The word Taiji first appeared in Book of Changes of the Zhou Dynasty. The essay says: "Where there is Taiji, there is peace and harmony between the positive and the negative." Taiji means supremacy, absoluteness, extremity and uniqueness. Taiji Quan takes its name for the implication of superiority. Taiji Quan got its name when Shanxi secular Wushu master Wang Zongyue used the philosophy of the positive and negative from the Book of Changes to explain the principles of the boxing.
There are different opinions on the origin of Taiji Quan. Some think it was created by Zhang Sanfeng of the Song Dynasty (961-1279) while others believe it was created by Han Gongyue and Cheng Lingxi in the Liang Dynasty (502-557). Still others say that it was created by either Xu Xuanping or Li Daozi of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Yet all propositions cannot be proved from authenticate historical records. According to the research of Wushu historian Tang Hao, Taiji Quan was first exercised and practiced among the Chen family members at the Chenjia Valley which is located in Wenxian County in Henan Province. The earliest choreographer of the Taiji boxing was Chen Wangting who was both a scholar and a martial artist. Chen combined his knowledge of ancient psychological exercises; the positive and negative philosophy describe in the Book of Changes and Chinese medical theory of passages and channels of blood, air flow and energy inside the human body with the exercises and practices of Wushu. He absorbed the strong points from various schools and styles of martial arts of the Ming Dynasty, especially the 32-move Qi Jiguang style of boxing (long-style boxing), to form the school of Taiji Quan.
After years of dissemination, many styles of Taiji Quan were created. The most popular and widespread , are the following five styles:
(1) Chen-style Taiji Quan
The Chen-style Taiji Quan falls into two categories —the old and new frames. The old frame was created by Chen Wangling himself. It had five routines which were also known as the 13-move boxing. Chen Wangting also developed a long-style boxing routine of 108 moves and a cannon boxing routine. It was then handed down to Chen Changxing and Chen Youben, boxers in the Chenjia Valley who were all proficient at the old frame (Fig. 3). The present-day Chen-style boxing boasts of the old routine, the cannon routine and the new routine.
The Chen-style Taiji boxing is the oldest form, all the other styles of Taiji Quan having derived from it either directly or indirectly.
(2) Yang-style Taiji Quan
The originator of the Yang-style Taiji boxing was Yang Luchan (1800-1873) from Yongnian in Hebei Province. Yang went to learn Taiji boxing from Chen Changxing in the Chenjia Valley as a boy. When grown up, he returned to his native town to teach the art. To suit the need of common people, Yang Luchan made some changes, and dropped some highly difficult moves, such as force irritating, broad jumps and foot thumping. His son shortened the routine which was further simplified by his grandson. The grandson's form of the Yang-style Taiji boxing was later taken as the protocol of the Yang-style boxing. Because of its comfortable postures, simplicity and practicability, this form has become the most popular routine for exercise and practice.
The Yang-style Taiji boxing features agreeable movements and actions combining hardness, softness and naturalness. When practicing, practitioners should relax to form softness which transforms into hardness, thus combining the hard and the soft. The Yang-style Taiji Quan is divided into three sub routines, namely high-posture, middle-posture and low-posture routines, all with comfortable and agreeable movements and actions.
( 3 ) Wu-style Taiji Quan
Wu-style Taiji boxing was created by Quan You (1834-1902) who lived at Daxing in Hebei Province
(now under Beijing Municipality). Quan You was of the Manchu nationality of China. He learned Taiji Quan from Yang Luchan and later followed Yang's second son Yang Banhou to study the short program. Quan You was known for his ability to soften his movements. Quan's son Jianquan changed his family name to Wu as he was brought up as a Han national. Wu Jianquan (1870-1942) inherited and disseminated a style of Taiji which is comfortable and upright. His style is continuous and ingenious and because his routine does not require jumps and leaps, it spread far and wide among common people. Since this style of Taiji Quan was disseminated by the Wu family, it became known as the Wu-style Taiji boxing.
(4) Wu Yuxiang Style of Taiji Quan
Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) was the creator of another style of the Taiji Quan. A Yongnian resident in Hebei, Wu Yuxiang learned the ABC's of Taiji from fellow provincial Yang Luchan. In 1852, Wu Yuxiang went to work for his brother at Wuyang. On his way to Wuyang, he learned the new routine; of Taiji Quan from Chen Qingping and mastered it. At his brother's home, Wu Yuxiang got hold of a transcript of Wang Zongyue's On Taiji Quan. So upon returning home, Wu Yuxiang delved into the book and practiced the principles stipulated in it. Wu eventually wrote Ten Essential Points of Martial Artists and Four-Word Poetic Secrets of Taiji: Apply, Cover, Combat and, Swallow, which have become the classics of Chinese Wushu writing.
