Do you often see groups of people, young and old, practicing some form of exercise with slow flowing movements in parks? It is a common sight all over the world. The exercise is Tai Chi, and it dates back about 2,500 years to ancient China. You will find it hard to believe, but Tai Chi originated as a form of martial art. Over the years, the Chinese have tweaked the movements and postures of Tai Chi to create a mind-body exercise that combines graceful ballet-like flowing movements, breathing techniques, and meditation.
You know where is Tai Chi from. But do you know the principles of this exercise are also rooted in the philosophy of life prevalent in its place of origin?
The Origin of Tai Chi in China
The movements and postures of Tai Chi derive from several exercise systems in ancient China.
The ancient Chinese people felt a deep connection with Nature and sought inspiration and answers from Her creations. Hua-tu’o, a physician who lived during the period of the Three Kingdoms (220 A.D.-265 A.D.), believed that one could keep away illnesses and live a long, healthy life by exercising regularly. He developed a system of exercises called Wu-chi chih hsi that imitated the movements of the tiger, deer, ape, bear, and birds and exercised all the joints in the body. Tai Chi owes its origins to this system.
During 6th century A.D., Ta Mo or Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, developed the Eighteen Form Lohan Exercise system at the Shao-Lin Monastery. Some movements of this exercise system focused on energizing the mind and the body by activating the vital life force or the qi. These movements went on to form the basis of Tai Chi.
The nature of the movements and postures in all the above forms of exercise systems embody various principles of Taoism, a dominant philosophy of living in China.
Chang San-feng, a monk at the Wu Tang Monastery, is believed to be the founder of Tai Chi as we recognize it today. Drawing on the rich lineage of the exercise systems developed by his predecessors, Chang San-feng created the thirteen fundamental exercises of Tai Chi that concentrated on vitalizing the qi. According to Chang San-feng, these exercises aimed to harmonize the body and the mind and embodied the Yin-Yang balance principle of Taoism. Historians disagree on the dates of these developments, but it is believed that Chang San-feng lived between 1391 and 1459.
Wang Chung-yueh stringed together the thirteen exercises developed by Chang San-feng to create the continuous flowing movements of contemporary Tai Chi Chuang, a specific style of Tai Chi. His student Chiang Fa is believed to have started the first school to teach Tai Chi Chuang. Students of this school went on to develop the different styles of Tai Chi, like Yang, Wu, Zhao Bao, Hu Lei, Hao, and the variants of the Tao Chi Chuan style.
When you know where is Tai Chi from, it is easy to recognize and appreciate the Chinese socio-cultural influences in this mind-body exercise system. Tai Chi is rooted in an ancient belief system that aimed to harmonize and heal the body, mind, and spirit. It is no surprise that this ancient form of exercise has more relevance in today’s times than ever before.
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