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History of T'ai Chi

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In about 300 AD a Chinese doctor called Hua –Tuo encouraged a new form of physical and mental exercise as a means of improving health.  This exercise involved imitating the movements of animals (the tiger, deer, bear, monkey and bird) and through this he created the first systematized exercise and martial art in China.  This exercise form was known as the Five Animal Games.

When Bodhidarma (Ta-Mo) came to China from India in 475AD to spread his religious teachings he resided in the Shaolin Temple in Northern China.  He taught the monks techniques of yoga, combining breathing and movement with the existing Five Animal Games. Over the course of generations these practices developed into the famous Five Animal styles of Shaolin Temple martial art.

Many years passed until the 13th century when it is claimed that a former Shaolin monk called Chang San Feng had a dream about a snake in combat with a bird.  He saw that, rather than using force to fight force, the snake and bird co-ordinated with each other, trying to avoid direct opposition in order to penetrate each other’s defences. This led Chang to refine the Shaolin movements to accommodate this idea of moving with, rather than opposing, force. The developing style, known as Nei Chia, or Inner School, became the foundation for the evolution of present day T’ai Chi Chuan.

The teachings of Chang San Feng were preserved in the written form amongst the Classics of Tai Chi Chuan,  and through Wang Chung Yueh the art was passed on to the Chen family. This family kept T’ai Chi Chuan secret for over four hundred years. Finally they let a member of another famous T’ai Chi clan, the Yang family, into their T’ai Chi circle. Another famous T’ai Chi style is that of the Wu family. Although outer forms of the traditional styles may differ slightly, the inner principles of T’ai Chi are the same.

Tai Chi was kept within the Yang family from where, in the earlier part of the 20th century it was passed to Cheng Man Ching. Grand Master Cheng Man Ching (1901-1975) is known as master of the “Five Excellences”: painting, poetry, calligraphy, medicine and Tai Chi Chuan. As a physician, Cheng Man Ching had the opportunity to cure Yang Cheng-fu’s wife of a serious illness, and as a result Yang Cheng-fu accepted Professor Cheng into his inner circle. For several years Professor Cheng studied Tai Chi daily with Yang Cheng-fu, putting in long hours; he came out a master.

In the 1930s, Professor Cheng saw that his nation needed the health benefits of Tai Chi Chuan so, to make it accessible to everyone, he shortened the Tai Chi form and published a description of the movements in book format. He again broke the tradition of secrecy by bringing Tai Chi Chuan to the West in the 1960s. It is his modified Yang Style Short Form that has become the most popular
Tai Chi form in the West.

One of Cheng’s senior students in the US was Patrick Watson (1935-1992). Patrick already had a long history with martial arts, Hawaiian swimming, and the theater when he began to study with Cheng Man Ching in 1966. He studied with him for nine years, becoming one of his eight most senior disciples. After Cheng’s death in 1975 Patrick founded the School of Tai Chi Chuan (STCC) specifically to train teachers of Tai Chi Chuan. Over the next sixteen years, Patrick guided the STCC in its growth as an international school with branches in various countries.

 

 

Last Updated ( Thursday, 25 June 2015 16:39 )  
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History of T'ai Chi