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Taijiquan Overview

Taijiquan (Chinese: 太極拳; simplified Chinese: 太极拳; pinyin: tài jí quán; Wade-Giles: t'ai4 chi2 ch'üan2) is classified as Wudangquan or an internal martial art.

Most styles of Taijiquan trace their development to one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun.

Taijiquan literally translates as "supreme ultimate fist", "boundless fist," or "great extreme boxing". The concept of the "supreme ultimate" appears in both Daoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy where it represents the fusion of Yin and Yang into a single ultimate represented by the Taijitu symbol. Thus, taijiquan theory and practice evolved in agreement with many of the principles of Chinese philosophy including both Daoism and Confucianism.

Taijiquan training first and foremost involves learning solo routines, known as forms (套路 taolu). These include both fast & slow forms. There are also partner exercises known as push-hands, and martial applications of the postures of the form.

Taijiquan is generally classified as a Neijia (soft or internal) martial art. It is considered a soft style martial art — an art applied with internal power — to distinguish its theory and application from that of the hard martial art styles. The physical techniques of taijiquan are characterized by the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination in relaxation, rather than muscular tension, in order to neutralize or initiate attacks.

The study of taijiquan includes three aspects:

* Health: An unhealthy or otherwise uncomfortable person may find it difficult to meditate to a state of calmness or to use taijiquan as a martial art. Taijiquan's health training therefore concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind. For those focused on martial application, good physical fitness is an important step towards effective self-defense.
* Meditation: The focus and calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of taijiquan is seen as necessary in maintaining optimum health (in the sense of relieving stress and maintaining homeostasis) and in the application of the form as a soft style martial art.
* Martial art: The ability to use taijiquan as a form of self-defense in combat is said to be the most effective proof of a student's understanding of the art's principles. The study of taijiquan martially is the study of appropriate change in response to outside forces; the study of yielding and blending with outside force rather than attempting to meet it with opposing force.

History and Styles

There are five major styles of tai chi chuan, each named after the family from which it originated:

* Chen style (陳氏)
* Yang style (楊氏)
* Wu or Wu/Hao style of Wu Yuxiang (Wu Yu-hsiang) (武氏)
* Wu style of Wu Quanyuo (Wu Ch'uan-yü) and Wu Jianquan (Wu Chien-ch'uan) (吳氏)
* Sun style (孫氏)

The order of verifiable age is as listed above.

The order of popularity (in terms of number of practitioners) is Yang, Wu, Chen, Sun, and Wu/Hao.

The first five major family styles share much underlying theory, but differ in their approaches to training.

There are now dozens of new styles, hybrid styles and offshoots of the main styles, but the five family schools are the groups recognised by the international community as being orthodox. Zhaobao Taijiquan, a close cousin of Chen style, has been newly recognised by Western practitioners as a distinct style.

The designation internal or nei chia martial arts is also used to broadly distinguish what are known as the external or wai jia styles based on the Shaolinquan styles, although that distinction is sometimes disputed by modern schools. In this broad sense, all styles of taijiquan (as well as related arts such as Bagua Zhang and Xingyi Quan) are therefore considered to be "soft" or "internal" martial arts.

Training and techniques

As the name "Taiji quan" is held to be derived from the Taiji symbol (taijitu or t'ai chi t'u, 太極圖), commonly known in the West as the "yin-yang" diagram, Taijiquan is therefore said in literature preserved in its oldest schools to be a study of yin (receptive) and yang (active) principles, using terminology found in the Chinese classics, especially the Book of Changes and the Dao De Jing.

The core training involves two primary features: the first being the solo form (ch'üan or quán, 拳), a slow sequence of movements which emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing and a natural range of motion; the second being different styles of pushing hands (tui shou, 推手) for training movement principles of the form in a more practical way.

The solo form should take the students through a complete, natural range of motion over their center of gravity. Accurate, repeated practice of the solo routine is said to retrain posture, encourage circulation throughout the students' bodies, maintain flexibility through their joints and further familiarize students with the martial application sequences implied by the forms.

The major traditional styles of Taijiquan have forms which differ somewhat cosmetically, but there are also many obvious similarities which point to their common origin. The solo forms, empty-hand and weapon, are catalogs of movements that are practiced individually in pushing hands and martial application scenarios to prepare students for self-defense training.

