Urs Krebs Taichi Taiji Training Wang Xian

Taijiquan is now mostly perceived as health promotion. In some countries and regions, it is even supported by health insurance companies because it has a positive effect on the circulatory and musculoskeletal systems. But what exactly is Taijiquan and where does it come from?

About our guest author Urs Krebs

Our long-time student Urs Krebs writes our first guest contribution. He started his Hung Kyun training with Sifu Wu Meiling in 1989 and has been intensively training Taichi / Taijiquan with Master Wang Xian for over 30 years, with side trips to other family styles.

Urs Krebs looks back on an exciting time as a martial arts athlete. He has participated in numerous tournaments and for many years has done fundamental work in official Wushu associations such as the swisswushu (Swiss Wushu Federation), EWuf (European Wushu Federation) and the IWUF (International Wushu Federation).

Urs Krebs with Taichi/Taiji master Wang Xian

Definition of Taichi/Taijiquan

Taiji is a Daoist principle and is based on the opposites of this world, for example day and night or light and dark or, transferred to the martial art, defeating hardness with softness. One also speaks of the cosmic duality or the highest principle of the cosmos. Applied to the martial art Taichi / Taijiquan, this means that Taijiquan is a martial art based on the Taiji principle.

There are different spellings for Taijiquan. The reason lies in different transcriptions. In the past, the Wade-Giles transcription was widespread in the United States and Europe. Today, the Pinyin transcription, originally introduced by the People's Republic as a reading aid, is used in many places. Therefore, many Taijiquan schools still use the formerly used spelling Taichi Chuan (actually T’ai Chi Ch’üan) instead of Taijiquan.

Taijiquan is now mostly perceived as health promotion. In some countries and regions, it is even supported by health insurance companies because it has a positive effect on the circulatory and musculoskeletal systems. But what exactly is Taijiquan and where does it come from?

The origins of Taichi/Taijiquan

To clarify these questions we have to go back a few centuries. Even if the Taijiquan history can be discussed controversially, I try to limit myself here to the official and historically relevant events.

Wir wissen mit an Sicherheit grenzender Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass die Chen-Familie im Kreis Wen der Provinz Henan die ursprüngliche Variante des Taijiquan entwickelt hat. Auch wenn die Chen-Familie sich auf den Standpunkt stellt, dass ihr Ahnherr Chen Bu (1. Generation) eine frühe Form von Taijiquan entwickelt hat, ist es wahrscheinlicher, dass erst durch Chen Wangting (9. Generation) das entstand, was wir heute als Taijiquan kennen. In vielen Büchern liest man, dass Chen Wangting General gewesen sei. Wahrscheinlicher ist, dass er ein Garnisonsoffizier war, der sich in Dengfeng einer Rebellion des Regionalfürsten Li Jiyu anschloss, die später niedergeschlagen worden ist. Chen Wangting kehrte nach Chenjiagou, dem Wohnsitz der Familie Chen, zurück und widmete sich von da an den Kampfkünsten. Dazu dienten ihm der familieneigene Stil (wahrscheinlich eine frühe Tongbeiquan-Variante, die auf Chen Bu zurückgeht) und das Kapitel Quanjing Pieyao Jian aus dem berühmten Buch «Ji Xiao Xin Shu» des Ming-Generals Qi Jiquang.

Against this historical background, it seems unlikely that Taijiquan was developed to promote health. However, it is now the case that fighting and healing in China often belonged together and were taught together. Also in Hung Kyun in our family < It is the case that in the past you had to be able to heal the injuries you inflicted on someone through martial arts. This led to the art of dit da, the method of bone straightening, which our Sibak Wu Rungen still practices today. It can therefore be assumed that certain health-promoting ideas have also been incorporated into Taijiquan.

We also know that all family styles known today (Yang, Wu / Hao, Wu and Sun) are derived directly or indirectly from the Chen style. So we know that what we know as Taijiquan in different variants has the same origin and thus the same core idea.

How should Taichi/Taijiquan be practised?

So much for the starting point. This leads us to the next question: How should Taijiquan be trained? To answer that, we have to work out the following understanding: Taijiquan is a martial art style, which in turn is divided into different family styles. In Chinese martial arts, a style is usually a method to train certain skills. In the Chen style, these are, for example, fajin (explosive force), spiral force and qinna (gripping and levering methods). In order to achieve this, appropriate exercises and techniques were developed with which one could train these skills accordingly. Ultimately, the forms emerged from this.

Of course, the forms alone were not enough, because no martial art system can be successful if the techniques are practiced without a partner. For this purpose, Tuishou exercises (push hands, pushing hands) were created in Taijiquan. At the beginning you practiced in defined routines, later you went into free practice, which eventually led to the free fight in Sanshou. This structure, from form to Tuishou to Sanshou knew more or less all family styles, so it has been proven that it extended into the 20th century (the Sun style, the youngest of the five family styles, was not created until the 20th century.

Why isn't it percieved as a martial art anymore?

