Taiji Quan, also known as shadowboxing, is a major division of Chinese martial art. Taiji Quan means "supreme ultimate fist". Tai means "Supreme", Ji means "Ultimate", and Quan means "Fist".
There have been different sayings about the origin of Taiji Quan. The traditional legend goes that the wise man Zhang Sanfeng of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) created Taiji Quan after he had witnessed a fight between a sparrow and a snake; while most people agreed that the modern Taiji Quan originated from Chen style Taiji Quan, which first appeared during the 19th century in the Daoguang Reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Taiji Quan has its philosophical roots in Taoism and is considered as an internal martial art, utilizing the internal energy, or Qi, and following the simple principle of "subduing the vigorous by the soft". Taoism is the oldest philosophy of China which is represented by the famous symbol of the Yin and Yang which expresses the continuous flow of Qi in a circular motion that generates two opposite forces, plus and minus, which interact and balance with each others to bring existence to the physical and metaphysical world.
The most famous forms of Taiji Quan practiced today are the Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu and Sun styles. All the five styles can be traced back to Chen style Taiji Quan. According to historical records, Taiji Quan was founded by Chen Wangting (1597-1664), who lived in Chen Village, today's Henan Province in China. Based on the Chen style and created by Yang Luchan, a Hebei native of the Qing Dynasty, the Yang style is now the most popular style worldwide. The Woo Style is based on the Chen and Yang styles and created by Woo Yuxing.
The Sun style is derived from Chen and Woo styles and created by Sun Lutang. The Sun style is a combination of the more famous internal Chinese martial art forms of Ba Gua, Xing Yi and Taiji. The Wu style is based on Chen and Yang styles it was created by Wu Jianquan.
Nowadays, when most people talk about Taiji Quan, they are usually referring to the Yang style, which has already spread throughout the world and is practiced by millions of people.
Tai Ji is originated from Infinity. It is the basis for all movement and stillness. It is the originator of the Two Extremes (Yin and Yang).
Tai Ji was formed from Infinity by separating Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are the equal and opposite pair. Sometimes Yin stands for female and Yang stands for male. In Tai Ji, Yin represents stillness and Yang represents movement. The workings of the universe is based upon Yin and Yang.
In Tai Ji, there is stillness in movement and movement in stillness. The two are interconnected and should not be separated. Internal power is through control of the mind. Concentration of mind moves the internal energy prior to any external movement.
Tai Ji Quan is not simply the exercise for elderly, which is perhaps what is known to Westerners. It is in fact a combination of Yin and Yang, Tai Ji and Infinity. It is an art requiring perfect control of mind. It integrates stillness and movement, from external to internal, from movement to stillness, from elementary to advanced, and merging stillness with movement. Tai Ji Quan not only directs internal power to external movements, it combines the mind with breathing, resulting in good health and an art of combat applications.
There are 13 postures (8 hand/arm movements and 5 body movements) in Tai Ji. The 8 hand/arm movements: Beng, Lu, Ji, An, Zai, Lie, Zhou, and Gao. In simplified terms, they mean: ward off, pull back, push, press, oblique turning, twist, elbow strike, and shoulder strike. The 5 body movements are directional. They are: advance, retreat, shift to the left, shift to the right and stable equilibrium. The 13 postures are based on the 8 trigrams and 5 elements. Requirements include relaxing, body coordination, concentration of mind, and stillness in movement.
Tai Ji is a stepping-stone to Daoism. In Daoism, one has to train one’s behavior and mind. It is important to keep a peaceful mind. Through meditation, combining Yin and Yang, and stillness in movement, the internal power will flow through the whole body achieving the ultimate aim.