Unless you practice genealogy as a hobby, or become so intensely involved in T'ai Chi that it takes over your life (not that there's anything wrong with that!), a long retelling of the history of T'ai Chi would probably just serve to make you curl up in your recliner and take a nap. I'll promise to keep this brief if you promise to read it and try to understand why T'ai Chi is such a special endeavor.
Chinese history is chock-full of colorful legends, snarling dragons, and heroic figures both male and female. So it stands to reason that T'ai Chi would not be without its share. We'll start with the commonly told legend of how T'ai Chi was created.
Chang San-Feng, a Taoist priest, was practicing his martial arts movements back in 14th-century China. Finishing up, he lay down under a tree to catch a few winks. Suddenly, he was jolted awake by loud, screeching noises. Glancing around, he spotted a snake and a crane engaged in a deadly duel. The snake, coiling and uncoiling smoothly, would strike out with blinding speed at the crane, which would push this attack aside with a brush of his wing. Then the crane would strike with his beak, but the snake would just as nimbly move out of range. After the fight wore on for hours, the snake and crane finally parted, neither one victorious.
Chang had an idea, one that formed as he watched the two animals fighting. Why couldn't a human fight like that? The soft, supple movements of the snake's body and the crane's wing could be imitated, along with the fast, explosive strikes. The yin and the yang.
Happy birthday, T'ai Chi.
Of course, prior to observing this historic battle, Chang had been practicing movements that were brought to China thousands of years earlier by a gentleman named Bodhidharma ("Da Mo" in Chinese), a Buddhist monk from India. He created a series of exercises for the monks of the Shaolin Temple when he saw their wretched physical and spiritual condition. The basic principles and techniques of movement later coalesced into what would become Qigong.
So, to truly understand T'ai Chi, we need to learn a bit about Qigong. We'll take care of that in Chapter 3. For now, just know that Qigong and T'ai Chi are twins, that one cannot truly be said to thrive without acknowledging the other.
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