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Martial Arts: Chinese Martial Arts

Shaolin: the Root of Taijiquan

By Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

After Bodhidharma (Da Mo) passed down his qigong (chi kung) theory at Shaolin Temple around 550 A.D., the Shaolin monks trained the cultivation of Qi, and realized that from this cultivation, muscular power could be enhanced to a tremendous level, which could make martial techniques more powerful and effective. This was the beginning of internal cultivation in the martial arts. According to ancient records, it was only about 50 years later that internal martial art styles based on Da Mo’s internal Qi cultivation were created.



Small Nine Heaven and Post-Heaven Techniques
Two of the best known of these styles are “Small Nine Heaven” (Xiao Jiu Tian) and “Post-Heaven Techniques” (Hou Tian Fa). All of these early Chinese martial art styles were created based on the same Taiji (tai chi) theories and principles known today.

These theories and principles are:

1 - Qi should be first cultivated and developed internally. This Qi is slowly manifested as power through the physical body and finally applied into techniques.

2 - In order to allow the Qi to circulate smoothly and freely in the body, the physical body must first be relaxed, and the movements must be soft.

3 - The Yin and Yang theory and concepts are the foundations and root of Qi development.

The roots of Taijiquan (tai chi chuan) have existed for at least 1400 years. During this time, thousands of techniques were discovered and hundreds of styles were created. The very theoretical underpinnings of Taijiquan have been studied and researched continuously. From the accumulation of thought, its theories have reached a very deep and profound level even as its contents have expanded into an ever wider range.

Dr. Yang practicing in the woods at his new YMAA Retreat Center in Humbolt County, CA.


Taijiquan originally Changquan (Long Fist)
The implications of these two styles were probably the progenitors of Taijiquan. It is believed that Taijiquan was not actually named “Taijiquan” until the Chinese Song dynasty (circa A.D. 1101). Zhang, San-Feng is widely credited as the creator of Taijiquan.

Taijiquan in ancient times was also called “Changquan” (Long Fist). It is said:

What is Long Fist? (It is) like a long river and a large ocean, rolling ceaselessly.

Originally, the name “Changquan” came from the Shaolin Temple. “Changquan” means “Long Fist.” It can also be translated as “Long Range” or “Long Sequence.” Ancient documents suggest that the meaning of “Changquan” in Taijiquan means the “Long Sequence” like a long river that acts as a conduit to the open ocean. The Qi circulating in the body is rolling continuously, flowing, and ebbing in natural cycles.

Shaolin Temple to Chen Village
From surviving fragments of documents, it can be surmised that the Shaolin temple was the major influence on the development of Qi cultivation in martial arts society. It is valid to infer that substantial Taijiquan theory originated at the temple. Looking at contemporary Chen Style Taijiquan, similarities emerge between it and certain external Shaolin styles. For example, both the first and second routines—“Changquan” and “Pao Chui” (Cannon Fist)—originated at the Shaolin temple, yet they also exist in Chen Style. Even the names were kept the same as those in the temple. Although the Shaolin Changquan and Pao Chui have been modified and revised in Chen Style Taijiquan, it can still be traced back to the root and origin of every movement in today’s Chen Style Taijiquan. This holds true for many of the Taijiquan weapons routines.

Yang Style roots
It is well known that Yang Style originated from Chen Style and that they still share the same Taiji root and essence. Wu and Sun Styles originated from Yang Styles. Taijiquan and Shaolin martial arts also share the same root. It is no wonder that many Taijiquan masters who have also learned Shaolin martial arts are more expert and proficient in the martial roots and applications of Taijiquan. The reason for this is simply because the “Dao” of Chinese martial arts remains the same in all Chinese styles. Different styles are only different variations and derivations like branches and flowers coming from the same root. When you learn different styles, you will have different angles from which to view the same “Dao.” Naturally, your mind will be clearer and your understanding will be will be more profound.

Taijiquan means Grand Ultimate Fist
As written down in the past, “Taijiquan” originally was written as “Taiji”. It is said:

What is Taiji? It is generated from Wuji. It is the mother of Yin and Yang. When it moves, it divides. At rest it reunites.

Taiji can be translated as “Grand Ultimate” or “Grand Extremity,” which refers to the most essential movements, or the very origin of motivation or force. Wuji means “No Extremity,” and means “No Dividing” or “No Discrimination.” Wuji is a state of formlessness, of staying in the center: calm, quiet, and peaceful. Once you have generated a mind, or have formed the mental shape with which you will influence physical reality, the motivation of dividing or discriminating starts. When this dividing happens, Wuji will be derived into Yin and Yang. From this, you learn what Taiji is—it is the motivation of distinguishment. When you have this motivation, the Qi will then be led, and Yin and Yang can be distinguished.

Once this motivation (i.e., Taiji) stops, the motivator of division stops, and the Yin and Yang will once again reunite and return back to Wuji. Taiji is actually the motive force generated from the mind (Yi). From this force, the Qi is led and circulates throughout the body. Summing up, Taijiquan is the martial style which trains the practitioner to use the mind to lead the Qi, circulating it in the body, and generating the Yin and Yang states, either for health, fighting, or otherwise.

Thirteen Jin Patterns and Strategies
Taijiquan is also called “Shi San Shi” (Thirteen Postures). It is said:
What are the Thirteen Postures

  • Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kou; these are the eight trigrams.
  • Jin Bu, Tui Bu, Zuo Gu, You Pan, Zhong Ding; these are the five elements.
  • Peng, Lu, Ji, An are Qian (heaven), Kun (earth), Kan (water), Li (fire); the four main sides.
  • Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kou are Xun (wind), Zhen (thunder), Dui (lake), and Gen (mountain); the four diagonal corners.
  • Jin Bu, Tui Bu, Zuo Gu, You Pan, and Zhong Ding are Jin (metal) Mu (wood), Shui (water), Fo (fire), and Tu (earth).

