"Many Faces of Tai Chi"


Article published in "The West Australian" on the 21st January 2001

An unusual October morning in central Beijing in the year 2000. The wind is blowing from Siberia – I know because it has that chill that shakes my bones. I pay my 2 Yuan and the guard ushers me into the park. I find some turf which I claim for my special hour. To my left 20 or so old Chinese doggedly move in unison through the beginners Beijing 24 Tai Chi form. While on my right a younger group are practicing a section of the Tai Chi sword. I am amongst many yet very alone.. I practice some Iron shirt Chi Kung to get my Chi moving and then work my way through various Tai Chi forms. Pleasant sensations arise from within to fill my mind. I gaze upon life with ultimate respect. This is the supreme form of exercise I whisper to my self.

Another scene…….Melbourne in September on the floor of the 2000 Australian National Tai Chi and Wu Shu (All Chinese martial arts ) Championships. My heart is pounding. I’m surrounded by judges, one in each corner. Spectators and competitors flank two sides. All focus on me with a critical eye that makes my heart tremble. I begin – I mark this traditional Chen style Tai Chi form with precision and length. Eventually I allow the spectators gaze and expectations to flow into my lower abdomen, this creates a sensation not unlike a burning furnace – this gives me the extra energy that I need to win. Boom!! I complete one of the forms called "Buddha’s attendant pounds the mortar". My trembles now settle, a smile appears. The rest of the form is easy. The crowd and I are one.

The above 2 personal scenes typify different aspects of Tai Chi practice. The former is more the older, personal and health orientated. The latter demonstrates the progress of Tai Chi to recognition as an Olympic sport.

Tai Chi is an integral part of Chinese Culture. It is rich in philosophy ,a excellent form of self defense and an efficient way to improve one’s health. It literally translates as the " Supreme Ultimate " where there is balance between the forces of Yin and Yang. Life itself is the relationship and opposition of these 2 forces: work is Yang while rest is Yin. Yang can be seen as the outward movements of the form and Yin as inward movements and the stillness in between - postures, The whole form is done in a quiet state of mind akin to meditation.

The first recorded Style of Tai Chi was the Chen Style. The Chen family in Honan province practised their own particular form of Martial arts which was used to train soldiers not only for combat but also for discipline and mind control. Around 1750 A.D. Wang Tsung Yueh an infamous adventurer, challenged and beat many of the Chen family's best combatants. Wang stayed in the village teaching the essence of his soft internal style and it became known as Chen style Tai Chi. It is characterised by a more martial and intense chi in the lower abdomen which is released in explosive outbursts.

Later, Yang Lu Chan founded the Yang Style (approx 1850) Yang had learnt his Tai Chi from a third generation student of Wang Tsung Yueh. It was akin to water flowing down a stream which never stops, always moving at a steady pace, defeating obstructions by flowing around them. The chi was kept more calm and compact - ideal for city dwellers said Mao Tse Tung! and the first style to emerge in Australia.

The Wu Style routine was created (approx 1860) by Wu Yu Seong who studied under the Yang founder Yang Lu Chan. This style is characterised by well knit, lithe type movements, more forward- weighted posture and is close to actual combat boxing forms.

In approximately 1920 Sun Lu Tang developed the Sun style , combining his knowledge of Hsing Yi Chuan (Heart Mind Boxing ) with Ba Gua Zhang ( circle fighting based on the 8 sided Taoist magic symbol called the Ba Gua ) to create this unique quick, free, nimble yet graceful performance of combined martial forms.

Over the next 100 years Tai Chi spread over the world and became more diversified. Different schools would practice the same form quite differently. Practitioners of the same style, would be confused when transferring to another school.

In 1956 the Chinese Wu Shu Association introduced the Beijing 24 aiming for simplicity and standardisation. In the 80’s they produced the International competition forms which included Yang 40, Wu 45 , Sun 73 and Chen 56 and the Beijing 42 which like the Combination Chow Mein dish at your favourite Chinese restaurant included fragments of all four major styles. Forms were reduced from a possible 20 minute routine to a maximum of 7 minutes. To some this was against the original intention for Tai Chi.

Tai Chi is a Chinese National Competition sport and it is anticipated to be a demonstration sport for the 2004 Olympics in Athens and then a recognized Olympics sport for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Every 2 years there are World Tai Chi and Wu Shu championships. Over thirty countries entered the last competition. Wu Shu will be a demonstration sport at the next Commonwealth games..

As exemplified in my 2 original scenarios Tai Chi has developed a new aspect. Previously diversified and practiced by the elderly for the cultivation of chi and spirituality. Now it is emerging as a standardised athletic Olympic sport . Tai Chi is true to its own symbol which includes the playful opposition of Yin and Yang with each changing into each other. Hundreds of years ago it was the martial Yang aspect which gave birth to the Yin soft side. Recently the Yin aspect has generated the competitive Yang side. Both may be practiced as part of the whole art.

Dr Andrew Jan recently won overall champion in the over 40’s along with first place in Tai Chi weapons, Yang and Wu styles in the 2000 Australian National Wu Shu Championships, he can be contacted on 9310  7981.