What is Tai Chi Chuan

Is Taijiquan the same as Tai Chi Chuan?

Is Taiji (or Tai Chi) the same as Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan)?

Is Taiji (or Tai Chi) the same as Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan)?

Why is Tai Chi Chuan called Tai Chi Chuan?

Who founded Tai Chi Chuan?

Are there different types of Tai Chi Chuan?

What benefits can we derive from Tai Chi Chuan training?

How does Tai Chi Chuan promote health?

How does Tai Chi Chuan lead to spiritual fulfillment?

Must one embrace Taoism and become a Taoist to seek the highest attainment in Tai Chi Chuan?

What is Tai Chi Chuan?

Tai Chi Chuan is a famous form of Chinese martial art. The term "Taiji" means "the cosmos", and "quan" is the short form for "quan fa" which means "fist techniques" and refers to what westerners today would term as kungfu. It is illuminating to note that Shaolin Kungfu, another famous form of Chinese martial art, is known as Shaolinquan in Chinese; similarly, Hoong Ka Kungfu, Wing Choon Kungfu and Pakua Kungfu are known as Hungjiaquan, Yongchunquan and Baguaquan respectively.

Is Taijiquan the same as Tai Chi Chuan?

Yes. "Taijiquan" is the Romanized Chinese spelling, and "Tai Chi Chuan" the common English spelling. "Taijiquan" is phonetic, whereas "Tai Chi Chuan" may give rise to different pronunciation. Notice that the Romanized Chinese q is pronounced like the English ch'. The "chi" in "Tai Chi Chuan" is different from the "chi" in "chi kung". In the phonetic Romanized Chinese, the former is spelt as "ji", meaning "ultimate", and the latter as "qi", meaning "energy".

Is Taiji (or Tai Chi) the same as Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan)?

Strictly speaking, they are different. "Taiji", literally meaning "the grand ultimate", is the cosmos, whereas Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art. Besides in Tai Chi Chuan, the concept of Taiji is found in many Chinese disciplines, such as in Taoism, philosophy, metaphysics, feng shui (the Chinese science of environmental energy) and military strategy. The underlying principle of Taiji is yin-yang, which symbolizes the two complimentary yet opposing aspects of reality.

Nevertheless, many people, especially in the West but also some Chinese themselves, shorten the term Tai Chi Chuan to Taiji. Almost always those who say they "play" Taiji are those who practise a debased form of Tai Chi Chuan without its martial dimension. One may play Taiji, but not Tai Chi Chuan which is a serious martial art demanding great effort and endurance.

Why is Tai Chi Chuan called Tai Chi Chuan?

This is because both the philosophy and application of this form of martial art are based on the concept of Taiji with its operating principles of yin and yang. Indeed, if you fail to understand the concept of yin-yang, you would have missed the essence of Tai Chi Chuan. For example, if you think that Tai Chi Chuan is only soft and never hard -- a mis-conception not uncommon amongst many students of Taiji, and symbolized as regarding Tai Chi Chuan as only yin and never yang -- you would probably be doing a Taiji dance rather than Tai Chi Chuan. If you perform only the external form of Tai Chi Chuan without appreciating its inner aspects of energy flow and mind -- symbolized as performing only yang and missing yin -- you would practise a physical exercise rather than an internal art for which Tai Chi Chuan is famous.

Who founded Tai Chi Chuan?

There was no single founder as Tai Chi Chuan has been developed over many centuries by countless people. From historical records, the earliest mention of the term Taiji in martial arts was made during the Tang Dynasty (618-906) in China. The earliest use of the term Tai Chi Chuan was during the subsequent Later Liang Dynasty (907-923). The master usually credited to institutionalize Tai Chi Chuan as a comprehensive system of martial art was Zhang San Feng who lived towards the end of the Song Dynasty in the 13th century. Zhang San Feng is regarded by many as the First Patriarch -- not the founder -- of Tai Chi Chuan.

Are there different types of Tai Chi Chuan?

