Taiji Quan (太极拳)
"A wise man prevents diseases rather than treating them and prevents disorder rather than restoring order."
The concept of taiji quan
The word “Tai” （太）means “Supreme”, “Ji” （极) means “Boundary”, and the word “Quan” （拳) means “fist” or “movement”. The term “Taiji Quan” implies a method of movement to cultivate a form of power with no boundary.
During hundreds of years of evolution, Taiji Quan has absorbed the essence of Chinese healing arts and traditional cultural thoughts and has been moulded by the principles of Chinese Martial Arts. Taiji Quan has become one of the most popular and effective mind-body exercises.
Chinese philosophy and cosmology were the foundation of Taiji Quan. It was originally mentioned in the works of “Yì Jīng” (易经), one of the earliest Chinese classic texts, describing fundamental to prehistoric Chinese cultural ideas.
The book “Yì Jīng,” known as the “Book of Changes” in English translation, was written about 3,000 years ago and strived to clarify the rules and causes of motion and change in the natural world.
Change is an inevitable process of all forms of matter.
All changes follow specific laws which are predictable.
Balance or equilibrium is a part of this constant change.
The constantly evolving material world and all matter result from the antagonistic movement of two great opposing material forces, Yin and Yang.
The longevity of the evolving process for any form of matter arises from the interactions of two opposing energies (Yin & Yang).
Taiji is the force that gives birth to Yin and Yang and ultimately is responsible for the ever-evolving matter.
Taiji is a form of supremely immeasurable energy without tangible limits. It exists everywhere and gives life to all things.
The theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Yin & Yang and Five Elements Theory
"Yin Jing" includes concepts such as "Taiji", "Yin & Yang" （阴阳） and the "Five Elements Theory" （五行). They represent the foundation and starting point for the Chinese classical philosophies, including Taoism and Confucianism. They are incorporated into the Traditional Chinese Medicine theoretical and fundamental principles.
In the book "Huangdi Neijing" (黄帝内经), compiled over two millennia ago, translated as the "Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon" or "The Classic of Internal Medicine", there were first discussed the theories of "Yin & Yang" and "Five Elements" regarding the human body and health. The book discussed the origins of diseases and cures for them. Some examples include:
Humans are part of a huge cosmos; therefore, all the laws of the cosmos apply to them.
The human body is designed by two interchangeable and opposing flowing energies, Yin & Yang.
Yin & Yang energies regulate the continual change in the human body. Any change in the functional conditions of the body is the result of their interplay of them. Therefore, a state of equilibrium representing the ultimate healthy manifests the interaction between the two energies of Yin and Yang.
Functional disorders will occur when the equilibrium is threatened, or the normal relation between the two forces is out of balance. Poor diet choices, hygiene, lifestyle, emotions, environment and injuries exhaust the Yin & Yang energies, leading to inadequate relations between them. They would stagnate the pathways of these vital energies inside the human body, causing organ dysfunction. Sustaining a state of equilibrium between Yin & Yang by promoting balanced growth and functionality of Yin & Yang energies is essential to maintain health and prevent illness.
Maintaining a balanced and quality interaction between Yin & Yang energies would promote proper Qi flow within the body (sustain health) and represent the most effective method of natural body healing.
According to the “Theory of Five Elements,” the living human world is made up of five basic materials: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. As a microcosm or miniature world, each individual is formed of five elements, which interact to provide a dynamic balance.
The interaction between the environment around these organs and tissues and the dynamics between them determines the quality of a person’s health. The Five Elements theory describes how organs interact and how sickness spreads when one fails to operate properly. This theory defines all human organs and tissue as similar to the five elements.
The doctrines of “Yin and Yang” and “Five Elements” were key advances in ancient Chinese thinking. Seeing all natural systems, including the human body, through the lens of the two concepts impacted the epistemology and technique of all subsequent Chinese science, including traditional medicine. This concept of “integration,” which is the foundation of both “Yin & Yang” and the “Five Elements” medical philosophy, has evolved over thousands of years into a multifaceted system of theory and practice.
Over centuries, the concepts of prevention and the beliefs about illness causation and health maintenance have informed the consciousness and daily life of the Chinese people. Proper diet and personal behaviour, emotional balance, and exercise have been seen as ways to prevent illness and the most important method for treating health problems.
Taiji Quan Development
The origin of Taiji Quan abounds in myths and legends. In the early part of the Western Han Dynasty (汉朝206 BC to 24 A.D.), historical records indicate the integration of the concept of Taiji, Yin & Yang and the Five Elements theories into physical exercises promoting health and dealing with illness. Daoyin Shu（导引术-the art of promoting internal circulation) integrated various physical movements, such as bending, expanding, contracting, and extending, with breathing techniques promoting Qi circulation. Hua Tuo （华佗- 141-208 A.D.), a famous Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor, created Wu Qin Xi （五禽戏- Five Animal Play), a routine containing movements mimicking five animals (tiger – 虎, deer –鹿, bear – 熊, monkey –猿 and crane – 鹤) and integrating them with breathing techniques. The routine of Five Animal Play has been one of the most widespread disease prevention and life-prolonging methods due to its effectiveness in regulating the movements of Qi （气）and blood （血), nourishing the viscera and strengthening muscles and bones.
During later periods in Chinese history, the observations and knowledge about the powerful effects of soft and supple movements that can unite one’s mind and body into one to subdue even a vigorous external attack by using gentle and circular motions attracted many military officers and martial artists. After the Song dynasty （宋朝960–1279 A.D.), movements similar to modern Taiji Quan were categorized and developed as an internal martial art and gained popularity in military training and among martial artists.
