The principles of Tai Chi were established by Taoist hermits and evolved as a martial fighting art called Tai Chi Chuan.
The early Tai Chi teachers were mystical figures however; the exception was Chang San-Feng, who was the first major figure in Tai Chi history.
The Ming Dynasty places his date of birth at 1247 and he is credited with being the founder of the fighting art called Wudang Kung fu.
He is believed to have studied under a Taoist recluse living in the mountains of Northwest China; he then studied at a Shaolin temple.
The Shaolin temple is credited as the originator of fighting martial arts such as Shaolin temple boxing and Kung Fu.
After watching a fight between a bird and a snake, Chang was impressed by the ability of the snake to dodge and counter attack the larger crane.
Chang observed this ability to defend and counter attack and then modified his Kung Fu fighting technique.
From this point on the soft or internal Chinese marshal arts were born including: Ba Gua, Hsingi and Tai Chi Chan.
The 17th century in China was a time of war and Tai Chi was developed as a fighting discipline. The most famous of these was the Chen style of Tai Chi founded by Chen Wang T'ing who served under general Chi Chi-Guang.
General Chi Chi-Guang is credited with writing the "classic of Kung Fu" which, set out the principles of what has now become the Cheng style of Tai Chi.
T'ing is credited as being the first person to refer to Tai Chi Chuan rather than Wudang kung fu.
Yang Lu-Chan found work in the household of Chen Chang-xing and secretly spied on Tai Chi Sessions of his master.
One day he offered to fight a stranger in front of Chen, who was unaware of his fighting skills.
Chen was so impressed by his performance that he accepted Yang as a student, Yang then travelled throughout China as Chen's representative and in any fights he took part in legend has it he was never beaten.
Yang adapted the Chen style to be a gentler version of Tai Chi. Today, Chen is acknowledged as the oldest of the three Tai Chi styles but it is Yang's style is more popular.
Wu Yu Hsiang Style
The third major style of Tai Chi was developed by Wu Yu-Hsiang, who studied with Yang and Chen.
His style incorporates features of both styles and these three styles form the base from which many other styles have flourished.
The government in Peking in 1949 established the Wushu Council to formulate a style that would popularise Tai Chi, improve people's health and make it a competitive sport.
The Wushu style is responsible for popularising Tai Chi and bringing it to a greater audience than ever before.
A new style called the Beijing 24 step form came from this research and has become popular worldwide.
The most famous of the Tai Chi masters of the 20th century was Chen Man-Ching; he simplified the Yang style big form of 108 postures cutting it to just 37.
This style is easier to learn and established Chan Man Ching as the most influential Tai Chi master of the 20th Century.
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