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There are many legends as to who first developed the art of Tai Chi Chuan. As with most legends there is an element of truth and a lot of fiction. One of the most accepted theories as to the origin of this art attributes its beginning to Chang San Fang a Taoist monk who had a background in Shaolin martial arts. One day in the 13th century he saw an altercation between a snake and a crane. Watching the struggle between the two animals he noticed that it was not a battle of strength but a dissolving of the attack that seemed to be the predominant method of defense. We don’t know who won the altercation but we do know that this experience of watching the struggle had a profound effect on the development of this art. Today there are movements within the Tai Chi Chuan like Snake Creeps Down and White Crane Spreading its Wings that reflect this art. Tai Chi Chuan started as a martial art and developed into a very effect means of self defense. Within recorded history the Chen Family in mainland China took the rudimentary movements of Tai Chi Chuan and developed it into art as we know it today.
Up until the 18th century the Chen Family would not teach the art to anyone outside of the family. In the 18th century Yang Lu Chang, who was a servant within the family, surreptitiously learned the art by watching through a hole in the wall. What he saw he practiced. Once he had learned the art he left the family and went to Beijing. He softened the original moves and changed them to suit his ability and then taught anyone who wanted to learn. The art finally became public. Tai Chi Chuan has gone through a number of modifications since it was taken from the Chen Family. Today we still have the Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan. In addition we have Yang Style named after Yang Lu Chang, Wu Style, Hao Style, Sun Style and many other variations.
The movements of Tai Chi Chuan are soft and fluid and follow the concepts of Yin and Yang. Most people study Tai Chi Chuan for its graceful and beautiful movements. It resembles a slow dance and is sometimes referred to as land swimming or shadow boxing. The art is taught in many schools of dance because practice of the movements enhances ones balance. Many students have no interest in the martial art capabilities of the art. It is one of the best exercises for those suffering from arthritis, hypertension, stress related illnesses, degenerative diseases, etc. It can be practiced by anyone, male or female, young or old, short or tall, coordinated or uncoordinated. It is not so important which style of Tai Chi Chuan you study; however, it is important to study from a competent teacher that has at the very least four years of experience. All the instructors at the Integrated Center for Oriental Medicine (Tai Chi Center) have the necessary experience to teach classes. The Tai Chi Chuan program at the center is one of the most well rounded and comprehensive programs in the southwest United States.
Qi Gong which is the cultivation of internal energy goes back thousands of years in Chinese history. It predates Tai Chi Chuan, Pa kua Chang and Hsing-Yi Chuan; however, its concepts in one form or another are used in all three of these arts. There are many different styles of Qi Gong. Practiced on a regular basis Qi Gong will have a profound effect on the physical, mental and spiritual development of anyone regardless of their age. The movements are more static than martial arts. Often one posture will be held for an extended period of time to build up the internal energy. It is easy to learn but the underlying philosophy and cultivation of the Qi (internal energy) is continually developed over a life time. Those that practice Qi Gong have less stress, lower blood pressure, and a greater sense of well being.
Pa Kua Chang is a rather recent creation. Historical records indicate that the founder of this art is Tong Hai Chuan (1796-1880). His grave site is located outside Beijing. Engraved into the large grave stones is a list of his top students and the lineage of succeeding generations of practitioners. Our teacher Grandmaster Lu Hung Bin appears on this list as the fourth generation of practitioners, which makes us the fifth generation of Pa Kua Chang practitioners. Even though there are historical records about Tong Hai Chuan there is no clear cut explanation as to whether he created this art himself or learned it from someone else. One story attributes his learning of this art to an old Taoist monk who lived on a mountain and taught it to him over a period of time. Such stories while interesting to read are often created to add mysticism to the development of the art.
Tai Chi Chuan is characterized by its soft movements that go corner to corner, back and forth, and are circular. Pa Kua Chang enhances this circularity with the circular movements of this martial art done while walking a circle. In essence there is circularity of movement within a circle. The movements of Pa Kua Chang are more demanding than Tai Chi Chuan and there is a definite emphasis placed on the martial arts aspect of the art. It is the perfect art to be learned by those already familiar with another martial art. Major stress is placed on balance and postural alignment to enhance ones internal energy. It is a very close in fighting art that utilizes joint locks, throws and take down techniques. All the techniques are centered around the ability to turn and coil the waist to develop internal energy. Open palm techniques are favored over closed fist techniques.
Hsing-Yi Chuan translates as Mind-Body Boxing. It was initially conceived by General Yeuh Fei (1103-1142) as a method of training his troops for battle. He was legendary in military annals as a superior commander of troops defending the country. The basic movements of Hsing-Yi Chuan consists of five fist forms referred to as the Five Elements. The five elements are metal, water, wood, fire and earth and correspond to the Five Element theory in different aspects of Chinese culture including Chinese Medicine (acupuncture).
Each one of the fists influence one of the other fists and can be used in sequence in an altercation. The basic development of Hsing-Yi Chuan was the five fists forms. The five fists are incorporated into animal styles that mimic the movements and energy of specific animals. Usually there are twelve animals represented in the complete system along with a linking form to help the student understand the principles of the art. Hsing-Yi Chuan is rather simple in its structure, but the simplicity of the movements allows for the development of its tremendous power.