Tai Chi, or taiji is an exercise form developed from Chinese martial arts. It has to be said that the slow and controlled movements are not as easy as they appear and require continuous movement with the knees bent.
Although the accepted history of tai chi dates its beginnings to the time of Chang San Feng, usually put around the 12th Century, this is by no means certain. From cave paintings and references in ancient medical texts from China it appears that exercise systems similar in style to what we know as tai chi were practised for health much earlier than that - and perhaps as early as 3000 BC. Like the many other systems of self-culture practised by the Chinese, such as acupuncture or divination, tai chi probably has its real origins in the days before recorded history.
Today, tai chi has spread far and wide beyond China to reach every corner of the globe - and is no longer an activity confined to parks and village halls. Most towns will have their own tai chi classes in sports or adult learning centres, not to mention the university or college campus. Elsewhere, tai chi is incorporated as a teaching medium in numerous arts and therapy organisations. It is used in drama schools, in holiday centres, in acupuncture colleges and on board ocean liners. It can be found outdoors on the beach, indoors in dance studios; in hospitals or educational institutes helping those with learning difficulties - anywhere, in fact, where people are looking for a means of developing relaxation and a sense of balance and harmony between body and mind.
The earliest 'recognised' style of tai chi is the Chen, from which came Yang, Wu, Hao & Sun. The history is complex and made more so by disputes over the lines of descent and variations between family members.
The "Beijing" standardise form was the result of an effort by the Chinese Sports Committee, which, in 1956, brought together four Taiji teachers - Chu Guiting, Cai Longyun, Fu Zhongwen, and Zhang Yu - to create a simplified form of Taiji as exercise for the masses. Some sources suggests that the form was structured in 1956 by master Li Tian Ji   . The creators truncated the traditional family style Taiji forms to 24 postures; taking about six minutes to perform and to give the beginner an introduction to the essential elements of Taijiquan, yet retain the traditional flavour of traditional longer hand forms (in general, 88-108 postures). Henceforth, this form was avidly promoted by the People's Republic of China for general exercise, and was also taught to internees in Communist "re-education" camps. Due to this official promotion, the 24-form is most likely the Taiji form with the most practitioners in China and the world over (though no surveys have been performed).
In COREhealth we focus on the Beijing / Yang style, which is large, round and flowing in character as 'standardised' by the authorities in China. That said, there are many practitioners of traditional variations such as the 'middle' and 'small' frame routines, which progressively move away from the physical and towards the 'energetics' of the exercise. It is an area of great debate and not appropriate to explore here.
Tai chi has both bare hand & weapons forms. Tai chi chuan (chuan meaning 'fist') is the bare hand version, whereas, for example, Tai Chi Jian forms use the double-edged straight sword or 'jian' and tai chi dao refers to the use of the 'dao'; a scimitar-like weapon with a single edge. The level of skill and control needed to perform a weapons form is much greater than that for the bare hand forms.
At all levels of skill and experience, there is always more to learn, which is what makes the exercise so fascinating. At every level, however, the practitioner should gain in strength, mobility, flexibility, vitality and general health.