History and Globalization of Tai Chi Chuan

Statue of Zhang SanfengBefore, I had looked at an article reviewing the health benefits of Tai Chi Chuan.  Well, there are plenty more than just balance; overall Tai Chi can bring an individual strength, health, and peace of mind.  However, I feel I have yet to explore what Tai Chi actually is.  As explained in this article by the New York Times, Tai Chi has been becoming more and more popular worldwide.  It is an art that can be done anywhere, at any time, and by anyone.  Interesting enough, though Tai Chi is a martial art, many if not most do not learn any combat skills in their training.  Most stop at the preparatory level, the internal gathering and balance.  Practitioners of this level are what I believe populate the parks of China in the mornings, and this is also the recommended level for those seeking alternative therapy.

So where did Tai Chi come from?  According to legend, Tai Chi originated in China in the 12th century from the Taoist priest Zhang Sanfeng.  Supposedly, his idea for creating a new martial art came from his observation of a battle between a snake and a bird.  He admired the snake’s calm preparedness to strike, and recreated it in the style of Tai Chi.  Of course, this is theChen Wanting legend.  The earliest records of Tai Chi Chuan originated in the 16th century, with the Chen School of Chen Wangting.  Even so, the idea of recreating nature is prevalent in Tai Chi.  The movements are calm, precise, and focused.  They have been described as “internal”, as opposed to the aggressive “external” movements of other martial arts.  This “internal” aspect of Tai Chi seems to even affect a persons demeanor.  As recorded in the New York Times article, Tai Chi “brings out the beauty in a person.”  This is likely another reason for its growing popularity as an alternative therapy.

So as I’ve gathered more information, I’ve come up with more ideas on how conduct my research.  There are two things I plan to do.  First of all, it would be a waste to not make use of the Tai Chi class I will be taking at Tsinghua.  I may wish to get in contact with the instructor(s), and learn about some Tai Chi from then.  In addition, I will definitely find a park in Beijing that holds daily Tai Chi exercises.  This is the group I’m truly interested in; those that practice Tai Chi as a daily routine.  I want to know why, for what reasons, they practice the martial art.  I doubt most plan to compete with it, or actually intend to fight.  From what I’ve been gathering, it seems many are aware of the health benefits of Tai Chi, and this may be the most important factor in its popularity.  However, I could be wrong.  The reasons could be entirely unexpected, or perhaps people just feel it’s a cultural tradition that they should continue.  No matter the reason, I am excited to investigate this community.