Tai Chi Chuan is one of the martial art
systems. It is also a health exercise that is enjoyed by many people through out
the world. Today, many people refer to Tai Chi Chuan as Tai Chi. This confusion
of terms, whether intended or not, is not good for Tai Chi Chuan's development.
Tai Chi Chuan practitioners should understand what each term means.
The term "Tai Chi" first appeared in the "Book of Change" better known as "I
Ching", in which it is said "Out of Tai Chi is born two elements; out of two
elements are born the four phenomenas; out of the four phenomenas are form the
eight trigrams." The term Tai Chi here refers to the originator of everything.
Later in the Northern Song Dynasty, a new-Confucian philosopher by the name of
Chow Ton Yee expanded this notion with the contribution from Taoism. He used the
Tai Chi symbol to demonstrate the common elements in everything. What he did
was make a circle to represent Wu Chi stage. Inside this Wu Chi circle, he drew
a wave line in the middle separating two equal black and white components to
represent yin and yang. The black component represented yin and the white
component represented yang. Inside the white component was a black dot to show
that yin existed in yang and inside the black component was a white dot to show
that yang existed in yin. With this he established a duality principle to
explain that yin and yang are the most basic of all things. When these two
components intercourse, everything multiplied. Later, when this duality principle
became popular, people used the term "Tai Chi" as Tai Chi symbol to represent
the universe. Now, we can see that the term "Tai Chi" in the Book of Change does
not have the same meaning as the term "Tai Chi" in the "Tai Chi" symbol. The
first one refers to the originator of all things and the second one refers to
the duality principle.
The relationship of Tai Chi and Tai Chi Chuan is based on philosophy and
experiences. Tai Chi contributing the philosophical component and Tai Chi Chuan
contributing the experiences component. The symbol demonstrates that when Tai Chi
Chuan is in motion, it will divide into yin and yang. This is what Wong Tueh Yeh
wrote, "Tai Chi came from Wu Chi, mother of yin and yang. When it is in motion,
it separates into yin and yang. When it is still, Yin and yang combined." This
duality principle is exhibited in Tai Chi Chuan as hard versus soft, motion
versus stillness, empty versus fullness, open versus closed.
Although there are many family styles of Tai Chi Chuan today, their routines
and techniques may be different, their theories and principles are the same. All
came from the Tai Chi symbol. If there is a style that does not follow the
philosophy represented by the Tai Chi symbol, it is not Tai Chi Chuan. Why it is
this art called Tai Chi Chuan? We already know that Tai Chi Chuan came from Wu
Chi, Wu Chi gave birth to two elements, two elements gave birth to four
phenomenas, four phenomenas gave birth to pa-kua's octagon and then to
As described above, the Tai Chi symbol is a pair of complementary and
contradictory components existing within one circle. Tai Chi is one circle, the
yang becoming yin and the yin becoming yang continuously. Whatever happens, it
will happen inside this one circle. Therefore, the movement has to be circular.
From this circular movements, we can see that Tai Chi Chuan must obey the
same principle. It must move slowly and continuously. That is why the Tai Chi
Chuan Classic said that there should be no stop and rough spot. Therefore, if
one who practices Tai Chi Chuan has a stop and go movements, it is not Tai Chi
Chuan. This does not obey the yin and yang, the interchanging, circular motion
demonstrated inside the Tai Chi symbol.
People ask how these circular movements can be applied as martial art. The
primary reason for these slow and circular movements is to improve health and
longevity. Slow, even and circular movements make the breathing even and
efficient. Lao Tzu had pointed this characteristic out in his book "Tao Teh
Ching" where he said that stop and go movement such as fa jing techniques can
cause rapid breathing. From its name, we know that this art came from Taoism.
For the even, slow, continuous and coordinated movement is ideal for even and slow
breathing. Even if one sweats a lot during practice, the heart beat does not
rise. The secondary reason for the circular movement is that it loosens and
relaxes the body. This relaxation is good for the tendons, ligaments and blood
circulation. Tai Chi Chuan is the movement of stretching the tendons and
ligaments. There is a saying, "one would rather lose one inch of muscle, but not
one millimeter of tendons and ligaments."
Chinese martial arts practitioners have long concentrated on the development
of tendons and ligaments, instead of muscles. This is true not only in Tai Chi
Chuan but in all Chinese martial arts whether internal or external. Therefore,
each system has its own method of training. In Tai Chi Chuan, the method is to
stretch the tendons and ligaments in the solo form. Therefore, each posture must
be comfortable and relaxed. Only with the circular movement of Tai Chi Chuan can
one maximize stretching the tendons and ligaments without exhausting oneself. The
tendons and ligaments have an advantage over ordinary muscles. The horse has
thin legs, but has well developed tendons; therefore, it can run fast. The same
is true of the deer. The crane also has thin legs but its tendons and ligaments
allow it to support the body for a long time. Therefore, the essence in martial
art training is to train the tendons and ligaments for combat strength. The
circular, even, continuous and coordinated movements in Tai Chi Chuan is to train
tendons and ligaments.
Now, we see why Tai Chi Chuan is such a difficult art to understand. It
benefits in health, harmonizes breathing and at the same time it supports the
demands of martial art training. Besides all the reasons listed above, some
people say that it is called Tai Chi Chuan only when one has applied push hands
techniques. The fact is that many people practice push hands in different
martial art systems, not Tai Chi Chuan. The only way to determine if one is
practicing Tai Chi Chuan is to see if its characteristics are like the Tai Chi
symbol: characteristics like circular motion, yin and yang and its
interchangeability. If a routine does not follow the Tai Chi symbol, it is not
Tai Chi Chuan.
From a martial art standpoint, Tai Chi Chuan's circular motion is obviously
suitable for physical combat. A circle has an inner and an outer side. The
hands' movements works on the outer side of the circle while the waist works on
the inner side of the circle. Therefore, any movement involving the rotation of
the waist seems slow, but it is actually fast and can respond more quickly. It
is like the physical concept of centrifugal force, in which the center rotation
has a very small force while the outer circle has much greater force. As the Tai
Chi Chuan classics said, " If the opponent does not move, I do not move. If the
opponent moves, I am already there."