TAI JI CHUAN
Therapeutic drills devised by Hua Tuo, a Taoist physician from the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD) is a good example. He came to realize that imitating certain animals was good for his patient’s health and under the right conditions would also speed up their recovery. He named it Wu Qin Xi – Five Animal Play. The way birds flap their wings while on the ground and tigers stretch out their limbs etc. Later versions of the ever evolving development of Chi Gung, such as Ta Mo’s Muscle Tendon and Bone Marrow Washing, was found to be practiced within the Shaolin ranks.
Ta Mo (502AD) reformed the Buddhists mindset and taught exercises and chi management to guide them on a great path of health and self understanding. Even though Ta Mo balanced his teachings with two internal (bone marrow washing and muscle tendon) and two external (18 hands of Lo Han and Five animals) sets, it was the hard external training that became the face of Shaolin. Animal systems such as crane, tiger, mantis as well as a large number of long fist styles influenced many family wushu styles, which are still around today. Unfortunately the Shaolin Chi Gung could easily be misunderstood because of its hardened form of stick breaking and spear snapping feats. Today Shaolin demonstrations are synonymous with immortal-like acts of hard chi gung. It is sad that the softer internal understanding of true Shaolin masters is so easily ignored and pushed on the wayside because of a lack of spectator value.
One should be aware that more internal training is offered to the more senior students and that Shaolin training always intended to include the internal chi management. Bha dua Jin (8 brigade set) as well as other chi gung sets are good examples, of what can be found in the Shaolin curriculum. It is, however, in moderation and one of the main reasons why Shaolin is known as the hard style.
Our first dealings with Tai Ji were mentioned in the Song
Dynasty (960 – 1279).
This brings me to the first of four popular Tai Ji styles. The Chen style is a very hard and “aggressive” form of Tai Ji. Its foot stomping, fast and slow varied form allows for easy identification. The “pushing hands” training exercises for two people were invented by Chen Wang Ting. This allowed for practitioners to practice sensitivity training for combat, which brought a softer and more flexible student to the rise. Push hands has been adopted by most Tai Ji styles today. Each has their own special flavour to make it its own.
Chen Wang Ting also invented “silk cocoon reeling” or “silk reeling” for short. It is an exercise to practice the spiral movements which is done to enhance chi flow. It is particularly good for the kidneys and the chi flow within the meridians throughout the body.
Second would be the Yang style. Yang Lu Chan studied the Chen style but had later made significant changes to the principles that govern the Chen and invented what is arguably the most popular style of Tai Ji Chuan today…
The reason for its popularity is that Yang Lu Chan was invited to teach inside the Forbidden City. He taught court officials and even the emperor himself. Yang devised a shorter “external” public form to make it easier for officials. In fact with each of the Yang generations modifications and shortened versions of the Yang Tai Ji emerged. Even with the strong fighting reputation that Yang Lu Chan brings to the Yang style it is widely disputed whether the martial substance of this style could still be found anywhere. I suppose the romantic in me believes that somewhere somebody quietly embraces the true Yang Tai Ji Chuan. The Yang style Tai Ji is approximately 150 to 190 years old.
The third style to merge was the Wu Style. This style was one of several offshoots from the Yang style. It’s not entirely clear how old this system is but it couldn’t have exceeded 120 years.
Finally another Yang influenced style brings me to the Sun style. Sun Lu Tang invented the Sun style with a very strong Hsing I and Bha Gua Chang background in the early twentieth century. According to Sun’s daughter, Sun Jian Yun, her father used the I Ching to determine the exact time and date of his death in 1933.
Today Tai Ji Chuan is a very popular past time worldwide. People practice these arts for a number of reasons - most often it is to improve their health. But every now and then you come across somebody who is advancing in the complete package of Tai Ji Chuan - health, martial, meditation and philosophy. These in my opinion are the true masters of the future.