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Tai Chi

Tai Chi

Your Tai Chi Advisor is Jo-Ann Valentine

The History of Tai Chi, Ba Gua and Qi Gong
by Jo-Ann Valentine

In order to fully appreciate the origins of these arts one must understand the philosophy which underlies them and the climate in which they developed and flourished. Both Tai Chi Chuan, one of the finest products of Chinese philosophy and culture, and Bagua trace their roots to Taoist philosophy, which dates back to the 4th Century AD.

Chinese Taoists of that time formulated a theory that there is an eternal power which gave rise to and permeates everything in the Universe. They called this power Chi. According to this theory, Chi moves ceaselessly in a balanced manner between the positive or Yang and the negative or Yin extremes of reality. The way in which Chi expresses itself, that is always going to the nearest position of balance and harmony, is called Tai Chi "the grand ultimate". It represents a balance between forceful and yielding energy.

Thousands of years ago the Chinese, realizing as other societies have, that they were not perfect, sought the highest form of life of the human mind and body. They conceived the human mind to be an unlimited dimension but the scope of human activity to be moderate. The focus of their goal was a unified philosophy and a simplification of beliefs. This was the birth of Tai Chi thought that guided the development of Chinese history for thousands of years and greatly influenced all aspects of culture including medicine, art and economics. Tai Chi ideals even ordered human relations.

Tai Chi means improving and progressing toward the unlimited. According to Tai Chi theory, human abilities are capable of being developed beyond their commonly conceived potential. One reaches the unlimited level or develops in that direction by means of the balanced powers of Yin (yielding) and Yang (action). The interplay of Yin and Yang causes life to materialize and the material world to manifest.

The fact that the two equal powers of Yin and Yang oppose yet compliment each other has caused much confusion throughout history. As a result, many explanations of the meaning of life emerged. The truth of the concept of Yin and Yang is revealed by the fact that there is argument amongst individuals. Most humans ignore this natural law, even though it is quite obvious, choosing to rationalize their ignorance with the excuse that they possess only one of the two powers - either male or female.

This tendency to focus on only one side of an issue led Western civilization into religious worship. Although Western religions did stabilize civilization and the social order it also fostered a series of wars between differing factions. Formal religions with their dogmatic attitudes sought to dominate by force rather than to promote harmony. The effects of this influence still persist. However, the more free minded and educated modern generation is eclipsing the dogmatism of past generations.

Even though the Chinese realized that Yin and Yang must interact and that the harmonious result could bring progress and unlimited development, they have been unable to free themselves from their own form of mental pollution.

In China, following the Spring & Autumn age the Tai Chi principle began to be misused or ignored. Several hundred years of Dark Ages followed. At a certain point in Chinese history the Tai Chi principle began to be applied only in terms of political power struggles. The fulfillment of the individual through moderate, natural ways of living was ignored. The ultimate person was to be the most powerful ruler, who obtained power by means of force.

During the Chi'ing Dynasty authoritarian control and slavery became the tradition that ensued throughout Chinese history. The rulers, the Yang aggressive powers, dominated and subjugated those possessing Yin powers. Women were educated to be weak, helpless and designated slaves while men were trained to be followers of the ultimate power, who was of course, the king. Competitiveness and aggressiveness were encouraged but moderated. It was this unbalanced social tradition that carried on the Tai Chi principle.

At this time in China religion was either ignored or abused. The spiritual philosophy of the Buddhist religion, imported from India and absorbed by the Chinese culture, was de-emphasized while its ceremonies and rites became fashionable. The emperor used the Buddhist ideal of self-control to suppress the common people. Tai Chi philosophy, however, offered beliefs that fulfilled human needs, even though its ideals were abused by generations of the powerful and greedy.

Hundreds of years ago those who sought a way to elevate the human body and spirit to their ultimate level developed the Tai Chi Exercise. This system, inspired by the Tai Chi outlook, has proved to be the most advanced system of body exercise and mind conditioning ever created.

While the Chinese rulers were interested only in Tai Chi's productive benefits their opponents were adapting the philosophy to their personal lifestyles. Since the ruling class had little interest in this there is no real historical evidence of when the mind and body system of Tai Chi actually began.

All of the traditional Chinese arts emphasized the Yin/Yang principle as a means of reaching the ultimate and thus the complete philosophy of Tai Chi became an integral aspect of these arts. The unique Tai Chi system of mind and body discipline explicitly applied the original Tai Chi principles in a progressive organized manner. It has become the only complete system to preserve this great philosophy for hundreds of years up to the present time.

For thousands of years during the brutal and corrupt political rule The Taoists, who dedicated themselves to truth, carried on the spirit of Tai Chi philosophy. Since Tai Chi formed its own system independent of political structures it enjoyed growth and freedom of development in small, isolated communities. These Tai Chi studies were respected by the rulers as a body of knowledge, a religion and finally as a highly advanced form of folk art to be passed on.

