Historical origin of Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan)

There are many legends and some controversy as to how taijiquan (tai chi chuan) was created, and with the tendency to ascribe the creation of important features to mithycal figures in chinese culture, combined to the scarce literature about the subject, it is common to find experienced students who have no idea of the historical facts regarding the birth of the style.

The martial art today known as taijiquan (tai chi chuan) was systematized by Chen Wangting (1600-1680), a local military commander in the district of Wen (Wenxian), in the center of China, somewhat to the south of Beijing, in the 17th century. Chen Wangting evidently did not create taijiquan (tai chi chuan) out of nothing, it is obvious that before retiring from service after the fall of the Ming dinasty in 1644 he had learned various martial techniques and styles, thus suffering their influence, besides that of other common bodywork practices of the time such as duna and daoyin. Moreover, the present form of Chen family taijiquan is not the same as 350 years ago, both the appearence and the content have been perfected by the passing generations, from the 9th to which Chen Wangting belonged to the 19th generation led by Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang.

The french historians Thomas Dufresne and Jacques Nguyên, building upon others among which the famous chinese historian Tang Hao (1897-1959), propose the thesis that the style created by Chen Wangting descends from the martial styles of Generals Yu Dayou (1503-1579) and Qi Jiguang (1528-1588).
In the 16th century General Qi Jiguang was sent by the central government to save the situation in a battle against the Wo kou (japanese pirates), where many others had failed, including the Shaolin monks. General Qi Jiguang was successfull and his martial style gained great prestige. He is the author of the Jixiao Xinshu, a treatise comprising 32 illustrated techniques and a synthesis of 16 martial styles of the end of the Ming era.
The martial treatises of Qi Jiguang and Yu Dayou have many shared techniques, and it is generally believed that Yu Dayou thaught Qi Jiguang his staff style. It is probable that they practiced at least similar martial styles.
The name of 29 of the 32 techniques described by Qi Jiguang is present in the techniques of ancient taijiquan (tai chi chuan). It is worth of pointing out that today the access to posture names and technical descriptions is unrestricted, but at that time one had to deeply know a style to have access to this information.

On the other hand, the martial art created by Chen Wangting is original in many aspects that can’t be found in any of it’s predecessors, and that testifies to Chen Wangting’s genious. He founded a unique style that has been refined by each of the family’s following generations, who dedicated themselves to the art since early childhood.