The full name of Tai Chi is Tai Chi Chuan which translates as “The Grand Ultimate Fist.”As a fighting art which uses the Qi or vital energy of the body in combat situations, the combat forms of Tai Chi both improve their practitioners health and live up to the art’s name as the ultimate training in hand to hand combat. If you haven’t read the first article in this series on the the origins of Tai Chi and on Chen style, you might want to check it out before reading this one.
In contrast to the obvious movements of Chen style, Yang style is much more graceful. It is practiced with a very a slow, smooth, expansive, peaceful, and relaxed technique. It is also practiced very upright and very high in comparison to other Tai Chi styles. To someone watching the practice of Yang style Tai Chi, the art would seem full of tranquility. Only a knowledgeable viewer would be able to pick out the martial aspects of it.
However, the martial aspects of Yang style are definitely present. Yang style branched off from Chen style in 1850 with Yang Lu-ch’an who was hired by the Chinese imperial family to train the Palace Battalion of Imperial Guards, a very high honor for a martial artist. This placement must have been quite a recommendation for Yang style because Yang Lu-ch’an’s grandson Yang Chen Fu was able to teach his style of Tai Chi very widely.
Yang Style has developed many secret family transmissions as well as many different kinds of strikes including locks, throws, hand and foot strikes, and energetics techniques. Yang style has 36 primary jings in all. Yang style is also known for having many different kinds of Dim Mak or death touch techniques where a martial artist can do serious internal damage or even cause death with just a light touch.
There is more than one style of Tai Chi that is called Wu style in America. However, the styles known as Wu actually have different Chinese characters and different pronunciations in Chinese. One Wu style was widely taught by Wu Chien-ch’uan who lived from 1870 to 1942 and taught his art in both imperial and communist China. This style has very refined movements. It is usually practiced in small frame where the movements are not as big as the movements in Chen or Yang style. However, in Wu style, each movement has a specific purpose.
Wu style is also known for its push-hands drills where students develop various aspects of the art through games where they try to push each other over. Wu style has the most complete training in push hands of any style. Ma Yueh Liang, the inheritor of the Wu style lineage even developed a free-form style of push hands practice.
Wu style training is also known for its posture. Students practice with a more forward lean than is seen in other styles. One important aspect of Tai Chi is the energetic connection between the upper body and lower body. The forward lean in Wu style helps beginning students establish this connection more easily and so begin to feel the energetics of the art more quickly.
Like the other two styles already described, though Wu style definitely has health benefits, it trains its students in the combat use of various jings or expressions of energy.
Since the 1300’s, Tai Chi has been known as an excellent form of martial arts. It was not until the early 20th century that the health aspects of Tai Chi were taught separately from the art itself. In general, the teachers who only passed on the health aspects of the art without its martial applications did not add anything to the health side of Tai Chi but simply dropped the combat applications. In some cases, because the art was no longer being used for its intended purpose, that of fighting, the health aspects of the art deteriorated as well.
Tai Chi Chuan has a long history as a combat art and still today remains the Grand Ultimate Fist.
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