Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan is one of the five most commonly-practiced styles of tai chi chuan. Each of these styles is named for the family that has practiced, taught, and passed it on to later generations. Traditionally, the study and practice of these arts have been "family property." Bearers of this legacy devote their lives to teaching and training, and are also considered to be the ultimate authorities on their respective styles.

What does "Tai Chi" mean?

"Tai Chi" refers to the ancient Taoist concept that all aspects of the universe are made up of Yin (passive) and Yang (active) energy. The balance of these forces, which is often represented with the Tao symbol, is commonly translated as "The Supreme Ultimate". In practise, this concept is applied through hardness and softness (yielding); and applying power only where - and when - an opponent is weak. This is what gives rise to the saying "A force of four ounces can deflect a thousand pounds". Tai Chi is a contraction of the traditional term "Tai Chi Chuan". Chuan is a general term, generally translated as "martial discipline", or "boxing".

Where did it begin?

For time immemorial, martial arts have been practiced and highly valued in the Orient. Ther are many different versions of the history of Tai Chi Chuan. One thing is certain: It evolved under the influence of the philosophy of Taoism which over the centuries developed a number of systems of meditation, breathing execises and other techniques to maintain health. A story is told that in the 12th century a monk called Chang San Fung, was sitting at his usual 6 hour meditation when he heard strange sounds outside. Looking out the window into the garden he noticed a snake with a raised head and darting tongue hissing at a crane. The crane then swopped down on the snake and the fight was on. As the snake tried to dart its fangs into the crane's leg, the crane would raise the leg and low a wing to ward off the attack. After some time when neither creature could make contact with each other, they both tired of the fight and stopped. From this observation, Chang realised that the real wisdom of self-defence lay in knowing how to yield in the face of strength. He then formulated the movements of Tai Chi Chuan based on the battle between the snake and the crane.

How can the slow motion we often see senior people practising in parks be considered a martial art?

These motions are known as "The Form" or "The Chuan". The practice of this series of motions may last for ten minutes to half an hour. The Form contains healthful, martial and meditative aspects; but it is still only part of the complete training of the art of Tai Chi Chuan.

The form has aspects of health, martial arts and meditation. However it is still only part of complete training in the art. The martial aspect of The Form is not readily apparent to the uninitiated. A simple answer could be "You must to be able to do it slow before you can expect to do it fast", but there is much more to it then that. Besides the obvious martial benefits of balance, co-ordination, and looseness The Form also cultivates qualities like a relaxed focused mind and healthy resilient body. It trains the core motion and reactions of the practitioner, increasing the person's martial potential. The Form also contains, in its movements, a myriad of martial applications and the elements of power generation. These are hidden from an untrained observer in much the same way that fine poetry will not be revealed to someone who has not learned the language yet.

The Form is the basis of Tai Chi Chu'an but "Push Hands" is considered the "gateway into martial arts". There are also other martial exercises beyond Push Hands. The confusion about Tai chi Chu'an being a martial art has probably arisen in part because many Tai Chi Chu'an schools only practice The Form and exercises focused on health and meditation. This may be because the founder of the school has not learned the martial practices or that the students do not have the desire or have progressed far enough to learn them.

Why is lineage and family relationship so important in martial art circles?

Two reasons. First, respect to the teacher and the art becomes, since the art is passed on and taught by family members, respect for the generations that have worked and refined, and passed the art on so that you can learn it. Second, that the lineage and teachers of a person is the best measure, short of actually working with them, of their proficiency in the art. This is because the art can not be learned from a book, it requires hands-on training. Books (e.g. the Tai Chi Chu'an classics) can be used to help solidify and promote understanding ("sign-posts on the road") but no more than that.

Family members traditionally accord the greatest respect and are the ultimate authority on the art. This authority may seem arbitrary to western thinking but it is based on practical facts. Family members learned and practised tai chi chuan wth the greatest masters alive - the older generations. They would start as young as 3 and practise full-time. Furthermore, advanced training and concepts where only available to family members or those very close to the family ("disciples"). It is hard for an outside practicioner to achieve that kind of focus or to have that quality and diversity of teachers.

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