About T'ai chi ch'uan

Exercise disciplines have always been practised in China, but T'ai Chi Ch'uan may be regarded as a relatively modern form of 'Chi Kung'  (Qigong) , an energy exercise system which goes back thousands of years in Chinese history.

Chinese martial traditions seem to date back to the feudal period between 402-221 BC (i.e. 'The Warring States period'), during which time potential warriors were obliged to learn combative skills such as archery and swordsmanship.

In the sixth century AD the monks of the Shaolin Temple at Henan were instructed in a type of yoga-meditation by an Indian mystic whom they called Ta Mo (Bodhidharma). The monks were well versed in the fighting arts, but their bodies and minds were unable to withstand long periods of sitting meditation. This new system of exercise, which may well have been the precursor to what eventually became T'ai Chi Ch'uan, allowed the monks to become more 'complete', that is, they were able to develop their spiritual or inner lives along with their more physical attributes.

T'ai Chi Ch'uan was originally a fighting system quite different from what it is now, but information concerning its actual origin has been lost in the turbulent history of China.

The legendary founder of T'ai Chi Ch'uan is reputed to have been Chang San-Feng, a 13th century Taoist mystic, who was described as being over seven feet tall with immense strength, unkempt in appearance, yet wise and agile. He supposedly learned his martial arts at the Shaolin Temple at Henan and later went to train at a Taoist retreat at Wu-Tang. Whilst there it is said he had a dream-encounter with a Warrior-God or Immortal, who taught him in a vision a new 'soft' style of martial arts. This system was very much influenced by the teachings of Lao Tzu - The Founder of Taoism.

The first evidence of a familiar style of T'ai Chi Ch'uan dates from the 18th century. The Chen family of Henan Province seem to have had a particular system they kept secret, and what this early style was like is impossible to say. However, the secrets of the Chen T'ai Chi passed into the hands of Yang Lu-Ch'an a Chen family servant who, it was said, initially spied on the instruction given to Chen family members and, because he became so competent in the art, was allowed to learn the style in its entirety.

Yang Lu-Ch'an, regarded as the founder of the Yang style T'ai Chi Ch'uan, became a famous T'ai Chi fighter and was nicknamed 'Yang The Unconquerable'. He taught at the Imperial Court and also trained his two sons, thereby founding a family dynasty. His grandson, Yang Chen-Fu, redeveloped the T'ai Chi martial system into a more health-oriented way and taught the famous 'Cheng Man-Ching' for seven years.

Master Cheng was one of the first noted teachers to bring T'ai Chi to the Western world, and taught students in New York from 1965 until his death in 1975.

Professor Cheng Man-Ching devised a shortened version of the traditional Yang Style Long Form during the 1940s, which consists of 37 postures. This proved easier for westerners who found the original style of 108 postures too difficult to learn and remember. This short 'Cheng Man-Ching Form' is now the most commonly taught style of Tai Chi in the west and is seen as the foundation for further studies.

There are also a number of other well known styles of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, such as the simplified 24 Step Beijing Form, Wu Style, Sun Style and Wudang, among others.


What is T'ai Chi Ch'uan?

T'ai Chi

  • "supreme ultimate"
  • The forces of nature in balance

Ch'uan

  • "fist" "power" "balance"
  • harnessing the forces of nature

The supreme ultimate way of the "fist" or "the supreme ultimate method of harmonizing the forces of nature through exercise"

It can also be interpreted as:

  • "Strength within softness" or
  • "Harmony in motion"

T'ai Chi Ch'uan is an ancient Chinese Taoist exercise system which is concerned with the promotion of health on all levels of being physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Outwardly its movements - slow and graceful are aesthetically pleasing to watch, while at a deeper level it develops internal forces which may be applied in healing as well as in self-defence.

T'ai Chi also tones and strengthens the organs and muscles, increases vitality, induces relaxation of mind and body, and improves the internal circulation. It differs from the 'hard' styles of martial disciplines - which depend on power and speed in that it is a 'soft', 'internal' system which 'yields' to overcome or neutralise.


Short Glossary

Short Form:

  • The 37 Step Yang Style Form, as devised and interpreted from the Long Form by Professor Cheng Man-Ch'ing. It is the most popular form now taught in the western world, and is the foundation for further studies. It takes about 12 minutes to perform.

Long Form:

  • The original Yang Style, now sometimes called 'Heaven Mountain'. It takes about 30 minutes to perform.

Sticking Hands:

  • A partner exercise to develop 'sensing' and 'listening'.

Pushing Hands:

  • A partner exercise in which both individuals learn to 'yield' and to redirect the pushing force of one's opponent.

Yielding:

  • A technique used in pushing hands whereby one 'sticks' to the opponent's push and leads an attacker to over-extend and over- balance.

Cheng Man Ch'ing:

  • Master of 'The Five Excellences', and student and doctor of Yang Chen-Fu. The first noted practitioner to bring T'ai Chi to the West. Taught students in New York in the year 1965 - 75.

Class Details

The Tai Chi that is practise in the class is intended to be an introduction to the principles of T'ai Chi Ch'uan and is NOT for those who would prefer the 'harder', more Martial Arts style of the discipline.

The lessons will consist of a version of the Hand Form as devised by the late Master, Professor Cheng Man Ch'ing (i.e. The 37 Step Yang Style Short Form) and instruction will be given in the important 'principles' underlying the system.

The 'applications' of some of the postures will be investigated in a gentle self-defence context, together with exercises in 'sticking', 'yielding' and basic 'push- hands'. Simple exercises for warming up, cooling down and stretching will be shown; and certain Chi Kung (or Qigong) exercises, which are an important facet of 'soft' martial arts training, will also be taught.
Students are asked to bring along a bottle of water and to wear loose clothing. The class will be conducted in a spirit of relaxed participation and friendship.


Summary of Syllabus

  • Warm up / cool down exercises
  • Simple Chi Kung exercises (Eight Strand of Brocade & Shibashi)
  • Yang Style of Tai Chi 8 & Tai Chi 13 to introduce some of the basic movements to the students before starting the Tai Chi 37 step form
  • Yang Style Short Form (37 Step Cheng Man Ch'ing Form)
  • The T'ai Chi 'principles'
  • Basic 'sticking', 'yielding' and Pushing Hands Exercises
  • Basic self-defence applications
  • Meditation and relaxation exercises
  • Instruction in using the breath while moving through the Form
  • Instruction in Tensho Chi forms

"I really enjoy coming to Paul's class on a Friday Morning and I find it so relaxing and gives me a feeling of well being.
Josepine Tucker.

"This is a very good way to exercise which increase flexibility, concentration and coordination. The exercises are easy to follow and are gentle and suitable for all ages. Tai Chi has very graceful slow flowing movements which benefits the whole body and mind. I lead a very busy life so Friday lessons make me slow down and make time for me. I always feel relaxed and calm after the lessons."
Ann Pik

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