All together they are the Thirteen Postures.

Taijiquan includes eight basic moving or Jin (martial power) patterns which are considered the eight corners of the Eight Trigrams. Peng, Lu, Ji, and An are considered the four sides of the Eight Trigrams, while Cai, Lie, Zhou, and Kao are regarded as the four diagonal corners. Taijiquan also contains five basic strategic movements or steppings: Jin Bu (forward), Tui Bu (backward), Zuo Gu (see the left), You Pan (look to the right), and Zhong Ding (firm the center).

The Thirteen Postures is a foundation of Taijiquan where hundreds of techniques and strategic movements can be generated. For example, a waltz has only three steps in the basic movement, but the variations can number in the hundreds. In order to understand the Qin Na (chin na) applications of Taijiquan, you must first become familiar with the Qin Na hidden in the Thirteen Postures and know that Qin Na can be used against these Thirteen Postures.

37 Postures to Hundreds of Applications
Taijiquan has also been called San Shi Qi Shi, which means “Thirty-Seven Postures.” If you count the technique movements or postures of Yang Style Taijiquan, you will find that they number only thirty-seven. It is from these thirty-seven postures that more than 250 martial applications are derived. These thirty-seven postures are also built upon the foundation of the “Thirteen Postures” or “Thirteen Jin Patterns and Strategies.” Many of these thirty-seven postures are constructed from two or more of the original thirteen Jin patterns. For example, “Wave Hands in the Clouds” and “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail” are the combinations of “Peng Jin” and “Lie Jin.” The original thirteen patterns first derive into thirty-seven basic postures or movements and these thirty-seven basic postures can be derived into hundreds of techniques and variations.

The topic on Jin (jing) is discussed in more detail in this article:

The topic of martial Taijiquan is discussed in more detail in Dr. Yang's Taiji Chin Na in Depth 2-DVD set and Taiji 37-Postures Martial Applications DVD.

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About The Author:

Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming started his Gongfu (Kung Fu) training at the age of fifteen under the Shaolin White Crane (Bai He) Master Cheng, Gin Gsao. In thirteen years of study (1961-1974) under Master Cheng, Dr. Yang became an expert in the White Crane style of Chinese martial arts, which includes both the use of bare hands and of various weapons such as saber, staff, spear, trident, two short rods, and many others. With the same master he also studied White Crane Chin Na, Tui Na and Dian Xue massages, and herbal treatment.
At the age of sixteen, Dr. Yang began the study of Taijiquan (Yang Style) under Master Gao, Tao. After learning from Master Gao, Dr. Yang continued his study and research of Taijiquan with several masters and senior practitioners such as Master Li, Mao-Ching and Mr. Wilson Chen in Taipei. Master Li learned his Taijiquan from the well-known Master Han, Ching-Tang, and Mr. Chen learned his Taijiquan from Master Chang, Xiang-San. Dr. Yang has mastered the Taiji barehand sequence, pushing hands, the two-man fighting sequence, Taiji sword, Taiji saber, and Taiji Qigong.

At 18, he entered Tamkang College in Taipei Xian to study Physics and also began the study of traditional Shaolin Long Fist (Changquan) with Master Li, Mao-Ching at the Tamkang College Guoshu Club (1964-1968). He eventually became an assistant instructor under Master Li. In 1971 he completed his M.S. degree in Physics at the National Taiwan University and then served in the Chinese Air Force from 1971 to 1972. In the service, Dr. Yang taught Physics at the Junior Academy of the Chinese Air Force while also teaching Wushu. After being honorably discharged in 1972, he returned to Tamkang College to teach Physics and resumed study under Master Li, Mao-Ching. From Master Li, Dr. Yang learned Northern style Gongfu, which includes both barehand techniques, especially kicking, and numerous weapons.

In 1974, Dr. Yang came to the United States to study Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. At the request of a few students, Dr. Yang began to teach, which resulted in the foundation of the Purdue University Chinese Kung Fu Research Club in the spring of 1975. While at Purdue, Dr. Yang also taught college-credited courses in Taijiquan. In May, 1978 he was awarded a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering by Purdue.

Yang's Martial Arts Association was established in Boston, MA in 1982. Currently, YMAA is an international organization, including 56 schools in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Holland, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 1984, Dr. Yang retired from his engineering career, to focus his energy on teaching and researching the Chinese arts, and introducing them to the West through many books, videos and DVDs. Visit for current information.
Dr. Yang has nearly 40 years of instructional experience: seven years in Taiwan, five years at Purdue University, two years in Houston, TX, and 25 years in Boston, MA. On November 29, 2005, Dr. Yang conferred the title of Taiji Master to one of his senior students, which by definition bestows the honorable title of Grandmaster upon Dr. Yang.

Dr. Yang is also the founder of the YMAA Retreat Center in Humbolt County, CA, where he will spend ten years training a select group of students, starting in August 2008.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Chinese Martial Arts, taiji, tai chi, taijiquan, Bodhidharma, Da Mo, Qi, Small Nine Heaven, Xiao Jiu Tian, Post-Heaven Techniques, Hou Tian Fa, Changquan, Long Fist, Shaolin temple, Pao Chui, Cannon Fist, Shi San Shi, Thirteen Postures, San Shi Qi Shi

Read more articles by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

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