Yes. Because of different needs and environments, different styles of Tai Chi Chuan have developed. The oldest known form of Tai Chi Chuan is Wudang Tai Chi Chuan, developed by Zhang San Feng (13th century) at the Wudang Mountain. (Please note that Wudang is pronounced like "Wu-t'ang".) From this was evolved Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, and Chen Wang Ting (1600-1680) was its First Patriarch. From Chen Style, Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872) evolved Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan. Combining the best of Chen Style and Yang Style, Wu Yu Xiang (1813-1880) developed Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan. A descendent from the Yang's linage, Wu Chuan You (1834-1902) developed another Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan. These two Wu's are pronounced and written differently in Chinese. Sun Lu Tang (1861-1932) combined elements from Tai Chi Chuan, Baguaquan and Xinyiquan into Sun Style Tai Chi Chuan.

What benefits can we derive from Tai Chi Chuan training?

Tai Chi Chuan masters have categorized the benefits of Tai Chi Chuan into three levels.

good health

self-defense

spiritual cultivation

Practicing Tai Chi Chuan is an excellent way to promote physical, emotional and mental health. The training is gentle and graceful, and there is no need for special apparatus. Tai Chi Chuan is a very effective martial art, where physical size and mechanical strength are not necessarily winning factors. At the highest level, Tai Chi Chuan leads to mind expansion and spiritual fulfillment, irrespective of race, culture and religion.

How does Tai Chi Chuan promote health?

If practiced properly, every movement of Tai Chi Chuan is a training of body, energy and mind. Body, energy and mind, known as jing, qi and shen, are the "three treasures" of every person. If any one of these treasures are not in order, he (or she) becomes sick, leading to physical, functional or mental illness. While conventional western medicine separates physical ailments from mental problems, and is often undecided over functional disorders (such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, asthma and cancer), the Chinese approach health care and disease treatment holistically. In Chinese medical philosophy, health and illness belong to the same continuum; health is when the three treasures operate naturally, illness when one or more of them are out of order. (You may like to go to GOOD HEALTH for more details.) Practicing Tai Chi Chuan enhances the natural operation of body, energy and mind.

How does Tai Chi Chuan lead to spiritual fulfillment?

First we need to be clear about what spiritual fulfillment means. For our purpose here, it means accomplishing the needs of the spirit, or shen in Chinese. Because of different developmental stages, there are understandably many and varied forms of spiritual fulfillment. From the Taoist perspective, which constitutes the underlying philosophy in Tai Chi Chuan, these many and varied forms of spiritual fulfillment can be categorized into three major levels:

1) attaining good health and longevity in this life

2) become a saint or an immortal

3) attaining the Tao, which is expressed in other cultures as attaining Buddhahood, union with Brahman, return to God.

The attaining of these goals is achieved through the cultivation of body, energy and mind (or spirit) -- the "three treasures" of jing, qi and shen. At the elementary level, the cultivation of the three treasures, which occurs in every Tai Chi Chuan exercise, results in good health and longevity. At the intermediate level, the spirit is nurtured and is emancipated from the physical body as an immortal. At the highest level, the individual spirit becomes -- IS -- the Universal Spirit.

However, in practical terms, the first level of attaining good health and longevity is applicable to the great majority of Tai Chi Chuan practitioners today. Their spiritual cultivation enables them to understand and to be aware that life extends far beyond our physical bodies, and they may sometimes possess extra-ordinary powers.

If they have the rare opportunity to cultivate at a higher level to attain immortality, or at the highest level to attain the Tao, they will generally be known as Taoists, although they may still practice Tai Chi Chuan and at a very high standard.

Must one embrace Taoism and become a Taoist to seek the highest attainment in Tai Chi Chuan?

The answer is yes and no, depending on our perspective and the meaning we attach to Taoism and Taoist. If we take Taoism as a religion like Buddhism, Christianity or Islam, the answer is no. A person of any religion, or lacking a formal religion, can attain the highest goal in Tai Chi Chuan, including attaining the Tao. If we take Taoism to mean the way -- or more correct, a way, because Taoists like Buddhists never claim that theirs is the only way -- and Taoist to mean a seeker of the way, then anyone practising spiritual cultivation is a Taoist by definition.