The philosophy of the style is that if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certain to be injured at least to some degree. Such injury, according to taijiquan theory, is a natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force. Instead, students are taught not to directly fight or resist an incoming force, but to meet it in softness and follow its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, meeting yang with yin. Done correctly, this yin/yang or yang/yin balance in combat, or in a broader philosophical sense, is a primary goal of tai chi chuan training. Lao Zi provided the archetype for this in the Dao De Jing when he wrote, "The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong."

Taijiquan's martial aspect relies on sensitivity to the opponent's movements and center of gravity dictating appropriate responses. Effectively affecting or "capturing" the opponent's center of gravity immediately upon contact is trained as the primary goal of the martial taijiquan student. The sensitivity needed to capture the center is acquired over thousands of hours of first yin (slow, repetitive, meditative, low impact) and then later adding yang ("realistic," active, fast, high impact) martial training; forms, pushing hands and sparring.

Taijiquan trains in three basic ranges, close, medium and long, and then everything in between. Pushes and open hand strikes are more common than punches, and kicks are usually to the legs and lower torso, never higher than the hip depending on style. The fingers, fists, palms, sides of the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, back, hips, knees and feet are commonly used to strike, with strikes to the eyes, throat, heart, groin and other acupressure points trained by advanced students. Joint traps, locks and breaks (chin na) are also used. Most Taijiquan teachers expect their students to thoroughly learn defensive or neutralizing skills first, and a student will have to demonstrate proficiency with them before offensive skills will be extensively trained. There is also an emphasis in the traditional schools that one is expected to show wu de (武德), martial virtue.

In addition to the physical form, Taijiquan schools also focus on how the energy of a strike effects the other person. Palm strikes that physically look the same may be performed in such a way that it has a completely different effect on the target's body. A palm strike could simply push the person forward, be focused in such a way as lift them vertically off the ground breaking their center of gravity, or terminate the force of the strike within the other person's body with the intent of causing internal damage.

Other training exercises include:

* Weapons training and fencing applications employing the straight sword known as the jian or chien or gim (jiàn 劍), a heavier curved sabre, sometimes called a broadsword or tao (dāo 刀, which is actually considered a big knife), folding fan also called san, wooden staff (2 m) known as kun (棍), 7 foot (2 m) spear and 13 foot (4 m) lance (both called qiāng 槍). More exotic weapons still used by some traditional styles are the large Dadao (大刀) and Pudao or (撲刀) sabres, halberd (jǐ 戟), cane, rope-dart, three sectional staff, Wind and fire wheels, lasso, whip, chain whip and steel whip.
* Two-person tournament sparring (as part of push hands competitions and/or sanshou 散手);
* Breathing exercises; nei gong (內功 nèigōng) or, more commonly, qigong (氣功 qìgōng) to develop qi ,ch'i (氣 qì) or "breath energy" in coordination with physical movement and post standing or combinations of the two. These were formerly taught only to disciples as a separate, complementary training system. In the last 50 years they have become better known to the general public.

List of Taijiquan forms, postures, movements, or positions in order of number of forms:

Hand forms

* 4 - Chen 4 Step is a subset of Chen Old Frame One (Grandmaster Zhu Tian Cai)
* 8 - Yang Standardized
* 8 - Chen Standardized
* 9 - Chen Old Frame (Master Liu Yong)
* 10 - Yang
* 12 - Yang
* 13 - Chen (aka Five Element Chen) subset of either Old Frame One or Small Frame (Grandmaster Zhu Tian Cai)
* 13 - Dong Yue (East Mountain) Combined
* 13 - Wudang (Zhang SanFeng - Wudang Nei Jia Quan) - Shi San Shi
* 16 - Yang Standardized
* 16 - Chen Standardized
* 16 - Actually Chen 4 Step (see above) popularly repeated in four directions of the compass (Grandmaster Zhu Tian Cai)
* 18 - Chen (Grandmaster Chen Zheng Lei)
* 18 - Wudang (Zhang SanFeng - simplified new form)
* 19 - Chen (Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang)
* 20 - 5 Section Taijiquan (Yang Simplified)
* 20 - 5 Section Chen Taijiquan (Chen Simplified)
* 20 - Simplified form of Chen Xiaojia (Small frame of Chen T'ai Chi Ch'uan)
* 24 - Yang ('Simplified', 'Beijing', 'New Style') Standardized
* 24 - Chen Shi (Chen style) Xinyi Hunyuan Taijiquan (24 Form by Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang)
* 24 - Zhao Bao
* 24 - Jingquanshitaijiquan (24 Forms - T'ien Ti Tao/Tiandidao)
* 28 - Wudang Taiji
* 32 - Combined Form
* 32 - Chen Standardized "Fist" (New Frame)
* 34 - Wudang short
* 35 - Sun Standardized Short
* 36 - Chen Standardized (New Frame)
* 36 - Fu style short form tai chi ch'uan
* 37 - Yang (Zheng, Cheng Man-ch'ing) Short
* 38 - Chen (Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang)
* 39 - Chen (Old frame 39)
* 39 - Chen (New frame 39)
* 40 - Yang competition
* 40 - Sun Family Modern Short Form
* 40 - Jingquanshitaijiquan (40 Steps or 24 Forms - T'ien Ti Tao/Tiandidao)
* 42 - Chen (Old form cannon fist)
* 42 - Combined Style Competition Form
* 42 - Sun Traditional Short
* 43 - Yang (Jiang Yu Kun)
* 43 - Zhao Bao
* 46 - Yang Competition
* 46 - Wu competition
* 48 - Chen Shi (Chen style) Xinyi Hunyuan Taijiquan (48 Form by Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang)
* 49 - Yang Demo/Family competition
* 49 - Wu (Hao) short form
* 50 - Li short form
* 53 - Fu style advanced tai chi
* 54 - Wu Jianquan family (Wu Daxin) competition form
* 56 - Chen Competition
* 56 - Zhao Bao
* 64 - Yang (Kuang Ping style)
* 66 - Combined Standardized (Lost, original content unknown)
* 67 - 67 movements Combined Tai-Chi Chuan form
* 67 - Fu style tai chi lightning palm
* 67 - Hwa Yu T'ai Chi Long Form
* 72 - Chen (New Form Cannon Fist)
* 72 - Huang Sheng Shyan Form
* 73 - Sun Competition
* 74 - Chen (Old Frame, First Routine, Lao Jia Yi Lu)
* 81 - Wu (Hao) Old Form
* 81 - Chen Style, First Routine (Chen Fake - Hong Junsheng)
* 83 - Chen New Form (Chen Village)
* 88 - Yang Standardized (which appears to differ slightly from traditional forms of similar length)
* 96 - Wu (Hao) long form
* 97/98 - Sun Traditional Long
* 103 - Yang long form (The moves can also add up to 85, 88, 108 or 150 depending on how they are counted.)
* 105 - Fu style Tai Chi Ch'uan
* 108 - Taoist Tai Chi form
* 108 - Chen
* 108 - Wu Jianquan long form
* 119 - Wudang long
* 120 - Tchoung_Ta-chen - Annotated Form
* 140 - Li form
* 229 - Tchoung_Ta-chen - Long Form

There are also many variations of qigong (ch'i kung) forms associated with different schools.

Weapon forms

* 13 - Dong Yue (East Mountain) Combined Sword
* 13 - Wu Jianquan Spear (3.5 meter cavalry lance)
* 16 - Yang Standardized Sword
* 16 - Yang/Combined Standardized Spear
* 13 - Yang Broadsword (Dao)
* 18 - Chen 'Health' Standardized Sword
* 23 - Chen Broadsword
* 24 - Wu Jianquan Spear (2.5 meter infantry spear)
* 27 - 5 Section solo Taijijian
* 32 - Yang/Combined Sword
* 36 - Chen Shi (Chen Style) Xinyi Hun Yuan broadsword
* 40 - Chen Broadsword
* 48 - Chen Shi (Chen Style) Xinyi Hun Yuan sword
* 49 - Chen Sword
* 54 - Yang Sword
* 56 - Fu style tai chi seven star sword
* 62 - Chen Single Sword
* 64 - 5 Section 2 person Taijijian
* 92 - Wudang Single Sword
* 108 - Wu Jianquan Sabre (Dao)
* 108 - Wu Jianquan Sword (Jian)

 

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