What is Taiji?

Taijiquan / T'ai Chi Ch'uan - What is it?

Because there are two major systems for translating Chinese in to English (Wade- Giles and PinYin): then Tai Chi Ch'uan / Taijquan mean the same and are interchangeable, as do  QiGong / Chi Kung Qi / 

Chi can mean breath, Life force, energy, invisible 

Gong / Kung means skills acquired through practice 

Some say Taijiquan is primarily for fighting 

Some say Taijiquan is for health and relaxation.  

Taiji is Yin & Yang, so neither can be exclusively true

Since Taiji is the study, physical practice and manifestation of the philosophy of

Yin and Yang

then in authentic Taiji practice the same internal forces can be used for either or both. 

Taijiquan has developed from and remains a Martial Art, but you can study and develop Internal Forces effectively without having to fight. Equally, Taiji forces can be used for healing of self or others, for enhancing artistic or athletic activities and for mental, physical and spiritual development. Most modern schools teach Taiji through the study of a slow flowing sequence of movements, called Form. 

However, Taiji was originally composed of and developed from the practice of individual standing Postures, which older Taiji teaching methods (NanPai or Southern School) concentrated on. However, later “Form” became a more popular and widespread but less comprehensive and detailed training method. 

A General Introduction To Taijiquan

T'ai Chi Ch'uan (or Taijiquan, the words are interchangeable),  is a system of exercise that originated in ancient Chinese Martial Arts and has now become the most practised health and exercise system in the world.  Often recognized by its slow, graceful and flowing but controlled movements, it combines standing postures with movement, stretching, relaxation and meditation.  Taiji Exercises target the quality and function of the physical structure by working to improve body posture, balance, co-ordination and mobility. Traditional authentic Taiji teaching works on all 4 levels: physical, energetic, mental and spiritual, benefitting the Breath and Qi, Mind and Spirit.

   T'ai Chi is also a form of moving meditation, the physical practice and study of the philosophy of the chinese “cosmic opposites” of Yin and Yang. The mental aspects of practice reduce stress and improve concentration, relaxation and self-awareness. The physical practice of movements, postures, stretches and exercise techniques develop the energy system, activating the Dantian, opening the channels and expelling stale and stagnant negative Qi, thus improving and invigorating the same internal energy systems used in Traditional Chinese Medicine by Acupuncturists and Shiatsu practitioners.

During study the teacher assists with posture correction and energy activation whilst giving direct (Zen/Chan) health information transmission. This process is accessible to students from ages 18 to 80+ and can be particularly suitable for those recovering from injury and illness, as well as those in good health. Tai Chi has something for everyone, so many people not only find renewed health and vigour but a release of creative & artistic energy and spirit, releasing dormant talents and abilities. The study of Taiji helps  students progress towards the attainment of a healthier, more relaxed and harmonious way of living, leading to a longer and happier life.  It is particularly suitable for therapists needing protection from the effects of the negative Qi of patients. Western medical research is currently demonstrating the substantial health benefits of Tai Chi, a perfect recipe for reducing stress and promoting improved health and well-being, developed over hundreds of years, and now helping students towards a more relaxed, healthier and happier way of living.

Heaven Mountain Taijiquan

Heaven Mountain Taijiquan is derived from Taiji 37 (Nanpai Taiji), an original and authentic style of Taijiin which standing postures are practised individually, rather than in the more commonly seen modern sequentially moving forms.

This singular practice method encourages a detailed understanding and experience of the development of internal movements and forces. It is this special and particular characteristic that differentiates authentic Taiji from other martial arts and exercise systems.

Taijiquan has become popular and well-known around the world. Sadly, this wide distribution of Taiji has also led to much dilution of knowledge, and thus modern Taiji has largely lost its meaning and content.

Around 100 years ago Taiji Quan was indeed a fierce and respected fighting art. The detailed knowledge contained within it was considered to be as valuable then as modern weapons technology is today. These secrets were so guarded that daughters would often not be taught all of the knowledge in case when they married this valuable technology was then revealed to a rival family.

