Because the Tai Chi movements have their origins in the martial arts, practicing them does have some martial applications. In a two person exercise called "pushing hands" Tai Chi principles are developed in terms of being sensitive to and responsive of another person's "chi" or vital energy. It is also an opportunity to employ some of the martial aspects of Tai Chi in a kind of slow tempo combat. Long-time practitioners of Tai Chi who are so inclined can become very adept at martial arts. The emphasis in Tai Chi is on being able to channel potentially destructive energy (in the form of a kick or a punch) away from one in a manner that will dissipate the energy or send it in a direction where it is no longer a danger.
The practical exercises of Tai Chi are also situated in a wider philosophical context of Taoism. This is a reflective, mystical Chinese tradition first associated with the scholar and mystic Lao Tsu, an older contemporary of Confucius. He wrote and taught in the province of Hunan in the 6th century B.C. and authored the seminal work of Taoism, the Tao Et Change. As a philosophy, Taoism has many elements but fundamentally it espouses a calm, reflective and mystic view of the world steeped in the beauty and tranquility of nature. Tai Chi also has, particularly amongst eastern practitioners, a long connection with the I Change a Chinese system of divination. There are associations between the 8 basic I Change trigrams plus the five elements of Chinese alchemy (metal, wood, fire, water and earth) with the thirteen basic postures of Tai Chi created by Change Sanding. There are also other associations with the full 64 trig rams of the I Change and other movements in the Tai Chi form.
Tai Chi traces its roots back to approximately the second millennium B.C. with the practice of yoga in ancient India. In China yoga came to be developed into what is called Shaolin Chuan ("chuan" briefly, means boxing). In the 13th century A.D. , a Taoist monk by the name of Chang Sang Feng developed what has come to be known as Tai Chi. Subsequently Tai Chi came to be associated with different families in China. These family names came to designate the different styles of Tai Chi. The Tai Chi family or style from which all other current styles or families of Tai Chi developed was the Chen family. A man by the name of Yang, subsequently studied with the Chen family and later modified the Chen style, thus developing the Yang style of Tai Chi Chuan. The Yang style is the most common traditional style of Tai Chi Chuan practiced today. The Yang style has three different forms that are practiced: the simplified form, the short form, and the long form.
There are many stories about the true origins of Tai Chi, but the one that is generally given the most credibility is the one centered around Chang San-Feng, reputed to be the greatest teacher of the system. Chang San-Feng was described as a wise man, with the "arched back of a tortoise" and the "figure of a crane", signs of great intelligence and character. Chang San-Feng studied the Shaolin arts for about ten years, mastering all the exercises. At age 67, he met a Taoist, Ho-Lung, who taught him the method of being immortal. He practiced for 4 years, with little success, and it was not until he travelled to Wu-Dang Mountain that he finally became aware of the true nature of Taoism.
There are several stories to how he finally came up with Tai Chi. One in particular is while on Wu-Dang mountain, Chang witnessed a fight between a crane and a snake. Every time the crane spread its wings and attacked, the snake would move slightly to escape the attack, but maintained its usual circular shape. This contest continued, up and down, across the mountain. Through this activity, Chang realized that soft wins over hard, and also recognized the value of circular movement.
In Chinese philosophy and medicine there exists the concept of "chi" (Qi), a vital force that animates the body. One of the avowed aims of Qigong is to foster the circulation of this "chi" within the body, the belief being that by doing so the health and vitality of the person are enhanced. This "chi" circulates in patterns that are close related to the nervous and vascular system and thus the notion is closely connected with that of the practice of acupuncture and other oriental healing arts.
Another aim of Qigong is to foster a calm and tranquil mind, focused on the precise execution of these exercises. Learning to do them correctly provides a practical avenue for learning about such things as balance, alignment, fine scale motor control, rhythm of movement, the genesis of movement from the body's vital centre, and so on. Many practitioners notice benefits in terms of correcting poor postural, alignment or movement patterns which can contribute to tension or injury. Furthermore the meditative nature of the exercises is calming and relaxing in and of itself.
Visit the Wudang Global Federation for info about Taiji, Qigong and other Wudang Martial Arts.