FAQs

What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi Tai Chi

Tai Chi is an internal, soft style, Chinese martial art. Tai Chis is also considered by some to be a form of Qi' gong.

Historical Background

The exact history of Tai Chi is a little difficult to determine due to its age and historic cultural tradition of silence to protect the knowledge from outsiders. This tradition was historically necessary in order for people to protect themselves from raiders, bandits, warlords, and other miscellaneous invaders. A monk by the name of Chang San-Feng has been historically considered to be the father of Tai Chi, but in recent history, there has been debate over whether that is the case. Some scholars are proposing that the origins of Tai Chi were assigned to him in order to deepen the roots of Tai Chi, while others argue that he created the original thirteen movements from which all other Tai Chi forms have sprung. In short, at this point it is simply not clear.

Chen appears to be the oldest existing form, but the origin of Chen style is unclear. Yang style would appear to be the next oldest, and was derived from Chen style when one of the Yang family learned Chen style. Wu style was next, with two styles being created by members of the Wu family that were taught Yang style, Wu/Hao style and Wu style. Finally, from a student of the Hao style arose the Sun style. This encompasses the major styles of Tai Chi. Currently there are many styles in existence, certainly more than the major groupings discussed here, as well as divisions within the major groupings.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why would you use Tai Chi?

Tai Chi can be used in a variety of ways, including health, defense, and as a form of meditation.

2. What are the benefits of Tai Chi?

The benefits of Tai Chi are quite expansive. Traditionally, Tai Chi is a martial art and can be used for defense. There have also been a myriad of documented health benefits such as improving balance, bone and muscle strength, lowering blood pressure, alleviating stress, etc. There is also an energetic component to Tai Chi, in that it strengthens, moves, and balances the energy (chi/qi) in your body. At higher levels, it is also possible to learn how to make use of that energy. In line with this, the standing meditation included in most forms has many benefits, as well as the nature of Tai Chi in the form of a moving meditation.

3. What should you consider regarding Tai Chi?

What you should consider about Tai Chi is that there are many people teaching Tai Chi who have no training, and have simply created a "form" with no background whatsoever, in order to cash in on the trend. If you have health issues that need to be considered, then speaking with the instructor is important in order to find the right class that will fit. Tai Chi can be done by anyone, but it also requires an instructor that can make the necessary modifications to accommodate any physical issues.

Chen Style

Generally considered the oldest existing Tai Chi Form. The oldest documentation of Chen style dates to the 1600's with the Chen family in Henan province. Some variants of Chen style include Lao Jia, Xin Jia, Xiao Jia, and Hun Yuan Chen style/Xin Yi Tai Chi. Zhao Bao may also be an old variant of Chen, but its origins are unclear. Chen is characterized by low stances and variable speeds. In short, slower moves tend to store energy for use in the faster, more explosive moves.

1. Why would you use Chen Style?

Chen style would perhaps best be used by a person with difficulty maintaining a slow pace throughout the entire form, and desiring more jumps, leaps, and explosive moves.

2. What are the benefits of Chen Style?

The benefits are the same as with all tai chi, although given the higher stress on low stances and the presence of more jumps and leaps, it may have more outright emphasis on flexibility.

3. What should you consider regarding Chen Style?

What should be considered when choosing a form is that Chen style may not be suitable for those with joint or muscle problems, since it tends to have more outward expression of force and energy.

Sun Style

A Tai Chi style that arose from Hao style. The creator of Sun style tai chi was Sun Lu-t'ang, who had was already considered an expert in Xingyiquan (free-mind animal-imitating Boxing) and Bagua Zhang. He studied Tai Chi under Hao Wei-Chen, whose teacher was Li I-yu, whose teacher was Wu Yu-hsiang, creator of Wu/Hao style. Eventually, he blended the three together into what is now known as Sun style. The movements of Sun style are large, and contain more kicks and jumps, however, it still retains elements of Wu/Hao style in things such as the majority of stances with the weight 100% in one foot.

1. Why would you use Sun Style?

Sun style, like other tai chi forms, can be used for defense, health, and movement of energy.