In  the 1920’s the widespread advent of guns rendered martial arts of less practical value: Yang Chen Fu and others made Taiji popular throughout China as a health exercise system and the details began to disappear. It is therefore unsurprising that there are so many varied manifestations, understandings and explanations of what Taijiquan is.

After over 30 years of of continuous study and practice, some things have become certainties for me. One can call Taiji a martial art, a bodily art, an exercise system, Chinese calisthenics, a moving meditation, a form of health and relaxation practice: all of these things are true to some degree.

However, without the understanding that Taijiquan is rooted in the practice and manifestation of the philosophy of yin and yang; that it is an art form without limits; and that it is the study of change, then you will never really experience the full range of Taiji possibilities. It is the understanding of yin and yang that forms the basis of the principles that define what Tai Chi is and indeed how it works.

Even then, at its heart, it is also essential to understand that Taiji is a training of the mind as well as the body. Without detailed and directed mental concentration it is virtually impossible to experience, develop and use the internal movements and forces for which Taiji is justly famous around the world. These almost legendary forces were what made Taijiquan famous a century ago: now the knowledge and understanding of their mechanics is disappearing. At its most simple, not only do you have to make shapes with your body, but you have to make them with your mind as well. 

Putting on a Chinese jacket and making some soft flowing shapes may well be relaxing and socially enjoyable, but if relaxation was the ultimate goal of Taiji then its natural home would be on the sofa.

Using strength for martial competition with others may equally be satisfying (unless you get injured), but if fighting with strength was the ultimate goal of Taijiquan then its natural home would be in the Military.

It is extremely unlikely that either approach will enable you to experience and benefit from the profound changes that authentic Taiji can bring to your life, because one is too Yin, whilst the other is too Yang. 

If you don’t start from the basis of Yin and Yang, how can you stretch and relax, sink and raise, be full and empty, hard and soft, light and heavy, move outside yet be still inside, integrate your mind and your body, increase your energy and free your spirit, all at the same time?

HeavenMountain beginners lessons consist primarily of Taiji stretching, moving and standing exercises and practices designed to correct the posture in order to enable the Dantian to become more active, so that the internal energy system of the body can quickly become stronger and more functional. This is the traditional basis of the development of internal force.

The practice of mental concentration to give outward direction to these internal forces enables the student to expel negative Qi from the body and feel the health benefits immediately. 

Historically, these forces were used for fighting: Martial Arts provided the laboratory in which these systems were tested. Equally, in a stressful modern world, few people need more struggle in their lives. These Forces and understandings can be used for self healing, or even the healing of others. 

Even in Beginners classes the Martial elements of Taijiquan are neither prioritised nor ignored. Some partner work is usually included and martial applications may be shown and practiced as teaching aids.

Classes also incorporate the use of Daoyin exercises for posture and concentration, balanced with spontaneous movement practice to help regulate and cleanse the body, assisted by information transmission from the teacher.  Meditation and the use of sound vibration may also be included.

Yang Chen-Fu’s Ten Important Taiji Principles

The foundation of taiji practice, still relevant and important today

Further Taiji Thoughts and Ideas

Every teacher and practitioner has their own ideas about what T'ai Chi means. Because it can be used in many ways, e.g to promote health, as a martial art, as a meditation to clarify reality, to give us better understanding of ourselves and the world around us and to make our lives more meaningful, interpretation can become very personal. Let's look at the words first. T'ai Chi literally means big, without limits, but is commonly translated as Supreme Ultimate. Ch'uan translates as boxing, fist, or method (discipline) of working.

The familiar T'ai Chi symbol of the "double fish" circle incorporating black and white (Yin and Yang) is a drawing representing the idea that everything that we experience is created by the interaction of Yin and Yang. Originally Yang meant the bright or sunny side of a hill and Yin the shady side, but they developed and expanded in meaning, eventually coming to represent the primordial forces that shape the universe, the first separation of cosmic nothingness (Wuji) or universal oneness (Tao) into being.

