Tai Chi is an art that takes only a few months to learn but a lifetime to master. Traditionally, the Chinese practise Tai Chi in the shade of trees or beside water. Mornings and evenings are thought to be the best times, because the forces of Yin and Yang are more closely in harmony at sunrise and sunset. Tai Chi movements are performed slowly, which helps to develop mental skills, such as concentration and patience, as well as physical skills, such as balance, coordination, good posture and muscular strength.
The benefits of Tai Chi are widely recognized in China, and many people practise Tai Chi exercises outdoors in public parks or squares, early in the morning. Tai Chi can be practised by people of all ages andlevels. The emphasis on calm and regular breathing slows the heart rate and helps lower blood pressure. Tai Chi is particularly beneficial for older people because it helps to loosen stiff joints.
THE YANG STYLE
In 19th-century China, various forms of Tai Chi were developed by different families, whose techniques were a closely guarded secret. According to legend, Yang Lu-Chuan (1799-1872), founder of the Yang style, learned Tai Chi by spying on the grandmaster Chen Chang-Hsin. He soon became so adept that he could outdo Chen’s most advanced students. Duly impressed, Chen decided to teach Yang all the secret Tai Chi skills of the Chen inner circle. Yang then went to Beijing, where he became tutor to the Manchu nobility.
Yang’s son, Yang Jien-Hou, and grandson, Yang Cheng-Fu, were also famous teachers of Tai Chi. Yang Cheng-Fu (1883-1936) defined and regulated the Yang forms used today. His pupil Cheng Man-Ching (1901-75) shortened and modified the form by removing some of the repetition, but kept its essence. It is this style that is most familiar to people in the West.