Tai Chi and Five Elements

The Concept of Taijiquan

The word “Tai” (太)meaning “Supreme”, “Ji” (极or Chi) meaning “Boundary” and “Quan” (拳or Chuan) meaning “fist” or “movement”. Together, the term “Taijiquan” meaning a kind of movement to make a power without limit.

Taijiquan, or how some people say Tai Chi Chuan, coming from very old Chinese thinking about world and nature. First time people talk about this in “Yì Jīng” (易经)book, very old book from China, talking about how world change and keep balance. This book, more than 3,000 years old, saying everything always changing but follow rules, and balance is important.

This “Yi Jing” book and ideas inside it, like “Taiji”, “Yin &Yang” (阴阳)and “Five Elements” (五行), very important for Chinese old thinking, like Confucianism and Taoism. Also, these ideas become big part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Long time ago, more than 2,000 years, “Huangdi Neijing” (黄帝内经)book talk first time about “Yin & Yang” and “Five Elements” for human body and health. This book say human body is like small world, need to keep balance of Yin & Yang energy for good health.

Taijiquan history very long, start with Dao-Yin-Shu(导引术)exercise in Han Dynasty (汉朝206 BC to 24 AD). Later, famous doctor Hua Tuo (华佗- 141-208 A.D.) make Wu Qin Xi (五禽戏- Five Animal Play) exercise. This exercise very good for health, make Qi (气)and blood (血)move well, make body strong.

After Song dynasty (宋朝960–1279 A.D.), people start to see Taijiquan like martial art, use soft movements for fight. Modern Taijiquan start in Ming Dynasty (明朝1368-1644 A.D.) by Gen. Wangting Chen (陈王廷1597-1664) in Chen village. He mix martial arts and Yin & Yang and Five Elements ideas. Now we have five main styles of Taijiquan: Chen, Yang, Woo, Sun, and Wu.

All these styles different but all follow same big ideas. They talk about how mind control body, use soft force, move in harmony, make circular movements, and keep flow without stop.

In middle of twentieth century, Taijiquan become very popular in China, especially Yang style because it gentle and smooth. Chinese government make 24 Postures of Taijiquan to help people easy learn and practice for good health. Now many people all over the world practice Taijiquan, not just for fight but for healthy life.

Yin & Yang and Five Elements Theory in Chinese Medicine

The talk about “Yin Jing”, include “Taiji”, “Yin &Yang” (阴阳) and “Five Elements” (五行), give start point for big Chinese thinking like Confucianism and Taoism. Now, these big ideas also very much part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Long, long time ago, first talk about “Yin & Yang” and “Five Elements” with human body and health in “Huangdi Neijing” (黄帝内经)book, also call Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, or “The Classic of Internal Medicine.” This book, more than two thousand years old, very important book for Chinese medicine.

This book written like talk between Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) and his doctor, talk about where diseases come from and how to fix. It say:

– Human body is like small part of bigger world, so how body work follow same rules as all things in world.

– Human body work and shape by two energies, Yin & Yang, they fight but also need each other, can be inside each other too.

– Yin & Yang energy make body keep changing and moving. Any change in body because these two energies play together. So, if body in good balance, mean healthy.

– If balance broken, or Yin & Yang not get along, then body have problems. Eat wrong, live wrong, bad feelings, bad air, and get hurt can make Yin & Yang tired or stuck, make body not work right. So, to keep healthy, need keep Yin & Yang happy and balanced, do things make energies grow good and work right together.

– Keep Yin & Yang energy nice and balanced, very good for body’s health energy (Qi) move well, stop sickness, and best way to make body better.

“Five Elements” talk about world and human made from five stuffs: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Every person like small world, have these five things, they talk and work together, keep balance.

For human body, this idea say all body parts and stuff like five elements. How healthy you are depend on how these elements in body and around body get along. Five Elements idea help understand how body parts talk to each other and how sickness move when one part not work right.

Putting Yin & Yang and Five Elements ideas together, big step in old Chinese thinking. This way of seeing everything, including body, by these two big ideas, shape all Chinese science later, including medicine. This idea of “integration” – putting everything together by Yin-Yang and Five Elements – grow into big system of thinking and doing for health.

The Classic of Internal Medicine book say: “Smart man stop sickness before happen, and stop mess before need clean up.” This big idea for all Chinese medicine. For many hundreds years, idea of stopping sickness before happen, and thinking about why get sick, how to stay healthy, very much part of Chinese people daily life. Eating right, living right, keep feelings good, and doing exercise, not just stop sickness, but also best way to fix health problems.

