Taijiquan (T'ai Chi Qu'an)
Taijiquan, literally translated as 'Supreme Ultimate Fist' is a complete exercise system or discipline for the body and mind that develops qi and internal strength, promotes physical, mental and spiritual balance, and enhances body awareness.
Legend has it that a famous Daoist monk, Zhang Sangfeng who lived on Wudang Mountain saw a snake and a crane fighting and devised a form of exercise based on these movements. To this day, postures like bai he liang chi (white crane spreads its wings) and you xia she du li (snake creeps down) can be found in taiji forms. The accepted history of taiji dates back 400 years to Chen Wangting, a martial arts master and retired general who moved back to Chenjiagou (Chen village) in Henan province in the centre of China. In order to stay healthy he created a form or series of movements that have passed down from his generation, the 9th generation through the Chen family to current bearers of the family tradition. These includes, the 19th generation Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang.
There are several styles of Taijiquan, the most widely practiced is the Yang style or large frame that originates from Yang Luchan who studied with 14th generation Chen Changxing in Chenjiagou. His style, large frame, is characterised by bigger movements that continue from start to finish at the same regular pace. Wu (Hao) style from Yu Wuxiang has its roots in Yang style and Chen xiaojia and was passed down to Sun Lutang who developed the Sun style. Many other styles exist and there is no right or best style to practice. The key is to find a teacher who can inspire you to develop your centre or dantian (red cinnabar field). To quote Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, taiji principle is 'dantian moves, body moves' so without this feeling of centre the form, however elegant or mighty is empty.
The years of diligent practice (at times) has led me to an appreciation of taiji as a moving feast. Like a well-seasoned hunter, it is capturing the moment or the process that defines the art of taiji. The unattainable nature of the taiji is what makes it so luring and captivating and in the words of Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, 'one lifetime not enough'.
Photos: Si Barker
How Taiji can help?
As taiji becomes part of daily life the practice of standing and gentle flowing exercises can help to improve:
What Taiji forms can I learn?
Forms that I teach:
Over 16 years I have studied various styles with several excellent teachers in China and the UK, including two of China's top 100 martial arts practitioners:
I continue to teach Yang style which is a good introduction, however, my passion is for Chen style and I am a firm advocate of Chen Xiaowang's insistance of the fundamentals of taijiquan being the zhanzhuang or standing to develop the dantian, chansigong to develop a sense of qi moving around the body and then then forms once this is in place, followed by some weapon forms for fun.
As well as 1-to-1 tuition, I have taught regular classes and introductory demonstration classes in the following organisations: