To this day, there are two beliefs on the origin of Tai Chi Chuan. The first, more legendary origin, believes that Tai Chi Chuan was created by an immortal taoist priest on Wudang Mountain. This priest’s name is Chang San Feng (also spelled as Zhang San Feng) and supposedly lived during the Yuan and Ming Dynasty (1279 – 1644 A.D.). He was said to have seen a snake and a crane battle and then noticed that the crane was not able to kill the snake because of it’s round movements and retaliation.
Tai Chi Chuan is thought of as a formidable martial art operating on several levels of awareness. It embodies Taoist Philosophy, and accordingly is extremely beneficial to good health.
There exists a long history of movement and exercise systems which are associated with Taoism. In some sense one can see elements of all of these as contributing to the climate from which Tai Chi Chuan emerged. There is, moreover, a long tradition of Taoist monks practicing exercises. Some of these were referred to as tai-yin or Taoist Breathing. Exactly what these were and what their origins were is obscure but they are mentioned in Chinese chronicles as early as 122 B.C. Then in the sixth century A.D. Bodihdharma (called Damo in Chinese) came to the Shaolin Temple Monastery and, seeing that the monks were in poor physical condition from too much meditation and too little exercise, introduced his Eighteen Form Lohan Exercise. This approach gave rise to the Wei Chia or ‘outer-extrinsic’ forms of exercise. Later in the fifteenth century A.D. the purported founder of Tai Chi Chuan, the monk Chang San feng, was honoured by the Emperor Ying- tsung with the title of chen-jen, or ‘spiritual man who has attained the Tao and is no longer ruled by what he sees, hears or feels.’ This indicates that already at this time there was a close association between the philosophy of Taoism and the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. In the Ming dynasty (14th to 17th centuries), Wang Yang Ming a leading philosopher preached a philosophy which was a mixture of Taoism and Chan Buddhism which had certain associations with movement systems. In any event the principles of yielding, softness, centeredness, slowness, balance, suppleness and rootedness are all elements of Taoist philosophy that Tai Chi Chuan has drawn upon in its understanding of movement, both in relation to health and also in its martial applications.
Tai Chi Chuan, now, is a comprehensive series of gentle physical movements, and breathing techniques, with mental and spiritual intent, which allows you to experience a meditative state. This ancient, yoga-like Chinese system of ballet-like exercises is designed for health, self-defence, and spiritual development. It is calming and rejuvenating, and assists the body and mind to maintain balance, and exercises the body, mind and spirit, together with the internal organs. It includes both the inner and outer expressions of the body and mind. Here we are able to balance the Yin and Yang life force energy of Chi. Practicing Tai Chi Chuan supposedly facilitates the flow of chi (“life energy”) through the body by dissolving blockages both within the body and between the body and the environment. In this way this system develops the ability to balance the “yielding and attacking” aspects in martial art combat. It has also been such a major influence in all the martial arts we see today.