The Development of Taijiquan

Like many old healing arts in world, Taijiquan start with many myths and stories. History not very clear, but say people start to mix Taiji, Yin & Yang, and Five Elements ideas with exercises for health and fight illness in early western Han Dynasty (汉朝206 BC to 24 AD). One exercise, Dao-Yin-Shu(导引术-the art for make inside energy move better), use many moves like bend, grow, shrink, and stretch with breathe work to make Qi flow better. Few hundred years after, famous doctor Hua Tuo (华佗- 141-208 A.D.), make Wu Qin Xi (五禽戏- Five Animal Play) with moves look like five different animals (tiger – 虎, deer –鹿, bear – 熊, ape –猿 and bird – 鹤) and mix with breathe work. This Five Animal Play very popular for stop disease and make life longer because it very good at make Qi and blood move, feed inside organs and make muscle and bones strong.

Later in Chinese history, people see how soft and easy moves can make mind and body work together, even beat strong outside attack with gentle and round moves. Especially after Song dynasty (宋朝960–1279 A.D.), moves like what we call Taijiquan now start to be seen as inside martial art and get popular in military and among fighters.

Modern Taijiquan really start in late Ming Dynasty (明朝1368-1644 A.D.). Story say, after Gen. Wangting Chen (陈王廷1597-1664) go back to his home place–Chen village in Henan province–he mix martial art with his war experience and Yin & Yang and Five Elements ideas. This make first modern Taijiquan–Chen style Taijiquan (陈式太极拳). First, this style focus on fight, with slow, fast, and strong moves. Every move think about fight. This teach stay in small group for many hundred years. When spread, change into different styles, by different fighters with their own ideas. Now, we have five main Taijiquan styles:

– Chen Style – Wangting Chen (陈王廷1597-1664)

– Yang Style – made by Mr. Luchan Yang (杨露禅1799-1872) from Chen style;

– Woo Style – made by Mr. Yuxing Woo (武禹襄 1812-1880) from Chen and Yang styles;

– Sun Style – made by Mr. Lutang Sun (孙禄堂 1860-1933) from his learn in Chinese inside martial arts like Ba Gua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan and Taijiquan.

– Wu Style – made by Mr. Jianquan Wu (吴鉴泉 1870-1942) from Yang Style.

Even these styles different in how to do, they all follow same big ideas, all Taijiquan people respect them.

Need to say, even new styles change from old Chen style, with Yang style especially, go far from fight use, still, for long time, these new forms keep idea of improve fight skill as main reason to learn and practice Taijiquan, so not all people can learn.

But, even with this history special thing, Taijiquan always good for keep mind and body healthy. By middle of twentieth century, Taijiquan get very popular in all China, especially Yang style because it more gentle, smooth, and moves flow easy, so more people like it.

To help public health with not much resources, new Chinese government decide to make Taijiquan big part of traditional healing arts promotion. In 1956, with Health Ministry ask, based on Yang style, they make a simple Taijiquan form with 24 postures by group of Taijiquan masters. This new Taijiquan form have less moves than old forms and easier for new learners. The 24 Postures Taijiquan very quick become popular in all China and become one of most easy to reach self-healing arts for people of all ages and health levels in all world.

Now, about dozen standard Taijiquan forms, include sword forms, practiced in China and all over world, include United States.


Principles of Taijiquan

Even different Taijiquan styles have different moves, they all share same big rules:

The Mind Commands the Body Movement

Big rule of Taijiquan is all moves start with mind (think hard). When mind quiet, it make connection through lower back with all body and tell body how to move (like give way, change direction, etc.).

With quiet mind lead and hold body moves, body keep very relaxed, no hard muscle, and all body parts, special joints, work together well for do move.

Moving with Calming and Gentle Force

Taijiquan very much say use soft muscle strength for do moves while make body relax, loose, and go down at joints. Right way of relax muscle and not use hard strength when move slow help make body feel and control better (like keep balance), also make energy and blood go around body better, very good for fix body.

Moving with Synchronizing and Harmony

Very important rule in Taijiquan is make body moves work together. When do move, need to make what you think inside (mind want and breathe) match with how body move outside. So, mind and lower back lead, make all body moves work as one, make energy flow together.

Circular Motion and Rounded Posture

Like we say before, Taijiquan come from old Chinese way of see world. This way say all things go round and round, never stop. Circular move make energy flow keep life going.

Taijiquan need all body moves go round, with center at Dan Tian (丹田- a special point in belly). Doing move over and over in circle not just make energy (Qi) move endless inside body, but also bring new heal energy in body.

Flow and Continuality

To follow nature way, where all living things keep their energy going in never-ending circle, Taijiquan moves need to go one into next, keep going without stop, like water flow or clouds move.

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