Although there are many, many Myths about the origins of Tai Chi Chuan, it is widely accepted that this form owes its origins to a Master named Zhang Sanfeng. Sanfeng was thought to have been born in 1247 AD., and his name before becoming a Taoist was Zhang Junbao. Although one tradition claims there were two Taoist priests with the same name, who happened to live in the same region and at the same time, (in fact on the same mountain in China named Wutang), we shall only deal with the one named Zhang Junbao.
Zhang Junbao was said to have been a Government official in his late youth and he learned Shaoiln martial arts while residing in the Pao-Gi Mountains of China, near the Three Peaks region. He is also reported to have lived to the age of 200 years, however, the date of his death is uncertain. (If we use the 200 year mark, Junbao would have lived from 1247-1447). It is said that Junbao, at the age of 5, suffered an illness, which caused him to go blind. His father took him to a temple where the Daoist priests were said to have amazing curing powers and indeed within a week, young Junbao was cured. The Doaist priest were said to have loved Junbao and convinced his father to leave him with them where he was taught writing and martial arts skills. Junbao loved the martial arts but while at the Daoist temple he traveled from temple to temple and eventually wound up at the Jin Tai Temple in Bao Ji and was accepted by the widely respected Daoist Master Huo Long. There he became well versed in the Daoist life and it is here that he named himself “SanFeng”, which translates to Heaven and Earth. San represents Heaven while Feng represents Earth.
Having learned the ways of Dao, Sanfeng traveled throughout China and eventually wound up in the Wu Tang mountain region of China. Here, after cultivating his “True Self” for nine years, Sanfeng finally achieved Tao. While in the Wu Tang mountains, he taught one set of boxing to his disciples which happened to be the original form of Taiji boxing. Having only thirteen forms, stretching out, stomping, squeezing, chopping downward, picking up, changing places, using the elbow and leaning against symbolizing the eight trigrams while moving forward, retreating backward, watching to the left, turning to the right and staying in the center were the five elements, Taiji was known as the “Thirteen-Form Taiji Boxing. This boxing technique was aimed at regulating the inner organs according to the five elements.
Zhang Sanfeng, even though well versed in them, thought that martial art forms, Wu Kuen, relied too much on physical strength and were too vigorous. Having one day, as it is told, been disturbed by a noise outside the temple, he went out to investigate. There, (ever aware of nature and it’s relationship to the Yin and Yang Qi theory of nature and life), he observed a fight between a snake and a bird. Sanfeng noticed that the bird would fly around the snake and then swoop in to claw and peck at the snake while in order to defend itself, the snake had coiled up in order to avoid the attacks and it in turn would strike at the bird when the opportunity arose. He also observed that when the bird would swoop in, and the snake would strike, the bird would use it’s wings as a defensive move to bat away the snakes strikes. That night, so it is told, Sanfeng had a dream. In his dream, Sanfeng was visited by the “Glorious Jade Emperor” Yu Huang, who instructed him on using the secrets of Tao. Which of course the bird and snake already knew.
Upon awakening he immediately set about creating a new martial art style based on this dream. It would be based on the principles that ‘softness overpowers hardness’ and that ‘yielding overcomes aggression’. In honor of Yu Huang, who appeared to him in his dream, Sanfeng named this new idea Tai Chi Chuan.
Translated.., ‘ Grand Supreme Fist’.
This will be an on going set of articles on the history of Tai Chi Chuan written by J. Parker.