Modern Taiji Quan emerged during the late Ming Dynasty with systemically detailed theories and practising methods （明朝1368-1644 A.D.). According to the historical writings, after retiring from his military post to his native village – the Chen village of Henan province – General Wangting Chen （陈王廷1597-1664) integrated martial arts principles and his battlefield experiences with the Yin & Yang and Five Elements theories. It created the first modern form of Taiji Quan– the Chen style Taiji Quan (陈式太极拳). Since it emphasized martial applications, the first Chen-style Taiji Quan movements were slow, quick and explosive. Every move is performed regarding battle. This teaching was limited to a small group within a specific geographic area for hundreds of years. As it spread, it was modified into various styles, mainly by individual martial artists based on their interpretations and training backgrounds.
Created by Wangting Chen （陈王廷1597-1664)
Created by Mr Luchan Yang （杨露禅1799－1872) based on the Chen style Taiji Quan
Created by Mr Yuxing Woo (武禹襄 1812-1880) based on the Chen and Yang styles
Created by Mr Lutang Sun (孙禄堂 1860-1933) based on his training in internal Chinese martial arts, including Ba Gua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan and Taiji Quan
Created by Mr Jianquan Wu (吴鉴泉 1870-1942) based on the Yang Style Taiji Quan
Although these styles differ in forms and techniques, they share underlying principles and methods, and all Taiji Quan communities and their members have equally respected them. It is important to note that although the characteristics of body movements in several newer styles, with the Yang style in particular, had moved away from traditional Chen style Taiji Quan with moves becoming less apparent in expressing martial applications, for a long time, even the newer forms did focus on improving one’s ability in the battlefield as the primary purpose for learning and practising Taiji Quan so that learning and practising were somewhat exclusive to specific groups.
By the middle of the twentieth century, Taiji Quan became famous throughout China, especially the Yang-style Taiji Quan. Contrasted to the other styles, the movements of Yang style Taiji Quan are much gentler and smoother, and its movements flow together at a more even pace. Thus it attracts a broader range of people. However, despite this historical particularity, Taiji Quan practice has always been an effective means of maintaining a healthy mind and body.
The newly established Chinese government promoted Taiji Quan and other traditional healing arts to promote public health with limited resources. In 1956, commissioned by the Ministry of Health and based on the characteristics of Yang style Taiji Quan, a standardised and simplified form of Taiji Quan with 24 postures was developed by a group of Taiji Quan masters. This form of Taiji Quan significantly shortened the number of moves that older traditional Taiji Quan forms possessed and made it easier to learn and practice for beginners. The 24 Postures of Taiji Quan soon became famous throughout China. They grew to be one of the most accessible forms of self-healing arts practised by people of all ages and health conditions worldwide. Now there are about a dozen standardised Taiji Quan forms, including sword forms, practised in China and worldwide.
Some routines we teach have working manuals
Below are some examples from our working manuals. They include routine high-quality photos, descriptions, technical aspects, breathing and assignments to ensure the practice is of a high standard.
The Characteristics of Taiji Quan
Despite the variations of movements among different styles, they all share the following principles
The Mind Commands the Body Movement
One of Taiji Quan’s main features and principles is that all movements are initiated by the command of the mind (intentionality). While the mind is calm, it connects through the lower back with every part of the body and directs its movement according to the purpose of the movement (yielding, redirecting, etc.). With the calming mind commanding and embracing the body movements, the structure of the body is held with minimal or no tension, and all parts of the body, especially the joints involved in the movement, are connected and integrated to perform the exercise.
Moving with Calming and Gentle Force
Taiji Quan practice emphasises pliable muscular strength in performing the movement while relaxing, loosening, and sinking at all the joints. The proper relaxation of the musculature and avoiding the use of tensed strength while moving at the same slow pace not only helps to develop body sensitivity and motor control (balance, for example), it also improves the circulation of energy and blood throughout the body, providing an ideal environment for healing.
Moving with Synchronizing and Harmony
One of the essential principles in the art of Taiji Quan is the synchronization of body movements. In performing each movement, the internal activities (mind intention and breathing) must coordinate with the external movements (body movements). Hence, propelled by the mind and led by the lower back, all body movements are synchronized to create a unified energy flow.
Circular Motion and Rounded Posture
Taiji Quan grew from the ancient Chinese cosmological view. According to this view, all matter evolves cyclically, forming a never-ending pattern. The circular motion creates the flow of energy, sustaining the life of all matter.
Based on this principle, Taiji Quan requires all body movements to be circular. The circle’s centre is one’s Dan Tian (丹田the Chinese acupuncture point located in the lower abdomen between the navel and the public bone). The process of repeatedly forming and transforming one posture to another circularly not only effectively creates an infinite pathway of Qi (energy) movement, but it also helps to generate a new level of healing energy within one’s body.
Flow and Continuity
To follow how all natural beings sustain their lives and rejuvenate energy through engaging in the infinite circle of movement, the Taijiquan exercise requires that all movements, from the beginning to the end, be performed continuously flow, uninterrupted, like a flowing stream or moving clouds.
For students who cannot attend live classes at the Temple, we offer the option to learn Taiji Quan Online.
Taiji Quan, an intangible cultural heritage, is based on Taiji and the dialectical concept of Yin and Yang in traditional Chinese Confucianism and Taoism and integrates multiple functions such as nourishing one’s temperament, strengthening the body, and fighting against each other. One body, combined with the changes of Yin and Yang and five elements of Yi Xue, the meridian science of traditional Chinese medicine, ancient Daoyin technique and breathing technique, forms a traditional Chinese boxing technique that is both internal and external, soft, slow, light and flexible, and combined with hardness and softness.
Written with Qi by Shifu Shi Yanjun
Shaolin Warrior Monks Head Coach