Yang Tai Chi

Grand Ultimate Fist

Literally translated as “Grand Ultimate Fist”, Taiji Chuan (also spelled Tai Chi Chuan), is considered one of the soft or internal arts. Combining meditation, Chi Kung (breathing exercises) and fighting techniques, Taiji is the ultimate in self defense.

Taiji’s roots are deeply woven in Taoist (pronounced doaist) thought. In early times, Taoism was a kind of Chinese religion based on a natural way of living. They followed cycles of the earth, sun and moon. Imitating actions of plants and animals, the Chinese tried to stay as close to nature as possible. Taoist religion is based on the ideas from a book called the I Ching (pronounced yee jing). The I Ching tries to explain every possible situation in life through natural phases. Many Taoists became hermits to shed themselves of civilization so they could seek out the “natural way”. Seeking seclusion, the hermits created a temple in the Wu Tang mountain range of China. Around 200 B.C., one famous Taoist Lao Tsu wrote out his interpretation of the I Ching. Eventually his views became the philosophy known as “Taoism”, and it is still a guide for many philosophers and Taiji practitioners alike.

There are many different stories on the origins of Taiji, but it’s ultimate beginning dates back to the legendary Da Mo and the Shaolin temple. In the early 500’s, the monks at Shaolin kept a simple life of meditation and Taoist thought. From India the Buddhist Prince, Da Mo (also known as Bodhidharma) traveled to China, spreading Mahayana Buddhism. When he came upon the Shaolin temple in Honan, he found the monks weak and without physical ability. Even though they were on a spiritual journey, Da Mo stated “the body, mind and spirit are inseparable and if you neglect one, the others will surely suffer as well”. Da Mo then spent the next 9 years developing exercises to help the monks physically and mentally. These were called the “Muscle change classics”, “Bone Marrow Washing Course” and “the 18 Lohan Shou”. Eventually these exercises developed into a self defense system. He also combined the Chinese Taoism with Indian Buddhism and created what is now called Zen Buddhism.

In the late 1400’s Shaolin master Chang San Feng left the temple. He felt the self defense techniques that had evolved were too hard, using to much brute force. Heading for the Wu Tang Mountains Chang sought to soften the Shaolin techniques. One day while practicing, Chang noticed a fight between a crane and a snake. As he watched, the snake used very soft coiling motions to ward off the birds attacks. He also noticed the crane used its wing to fend off strikes by the snake. This fight had much impact on Chang’s innovations on his Shaolin style. Combining Taoist breathing exercises along with soft fluid coiling self defense moves, Chang had created a soft or internal kung fu system. Chang San Feng called this system he developed “Mein Chuan”, Cotton fist or Soft fist. Although this cannot actually be called Taiji, this was the beginning of how it evolved. The teachings of Chang San Feng were passed on through generations of Taoist masters from Wu Tang mountain including: Wang Tsung, Chen Tun Chow, Chang Sung Hsi, Yeh Chi Ma, Wang Tsung Yeuh, Zhang Song Xi and to Chiang Fa.

In the 1700’s, Taoist monk Chiang Fa taught the Wu Tang mountain soft style to Chen Wang Ting, who was already a martial arts master. Chen took the Wu Tang soft style and blended it with his kung fu skills, creating what is considered the original form of Taiji. Chen taught his Taiji only to his family members and so did the rest of the Chen clan. Chen style Taiji can be distinguished by fast and slow movements, as well as hard and soft movements (a real yin and yang combination).

Chen’s Taiji uses “Chan Tsu Chin”, a spiraling action for attacking or yielding. Then in the early 1800’s a great martial artist named Yang Lu Chan heard of this “Grand Ultimate Fist” and set his self on learning it. However, Chens Taiji was a family system and only people with sir name of Chen would be permitted to learn it. Yang was a persistent man. He gained entry into the family by posing as a servant. Every chance he could, Yang spied on the Chen’s practice, went back to his room and copied their movements for hours. One day Chen Chang Xing found Yang practicing, and seeing his diligence and superior skill level, decided to teach him formerly.

After learning all he could from Chen, Yang went back to his hometown. He taught Taiji to his friends and relatives. He also went to Beijing (capitol city of China) and taught Taiji to the royal family. Yang’s Taiji became his own unique style. Yang’s Taiji can be recognized by soft or yielding actions and the use of fa jing (explosive power). Many people challenged Yang to fights, but he was never beaten. Yang, Lu Chan’s Taiji skill was unsurpassed. He became known as “the man with no rival” and also “the unbeatable Yang”.

Yang Lu Chan taught the system to his son Yang Chian and grandson Yang Cheng Fu. Yang Cheng Fu realized the potential to spread his grandfathers Taiji to all of China. So in the early 1900’s Yang Cheng Fu and his student Cheng Man Ching softened his grandfathers Taiji even more. They also made the form a lot shorter so it would be easier to teach to a broader spectrum of people.

Cheng Man Ching was a master in his own right. He became known as the master of the 5 excellences. The 5 excellences are Taiji, Chinese medicine, painting, poetry and calligraphy. One of Cheng’s top students was William C.C. Chen. William Chen went on to be one of the best full contact fighters in Taiwan during the 1950’s. In 1965 he moved to New York City and continues to teach there. Grand master Chen has made innovations to Yang Cheng Fu’s short form, even furthering Taiji Chuan’s effectiveness.