Tai Chi Chuan: Kung Fu of Taoist and I Ching Philosophies

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Painting in Chenjiagou, illustrating taolu according to the Chen style of tàijíquán.

Tai Chi Chuan is a martial arts system based on ancient Chinese Taoist and I Ching philosophies. In Chinese language, Tai Chi literally means the Great Ultimate, and Chuan means boxing.

The philosophy of Tai Chi might first appear in I Ching, also known as the Book of Change, in about 600B.C. Later it became a symbol of Taoism and Chinese culture. At the same time, it is also an important part of Confucian philosophy, according to Yi Zhuan, a Chinese classic written by Confucius and his disciples.

History of Tai Chi Chuan: Taoist, Chen Style, Yang Style and Wu Style

Chinese historical records show that four martial artists could be the founders of Tai Chi Chuan: Xu Xuan-ping of Tang Dynasty, Zhang San-feng of Yuan Dynasty, Wang Zong-yue (Wang Chung-yuer) of Ming Dynasty, and Chen Wang-ting of Qing Dynasty. Xu Xuan-ping and Zhang San-feng were Taoists and their Tai Chi Chuan is called Taoist Tai Chi.

Chen Wang-ting founded the Chen Style Tai Chi in early Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). In 1820s, Yang Lu-chan leant Tai Chi Chuan from Chen Wang-ting’s descendant Chen Chang-xing and created the Yang Style Tai Chi. Later a Yang Style Tai Chi player founded the Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan.

Bruce Lee and Wu Style Tai Chi: Philosophies of Jeet Kune Do and Kung Fu

Bruce Lee learnt more than twenty styles of martial arts systems from all around the world before he founded Jeet Kune Do in 1967. The first Kung Fu he leant was Tai Chi Chuan.

Bruce Lee’s father Lee Hoi Chuen was a Wu style Tai Chi player. Bruce Lee leant Tai Chi Chuan from his father when he was six or seven. But he gave up Tai Chi and turned to Wing Tsun (also known as Ving Tsun or Wing Chun) when he was 13 – the direct and straightforward moves and wooden dummy training of Wing Tsun Kuen seemed more attractive to a boy like young Bruce Lee.

Later Liang Zi-peng, Lee Hoi Chuen’s Tai Chi teacher, taught Bruce Lee the philosophy of Tai Chi in Hong Kong. Though Jeet Kune Do prefers direct, non classical and straightforward movements, some of Bruce Lee’s quotations show that the philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan did affect his Kung Fu system.

Sources:

  1. Zhao Daoyi, A History of True Immortals (1276)
  2. Li Xiyue, Complete Collection of Zhang Sanfeng (1844)
  3. Confucius and his disciples, Yi Zhuan (before 100B.C.)
  4. Unknown, I Ching (before 600B.C.)
  5. Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (about 500B.C.)
  6. Confucius and his disciples, the Analects (about 450B.C.–250B.C.)
  7. Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian (104 B.C.–91 B.C.)