Tai chi chuan/taijiquan
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Chinese boxing

Although most people think of Chinese martial or fighting arts as being 'kung fu', the actual term kung fu is fairly recent and only came into more common use in the 1960's.
Before then, Westerner's referred to Chinese martial arts as being 'Chinese boxing', as in the Boxer Rebellion (1899).
The popular book Chinese Boxing by Robert Smith refers to kung fu as being 'Chinese boxing'. The word 'boxing' summons images of fists and punching.

What is tai chi?

Tai chi is an advanced Chinese martial art based on the yin/yang principle. The syllabus teaches a wide variety of powerful, functional skills, along with an in-depth philosophical background.
It encourages a calm, focussed mind and trains a supple, strong, flexible body. A student of tai chi discovers how to neutralise and incapacitate the opponent without sustaining any injury to oneself.

Tai chi means...

Tai chi chuan/taijiquan (tai chi) literally means - "martial art that uses the yin/yang principle in combat".
Tai chi is supreme ultimate (yin/yang). Chuan is fist (combat/martial art/boxing).

Dynamic Balancing Boxing

Tai chi chuan is commonly translated as 'supreme ultimate fist'. Author Thomas Cleary referred to this style of kung fu as 'absolute boxing'.
A better translation might be 'dynamic balancing boxing' because it suggests that yin/yang is a process.

Yang style has something of the feeling of 'killer energy' about it; it is more martial in appearance.
A spectator can see the applications of the movements when they watch the form.

(Master Xu Shu Song)

4 styles

There are 4 traditional styles of tai chi: Chen, Yang, Wu and Hao. (People often include Sun style on this list, but Sun is a combination style, incorporating elements of bagua and
xingyi also).


Tai chi was created in the Wudang Mountain range in Hubei, China. This mountain region is famous for Taoism.
Although bagua and xingyiquan are often referred to as 'Wudang', neither of those styles originated in the Wudang Mountain range. Only tai chi is from Wudang.

Tai chi chuan is not tai chi for health

When most people say 'tai chi' they mean tai chi for health. Tai chi for health is a simplified, non-martial exercise adapted from tai chi chuan.
Most modern tai chi classes are teaching an art that an old person could cope with... By definition this cannot conceivably be a martial art.

Old/classical Yang style tai chi

Old Yang style tai chi is a fluid, dynamic, exciting martial art style that involves a wide range of 'counter-intuitive' methods.
The art is thought-provoking and insightful; with lessons about living as well as about fighting. There is nothing macho, aggressive, confrontational or competitive about tai chi.

Legendary skill

The old Yang style of tai chi was developed by the martial arts legend Yang Lu-chan. Yang Lu-chan's nickname was 'Yang-the-Invincible'.
He is famous for teaching his tai chi to the Manchu Emperor's elite palace guards.

Tai chi was created more than 1000 years ago.

(Yang Jwing-Ming)


Tai chi was designed to be an advanced method. It cultivates whole-body strength, whole-body movement, fluidity and whole-body power.
The muscles do not tense up and the student remains calm and composed. In the melee of combat, the aim is to become 'the eye of the storm'; unflustered and focused.


The combat methods and principles behind tai chi have been a well-kept secret in China for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.
Even today very few people understand how to use tai chi as a martial art. Although the exact origin of tai chi remains a mystery, it employs insights and principles that are ancient.
New tai chi students are faced with the challenge of exploring these ancient practices in order to discover how and why the art works.

Self defence

Tai chi teaches you how to defend yourself from harm. This means less fear, greater confidence, and the ability to identify (and avoid) dangerous situations.
The aim of self defence is to incapacitate the attacker and walk away; ideally unharmed. Discover how to keep a cool head, avoid conflict and cope with hostility.

Basic fighting skills
Martial arts classes teach people how to punch, kick and grapple, along with self defence skill and martial concepts (what combat constitutes and how to do it effectively).
Tai chi students start out by learning these 'generic' martial arts skills. But must perform them in a tai chi way. This means no aggression, and no tensing-up, bracing or forcing.

Tai chi fighting method

Having laid the martial foundation, tai chi diverges from mainstream martial arts... cultivating more complex, sophisticated abilities that require an advanced use of the body.
The application of tai chi always follows the guidelines presented in The Tai Chi Classics.

Isn't tai chi just slow motion exercise?
No. Some of the training methods are slow, and some are not. Slow motion movement, chilled out exercise or dance cannot be considered tai chi. Authentic tai chi practice follows specific guidelines.
To quote The Tai Chi Classics: "If the opponent's movement is quick, then quickly respond; if his movement is slow, then follow slowly."
Some of the training methods (i.e. form) are slower than normal speed; this is to develop strength, accuracy, balance, smoothness and control. Combat is fast.

Why did they make the forms long in the old days, like the tai chi forms? Because the longer you can keep your intent awake and mind-body unified and focus on your movements, the stronger your mind is, the better chance you have of winning a fight.

(Tim Cartmell)


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Page created 11 January 1993
Last updated 19 December 2023