T'ai-chi Ch'uan as
a Chinese Martial Art
Ch'uan is one art that arose out of the ancient Chinese philosophy
surrounding the idea of the Great Ultimate; together with Hsing-i
and Pa-kua, it completes the trinity of 'internal' martial arts.
When they hear the word "T'ai-chi," many people think of a very
slow-moving series of movements performed by the elderly to help
them preserve their health. Although the system known as "Orthodox
T'ai-chi Ch'uan" (OTC) that was transmitted to the AJSMAF does
this, it is taught here at AJSMAF in a carefully prepared curriculum
that helps you practice it as a powerful martial art.
Of course, many practicians can attest to the fact that continuous
practice also helps alleviate chronic ailments such as lower backache,
rheumatism, high blood pressure, etc.
T'ai-chi Ch'uan is an internal form, the name means "the great,
unsurpassable boxing form," which indicates that it was designed
to be the most powerful of all martial arts. Although the actual
creator of the art is unknown, some legends state that it derives
from exercises taught to the Shaolin monks by the Indian Zen patriarch
Bodhidharma in the early sixth century. This ignores the fact,
however, that it is an internal Taoist form. Other traditions
state that it derives from the "Thirteen Postures" devised by
a certain Chang San-feng in the Yuan dynasty [1279-1368]), and,
indeed, Chang is still revered as the Father of T'ai-chi by the
Yang school. More recently, it is thought to have been taught
by Wang Tsung-yueh (Ch'ien-lung era [1736-95]) to the people living
in Ch'en-chia-kou (Ch'en family village) in Honan province. It
is from the Ch'en style of T'ai-chi that developed there all modern
forms of the art descend.
T'ai-chi is based upon the theory of the Great Ultimate and the
constant shifting of everything back and forth between yin and
yang. Its basics include: 1) smooth and continuous movement, 2)
complete relaxation, 3) clearly distinguishing between solid and
empty, 4) keeping the body straight, 5) producing ch'i
to move the body, 6) keeping the waist flexible, and 7) making
every movement circular (spiral). In addition, T'ai-chi is based
upon the Chang San-feng's original thirteen postures: 1) central
equilibrium, 2) advance, 3) retreat, 4) moving to the left, 5)
moving to the right, 6) ward-off, 7) roll-back, 8) press, 9) push,
10) pull-down, 11) split, 12) shoulder strike, and 13) elbow strike.
The movement of T'ai-chi is basically circular, and it uses mostly
spiral strength and both the open hand and the closed fist. At
first glance it appears similar to a innocent dance, but, when
performed correctly, the body is completely relaxed yet ever poised
to strike--one might compare it to a coiled snake that is completely
relaxed yet ever ready to strike.
Wang Shu-chin, who later took over the leadership of the Chung-nan
lineage of Pa-kua and Hsing-i from Chang Chao-tung, had, during
his youth, been sent by Chang to represent him in a meeting to
bring T'ai-chi "back to the basics," and to actively participate
by injecting into it elements of both Hsing-i and Pa-kua.
In 1929, this "new" style of T'ai-chi Ch'uan was "created" by
the T'ai-chi Organizing Committee of the National Martial Arts
Academy in Nanking. In formulating what they called "Orthodox
(Ch: cheng-tsung) T'ai-chi Ch'uan" (OTC; also called tsung-ho,
or Comprehensive, T'ai-chi Ch'uan) the committee, working with
the fundamental principles of the internal arts, took the combative
components of the five styles of T'ai-chi then prevalent-the Ch'en,
Yang, Wu, Sun, and Wu (Hao) styles. The great masters of each
of these styles who gathered together to establish this form were
attempting to return the art of T'ai-chi to its original "martial
art" form; and, indeed, the main special characteristic of OTC
is that none of its postures contains any useless movements (in
terms of martial applications). Wang Shu-chin played a very active
role as a member of that committee, and was instrumental in infusing
the fundamentals of both Hsing-i and Pa-kua into the 99-pose long
form. (Indeed, even today, students in Wang's lineage first study
OTC, and only after they have mastered it are they allowed to
progress first to Hsing-i and then to Pa-kua.)
Widely accepted, the 99-pose form was taught (and even slightly
adapted) by a number of teachers, including the famous Ch'en P'an-ling.
It is also well known that this form of T'ai-chi took all the
best defensive and offensive movements of the five main styles,
eliminating all the non-martial elements.
The most obvious special characteristic of OTC is that it was
created in such a way that the postures and techniques themselves,
when performed correctly, facilitate the emergence of a great
inner power; that is, they help the practicians 'issue inner force.'
Furthermore, since OTC contains both defensive and offensive elements,
when an opponent's attack is absorbed by your spiral (circular)
movement, the ch'i flowing through his body begins to dissipate.
What started out as a defensive posture is at the same time an
attack that breaks the flow of ch'i in the opponent's body.
The major teachers involved in the formation of
OTC at the National Academy of Martial Arts in Nanking in 1929
were: Ch'en school: Ch'en Fa-k'e; Yang school: Yang Cheng-fu;
Wu school: Wu Chien-ch'uan; Wu (Hao) school: Hao Wei-chen; the
Sun school: Sun Lu-tang; and the Chung-nan lineage of Hsing-i
& Pa-kua: Wang Shu-chin.