Tai Chi Ch'uan is a sophisticated and supremely effective martial art that aims to improve concentration as well as mental and physical efficiency. Its main objective is to achieve good robust health, peace of mind and longevity. Tai Chi Ch'uan is played slowly and calmly in order to develop balanced relaxation, supple coordination and expression of the Tai Chi philosophy of Yin and Yang, the harmony of complementary, opposite forces.
The Tao - the Way of Nature - teaches that the nature of the universe, and all aspects of it, is based on the unchanging within the changing. It suggests that the universe is composed of two opposing but complementary forces, the Yin and the Yang. Yin is passive, empty, cold, still, resting, negative and so on. Yang is active, moving, full, hot, working, positive etc. Yin and yang are continuously interacting in harmony with each other, thus bringing about the constant change seen throughout the Universe.
When yin and yang are separated in action as one they create a state of perfect harmony. This state of dynamic equilibrium is 'Tai Chi.' The Tai Chi symbol shows yin and yang united in the circle of infinity. There is always a little of the other present in each force.
According to the principles in 'The Tai Chi Classics', 'Tai Chi' literally means 'great or supreme ultimate', and is an ancient Chinese Taoist philosophical term whose origin stretches back some 4,000 years. The ancient Chinese book of philosophy the I Ching or Book of Changes expresses the Tai Chi as 'the natural way.'
'Chu'an' literally means fist, boxing, movement, Chi control. All together, Tai Chi Ch'uan is therefore the physical expression of yin and yang moving with each other. It has been compared to a river, because of its flowing movements, and it has also sometimes been called 'long boxing'.
The whole series of Tai Chi Ch'uan movements is known as the 'form'. This stretches back a thousand years. The history is that during the Sung dynasty of China, a Taoist monk called Chang San Feng watched a fight between a white crane and a snake. The bird stabbed with its beak but the snake's flowing, harmonising movements neutralised the bird's aggression. The snake darted at the crane, only to be warded off by the crane's wings.
This inspired Chang San Feng to develop a system of relaxed movements and postures based on yielding to force, and finding strength through softness. The system was designed to cultivate Chi, or internal energy, to promote health, longevity and peace of mind. It is classed as an internal or 'soft' martial art, where the strength comes from within, rather than from external force.
Over the years, different styles of Tai Chi Ch'uan developed. More than a hundred years ago, Wu Chuan Yau, an officer in the Imperial Guard in Beijing, and his son, Wu Chien Chuan, pioneered the Wu style. This is more streamlined than other styles, with a narrower circle and an emphasis on the benefit of the movements and postures for self-defence.
The history of the development of the Wu style of Tai Chi Ch'uan is given in great detail on the Wu Style webpage of the Toronto Academy.