In order to answer this reasonably conclusively, we have to examine two aspects on the one hand and on the other hand look back a bit into the past. The first aspect is in this past. Wu Yuxiang, a student of Yang-style founder Yang Luchan and later also of Chen Qingping, allegedly got hold of a manual by a Taoist Taijiquan master named Wang Zongyue through his brother. Meanwhile, it can be said with almost certainty that this Wang Zongyue never existed and that his manual was probably written by Wu Yuxiang himself.

There were three copies of this disappeared original (how convenient ...), two of which still exist. One in the Li family (which Wu Yuxiang’s nephew Li Yiyu received) and one that Li Yiyu gave to his student Hao Weizhen. There is no evidence of Wang Zongyue in the Li family's transcript, but Li Yiyu wrote on Hao Weizhen’s copy that it was Wang Zongyue's manual. This manual was the starting signal for a “Wudangization” of the Taijiquan, that is, an increasing association of the Taijiquan with the Wudang myth. Along with this, there was a «bracing», that is, the martial art became increasingly theoretical and philosophical.

Li-Familie Exemplar vom Taichi Manual
Copy of the Li Family
Li-Familie Exemplar vom Taichi Manual
Copy of Hao Weizhen

Fighting is not part of the programm anymore

The second major event was the result of the Chinese civil war. By creating the Central Guoshu Institute, the nationalist Guomindang government had seriously attempted to create competition formats for Chinese martial arts in which duels were explicitly available (including Taijiquan masters such as Yang Chengfu and Sun Lutang) that definitely ended with the takeover by the communists. The communists no longer had anything to do with traditional martial arts. Physical exercise should only promote health and well-being, which eventually led to the degeneration of Chinese martial arts by modern Chinese government-sponsored Wushu.

In the middle of this process, of course, was Taijiquan. After the People's Republic of China had established itself to some extent, the Beijing Institute of Physical Education (now known as Beijing Sports University) began to develop standard forms whose purpose was physical exercise (e.g. Chuji Changquan) or health promotion (24er Beijing form).

While the first generation of these developers of standard forms still had a clue of martial arts (the creator of the Beijing form was, for example, Li Tianji the son of Li Yulin, who in turn was Yang Style from Li Jinglin (former head of the Central Guoshu Institute) and Sun Lutang Sun. Style Taijiquan had learned), this knowledge died out over time. Combat exercises were not part of the program. This also explains why contact sports in China seem strangely decoupled from their origin today, because they were only slowly planned and "integrated" on the drawing board after the Cultural Revolution.


Various studies were later commissioned and carried out in the People's Republic of China to demonstrate the health benefits of Taijiquan. Most of these were carried out by the Beijing Institute of Physical Education, the same institution that developed the modern forms of Taijiquan. Nevertheless, it can be said that Taijiquan actually has health-promoting aspects, partly related to breathing and the circulatory system, partly with posture, which differs from the natural posture, but noticeably relieves the spine.

The Communist Party has exploited this health-promoting aspect through propaganda and promoted it accordingly. This ultimately led to many members of the older generations meeting in the parks of the big cities for a joint Taijiquan training.

Without intention, there is no form

All of this leads us to the most important question: How should Taijiquan be practiced today? My answer is shaped by 30 years of Taijiquan training mainly in the Chen style with side trips in the Yang and Sun styles and experiences in traditional and modern areas: as a martial art. I don't expect my students to learn to fight (but they can if they want to). However, important aspects of martial arts should be taken into account when practicing forms. Yi (Chinese: 意 intention) plays an important role in this.

You should always make a move as if an enemy was attacking or anticipating your attacks. Of course, it is important to know what a movement means, what applications are hidden in it. For this reason, applications should be practiced at least once in a while in Taijiquan training. So that, for example, a student understands what the meaning of the simple whip (單 鞭 Dan Bian) and the hook hand (right hand in the picture below) is in this movement.

Dan Bian Bewegung aus dem Chen Stil Taichi
"Dan Bian" from the Chen-style Taichi

The application makes it clear that the hook hand simulates gripping the opponent's wrist.

The three pictures on the application also show that there is more to the application than just gripping the wrist. In the second picture you can see that the right knee of the opponent is blocked with the left thigh and a shoulder kick is performed at the same time. The opponent is then thrown over the knee to the ground.

So if you practice the form, you should always practice the movements of the form, in this example the simple whip, as if you were to intercept the opponent's attack, grab their wrist, block their knee, apply a shoulder kick and finally a knee throw to the ground. Only in this way does the form receive content and meaning. Otherwise it is empty, meaningless.

Correct practice is essential

It is also important to understand that the body-mechanical aspects of the form or in the silk exercises are there to establish processes that generate strength, and more strength than the physical constitution would normally give. Whether you actually need this strength for a duel or simply practice it to strengthen your physical constitution is of secondary importance. My Chen-style master Wang Xian answered the following about this issue in an interview:

«Training should always include a combination of Yi (意), Qi (氣) and Xing (形). This is because Xing, the form, is always underpinned by Yi (intention, intention). Having no yi is like archery without a goal. That is why Yi Nian (intentions) have to be used continuously in connection with Xing. Xing (the form) follows Qi (energy) and the combination of these promotes health. Health and Gong Fu / Kungfu side by side - that's how it should be. »

In my view, a perfect closing word.

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