Martial Arts Influence
“An important landmark in the history of Chinese martial arts is the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province, considered the cradle of Chinese martial arts. Legend has it that the Bodhidarma, who brought Chan (Zen) Buddhism to China in the sixth century, arrived to find the monks at the Shaolin temple in extremely poor health and fitness. He taught them a series of exercises to strengthen their minds and bodies for meditation. These exercises evolved into what are now called Shaolin Boxing, Wushu, or Kung Fu.
A key semi-mythical figure in the history of Tai Chi, often called the father of Tai chi, is Chang San-feng, generally thought to have lived in the thirteenth century C.E. It is widely told that Chang San-feng was a Shaolin monk who decided to leave the monastery to become a Taoist hermit. In the Wudang Mountains, he gave up the harder Kung Fu fighting style he had learned and formulated a new art based on his observations of nature and Taoist principles of softness and yielding. Legend has it that he had an “aha” moment after watching a fight between a snake and a crane. Every time the crane would try to attack the snake’s head, the snake would yield, evade, and hit the crane with its tail. When the crane would try for the snake’s tail, the snake would yield and bite the crane. This process resulted in the emphasis of the basic Tai chi (yin-yang) concepts of evading, yielding, and attacking. Chang developed a martial art based on natural principles that used softness and internal power to overcome brute force.”
“Some historians and scholars believe that many of the distinctive postures and names associated with contemporary Tai Chi may be attributable to Ming dynasty general Ch’i Chi-kuang (1528-87), author of the “Boxing Classic.”
“Another key figure in Tai Chi’s martial development is Yang Lu-ch’an (1799-1872), who learned this art in Chen village.”
“In 1852, Yang Lu-ch’an moved to Beijing to teach what he called “soft boxing” or “cotton boxing.” His high martial skills earned him the title “Yang the Invincible.” In addition, among other teaching activities, he was appointed to teach his art to the Imperial Guards and members of the Qing court.”
“While the majority of practitioners today practice Tai Chi for health, the martial arts aspect is still popular and is central to the art’s evolution. Martial skills are no longer tested in hand-to-hand battles to the death, but they are tested in regulated sports competitions. Some events include full-contact sparring, like boxing and contemporary mixed-martial arts. More commonly, martial skills are tested in two-person events called “Push Hands,” where the goal is to uproot physically an opponent while keeping one’s own feet rooted. Almost as if by magic, the highest-level practitioners appear to exert no effort in push hands. When pushed, they are able to relax, evade, and deflect an opponent’s incoming force, and sometimes send the uprooted opponent flying a great distance.”
Forms and Movements
“Within each style, you will find many choreographed routines. The language used to describe these routines may vary, but they are most commonly called forms or sets. Each form, whether done with bare hands or weapons (for example, sword, staff, or spear), has a certain number of movements or postures.”
About the Photo
Tai Chi Styles are a series of Postures. This is the Posture that goes with “Beginning Tai Chi” Style. So, first notice the alignment, what you can of it from this slightly more than 45° angle. You can see the back leg, spine, neck and head form the all important “line” that I have been harping on here for years.
You can see that the left foot is turned toward the camera (it’s at a 45° angle) and the index finger of the right hand is lined up with the nose and the front knee. All of the weight is on the left foot, none on the back leg which is essentially straight.
I already mentioned the Tai Chi at Rest Style as a Standing Meditation posture that a person could hold indefinitely. It is a very powerful practice having to do with breath awareness, relaxation and mental focus.
Here we encounter another Style with a Posture that can be practiced as a Static Posture. In other words you simply hold this position for a period of time to gain all of the wonderful benefits of being in this particular shape. For one, you learn the Posture and the shape as you internalize it deeply – here the focus is on endurance strength. You also have the opportunity to learn to relax because as you get fatigued, you will naturally look for places where you can relax even more, and then even more, etc. It’s a very very powerful practice. Learning to only contract what has to be contracted to perform a task is a way of efficiency not often appreciated. Leading students in the Form and then stopping in a posture for extended periods of time is a classic time-honored way to teach Tai Chi.
Earlier I mentioned Internal Strength training. Many Internal Strength exercises are Static Postures. Any Style can be practiced as a Static Posture. That is a whole lot of variation and a whole lot of different angles for hitting the same muscles, resulting in a depth of stimulation rarely encountered in ordinary exercise class (think eccentric contractions if you can talk that language). Holding postures for long periods of time imparts a special effect on fascia, ligaments, and tendons that results in all kinds of wonderful benefits – if you don’t over do it. So be careful, very careful.