What is Taijiquan?

Matt Brady

Taijiquan, pronounced "tie-chee-chwan," is a Chinese martial art commonly known as tai chi, or taiji. It may also be spelled as tai chi chuan. The word taijiquan literally translates into "supreme ultimate fist" or "supreme ultimate boxing."

Elderly people who practice taijiquan and other forms of meditative movement may be able to enhance their overall mental and physical health.
Elderly people who practice taijiquan and other forms of meditative movement may be able to enhance their overall mental and physical health.

Taiji also refers to the Chinese yin-yang, which symbolizes the concept of two opposing forces coexisting harmoniously. This philosophy is demonstrated by taijiquan's soft yet hard fighting style. Being an internal, or inward-focused martial art, taijiquan is not only used for self-defense, but also as a vehicle for improving health and longevity, lowering stress, and cultivating spiritual development.

Taijiquan features slow, graceful poses that flow one into another.
Taijiquan features slow, graceful poses that flow one into another.

As legend goes, a Taoist by the name of Zhang Sanfeng, who lived sometime before the 15th century, developed taijiquan after witnessing a fight between a crane and a snake. After observing the snake's calm and calculated attack, Sanfeng is said to have been inspired to create a martial art that exerted as little physical energy as possible. While the authenticity of the legend is disputed, what is known is that nearly all forms of this martial art developed and flourished out of these major styles: Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao, Sun, and Wu Jianchuan.

Taijiquan features many slow, graceful poses that seamlessly flow one into the next. These poses and their accompanying breathing exercises teach the body to balance physical and mental discipline, and promote ultimate relaxation. Many people enjoy the rhythms of tai chi purely as an exercise in meditation and lowering stress. Taijiquan has grown so beloved worldwide as a relaxing, meditative workout that most gyms and recreation centers carry trainers who teach forms of tai chi. Tai chi home workouts are also plentiful and easily accessible.

The tai chi trend is not merely another health fad, but has significant backing from medical experts, who have shown in studies that taijiquan can reduce anxiety, improve balance and muscle strength, improve sleep, relieve chronic pain, and increase energy. Long before scientists studied the health benefits of tai chi, it was considered part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Taijiquan can be practiced by all age groups, and by almost anyone, regardless of physical impairment. It can be practiced sitting in a chair as easily as on one's feet, using both large and small movements. Like the yin-yang, it harmoniously accommodates such extremes. Its universal accessibility, coupled with numerous health benefits, has turned taijiquan into one of the most well-known and preferred martial arts.

Individuals who practice taijiquan on a regular basis may live longer than their peers who do not.
Individuals who practice taijiquan on a regular basis may live longer than their peers who do not.

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