HISTORY OF TAI CHI CH'UAN
Tai Chi Ch'uan (also spelled Taijiquan) translates to "Supreme Ultimate" or "Undifferentiated reality" for Tai Chi, and "Fist/Boxing" for Ch'uan (in boxing the Chinese understand a broader and deeper fighting art than the term implies in the West). Along with Bagua and Xing-Yi, Tai Chi is one of three fighting arts that are classified together as applications of internal kungfu. By internal, we mean that the art develops inner strength through the careful attention to internal sensations and linkages, and to their causes. This is in contrast to developing muscular strength, toughening the outer body, and learning set techniques, as in the external martial arts. Central to these interal styles is the development of Qi (also spelled Chi, though not the same word in Chinese as the Chi in Tai Chi), which can be tought of as a form of internal energy. This internal energy makes possible all the activities of the body and mind, from blood circulation to movement to thought and to everything in between.
The history of Tai Chi proper begins with the founding of the art that became known as Chen style. Like many Chinese martial arts, the exact history of Chen style has a few variations, but the most commonly mentioned traces the origin to Chen Chang Xin, of the Chen village in Wen County, Henan, China. As a member of the Chen family, Chang Xin had been taught the family's Pao Chui style of boxing when he met and later trained under Jiang Fa, whose master was Wang Tsung Yueh and who's linage can be traced back to the Wudang Internal Boxing sstyle founded by Chang San Feng, a Taoist residing on Wu Dang Mountain. Wu Dang is one of the 3 'holy mountains' in China, and the style of boxing developed there was second in popularity only to the kung fu developed near mount Song by the Shaolin temple. Wudang-style boxing contained a much more internal focus than did Shaolin, and it fit well with Chen's Pao Chui style boxing. Over many years, Chen Chang Xin created the style that would become known as Chen Tai Chi (though the term Tai Chi would not be coined for years to come).
YANG STYLE TAI CHI CH'UAN
Taijiquan first became a noted martial art through the prowess and teachings of the founder of the Yang style, Yang Lu Chan. It was largely through the efforts of the first three generations of the Yang family that Taijiquan has such a large following in the word today. Additionally, the Yang lineage resulted in three of the five most important schools of Taijiquan today.
The son of a poor farmer, Yang Lu Chan loved martial arts and had studied Shaolin Hung Quan with a local boxer and built up a good martial arts foundation. By chance one day he witnessed an encounter between a shopkeeper and an unruly customer. The customer attacked the shop assistant, who was a member of the Chen family, and was rewarded for his efforts by being knocked out the door of the shop. Yang Lu Chan had never seen such an effortless repost before and enquired, seeking instruction in this superior martial art. Chen De Hu, the shop assistant, disavowed any great knowledge. At the time, the Chen family was very protective about their martial arts, and only family members were ever taught. Chen De instead wrote a letter recommending Yang Lu Chan as a servant to work for the family so that Yang could learn their martial arts.
Yang traveled to the Chen home and worked there as a servant. As an outsider, Yang was not allowed to learn the Chen martial arts, and was instead instructed in more traditional arts by Chen Chang Xin. As a servant he was also instructed not to go into the back courtyard for any reason. Yang felt that this was strange but thought nothing of it. One hot and humid night, Yang could not sleep and got up and went for a walk. As he walked about the house, he heard strange noises coming from the back courtyard. Not able to go into the courtyard, he went around the wall surrounding it and found a small hole in the wall, large enough for him to peer through and see what was happening. Inside the court, he witnessed Chen Chang Xin instructing a group of students on martial arts and breathing techniques. Excited, Yang watched attentively and then proceeded to practice what he saw alone when he had the spare time.
Yang continued his learning and practice in secret for some time. Then one day, some of Chen Chang Xin's students were practicing and they made some mistakes. Without thinking, Yang corrected them, not knowing that Chen was nearby watching. Chen was surprised that Yang knew his art and asked him to explain how he learnt it. Being honest, Yang told Chen how he had come to learn the art. Chen then asked Yang to demonstrate all that he had learnt. After Yang's demonstration, he sighed that Yang, who did not receive formal instruction but learnt by watching, had learnt more than his students and agreed to accept Yang as a student.
Yang continued to train for many years under Chen's tutelage before returing to Yung Nien where he taught martial arts for a living. Years later, when Yang was in his middle age, he was recommended to teach in the Imperial Court by one of his students, Wu Yu Xiang (who later founded the Wu Yu Xiang form of Tai Chi). Here in the Imperial Court he was tested many times but never defeated, earning him the prestigious title 'Yang the Invincible' and introducing Tai Chi to the public in increasing popularity.
It was during this time that the scholar Ong Tong witnessed Yang and wrote a verse to express what he saw:
'Hands holding Taiji shakes the whole world,
a chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heroes.'
Thereafter, the art was referred to as Taijiquan.