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What is Taijiquan?

Taijiquan (pronounced tie-jee-chwan) is a centuries old Chinese martial art discipline that teaches self-defense, balance, flexibility, strength, meditation, health, relaxation, and self-cultivation. It improves circulation, balance, and coordination; and helps relax and strengthen the muscular and nervous systems. The movements make the body limber, tone up muscles, and help release tension.

The Taijiquan form is composed of a series of combat postures, put together in a very flowing and precise way. In learning the postures, and how to connect each posture in a prescribed manner, one learns how to control the body and mind in harmony. Once all the postures are learned the Taijiquan form is refined.

So What Is Tai Chi?

Taijiquan is the Pinyin spelling for the art. You will often see it spelled in Romanized form as T'ai Chi Ch'uan, which has lead to the common English pronounciation of the art as "Tie Chee Chwan," which is why you will often hear people refer to the art as simply: Tai Chi. T'ai Chi (pronounced tie-jee) refers to "stillness-suddenly-moving". This concept is a core of Chinese (specifically Taoist) philosophy and is illustrated through the image of the Yin and Yang (called Taijitu in Chinese). Quan/Ch'uan (pronounced Chwan) means Fist. So Taijiquan literally means: "the fighting form that utilizes Yin and Yang harmony." The words Tai Chi have grown to represent the philosophy of Yin and Yang movment and harmony.

Why Study Taijiquan?

Taijiquan teaches, from the first lesson, how to generate and control the flow of internal energy (chi) through the body. The precise postures open and undo blockages in energy channels; the slow and gentle movements stretch these meridian channels and keep them strong and supple. The rhythmic movements of the muscles, spine, and joints pump energy through the entire body. Thus, Taiji is an exercise which gives one more energy than it uses up, so after a round of Taiji one feels relaxed and invigorated.

Despite the efforts of many new-age Tai Chee gurus, Taijiquan is a very effective combat system. It's philosophy of Yin and Yang harmony allows the practitioner to move with the flow of his opponent, rather than merely reacting. Many other forms of martial arts can be detrimental to your health, wear down your energy, and can make you hostile and aggressive. The wear and tear to your body from these types of martial arts can make fully practicing them an impossibility as you get older.

The benefits of training in Taijiquan as a martial art brings good health, vitality, and spiritual joy; and can be practiced throughout your life even after your body has slowed down naturally.

So What EXACTLY Do You Teach?

Taijiquan training is broken down into teaching the Yang Style 108-movement long-form, teaching form applications (through both applications practice and pushing hands training), lessons in Taiji philosophy, and emphasis on building a Taiji "energy body" through various meditation techniques and practices.

Origins and Lineage

Legend has it the Taoist saint, Zhang San-feng (1247-1447) left the Shaolin monastary to live out his final hermitage in the mountains near Wu-dang. While in a state of deep meditation he witnessed an ongoing fight between between a snake and a crane. In this combat, he observed how the softness and flexibility of the snake neutralized the oncoming onslaught of the crane with its sharp bill. Yet, the swiftness of the snake could not overcome the subtle movements of the crane. From this contest the principles of yin and yang (taiji), where the soft overcomes the hard, became evident to Zhang.

He was inspired to modify his hard Shaolin form into a soft style; learning to move with --rather than opposing-- force. Zhang San-feng is regarded as the first patriarch of Internal Kung Fu which includes the styles of Taijiquan, Baguaquan, and Hsing-yiquan.

Did Zhang San-feng really live 200 years? One could argue that a high-level mastery of qi (chi) is the secret to longevity.

Zhang San-feng's successor was Tai Yi Zhen Ren, and Tai Yi's successor was Ma Yun Cheng.

Ma Yun Cheng's disciple, Wang Chung-yueh, wrote the famous A Treatise on Taijiquan, still quoted today. Wang had three disciples of major importance: Zhang Song Xi, Mi Dan Xia, and Guo Ji Yuan. At this point in the history their style was known as Wudang Kung Fu.

Mi Dan Xia and Guo Ji Yuan are credited as the teachers of Dong Hai Chuan, who developed the style, Baguaquan. Wang Chuen-yueh and Zhang Song Ti taught Chen Wang-ting of the Chen village of China who would create Chen Style Taijiquan.

Chen's family developed their Taijiquan form in the 17th century and guarded it closely as a family secret. In the 19th century, Yang Lu-chan passed himself off as a servant for the Chen family and secretly observed their practice of Taijiquan. When he was finally discovered he was allowed to continue training.

Once his training was complete, Yang returned home. He settled in Beijing to teach his new art, and was frequently challenged by other Kung Fu masters. He easily defeated them all and was nicknamed Yang, the Ever Victorious. Yang broke the tradition of teaching only family members, making Yang Style Taijiquan the most practiced Taijiquan style in the world.

In 1993 I signed up for a "Tai Chi" class at the University of Utah. I always had an interest in Tai Chi, but I honestly knew nothing about it apart from a friend, Matt Harris --who studied many martial arts-- telling me it was the most Taoist of the martial arts. It through this class that I met my Sifu, Bill Parkinson.

Bill had been a Yoga practitioner, but was turned on to Tai Chi from a guy who wandered into a Yoga class he was teaching at a park one day back in the 1960s. It took him a few years to find a master who would teach him. "Gary" was the only name I was ever told. Gary had two students that Bill was aware of, including himself, and was fairly enigmatic when it came to instruction.

Gary claimed to have learned his Taijiquan from a member of the Chen family, who forbade Gary from ever revealling his name. This Chen master taught Gary the Yang Style form as the Chen family taught it, rather than Chen family style.

I studied with Bill for several years, eventually apprenticed under him, and certified as an instructor.

In 1997, my friend Criss Rosenlof, a long-time practitioner in hard-style martial arts, asked me to teach him Taijiquan. We started meeting once a week. He invited a friend, then I invited a friend, and before long we founded Dragon Studios out of Criss' garage. We ran Dragon Studios for over 10 years, before Criss' prior injuries caught up to him and forced him to stop teaching. Without my friend helping me, it seemed odd to continue using his garage. Now I teach when and where a student wants to learn. I travel to their home, and teach them the Yang Style 108-movement form as it was taught to me.

If that sounds interesting to you, I only ask that you pay me what you think is fair for my time and what you can afford. Also, I prefer to stay in the Salt Lake Valley. If you're interested, please contact me.

The Thirteen Postures of Taijiquan

Yang style Taijiquan identifies eight key hand positions and five leg positions in the Taijiquan form. When communicating these positions the Yang masters commonly refer to them as the Thirteen Postures (8 + 5 = 13).

The hand movements are commonly tied to the eight trigrams of the I-Ching, and the foot movements to the Chinese five elemental processes. The three symbols for Taijiquan: the Taijitu symbol (commonly referred to as the Yin and Yang), Bagua (Eight trigrams) and the five element cycle (pictured below) are also key symbols in Chinese cosmology, medicine, philosophy, and culture.

The Eight Hand Positions

  • Peng - ward off-intercept and control opponent’s advance upward
  • Lu - rollback- deflect opponent down and back
  • Ji - follow-apply force forward
  • An - press weight into opponent, downward
  • Cai - pluck grasping and twisting opponent’s limbs with force
  • Lieh - split- applying force in two different directions
  • Zhou - elbow striking
  • Kao - striking with shoulder, hip or knee

The Five Leg Positions

  • Jin - Advance (bow & arrow stance)
  • Tui - Withdraw (six-four stance)
  • Ku - Look Left
  • Pan - Look Right
  • Chung Ting - Central Equilibrium (horse-riding stance)
five elements