2. What are the benefits of Sun Style?

The benefits are the same with all tai chi forms, improved balance, lowered stress levels and associated health benefits such as lowered blood pressure, strength in both the bone and muscle, and greater awareness of both your surroundings and your body.

3. What should you consider regarding Sun Style?

What to consider is that if a more active form would be unsuitable for you, then Yang or one of the Wu styles would probably be a better choice. However, if the agility and the idea of kicks and jumps is appealing, then this form would probably be a good fit.

Yang Style

Generally considered the second oldest Tai Chi form, believed to have arisen from Chen. This form dates from the early 1800's. The Yang family member credited with the creation of this form is Yang Lu-ch'an, who learned Chen style from Ch'en Changxing. He removed those moves that were highly difficult in order to make the form more available to the need of the people. From the Yang long form has arisen several other forms, the most famous of which is Ch'en Man-ch'ing, sometimes called Yang short form. Professor Ch'en Man-Ch'ing (Master of five excellences, Medicine, Tai Chi, Calligraphy, Painting, and Poetry) is credited with being the person to bring Tai Chi to the West, as he was the first who was willing to teach non-Chinese, believing that the health benefits should be available to the world. He learned the Yang family long form from Yang Ch'eng-fu out of gratitude when the Professor was able to cure Yang's wife. Eventually, the Professor shortened the original form, removing many of the repeated moves, and making a some changes to emphasize health benefits, such as keeping a straight wrist, also called 'Beautiful Lady's Hands.'

1. Why would you use Yang Style?

Yang style, like other tai chi forms, can be used for defense, health, and movement of energy.

2. What are the benefits of Yang Style?

The benefits are the same with all tai chi forms, improved balance, lowered stress levels and associated health benefits such as lowered blood pressure, strength in both the bone and muscle, and greater awareness of both your surroundings and your body.

3. What should you consider regarding Yang Style?

What to consider about Yang style is that it Yang forms tend to be much more widely available, as Professor Ch'en was the first to start teaching tai chi to non-Chinese. There are also several Yang forms in existence today, such as Yang long form (the original Yang family form), Yang short form or Ch'en Man-ch'ing, and the official Chinese government Yang style 24 (note that the official 48 is an amalgam of different forms, Yang being one). In short, it is usually relatively easy to locate a teacher for one of the Yang styles, and the availability of workshops with Yang style masters is also likely to be higher.

Wu Style

Two Tai Chi styles, Wu/Hao and Wu, both taught by members of the Wu family, and having arisen from Yang style. Both of these forms originated from members of the Wu family. Hao style originated with Wu Yu-hsiang, who was introduced to a Chen style instructor by his Yang teacher, Yang Lu-ch'an. The other style of Wu, generally referred to simply as Wu, originates with Wu Ch'uan-yu and Wu Chien-ch'uan who learned Yang style from Yang Lu-Ch'an while members of the Imperial Guard. Both styles are characterized by narrow stances that carry 100% of the weight in one foot rather than distributing the weight in both feet, and much smaller and deliberate, movements. Wu style tends to have more leaning, while Hao is more upright.

1. Why would you use Wu Style?

Wu style, like other tai chi forms, can be used for defense, health, and movement of energy.

2. What are the benefits of Wu Style?

The benefits are the same with all tai chi forms, improved balance, lowered stress levels and associated health benefits such as lowered blood pressure, strength in both the bone and muscle, and greater awareness of both your surroundings and your body.

3. What should you consider regarding Wu Style?

Both Wu styles are known for their narrow stances and small movements. If you think this may be too restrictive for you, and therefore would not practice, then a different style may be more suitable. This is not to say that other forms are not just as precise in their movements, but the movements themselves are larger. In the case of the two Wu styles, Wu/Hao is more upright, while Wu tends to have more leaning, if the thought of being more upright is more appealing, then Wu/Hao would be the more suitable of these two forms, and vice versa.

References

1. Galante, Lawrence. Tai Chi The Supreme Ultimate. York Beach: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 1981.
2. Liao, Waysun. The Essence of Tai Chi. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1995.
3. Tai Chi Academy. The Academy of Tai Chi and Wu Shu. 26 August 2006. www.taichiacademy.com.
4. Wikipedia. 26 August 2006. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_chi

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