The Tai Chi Mystery
One of the biggest problems with trying to trace Tai Chi history is that there are a number of different versions as each style or family wishes everyone to believe that their version is the true original version. This has led to much confusion and dispute over the centuries, but the most commonly accepted version begins in the period of time between 960 and 1300 AD when a monk by the name of Chang San-feng or as is it sometimes spelt Zhang San-feng developed a system by which he could restore the poor physical condition of his fellow monks.
Yield and Overcome
However, this is only one version of Tai Chi history and actually recounts a much later start than many are coming to believe. It is now thought that the earliest teachings that could be considered as a part of Tai Chi date back as far as 2850 BC as a part of the Taoist teachings, since this is the earliest recorded text to mention the philosophies of Chi, Yin and Yang. Of these texts, one could be thought of as the ultimate definition of Tai Chi and reads “Yield and Overcome / Bend and be Straight / He who stands on tiptoe is not ready / He who strides cannot maintain the peace”.
Over one thousand years later there would be a Chinese physician by the name of Hua-tuo would develop his own series of exercises that he based on the movements of five animals that he had observed. These were the ape, bear, bird, deer and tiger. He called his regimen of exercises Wuchi chih hsi and it was noted that they bore a similarity to those taught by the Emperor. Both regimens were designed to improve the practitioner’s overall health.
It is said that around the same time a Zen Buddhist monk by the name of Bodhidharma brought Zen Buddhism to China and invented his own series of exercises to help improve the health of the monks as the Shao Lin temple where he was teaching. These exercises were intended to strengthen both the body and the mind for extended periods of meditation, which had been adversely affecting the health of the monks.
One of the monks at the monastery who learned these exercises was the legendary Chang San-feng, the monk who is generally credited with being the founder of what we know today as Tai Chi. History is a relative thing and much is lost or confused over the years, particularly when most of what was known was passed by word of mouth. It is said that his new martial art was the result of his having seen a fight between a snake and a crane.
What he observed was the way the crane stepped aside from the lunges of the snake or used its wings to disperse their power. At the same time the snake continually twisted out of the reach of the crane’s beak. In this manner, neither creature could win the fight until eventually they came to stand still and went their own ways. From this he developed a style of fighting that involved giving way to the force of an attack and bending to reduce the effect of a blow.
During its history Tai Chi has undergone many changes, and now has a number of different styles, yet they are all based on the original concepts from over 5,000 years ago. Many Tai Chi masters believe that in order to attain true mastery of this martial art, you must become well acquainted with its history.
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