According to legend, Tai Chi was created when the Grand Master Zhang San Feng, saw a snake and a crane fighting whilst he was training internal arts in Wudang Shan. He observed the way the coiling, elusive movements of the snake thwarted the direct strikes of the crane, until the Crane became tired and the snake was able to make its final deadly manoeuvre. Zhang San Feng then went on to devise Tai Chi based on the movements of the snake.
Zhang San Feng spent many years in Wudang Mountains. Practitioners say its verdant atmosphere makes for speedy progress in martial arts and Qi Gong, and it is a focal point for all those interested in Taoism, the philosophy that underpins Tai Chi. Taoism is based around several core tenets briefly outlined below for the curious. To summarise, the idea is there are natural laws at work in life, and that with practise, mankind is able to perceive these natural laws at work and live according to them, making for a happier, healthier existence.
Everything in nature has a yin and yang aspect. These are two opposite yet complementary forces, for instance male (yang )and female (yin), conscious and unconscious, or attack and defence as seen in the Tai Chi form.
Taoists believe the key to a happy existence is to have the yin and yang forces in balance. Since yin and yang continually change into each other this requires dynamic adaptation. The changing interplay between yin and yang can be seen throughout the Tai Chi forms, and by practising Tai Chi and other internal arts we learn to regulate our yin-yang balance.
The Ba Gua or Eight Trigrams combine yin and yang in different ways to represent 8 different forces of nature (For instance Heaven – creative power, Earth – receptive, fertile power). These trigrams are represented in the 8 major powers of Tai Chi (including peng – ward off, lu – roll back, ji – squeeze, an – press) and 8 different palms of bagua zhang. Different combinations of these trigrams go on to make the 64 trigrams of the I Ching, see below.
THE I CHING
Also known as ‘The Book of Changes’, the I Ching/Yi Jing is an ancient divination system and classic Taoist text which contains archetypal situations that occur in human life. Different combinations of the eight trigrams make up 64 different situations, with names like ‘Difficulty at The Beginning’. Each hexagram has six lines which represent six different stages of this situation, usually from beginning to end. At the heart of the I Ching is the notion that life is constantly changing; it is traditionally used to offer advice for action and how to best adapt to the demands of the time.
The Five Elements are the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine, these elements (fire, water, earth, wood, metal) correspond to vital organs in the body, and need to be kept in balance to stay healthy. The elements can be combined in ways that complement each other, or aggravate each other; for instance problems with the fire organ (heart) can be helped out by working on the water organ (kidney ), but would be aggravated by excessive work on the wood organ (liver). These five elements are seen in the Five Element Qi Gong, and also in the five different fists of Xingyiquan.
DAO DE JING
The Dao De Jing (Tao Teh Ching/The Way of Virtue) is a seminal Taoist text written by Lao Zi around 400BC. It consists of 81 short poems which can be of great help to the Taiji practitioner. Beginners reading this book can become familiar with a world view which permeates the internal arts. Advanced practitioners can cultivate a mindset appropriate to working with the intangible elements of Tai Chi practise, like the use of qi, intention and no-intention.