INTRODUCTION TO TAO
When early Tai Chi masters lectured their students, they often used quotes from three Chinese philosophy books to make their points. These three books are: I Ching, Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching, and Sun Tzu The Art of Warfare. That these three books were part of mainstream Chinese philosophy for more than 2650 years undoubtedly contributed significantly to the development of Tai Chi is evident from the unique characteristics of Tai Chi as a martial art. Also, these books were important text books in classical education during that period. Students were familiar with these books and were taught to revere them for their teaching of the nature of things. After the turn of the twentieth century, modern education in China replaced classical education and use of these quotes in teaching Tai Chi has become much less prevalent.
The I Ching is the earliest know book in China with known written version dated back to 1500 BC while the symbols representing yin – yang and eight trigrams were invented many thousand years before that. It is a very complex book with many different aspects including divination, cosmology, mathematics (binary number system), morals, and philosophy of the nature of things. For example, the eight directions used in Tai Chi is said to follow the orientation of the eight trigrams. Certainly the concept of yin and yang is the foundation of Tai Chi (as well as the foundation of Chinese medicine, biology etc). Everything in the universe exists in an opposite and complementary pair, such as male and female, sun and moon, earth and heaven, fire and water, dominance and submission, soft and hard etc. Yin and yang constantly evolve or change from one to the other cyclically so that not one entity continually dominates the opposite entity for long. If the imbalance persisted, it would lead to distress of the system. m. Since all entities evolve into their counter part, every entity has within it the seeds of the counter part. Every aspect at every level in Tai Chi follows the principles of yin and yang.
Every movement in Tai Chi has yang (the moving part of body) and yin (the stationary part of body supporting the moving part and providing the majority of the power). This requirement minimizes any movement involving the entire body moving with momentum, such as jump off attack- a common move in external martial arts. Each Form movement is often a combination of several sets of yin-yang pairs in motion simultaneously. However the primary pair of yin-yang of that movement is always located in the torso. That is the principle of Internal Discipline. When practicing the Tai Chi Form, certain portions of the body are completely relaxed while other parts of the body are energized by the internal movements.
Excerpt from CLASSICALTAICHI.COM
LAO TZU – THE FOUNDER OF TAOISM
There are numerous legends about Lao Tsu who is believed to have lived around 570-490 BCE. Many believe he never existed at all, while historians can point to several possible historical identities for him. The most famous legends place him in Luoyang the ancient capital of China, and describe how he came to write the Tao Te Ching, and of his meeting with Confucius.
Around the 6th century BCE Greece had Plato and Socrates; India had the Buddha and China had Confucius and Lao Tzu. Born in Ch’u (present-day Henan Province), Lao Tzu which literally means “old master”, is also sometimes referred to as Lao Tan or Li Er. He was appointed Keeper of the Imperial Archives by the King of Zhou in Luoyang. He studied the archive’s books avidly and his insight grew. Hearing of Lao Tzu’s wisdom, Confucius travelled to meet him. Confucius put a lot of emphasis on traditional rituals, customs and rites. Confucius asked Lao Tzu about performing rites and rituals. Lao Tzu replied: “The bones of the people you are talking about have long since turned to dust! Only their words linger on. If a man’s time comes, he will be successful; if not, he will not be successful. A successful merchant hides his wealth and a noble person of character will feign foolishness. Therefore, you should give up your proud airs, your desires, vanity and extravagant claims! They are useless to you. Later Confucius later told his students:
Birds can fly,
Fish can swim,
Animals can run,
So they can all be snared or trapped.
But Lao Tzu is like a flying Dragon, untrappable.
Much later, Lao Tzu perceived that the kingdom’s affairs were disintergrating , so it was time to leave. He was travelling West on a buffalo when he came to the Han Gu Pass, which was guarded. The keeper of the pass realised Lao Tzu was leaving permanently, so he requested that Lao Tzu write out some of his wisdom so that it could be preserved once he was gone. Lao Tzu climbed down from his buffalo and immediately wrote the Tao Te Ching. He then left and was never heard of again.
Excerpt from THETAO.INFO
TAO AND TAI CHI
Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight.
