary training system. In the last 50 years they have become better known to the general public.
Modern tai chi
Tai chi classes have become popular in hospitals, clinics, community and senior centers in the last twenty years or so, as baby boomers age and the art's reputation as a low stress training for seniors became more well-known. As a result of this popularity, there has been some divergence between those who say they practice tai chi primarily for self-defense, those who practice it for its aesthetic appeal , and those who are more interested in its benefits to physical and mental health. The wushu aspect is primarily for show; the forms taught for those purposes are designed to earn points in competition and are mostly unconcerned with either health maintenance or martial ability. More traditional stylists believe the two aspects of health and martial arts are equally necessary: the ''yin'' and ''yang'' of tai chi chuan. The tai chi "family" schools therefore still present their teachings in a martial art context, whatever the intention of their students in studying the art.
Along with Yoga, tai chi is one of the fastest growing fitness and health maintenance activities in the United States.
Before tai chi's introduction to Western students, the health benefits of tai chi chuan were largely explained through the lens of traditional Chinese medicine, which is based on a view of the body and healing mechanisms not always studied or supported by modern science. Today, some prominent tai chi teachers have advocated subjecting tai chi to to gain acceptance in the West. The studies also show some reduced pain, stress and anxiety in healthy subjects. Other studies have indicated improved cardiovascular and function in healthy subjects as well as those who had undergone coronary artery bypass surgery. Patients that suffer from heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's may also benefit from tai chi. Tai chi, along with yoga, has reduced levels of LDLs 20–26 milligrams when practised for 12–14 weeks. However, a thorough review of most of these studies showed limitations or biases that made it difficult to draw firm conclusions on the benefits of tai chi. There have also been indications that tai chi might have some effect on noradrenaline and cortisol production with an effect on mood and heart rate. However, as with many of these studies, the effect may be no different than those derived from other types of physical exercise.
In one study, tai chi has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder in 13 adolescents. The improvement in symptoms seem to persist after the tai chi sessions were terminated. Tai chi's gentle, low impact movements burn more calories than surfing and nearly as many as downhill skiing. In addition, a pilot study, which has not been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, has found preliminary evidence that tai chi and related qigong may reduce the severity of diabetes.
A recent study evaluated the effects of two types of behavioral intervention, tai chi and health education, on healthy adults, who after 16 weeks of the intervention, were vaccinated with VARIVAX, a live attenuated Oka/Merck Varicella zoster virus vaccine. The tai chi group showed higher and more significant levels of cell-mediated immunity to varicella zoster virus than the control group which received only health education. It appears that tai chi augments resting levels of varicella zoster virus-specific cell-mediated immunity and boosts the efficacy of the varicella vaccine. Tai chi alone does not lessen the effects or probability of a shingles attack, but it does improve the effects of the varicella zoster virus vaccine.
Now that the majority of health studies have displayed a tangible benefit to the practice of tai chi, some health professionals have called for more in-depth studies to determine mitigating factors such as the most beneficial style, suggested duration of practice to show the best results, and whether tai chi is as effective as other forms of exercise.
Tai chi chuan in fiction
Tai chi and neijia in general play a large role in many wuxia novels, films, and television series; among which are ''Tai Chi Master'' starring Jet Li, and the popular ''Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon''. A movie that features a traditional tai chi chuan teacher as the lead character is '''', Ang Lee's first western film. It is also used as the basis for fictional "Waterbending" in ''Avatar the Last Airbender''.In the video game Dead or Alive, Lei Fang uses Tai chi chuan. Internal concepts may even be the subject of parody, such as in ''Shaolin Soccer'' and ''Kung Fu Hustle''. Fictional portrayals often refer to Zhang Sanfeng and the Taoist monasteries on Wudangshan.