Tai Chi, is an holistic practice, working on mind, body and spirit. While many practitioners focus on the physical and mental benefits of Tai Chi, its original purpose was to support spiritual development. The origin of Tai Chi is usually attributed to Bodhidharma a monk who travelled from the West into China in the 6th century. He found that the monks in China did not have the strength and vitality for sustained meditation. He developed a series of exercise to strengthen them and these movements formed the basis from which Tai Chi was developed.
It seems that the exercises were based on yoga principles and the 8 limbs of yoga can equally be applied to Tai Chi. However, it is likely that Tai Chi is also based on Taoist practices which include early versions of energy practice or chi kung. The series of exercises, known as the 8 Silk Brocade, are reputed to be 2,500 years old, predating Bodhidharma by 900 years. These ancient Chinese exercises are more similar to Tai Chi movement than yoga postures are. So it seems that Bodhidharma applied yoga principles to the ancient Chinese exercises to create a new form of exercises which evolved into Tai Chi.
The exercises proved to be very effective and it is reputed that the monks become so strong that local Chinese warlords wanted to use the exercises not for spiritual purposes but to train their warriors.
In the 13th century Chang San Feng developed these original exercises into the basis of what we today know as Tai Chi. It is said that he observed a fight between a snake and a crane. He observed how they used circular and natural movement to attack and defend themselves. He used the principles of what he saw to change the strength and power of the exercises into the softer rounded movement of Tai Chi.
These movements gradually became the martial practice which was the foundation of Tai Chi today. Tai Chi skill and knowledge was highly prized, and kept very secret. Even today some teachers are reluctant to give away the secrets of their strength and power.
Forms of Tai Chi
Tai Chi form and movement was developed within clans or families, who passed on the secrets from generation to generation. Each family and tradition developed different qualities within their form, yet the basis of the movement is consistent across forms.
Tai Chi became a martial art, yet it is also obvious that today martial applications are far from the minds of most practitioners. The martial aspects may have been prized, but today, the qualities of relaxation, peacefulness and health are more valued.
Infinite Tai Chi is a modern form of Tai Chi. It is based on the same movement as other forms of Tai Chi, but the martial aspects have been removed. Students of Infinite Tai Chi do not seek martial skills nor prize the strength and power for itself but once again as a tool to support personal growth. Infinite Tai Chi may not be unique in this, but it does return to the original ideal of Bodhidharma, providing an exercise tool which, while benefitting health and mental well being, can also supports spiritual growth.