— Tao Te Ching (22)
He who stands of tiptoe is not steady.
He who strides cannot maintain the pace.
— Tao Te Ching (24)
Returning is the motion of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
— Tao Te Ching (30)
What is firmly established cannot be uprooted.
What is firmly grasped cannot slip away.
— Tao Te Ching (54)
Stiff and unbending is the principle of death.
Gentle and yielding is the principle of life.
Thus an Army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.
— Tao Te Ching (76)
There are some interesting inspirations for the movement philosophy of Tai Chi within the writings of Chuang Tzu, for example:
“The pure man of old slept without dreams and woke without anxiety. He ate without indulging in sweet tastes and breathed deep breaths. The pure man draws breaths from the depths of his heels, the multitude only from their throats.”
“[The sage] would not lean forward or backward to accomodate [things]. This is called tranquility on disturbance, (which means) that it is especially in the midst of disturbance that tranquility becomes perfect.” This approach is reflected in the entire movement philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan. There is, moreover, a long tradition of Taoist monks practicing exercises. Some of these were referred to as tai-yin or Taoist Breathing. Exactly what these were and what their origins were is obscure but they are mentioned in Chinese chronicles as early as 122 B.C. Then in the sixth century A.D. Bodihdharma (called Ta Mo in Chinese) came to the Shao-Lin Monastery and, seeing that the monks were in poor physical condition from too much meditation and too little excersize, introduced his Eighteen Form Lohan Exercise. This approach gave rise to the Wei Chia or ‘outer-extrinsic’ forms of exercise. Later in the fifteenth century A.D. the purported founder of Tai Chi Chuan, the monk Chang San-feng, was honoured by the Emperor Ying- tsung with the title of chen-jen, or ‘spiritual man who has attained the Tao and is no longer ruled by what he sees, hears or feels.’ This indicates that already at this time there was a close association between the philosophy of Taoism and the practice of Tai Chi. In the Ming dynasty (14th to 17th centuries), Wang Yang-ming a leading philosopher preached a philosophy which was a mixture of Taoism and Ch’an Buddhism which had certain associations with movement systems. In any event the principles of yielding, softness, centeredness, slowness, balance, suppleness and rootedness are all elements of Taoist philosophy that Tai Chi has drawn upon in its understanding of movement, both in relation to health and also in its martial applications. One can see these influences (of softness and effortlessness) in the names of certain movements in the Tai Chi Form, such as:
Wind Rolls the Lotus Leaves
Brush Dust Against the Wind
Push the Boat with the Current
Winds Sweeps the Plum Blossoms
Moreover the contemplation and appreciation nature, which are central features of Taoist thought seem to have been reflected in the genesis of many Tai Chi movements such as:
White Crane Spreads Wings
Snake Creeps Down
Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain
White Snake Sticks Out its Tongue
Grasp Sparrow’s Tail
Golden Cock Sands on One Leg
Swallow Skims the Water
Bird Flies into Forest
Lion Shakes it’s Head
Tiger Hugs its Head
Wild Horse Leaps the Ravine
White Ape Devotes Fruit
Yellow Bee Returns to Nest
The story comes to us that Chang San-feng watched a fight between a bird and a snake and in this event saw how the soft and yielding could overcome the hard and inflexible. Particularly significant here is the reference to the White Crane (The Manchurian Crane, Grus japonensis), with its red crest an important symbol for Taoist alchemists. Certain features of Taoist alchemy and talismanic symbolism have also penetrated the Tai Chi forms. As part of their contemplation of nature the Taoists observed the heavens and were keen students of astronomy and astrology. Movements of the Tai Chi Form such as :
Step Up to Seven Stars
Embrace the Moon
Biggest Star in the Great Dipper
Encase the Moon in Three Rings
The Smallest Star in the Big Dipper
Meteor Runs After Moon
Heavenly Steed Soars Across the Sky
Meditating Under the Protection of the Big Dipper.