Approximately 1700 years ago a famous Chinese medical doctor Hua-Tuo emphasized physical and mental exercises to improve health. He organized the folk fighting arts into a fighting art called the Five Animals Games in which humans imitated the movements of animals, such as cranes, tigers and bears.

Around 475 CE Ta Mo , known also as Bodhidharma, came from India to spread his religious teachings. He resided in the Shaolin Temple in Northern China where in addition to religious worship and meditation he included physical training in the daily routine using the Five Animal Games to develop in his followers a balanced mental and physical discipline. The Five Animal Games were practiced extensively and developed into a high level martial art.

The system developed by the monks from the Shaolin Temple came to be known as the Shaolin Martial Art System which emphasized physical toughening, strengthening and spiritual development. The Shaolin system spread throughout China with the religious beliefs. This was the beginning of the systematic development of the external martial arts in China. It was and still is considered to be simply a physical fighting system.

In 1200 CE the Taoist monk Chang San-feng founded a temple in Wu-Tang Mountain for the ultimate development of human life. Master Chang emphasized Yin/Yang harmony as a means to develop mental and physical ability and meditation, as well as natural body movements propelled by an internal energy which would be developed at a certain level of achievement.

There are many legends surrounding the history of Master Chang. One legend tells that he was inspired to create the Tai Chi form by observing the fighting between a crane and a snake. He noticed that the soft movement of the snake was very effective in warding off the attack of the hard strike. Other legends claim that he had a dream in which the immortal warrior taught him Tai Chi Chuan, and after one night of dreaming, he achieved mastery and used the Tai Chi to defeat the bands of thieves that surrounded his monastery.

Tai Chi thought and its Yin/Yang philosophy developed as a temple-style organization based on the model of the Shaolin Temple. From its inception, the temple system at Wu-Tang Mountain emphasized internal powers and the development of wisdom. Thus the Chinese have commonly referred to the Tai Chi system as the internal system to distinguish it from the Shaolin fighting system.

Through the years there have also been systems that combine elements of both the Tai Chi and Shaolin arts into moderately developed martial arts. Among these are Bagua, the Eight-Diagram martial arts system.

There were countless numbers of martial arts styles in every period of Chinese history making it impossible for the government to keep a formal record of all of them. Also a majority of the most highly skilled martial artists avoided publicity and practiced in the mountains. They practiced in seclusion in order to cultivate themselves for enlightenment. As well most of the Chinese population were illiterate making it difficult to compile and record history. In order to preserve the essence of the arts, the secrets of each style were often composed into songs or poems that could more easily be remembered by illiterate people.

Because of the reasons already mentioned the history of each style was passed down orally from generation to generation. This history eventually turned in to a story and in fact a more accurate record can be obtained from martial arts novels. The characters and background in these novels were all based on real people and events of the time. Even though some liberties were taken the novels were based strongly on fact. As a consequence most martial styles are able to trace back their histories with some degree of accuracy. This is the case with Bagua. Nobody actually knows exactly who created it. It was only in the Qing dynasty that the first hand-written history of this style was written.

It is generally understood in martial arts history that before the Liang dynasty (540AD) martial artists did not study the use of Qi to increase speed and power. After the Liang dynasty martial artist realized the value of Qi training in developing power and speed. The turning point was when Ta Mo was preaching in China.

Before Ta Mo, although Qi theory and principles had been studied and widely applied in Chinese medicine, they were not used in martial arts. Speed and power on the other hand were normally developed through continued training. Even though this training emphasized a concentrated mind, it did not provide the next step and link it to developing Qi. Instead, these martial arts concentrated solely on muscular power. This is why styles originating from this period are classified as external styles.

When Emperor Lian Wu disagreed with Ta Mo's particular Buddhist philosophy, Ta Mo fled to the Shaolin Temple. Seeing that many priests were weak and fell sleep during his lectures, he went into nine years of solitary meditation to discover how to help the monks. Following this period of mediation he wrote the classics of Muscle /Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing. Following his death, the Shaolin priests continued to practice his methods. When they combined Ta Mo's training with their traditional defense techniques, they became very effective fighters. As Ta Mo's training methods spread out from the Shaolin Temple, many forms of martial Qigong were developed. This had a revolutionary effect on Chinese martial arts, leading to the establishment of an internal personal foundation, based on Qi training.

As time passed, several martial styles were created which emphasized a soft body, instead of the stiff muscular body developed by the Shaolin priests. These newer styles were based on the belief that since Qi is the root and foundation of physical strength a martial artist should first build up this internal root. This theory holds that when Qi is abundant and full, it can energize the physical body to a higher level, so that power can be manifested more effectively and efficiently. At least two internal styles were created during this time (550-600AD): Hou Tian Fa (Post Heaven Techniques) and Xiao Jiu Tian (Small Nine Heavens). According to some documents, these two styles were the original sources of Tai Chi Chuan, the creation of which is credited to Chang San-Feng.

