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An Introduction to T'ai Chi Chuan

This ten week introduction to Yang style Tai Chi Chuan is based on courses developed and run for the Bristol education authority and the Phoenix trust within the NHS. At the end of ten weeks, students have learned a "mini t'ai chi" form.

The following notes were written as a basic introduction to Students and they outline the origins of T'ai Chi practice and explain the aim of the course.

What is it?

T'ai Chi is a system of movement and exercise that originated in China. It has its origins in the Chinese martial arts developed over thousands of years, and includes movements that strengthen all "body systems". It leads to an understanding of how to use the body in a relaxed, efficient and effective way in everyday life. T'ai Chi has earned a phenomenal reputation for the promotion of good health and longevity.

The various T'ai Chi "forms" consist of postures that are linked together to make a continuous set of movements. These are often seen executed in a slow, graceful, mindful manner which is so characteristic of T'ai Chi practice.

The aim of the beginners course

The emphasis of the beginner's course will be on the practice of T'ai Chi for health and relaxation and the development of a calm and peaceful mind. These are qualities that we all badly need in today's Western society.

T'ai Chi has a number of fundamental principles that have been passed down from ancient Chinese texts. We will concentrate on developing, by practice, an understanding of these fundamental principles.

There are numerous forms and numerous styles. We are going to study the "Yang style short form", which typically lasts about 10 or 15 minutes when performed.

The origins

Numerous myths and legends exist regarding the origins of T'ai Chi. It is said that the originator of

T'ai Chi was a Taoist named "Chang San Feng" who was born in 1247 at the end of the Sung Dynasty, lived through the Yuan Dynasty and died in the Ming Dynasty in 1449 - hence aged over 200 years!

Chang San Feng was an accomplished martial artist, who one day saw a snake and a magpie fighting. The hard, direct attacks of the bird were easily countered by the soft yielding of the snake and Chang San Feng realised that all movement should be balanced, soft and hard, or Yin and Yang. Without understanding yielding he realised that his knowledge would be incomplete. Indeed Chang understood how profound strength could be generated from softness, how Yin could generate Yang.

The Yang style

Until about 200 years ago Chen style T'ai Chi was a closely guarded, precious secret of the Chen family. It is said that, Yang Lu Chang, working as a servant to the family, used to spy on the family practice sessions and practised T'ai Chi assiduously at night. One day he was discovered spying, but when Yang demonstrated his high level of proficiency, Chen Chang-Hsin realised his talent and took the decision to teach him all he knew. Yang Lu Chang travelled widely in China and gained a reputation for invincibility in the martial arts. Later he taught in Beijing and so began the spread of his Yang style T'ai Chi throughout China and, with large scale Chinese emigration, eventually the world. In latter years the spread of T'ai Chi outside of China was spurred by the Japanese invasion of China (1932-45) and the cultural revolution (1966 - 1976). Cheng Man-Ch'ing (1900-1975) was an important Yang style master who taught in Taiwan and, in later life, New York. Our form may be traced back to him via A. Peck and Dr Chiang Tao Chi a principal student of Cheng Man-Ch'ing prior to his move to New York.


1 An introduction to T'ai Chi, Alan Peck, Vermilion, ISBN: 0091815045

2 The Tao of Tai-Chi Chuan, Jou, Tsung Hwa, Tai-Chi Foundation, ISBN 0-8048-1357-4, 1980