Symbolism was a potent force in Taoist thinking. Taoist magic diagrams were regarded as potent talismans having great command over spiritual forces. They invoked the harmonizing influence of yin-yang and Eternal Change; the Divine Order of Heaven, Earth and Mankind; and the workings of the Universe through the principal of the Five Elements. These were symbolized by the Five Sacred Mountains (Taishan, Hengshan [Hunan], Songshan, Huashan and Hengshan [Hopei]), central places of Taoist development and pilgrimage. Thus it is no surprise to find that the symbolism of names has, in important ways, infiltrated the forms of Tai Chi. There was a numerological component to this symbolism as well. The number ‘5’ has a special mystical significance to Taoists (and to Chinese in general). There are the symbolic five mountains, five elements, five colours, five planets, five virtues, five emotions, five directions, etc. all of which have a mystic significance. Hence we see five Repulse Monkeys or Five Cloud Hands in the Tai Chi form.
Excerpt from CHEBUCTO.NS.CA
Over the millennia, Taoism has meant different things to different people. According to orientalist John Blofeld, scholars identified it with the philosophies of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. To most ordinary folk, Taoism was a loose agglomeration of shamanistic and occult practices. Taosits who wanted to rejuvenate their bodies and prolong their lives combined philosophy and practice with the secrets of internal alchemy. And to mystics seeking union with the Sublime, the Tao was the esoteric heart of all those teachings. Tao can mean the undifferentiated unity from which the universe evolved or the supreme creative and sustaining power that nourishes all creatures. It can mean the way nature operates as well as the course or path we should follow in order to rise above mundane life and achieve enlightenment. Taoist philosophers see the world and everything in it as a seamless web of unbroken movement and change. What look to us like separate entities – people, animals, events, thoughts – are really just temporary patterns and wave in a dynamic flux. The aim of Taoist spiritual practice is to recognize and cultivate the harmony inherent in this flux, inherent in every dynamic situation or relationship: between oneself and the Earth, between oneself and others, and between the emotions and energies within oneself. Pursuit of inner harmony has led to great spiritual accomplishment in some, tranquillity and peace of mind in others, and supernatural powers, used for good or ill, in still others.
The emperors of China traditionally were fascinated with the Taoist’s reputation for seeing into the minds of others, controlling the weather, and in some cases manipulating or harming others at a distance. They would attempt to cajole and sometimes force their Taoist advisors to use their magical powers for political ends. An unfortunate effect of this was that great secrecy and intrigue grew up around the Taoist practices. Although Taoist philosophy has long been available to us through translations of Lao Tzu and books about Chinese history and culture, the specific techniques of its alchemy have been kept as closely guarded secrets, passed from master to student only after years of preparation and initiation. The original esoteric system was often taught only piecemeal, lest any one individual become too powerful.
Between 1279 and 1459 AD. a Taoist monk named Chang San-feng is credited with developing Tai Chi’s original movements. Chang San-feng had a vision about a crane attacking a snake. From this vision, Chang learned that brute force could be countered with graceful movements, which on the surface, seem yielding. Chang is said to have developed the Original Thirteen Postures of Tai Chi. However, other historians believe that Tai Chi was first created in the Chen family village around the same time, and that Chen style is the original form of Tai Chi. During the Ming Dynasty, from 1368 to 1644 AD, Wang Tsung-yueh may have been the next person who had an impact on the history of Tai Chi. Wang is said to have been the first person to call the art Tai Chi Chuan and to have developed the choreography between the Original Thirteen Postures.
However, it was not until the early 20th century, with Tai Chi masters such as Yang Cheng-Fu (1883-1936 A.D.) did Tai Chi begin to become popular. Yang focused on self defence and health, and emphasised strength, balance, flexibility and speed. Communist suppression of religion in the mid-20th century forced many Taoists underground or to Taiwan. As a result, the teachings became scattered or were held secret by a select few. However, since the 1900’s cultural revolution in China, Tai Chi standardized sets have been integrated into the Chinese national healthcare system, and taught in schools for health, sports and competitions. Today, Tai Chi groups can be seen practising early in the morning in parks all over the world for relaxing exercise, wellbeing and inner peace.
Excerpt from WUCHIFOUNDATION.ORG