Since a great deal of effort, concentration and dedication were required to reach even a fair level of achievement in Tai Chi a monastic system developed and enrollment became an exclusive privilege. The highest achievers became the leaders and, followed by their students, evolved a unique training relationship between master and disciple. Masters of Tai Chi were regarded as symbols of wisdom and as such received great respect. Practitioners of Tai Chi at times played a role in the enforcement of China's code of human morality.

Followers of Tai Chi, even the emperors, believed that people should discipline themselves to be spiritual, healthy, kind and intelligent and to assist others to reach the same levels. Their goals were to uphold truth, to fight against immorality and injustice and to protect the needy and weak. It was with these goals in mind that the martial art aspect of Tai Chi came to be developed and emphasized. Mind and body harmony, in tune with the natural order of things, was at the core of Tai Chi and offered a direction of development completely different from other forms of fighting techniques. Its awesome power came from the power of the mind enabling Tai Chi Chuan to become the most powerful martial art ever known.

During periods of unrest Tai Chi practitioners became involved in enforcement of peace in their areas with the result that instruction in the martial aspects of the art were emphasized while the philosophical and meditation aspects were gradually ignored by most people. The true, dedicated masters remained in the mountains, leading a monastic life in order to preserve the pure art. Thus the original system was preserved more or less intact with both mind and body discipline still being included in the training.

When times of peace were re-established the need for self-defense diminished and those who had previously taught the art professionally continued the work as a type of family business. They limited their teaching to only the most seriously interested especially their own children who wanted to continue in the family business. Family surnames came to be associated with different styles of Tai Chi that were being transmitted orally through the generations. The most notable of these are Ch'en, Yang and Wu. Although each style was distinctive they all followed the classic Tai Chi philosophy.

In the early stages of the Ching dynasty, conflict between the Chinese and the Manchurian invaders was serious and often brutal. Even though the Manchus tried to learn the culture and adapt to the Chinese ways, the Chinese regarded them as barbarians and refused to co-operate with them. This led to stagnation of the country's economic development.

As soon as the Ching rulers heard about the art of Tai Chi they drafted the most famous master of the time, Yang Lu-chang, founder of the Yang style into royal service. Unwilling to teach the Manchus, Master Yang deliberately modified the Tai Chi meditations forms, converting them into a kind of slow-moving, outer exercise and completely ignoring the inner philosophy and mental discipline which is the key to Tai Chi. From that time on, the family style of Tai Chi became more restricted, with masters teaching the art only to their own relatives.

While the family style of Tai Chi decreased, the exercise style was practiced by members of the Royal family. It soon became a fad of the leisure class throughout China and remained so until the end of the Ching Dynasty.

Following the revolution of 1900 - 1910, the noble families, deprived of their power, scattered throughout the country taking Tai Chi with them. Practitioners claimed the authenticity of their art, stating that it had been taught to them by one of the Tai Chi families. In this way, the modified form of Tai Chi became today's Tai Chi Chuan, which is still practiced today in China.

Most of the Tai Chi practiced today is not the original Tai Chi and is devoid of meaning. Even though public Tai Chi is merely a shadow of the original, classic, temple-style it offers the greatest opportunity to people to be introduced to the art.

Practitioners of Tai Chi today owe a great debt to the dedicated individuals who have preserved the essence of the art and transmitted that knowledge through their particular lineage. It is by the same means that the dedicated masters living in the present time will ensure the continuation of the true spirit of these elegant arts.

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What Tai Chi Means To Me

I was intrigued by Tai Chi for a long time before I finally was moved to take action and actually begin learning about it. Having suffered serious illnesses in childhood (polio and rheumatic fever), I started practicing Hatha Yoga a few years ago in order to regain joint flexibility and to alleviate the sometimes debilitating pain which I experienced from time to time. Although the yoga postures helped, I felt that something was missing. My yoga instructor did not get into the spiritual side of the practice at all but instead focused on the actual postures exclusively. The mystical studies which I had been pursuing were also beneficial but I had not integrated my studies and as a result I was unbalanced.

One evening while working late, I noticed a co-worker practicing Tai Chi. I was immediately taken by the grace and beauty of the movements and just watching I felt a profound sense of peace. We had a lengthy conversation and I decided to get involved myself. At that time there was no place close to where I was living offering instructions so I bought a book and tape and tried to teach myself. I soon got frustrated trying to follow the taped instructions and found it impossible to follow the book. Of course, I didn't know that the best way to learn is from a master. And so I gave up on my training before I had really begun.

