Although knowing the origins or the source of Tai Chi Chuan is not going to have much effects on your learning and practicing of the art, it is my responsibility to share with the masses of what I have found out. And understanding the origins of something that we loved so much about will make us appreciate the understand it better, if not improving our skills.
The legend was too well-known. And most people will tell and re-tell the stories of a priest named Zhang Sanfeng of the Wudang Sect who found this special martial arts called Tai Chi Chuan. I was fascinated by these legends, and found myself believing them too? until I researched more deeply into its historical backgrounds. Some legends said that he got the inspiration to create Tai Chi Chuan from observing the fight between a snake and a crane, and some said in he learned it from an immortal in a dream.
Yes, this theory is found in a recorded scripture.
Based on that written scripture, it was claimed that Zhang Sanfeng were summoned by the Emperor at that time, around the end of Song Dynasty. He was on his way to the palace when he was surrounded by a group of over 100 bandits. Unable to breakthrough, he put a night up in hiding.
That night, he dreamt of meeting King Yuan, previous ruler of China in who appeared as an immortal in his dream. King Yuan taught him a special type of martial art in that dream.
Next day, with this new skill, Zhang Sanfeng defeated the 100 over bandits, single-handedly. From then onwards, Zhang Sanfeng began to teach this mysteriously acquired skill to his disciples and this art is known as Tai Chi Chuan.
Let's put aside the point about him defeating 100 over bandits single-handedly, which is very difficult to be accepted as a true point. Even the existence of Zhang Sanfeng is very much speculated! Some claimed that he lived in the beginning of Yuan Dynasty; some claimed that he lived during the Jin Invasion of the Southern Song Dynasty; some claimed that he lived in the Song Dynasty; and some even said in Ming Dynasty. This is quite debatable.
On top of that, why King Yuan in his dream???
This is mainly because the relationship between philosophies (some said religion) and martial arts are closely related. Since Daoism is very much rooted in the Chinese culture and it stresses on maintenance life, with the tendency towards achieving immortality, the immortal King Yuan, came into the picture in this legend.
Many Chinese scholars and writers have disagreed with this record!
Even there's common agreement that Zhang Sanfeng is not the one created Tai Chi Chuan, there are many disagreement regarding the origin of Tai Chi Chuan. There are many schools of thought. Some claimed that it began in Liang State of the Southern Dynasty era - by Han Gongyue and Cheng Lingxi. There are claims that it was created by Xu Xuanpin or Li Daozi in the Tang Dynasty.
Based on more reliable sources and records, Tai Chi Chuan originated from Chen Wangting, the 9th generation of the Chen clan of Chenjiagou in Nanwen District during the late Ming Dynasty.
With this, there are some believed that Tai Chi Chuan was created by the 1st generation of the Chen clan - Chen Bo who was an expert in martial arts, and Chen Bo was influenced by Zhang Sanfeng's concept. However, there are no clear records to prove this theory.
It was argued that Tai Chi Chuan had been passed down from generation to generation in the Chen family. Only until the time of Chen Wangting (approx. 1600-1680 AD), the art was systemized during his old age.
He researched on the Huangting Jin which provided him with guidance on breathing techniques, combining ideas found in The Book of 12 Fist Motions by Qi Jiguang, and the ideas of yin and yang. And he injected these ideas into his family's Tai Chi Chuan to systemize it into 5 sets of Tai Chi Chuan forms and 1 set of Cannon Fist.
He had also arranged Tai Chi Sabre, Tai Chi Spear and various sets of weapons yielding forms. In the same time, he created Tai Chi Push Hand and Tai Chi Sticking Spear. This was an incredible work which allowed Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan to further develop into a complete martial art system. It was even more complete than its original Tai Chi exercise.
This can be said to be the origin of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, which also means that, the origin of all forms of Tai Chi Chuan!
Through generations, Tai Chi Chuan had been passed on and been modified. This resulted in various styles and sects. For example, through the teaching and guidance from Chen Changxin, Yang Luchan, nicknamed "The Invincible Yang", created the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan. Then, when Yang Luchan passed his skills to Wu Quanyou, Wu created the Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan. Chen Qingping who learned from Chen Youben created the Zhao Style Tai Chi Chuan. Wu Yuxiang who learned from Yang Luchan and Chen Qingping created Wu (different Chinese character from the earlier Wu) Style Tai Chi Chuan.
Following that, Li Yishe created Li Style; from Li, Hao Weizhen created Hao Style; and from Hao, Sun Lutang created the Sun Style. There are possibly more than what I can list!
Sorry if I sound rude, but I need to put those researched information to public so that we can appreciate the art better when we understand its historical development and the core principles behind Tai Chi Chuan.
I don't mean doubt the existence of Zhang Sanfeng. I started learning meditation at the age of 10 and in the scriptures that I based my meditation on, Zhang Sanfeng's name had been mentioned many, many times. His techniques and ideology influenced my initial meditation practices. I actually respect this great master of the past and had once believe in the legend, though historical evidents of his existence were not very clear!
What I want to share here is solid sources of historical records that can be proven to be reliable, until present dates. Researches have still been carried out, though many agreed that Chen Wangting should get the credit in putting Tai Chi Chuan into a systematic sets of martial and healing arts, which in another word, Chen Wangting is known to have created the Tai Chi Chuan system we had at the present days! Who knows if any further researches may uncover other records or sources that may prove whatever current theories otherwise!
May the Energy of Tai Chi be with you!
C. Guan Soo
*************** Note ***************
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C. Guan Soo is a Tai Chi Practitioner who has 23 years of experience in meditation, martial arts, Tai Chi Chuan, healing arts, eastern philosophies and Buddhism. He has a website at: to discuss how Tai Chi Chuan can help to improve you health, physically and mentally.