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What are the origins and lessons of tai chi?

Tai chi, or formally tai chi chuan, is a Chinese martial art involving slow-moving solo routines or forms practiced for both self-defense and longevity. Tai chi chuan translates as "supreme ultimate fist" and is referred to as taiji in Taoist and Confucian philosophy. There is also a partner practice known as "pushing hands," and it is a more practical form. This practice has become increasing popular in the West among people who have no interest in the martial arts or defense side of training but more who seek the calm and clarifying effects of the movements and use it more as alternative medicine or preventive health maintenance. Tai chi has been called the hard and soft martial art technique. The art received its name from an imperial court scholar named Ong Tong He when he witnessed a demonstration by Yang Lu Chan leading to his writing "hands holding taiji (ultimate fist) shakes the whole world, a chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heros." The teachings of tai chi are documented in texts referred to as Tai Chi Classics, and they vary depending on the school or tradition.

The three primary aspects of tai chi theory are:

  • health (concentrating on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind and proper fitness if focused on the self-defense application of the art)
  • meditation (cultivating focus and calmness to relieve stress and maintain health)
  • martial art (studying the appropriate changes in response to outside forces)

There are five major traditions named from the originating Chinese family: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun. While the theory and foundation of each art is similar, the differences in these traditions lie in the training technique. The oldest style, Chen, dates back to the 1500s. The basic philosophy of tai chi chuan is demonstrated in Lao Tzu's famous writing the Tao Te Ching as he wrote, "The soft and pliable will defeat the hard and strong."

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.