For a long time after I quit trying I felt guilty and that I was somehow depriving myself of something very valuable. These feelings nagged at me for several months. Fortunately, I saw an advertisement at the Omega Centre for Tai Chi introductory classes being offered by the Toronto Dojo, CMAC. I enrolled immediately and have not looked backwards since.

My first experience coming to the Dojo and participating with others in the Chi Gung exercises and the Tai Chi set was that I had come home. At last I felt that I had found the discipline that I was lacking and a perfect compliment to the other things that I was doing in order to develop spiritually, mentally and physically.

Since starting out on this path three years ago my understanding and appreciation of Tai Chi has evolved. At first, I was primarily impressed by the physical effects. I noticed, after a few weeks, an improvement in my flexibility and overall well-being. My leg muscles became stronger and I suffered fewer painful muscle spasms. I was also sleeping better and waking more refreshed. Before starting the training I would regularly suffer extremely painful back spasms which were a result of some severe damage sustained during a car accident. Since beginning my Tai Chi training, which now amounts to approximately 600 hours, I have not had a single occurrence of those spasms. This proves to me the power of the healing energy which is inside all of us and which needs only to be realized and channeled properly.

Secondly I was impressed by the mental effects of the training. I work in a very stressful environment where meeting tight deadlines is a matter of course. I have also had to deal with a very stressful situation in my personal life in the past few months. I find that I now feel more relaxed and confident in dealing with situations that would have seemed almost overwhelming at one time. My friends and fellow workers have also noticed this change in me.

The standing, sitting and moving meditations which are part of the Tai Chi training have been beneficial and complimentary to my other spiritual development studies. As I continue with my training I am gaining a greater understanding of the opposite yet complimentary forces which underlie and give rise to all existence. I now realize the importance of sensing the energy, gathering it, focusing and directing it for a specific purpose - to maintain health and harmony of the entire being, to heal or to defend.

Before enrolling in this program I was unaware that Tai Chi is a martial art. I thought it was merely a form of gentle exercise, a moving meditation. As I continue with my training I am gaining more appreciation of this very powerful form of self defense. While I realize that it will be several years before I can use Tai Chi to its full effect as a means of self defense, because its power is that of the mind I know that whatever I am learning can be used effectively enough if ever I need it.

Over the course of three years Tai Chi has come to mean many things to me. It has become a means to overcome some chronic and painful physical conditions which have been a problem for many years. It has become a means to overcome stress and calm the mind. It has become a powerful tool to assist in spiritual development and a catalyst to assist others in their Quest. It has become a way of life.

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Jo-Ann Valentine

Jo-Ann Valentine is a Laoshi Level I Niei Chi Instructor with Classical Martial Arts Canada. She is qualified to teach Tai Chi Chuan, Bagua Chang and Qi Gong. As well as maintaining her ongoing training she teaches several classes per week with CMAC in Toronto and at Avalon Woods Health club in Etobicoke. She has also taught with the Toronto Board of Education and at various Fitness Clubs in the city. In addition to teaching, she has participated in martial arts demonstrations at such venues as the Skydome, Toronto Street Festivals, International Qi Gong Day and appeared on Canada AM.

She is a graduate of the Chow Qi Gong intensive training programme, having studied with Qi Gong Grand Master Dr. Effie Poy Yew Chow, director of the East West Academy of Healing Arts, located in San Francisco. She teaches classes at Avalon Woods Health Club which focus on the techniques learned through this programme.

In 1978, Jo-Ann became a member of a Rosicrucian organization in order to study mysticism and metaphysics. During the course of these studies she became interested in energy work, particularly as it relates to health and healing. She practiced Hatha Yoga for several years and conducted seminars in meditation and visualization techniques. She has also presented workshops on Qi Gong, Taoist healing techniques, and breath work.

More recently, Jo-Ann established LuminEssence, Mind Body & Spirit Energetics, a practice in which she offers Colour Harmonics (Colour Light Therapy) and Reiki. She has been a colour enthusiast for over 25 years. In addition to conducting her own personal research into this fascinating subject she has trained with Juleanne Bien founder of Spectrahue Light and Sound and with Renee Brodie, both authors and pioneers in the field of colour therapy.

In her practice she incorporates the principles of colourpuncture, colourflexology, sacred geometry, Taoist healing imagery, breathing techniques and visualization. She is also a certified Reiki practitioner, trained in the Usui Shiki Ryoho system and finds that the internal martial arts which she practices are perfect compliments to her energy work.

LuminEssence is located at Avalon Woods Health Club, 1000 Islington Avenue, Etobicoke, Ontario.

Jo-Ann teaches Qi Gong and Tai Chi classes at Avalon Woods Health Club as part of the club's group exercise programme. For more information about these classes or to enrol you may either contact Avalon Woods Health Club directly or Jo-Ann at 905-272-8378, e-mail

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