What is Tai Chi Chuan?

Tai Chi Chuan (tàijíquán) is a centuries-old Chinese martial art that according to some records dates back as far as 2,500 years.

‘Tai Chi’ (Taiji) can be literally translated as ‘supreme ultimate’ refering to the absolute principle of duality or opposites which governs the nature of the basic energies of the Universe as commonly symbolised in the image of the Yin Yang.

‘Chuan’ (Quán) translates as fist or method therefore ‘Tai Chi Chuan’ is the (boxing) method of using or moving in harmony with this absolute principle of ‘yin and yang’.

In practice Tai Chi Chuan is an exercise for the body and mind, offering a way to achieve a state of natural relaxation. As a Spiritual practice the sense of inner peace and calm Tai Chi nurtures provides a way (Tao/ Dao) of deepening our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. Practised as a martial art Tai Chi Chuan encourages us to harmonise when dealing with all kinds of conflict situations in our efforts to find the most appropriate response.

The Form

Tai Chi Chuan is normally taught as a sequence of movements called a Form. The people that you see exercising in a slow, graceful manner in parks throughout China, and increasingly throughout the world, are generally practicing Tai Chi Chuan. It involves a series of postures linked by these flowing body movements and is practised with a minimum use of physical strength and the quality of awareness one would afford a meditation.

Styles of Tai Chi Chuan

There are a number of different styles of Tai Chi Chuan taught in the west including Wu style, Chen style and Yang style, from which the Cheng Man-ching form we practise is derived. The number and sequence of postures (literally the ‘form’ the style takes) differs between schools (even schools studying the same style). Physically, the form fosters in it’s students improved balance, flexibility and strength, exercising and awakening an awareness of the body’s intrinsic energy known as Chi. In addition to Form most schools practise Push Hands, where students strive to apply the principles of Tai Chi Chuan in relation to another person’s energy, developing sensitivity in our approach to others. In common with the form there is great variation in the approach to push hands between schools and each style has its own emphasis.

Professor Cheng Man-ching

The style of Tai Chi Chuan we practise at Autumn River Tai Chi was developed by Professor Cheng Man-ching, revered as one of the great modern masters of the art. ‘The Professor’ studied the art for six years under Yang Cheng-fu, one of the grandsons of Yang Lu-chan, the founder of Yang style Tai Chi. He modified the original Yang style to make it more accessible by reducing the number postures from 108 to 37 by removing many of the repetitions contained in the ‘Long Form’. It is significant however that Cheng Man-ching always rejected the title “Yang-style Short Form” for his Tai Chi Chuan preferring instead “Yang-style t’ai chi in 37 Postures.”

As a martial artist Cheng Man-ching was regarded as a master and despite his diminutive stature considered almost undefeatable. As a younger man he accepted and prevailed in many challenges from other martial artists as was customary at that time. However Professor Cheng always regarded the health benefits as the primary reason for studying the art, followed by relaxation and self defence.

Possessed of great drive Cheng Man-ching was known as ‘master of five excellences’, he was a traditional chinese doctor; artist; calligrapher and scholar but regarded the practise of Tai Chi Chuan as the most important of these calling it the “pearl of Chinese culture” believing that it provides a “…practical philosophy – the direction for our lives. It is a way for reaching the highest states of truth, kindness and beauty. It is a standard for all mankind.” Indeed much of the credit for the spread and continued popularity of the art must rest with the Professor and his schools in Taiwan and America. His legacy lives on through his writing; the hours of film footage of him practising and teaching (predominantly at his school in New York); and through the students all over the world who carry on his teachings.