The Wu Yuxiang style of Taiji features compactness, slow movement, strict footwork and distinguishes between substantialness and insubsiantialness. The chest and abdomen are kept upright while the body is moving around. The outside movement of the body is initiated by the circulation of air flows inside the body and by inner adjustments of substantialness and insubstantialness. The two hands are in charge of their respective halves of the body, as one does not infringe upon the other.
The hand never goes farther than the foot. Li Yishe (1832-1892), son of Wu Yuxiang's sister, inherited the Wu Yuxiang style of Taiji. He wrote about his experience of practicing Five-Word Essentials, The Secret to Relaxation: Lift, Guide, Loosen and Release and Essentials / or Taiji Movements and Actions. In the first year of the Republic (1911), Hao Weizhen (1849-1920) from Yongnian County taught the Wu Yuxiang style of Taiji in Beijing, and later in Nanjing and Shanghai.
( 5 ) Sun-style Taiji Quan
The initiator of the Sun-style Taiji boxing was Sun Lutang (1861-1932) from Dingxian County in Hebei Province. Sun was a master of Xingyi Quan (free-mind animal-imitating boxing) and Bagua Zhang (Eight-diagram Palm). In 1911, he followed Hao Weizhen to learn the Wu Yuxiang style of Taiji. He later created the Sun style of Taiji boxing by blending the cream of the Wu Yuxiang style of Taiji, Xingyi Quan and Bagua Zhang. The feature of the Sun-style Taiji is that practitioners advance or retreat freely with quick and dexterous movements, which are connected with each other either in closing or opening stances when the direction is changed.
Besides the above-mentioned five style of Taiji boxing, there is another style called Five-Star Taiji. This style was initiated by Wang Lanting, butler of Prince Duan of the Qing Dynasty. Wang Lanting learned Taiji from Yang Luchan who served as Wushu master to Prince Duan. After mastering the boxing art, Wang Lanting passed it onto Li Ruidong and Si Xingsan. Li Ruidong then absorbed the cream of other styles of Taiji to form the Five-Star Taiji.
The Chanmen Taiji Quan or Buddhist Taiji Quan which is popular in the area of Pingdingshan in Henan Province was developed by monks in the Shaolin Temple according to the Infinitely Merciful Dharani Scripture. By the end of the Qing Dynasty, it had also absorbed the best of the martial arts practiced by followers of Taoism and Confucianism. As it was first created by Buddhist monks, it was called Chanmen or Buddhist Taiji Quan.
To further popularize Taiji Quan among the people after the establishment of the People's Republic of China, a simplified set of the Yang-style Taiji Quan was compiled in 1956, by dropping the repeated and difficult movements. The simplified set consists of 24 forms. In 1979, the Chinese State Physical Education and Sports Commission absorbed the strongest points from the Chen-style, Yang-style and Wu-style Taiji, as well as Taiji Wushu, to form a popular, 48-form Taiji Quan.
Although different in style and form, all Taiji boxing routines require their practitioners to be tranquil, calm, relaxed but concentrative. In Taiji Quan the spine is the pivot around which the body moves. Forces and energy should be generated from the spine and waist before reaching the arms and legs. The movements are executed slowly, continuously and softly, but hardness is implied in softness. Substantialness should be distinguished from insubstantialness. Practitioners are required to breathe regularly and smoothly. The inner strengths and energy should be exuded through external movements and actions.
The theory of Taiji Quan was developed when Wang Zongyue wrote his On Taiji Quan. Taiji Quan theories matured with later writings of the Thirteen-form Frame, Thirteen Postures, Secrets of Thirteen Stances, The Essentials of Martial Artists, Martial Artists' Ballad, Taiji Combats and Five-Ward Essentials.
As mentioned earlier, the Taiji Quan has health enhancing and disease curing functions. This is largely due to its effect on brain function. Practicing Taiji enables part of the cerebral cortex to enter a protective inhibition so that partial rest is possible while other parts are excited. As a result brain function can improved and rehabilitated through conscientious and protracted exercises and practices of Taiji Quan. Various chronic diseases resulting from the malfunction of the nerve system can thus be cured or ameliorated.