 To illustrate the simplicity of this strange idea, take a blank piece of paper. The empty page is the Tao, the unformed mist of spirit waiting to exist, doing and being nothing. From a Western physics world view it is the stuff that the universe is made of. From a celestial viewpoint it is God about to start work, or Nature about to bring forth the marvels of life.

Now draw a line across the blank page. This is the act of Creation, of bringing something into existence. This line only exists, however, by virtue of the empty space above it (Yang) that it separates from the empty space below it (Yin). If you change the shape of the empty spaces then the line also changes. The line is like our lives; we experience linear reality from birth, through life, to death. Look now at how small the line is, and imagine being able to understand the spaces either side as they move and change and shape and direct that line of existence.

The ability to recognize and interpret and move in harmony with those forces that shape us and the universe around us at all levels of Body, Mind and Spirit, the ability to control the mental and physical balance of Yin and Yang is the true internal meaning of T'ai Chi Ch'uan.

Martial Art, meditation, graceful, flowing movement, therapeutic exercise, understanding Energy, becoming one with the Tao, all these and more are the potential results of correct and patient practice of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, the Supreme Ultimate Fist, an art form without limits.

History and Development

Much historical fact has been destroyed or lost in the turbulent history of China. Appearing in accounts of its origins, around 800 years ago, the legendary founder of T'ai Chi Ch'uan is said to have been Chang San Feng, variously described as being over seven feet tall, unkempt in appearance and possessed of immense strength, wisdom and agility.

He was a revolutionary, using a Taoist temple as a base from which he trained the native Han chinese guerrila fighters in the basics of Tai Chi before sending them to battle against and eventually defeat the occupying Manchurian forces. No one really knows where his knowledge came from.

Yang Lu Chan


Some stories have him witnessing a fight between a bird and a snake, becoming enlightened by observing their differing styles of combat as the softness, circularity and yielding of the snake overcame the hardness and aggression of the bird. Others have him receiving T'ai Chi in a dream, or mixing together bits of martial arts, Qigong, breathing exercises and Taoist principles to create T'ai Chi Ch'uan. The writings attributed to him state that he desired his art to be used not only for the martial techniques which liberated China, but for longevity, health and happiness for all.

Wang Tsung Yu's "T'ai Chi Ch'uan Lun", a fundamental classic written in the 1700's, emphasizes the primary importance of the philosophy of Yin and Yang. Certainly the idea of soft overcoming hard was culturally important to a country so often invaded and occupied.

Yang Chen Fu

Yang Chen Fu

However T'ai Chi Ch'uan came to be, it is widely believed that by 1850 its secrets were in the hands of the Chen family in Honan province. From there the knowledge passed (accounts vary as to exactly how) into the hands of Yang Lu Chan, who later took his skills to Peking and became the most successful fighter of his time, never defeated and earning himself the nickname 'Yang the Unconquerable'. Employed to teach at Court, he trained his sons, founding a family dynasty leading to his most famous descendant, grandson Yang Chen Fu. His student, Cheng Man Ching, was the first noted practitioner to bring T'ai Chi to the West and taught in New York from 1965 until his death in 1975.

Professor Yao Huan Zi

Professor Yao Huan Zi

T'ai Chi Ch'uan develops in distinct historical phases, allegedly originating with Chang San Feng, hermit and revolutionary, living in times of war and utilizing Taiji forces for fighting. The use of taiji as martial art by bodyguards and mercenaries continues and develops over the next 600 years. Then, around 1920, Yang Chen-Fu redevelops T'ai Chi's martial aspects to the more health-orientated forms widely practiced today. His "ten important points" become the basis of modern Taiji as a system of self-healing. His student Professor Yao Huanzi develops the use of Taiji forces for healing others to a very high level, integrating it with Bhuddist Meditation and Lineage. This knowledge was then transmitted to and developed by my late teacher Dr. Shen Hongxun. His son and daughter now teach Taiji and the Buqi healing system in Europe, Asia and America.

© Paul Brewer/Heaven Mountain  2015