- Leslie Deems LAc.
The Origins Of Tai Chi Chuan: Part One
There are several different theories as to the origins of Tai Chi Chuan. One popular theory states that there was a physician named Hua-tu’o who taught the “movements of the five creatures.” This system that he called, Wu-chi chih had individuals perform various movements that mimicked different animals. These five types of “animal acting” were practiced as so, 1) tiger: to strengthen bones and develop power and ferocity 2) dragon: to train attention and cultivate spirit 3) leopard: to develop the muscles and swiftness 4) snake: to cultivate the internal energy or chi and 5) crane: to develop the sinews and train balance, suppleness, and agility.
Hua-tu'o believed that the body needed to be regularly exercised to help with digestion and circulation and only by doing so could a long and healthy life be achieved. He advocated a system of imitating the movements of these animals to help exercise every joint in the body. His teaching, and its connection with the movements of animals, is probably the earliest pre-cursor of Tai Chi.
Another known theory about the origins of Tai Chi Chuan holds that a man named Chang San Feng, a Taoist sage of the Yuan dynasty, came up with the concept of Tai Chi in his dreams. Apparently he applied the principles of Yin and Yang, the I Ching, and Taoist breathing techniques to his Shaolin boxing method in order to fabricate Tai Chi Chuan, or “supreme ultimate boxing.” Shaolin boxing was created by a man named Master Tamo at the Shaolin monastary in Honan province. The idea was to increase the health of the Buddhist monks who were not in good physical shape due to their rigorous mental practices. This Shaolin boxing was inspired by the postures and movements of five different animals.
What is known for sure is that Tai Chi has been passed down through the centuries through oral tradition. Today, there are four major styles that are routinely practiced, 1) Chen 2) Yang 3) Wu and 4) Shun. The oldest style of Tai Chi was practiced by a family by the name of Chen. Chen Tai Chi was considered a family secret until it was passed down to Yang Lu Cheng. Today the Yang family style is the most widely practiced style of Tai Chi Chuan.