THE DEVELOPMENT AND EVOLUTION OF TAIJIQUAN
What then is the real origin of TAIJIQUAN? From available historical data, it appears that TAIJIQUAN was first devised in Chen Jiagou from Wenxian County in Henan Province, some 300 years ago in the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties. Among the representative figures who made outstanding contributions was Chen Wangting, a garrison commander in Wenxian County, In subsequent years foreign invasions and domestic peasant uprisings stimulated the diffusion of martial arts among the people, by which time a new form of boxing had evolved. While previous boxing styles emphasised quick movements and strong, vigorous punches, this new style followed the principle of 'subduing the vigorous by the soft,' 'adapting oneself to the style of others' and 'overcoming a weight of 1,000 catties by four ounces.' In general, some movements were energetic while others were gentle, some rapid while others slow, and one movement followed another in uninterrupted rhythmic harmony, like a flowing stream. As this style of boxing consisted of eight primary hand postures and five major changeable postures, it was initially called '13 Forms.' Furthermore, as this series was also often very long, like an endless flow of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River, it was also called CHANGQUAN (Long Boxing).
From the age-old boxing manuals of 13 Forms and Changquan, many of which have been well preserved, it can be seen that much of their content wassimilar to the QIJANJING (Boxing Text) written by Qi Jiguang (1528-1587), a famous general of the Ming Dynasty, who had collected and collated 16 boxing styles. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that this new boxing style was evolved by assimilating selected aspects of styles popular among the people.
Late in the 18th century, a teacher and great master of martial arts Qang Zongyue systematically summed up this new boxing style and related his findings to the classic Chinese philosophy of 'YIN and YANG' (meaning the two opposing principles in nature, the former feminine and negative, the latter masculine and positive). In his book, boxing was given the formal name of 'TAIJIQUAN'.
Up until 100 years ago, TAIJIQUAN was practised mainly in the countryside of Henan Province. In 1852, Yang Luchan (1799-1872) of Hebei Provlnce brought TAIJIQUAN with him to Beijing and thereafter it spread rapidly throughout China.
In the past century, TAIJIQUAN underwent even more changes with its movements tending to be more relaxed, smooth, even and graceful like floating clouds and flowing streams. Many explosive strength moves disappeared, as did excessive foot stamping. As a result, TAIJIQUAN became popular with men and women, young and old alike, increasing attention was also paid to the health building and therapeutic value of TAIJIQUAN during this period.
In the process of its development, TAIJIQUAN gradually evolved into many different styles. Among them the YANG school was most popular. Systematised by Yang Chengfu (1883-1936), grandson of Yang Luchan, its main characteristic features were: extended and natural postures, slow and even motions, light and steady movements, and curved, flowing lines of performance. The Yang school was given the name 'DA JIA ('big frame').
The school with the longest history was the CHEN. Retaining the old-styled practice which was popular in Ghenjiagou, Henan Province, this style contained vigorous as well as gentle movements. With jumps leaps and explosions of strength, the performance followed a circular path. The Chen school was known by the name 'DAO JIA' ('old frame').
Yet another style - WU ( ), known as 'ZHONG JIA' ('medium frame') - was popularised by Wu Jianquan (1870-1942), a follower of Yang Luchan. With moderate postures and well-knit lithe movements, its actions also followed a circular path.
A further WU ( ) school, also referred to as the HAO style, was established by Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880), a fellow villager of Yang Luchan. This branch of Taijiquan was disseminated and popularised by Hao Weizhen (1849-1920), a follower of Wu Yuxiang. The main characteristic feature of the Hao style is that it consists of a well-knit series of forms, with simple, quick and short-range movements mostly involving the opening and closing of the arms - giving rise to the name 'XIAO JIA' ('small frame').
The SUN school of Taijiquan was developed by Sun Lutang (1861-1932). Originally a pupil of Hao Weizhen, Sun created a style of his own with dextrous and nimble movements performed at a quick temp and with lively footwork - which gave rise to the name 'HUOBU JIA' ('lively pace frame').
These five schools are the major forms of TAIJIQUAN (naturally there are subdivisions under each school). Although each of the five has characteristic features of its own, they share the following essentials: ·
First, the body is naturally extended and relaxed, giving priority to lissomness. While exercising, performers must keep their trunk straight, move them with ease and lightness, and hold them steady throughout. Some classic treatises have described their motions thus: 'While making a strike, it is as quietly as a cat walks,' and 'while putting forth strength, the exertion is so mild that it looks like reeling off raw silk from a cocoon ! The movements, like clouds floating in the sky, are spry and light, but well balanced and steady. Motion is even and fluid, the muscle neither stiff nor rigid. Breathing should be deep and even, and well coordinated with opening and closing movements. While practising TAIJIQUAN, the requirement of lissomness and naturalness does not mean that the performance can be loose and lifeless. Rather, it is vital to combine vigour and gentleness, and properly put forth strength - neither inertness nor rigidity is allowed. ·
Secondly, the mind is tranquil but alert, with consciousness commanding the body. In practising TAIJIQUAN, it is essential that movements be guided by consciousness and that there be stillness in movement - a unity of stillness and motion. So, TAIJIQUAN requires a combination of training one's physique, one’s will and one’s breathing. As a high degree of concentration is emphasised quality movements are ensured and physiological functions are regulated. That is why some people like TAIJIQUAN to 'physical exercises of consciousness' or therapeutic barehanded exercises.' ·
Thirdly, body movements are well co-ordinated throughout the entire exercise period. TAIJIQUAN requires that the hands, eyes, body and limbs perform as a whole, with the legs as a base and the waist as the axis. Though the movements are gentle and slow, each part of the body is in constant motion. Performers should never act like a puppet; they must never focus their attention only on the hands while neglecting the movements of the waist and legs. In fact, while practising TAIJIQUAN, the main weight-bearing parts are the waist and legs. The chief characteristic feature of TAIJIQUAN is that movement is initiated from a half squatting position through the exercise.
After the founding of New China, TAIJIQUAN has undergone unprecedented development. Physical culture workers and medical personnel in China have collected and studied various schools of TAIJIQUAN and special hanging charts, books and musical compositions have been published. In 1956, a simplified set of TAIJIQUAN based on the most popular sequences of the YANG School was issued. This series consists of 24 forms which progress logically from the easy to the difficult, and take five minutes to complete. This 'SIMPLIFIED TAIJIQUAN' has proved to be a great stimulus to the popularisation of the sport. Not long ago, the specialists compiled a comprehensive '48 Forms' and a '66 Forms' to suit different individuals. More demanding and varied in content, these new sets of TAIJIQUAN include several traditional items of dual training, such as hand pushing and counter-pushing, sword fencing and combat with other weapons. All these have brought about a resurgent interest in TAIJIQUAN both in China and abroad.