Bill Cartmell, Instructor
Cell: (480) 518-3055
History of Tai Chi
The history of Tai Chi Chuan (Grand Ultimate Fist) has many origins and legends. The most popular legend is that Tai
Chi was created by Zang, San-Feng, (960-1280 A.D.). Zang, San-Feng was a Shaolin monk and a master in the five
animal form of Kung Fu. Zang, San -Feng left the Shaolin Temple and lived for many years at the WuDang Temple
learning the internal arts of Taoist Qigong that the Temple was famous for. After watching a fight between a crane and a
snake he came up with the idea of a new martial art. He based his new Tai Chi fighting style on Shaolin White Crane,
Snake and Dragon fighting techniques combined with the internal power of Qigong.
The art later made its way to the Chen village, which was close to WuDang Mountains. Jiang Fa, a monk at the temple, is
credited with teaching the Chen family members. At the time, the art was not referred to as Tai Chi, but was called Zhao
Bao. This art used deep postures and was performed slowly. The art was perfected by the Chen family members and kept
secret from outsiders for generations.
Eventually Yang Lu Chan, who was a houseboy for the Chen family, learned the art.
Although there are many different versions of this, this is the most popular version: Every evening the Chen family
members would practice under the guidance of their grandfather, Chen Chang Xin. There was a walled courtyard, so no
one could see their techniques. Yang Lu Chan was very curious and secretly climbed the wall to observe the practice
sessions. Afterwards, he would secretly practice on his own. Eventually, he got caught. He was invited to join the other
family members and Chen Chang Xin found Yang Lu Chan had surpassed many of the Chen family members. He began to
teach Yang Lu Chan privately to show him the inner workings of the Chen family art.
Yang Lu Chan was recommended to teach at the Imperial court. While there the art was known as Mien Quan (Cotton Fist)
or Hua Quan (Neutralizing Fist). Later, a scholar by the name of Ong Tong was so impressed with the way Yang Lu Chan
executed and performed his techniques that he wrote a verse to embody the motions that he saw. From that point on, the
art became known as Tai Chi. Since Yang Lu Chan was the teacher, the art was specifically called Yang’s Tai Chi.
When Yang Lu Chan began teaching at the Imperial Court, he had to modify the routine to accommodate the long robes of
his students to make it more effective in combat. He created a smaller frame of the original form. The movements were
smaller, which allowed the movements to be performed more easily and faster in combat while wearing the long ceremonial
Quan Yu (1834 - 1902) was one of Yang Lu Chan’s top students. He created his own form of Tai Chi based on the smaller
Yang movements. The art became known as Wu Jian Quan named after his son of the same name, Wu Jian Quan (1870 -
1942). He started teaching his style of Tai Chi at the Chen Wei Ming’s Zhi Rou Association in Shanghai along with the
famous master Yang Cheng Fu. Wu Jian Quan continued to develop his skills and improve his art. Later he added a faster
version of the form to improve flow and internal strength.
Today there are many popular styles of Tai Chi. Most are named after the practitioners that modified them. The most
popular styles today are Yang, Chen, Wu and Sun. Of course there are many derivatives of these forms.