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The History of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan

The history of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan is not clear. There are several different popular versions, none of which are substantiated by historical recordings. Depending upon which style of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan is examined, the issue of origin will vary. Douglas Wile, in his valuable text "Lost Taiji Classics From The Late Ch'ing Dynasty", differentiates three ways of tracing the origins of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan. The arts may be traced as 1) a distinctive form with specific postures and names, 2) a distinctive theory of internal training and soft-style strategy or 3) a mythology with general philosophical principles and semi- historical Taoist figures.

If traced as a distinctive form, T'ai-Chi Ch'uan dates back to the Ming dynasty and the general Ch'i Chi-Kuang (1528-1527) and his Classic of Pugilism, Chuan Ching. Twenty nine of his postures were taken to Chen Village in Henan Province in either the seventeenth or eighteenth century. When traced as a distinctive theory of internal training and soft-style strategy, T'ai-Chi Ch'uan appears to have originated with Huang Tsung-hsi's "Epitaph for Wang Chen-nan and his son, Huang Pai-Chi's", methods of the internal school of pugalism in the fifteenth century. These texts describe a strategy based upon "stillness overcoming movement" and "reversing the principles of Shaolin". The form used by the Internal School shows little resemblance to the forms of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan.

The use of mythology and philosophy as a source of origin ignores historical fact and goes back to Lao Tzu, founder of a Taoist philosophy in the sixth century BCE and includes Chang San Feng, a semi historical figure associated with Taoism. Chang is credited in a variety of different versions with having intuited, received or created T'ai-Chi Ch'uan based on a dream spirit transmission or observation of a bird and snake fighting.

Regardless of origin, T'ai-Chi Ch'uan's current styles trace back to the Chen village in Henan province. The Yang style was the first to emerge from the Chen style, and the Wu, Sun and other lesser known forms followed in succession from the Yang style. Of these, the Yang and Wu styles are more widely practiced. The Chen style has been undergoing a revival and is increasing in popularity, especially in the United States. This is probably due to the more martial expression of the Chen style and its emphasis on developing and using internal strength for application in self defense and push hands practice. The widespread popularity of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan is due primarily to its health exercise and stress reduction benefits than to its martial applications. However, many practitioners are becoming aware of the martial aspects and are seeking to find teachers and methods that can help to develop these skills.

Both the Yang and Chen styles are taught at the Chinese Health Institute. The Yang lineage is passed on from Yang Cheng Fu to Cheng Man Ching to Abraham Liu. Abraham Liu began to study the long form with CMC in 1935 in Nanjing, then rejoined CMC in Taiwan in 1948, when he learned the short form. Yang style short form and long form are taught at the Institute, as well as push hands, Da Liu, San Shou Dual Practice, and sword forms.The Yang style is taught as the basic health exercise form of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan.

The Chen lineage comes from Chen FaKe to Chen Zhaokui and Feng Zhiqiang to Zhang XueXin. Master Zhang teaches the 48 Essence or short form, 83 long form, 24 Cannon Fist, 71 Cannon Fist, push hands, Da Liu, Chin Na applications, silk reeling exercises, sword and broadsword. At the Chinese Health Institute, the Chen style is taught as the martial application with the development of internal strength as its emphasis.