Freitag, 21. Mai 2010

Article: Tai Chi Chuan as Part of China's Martial Arts

Chapter 1 from this book:

More Info about this little book: here

Tai Chi Chuan as Part of China's Martial Arts

Almost every book about Tai Chi Chuan includes a chapter on its history – albeit limited to some masters of Tai Chi Chuan and their schools. This little book uses a different approach. The goal is to understand Tai Chi Chuan as an aspect of Chinese martial art. To this end, we correlate what we know of the history of Tai Chi Chuan with what we know of the history of Chinese martial arts.

Before setting out on this route, however, it is useful to consider the Chinese term for martial art. This takes us back to the period from 770 to 221 BC. The earliest references to martial arts are to be found in the written testimonies of the time. They speak in terms of jiji (techniques of attack with the hands), xiangbo (tests), shouzhan (hand fighting), juedi (wrestling) and wuyi (the art of war).

The last of these would become, by the rise of the Chinese Republic in 1911, the standard term for martial arts. From 1911 on, the term of zhongguo wushu (Chinese martial arts) or in its shortened form, guoshu (art of the country) was introduced. Today, the term wushu (martial arts) is the one generally in use. This contraction is of a later date, as Parchwitz explains:

“The designation of wushu, ‘art of combat’ or ‘martial art’, was only generally decided upon in the city of Xi´an in 1985, at the international conference of Organised Wushu Associations. This paved the way for the intensified promotion of wushu as one of China’s indigenous sports on an international level. Three years later, the Olympic Committee for Asia (OCA) voted that wushu be officially accepted as a new regular competition category at the Eleventh Asian Games.” (Parchwitz, p. 22).

Thus the term wushu acquired a dual meaning, referring both to martial arts in general and to a specific kind of competitive sport in particular. Confusion can easily arise.

Thus, Chinese martial arts have a long tradition. Yet, for all this consciousness of tradition and China’s scientific and technological superiority over the West until about 1800, there was as good as no independent innovation in the martial arts after their beginnings in pre-Christian times.

“For the traditional martial arts this was significant from various points of view. The links thus remained between traditional combative arts and traditional arms. Even when modern, imported firearms became an established part of the army’s arsenal, the traditional weapons continued to form part of the armament of the people. Modern weapons were not obtainable. And as, through the past century, traditional combat techniques as a means of defending property and life became superfluous in any case, the pronounced awareness of tradition saw to it that the martial arts in China did not dwindle into oblivion.” (Filipiak, p. 231)

It is from that awareness of tradition that culturally specific Chinese characteristics were able to develop so strongly. Thus, alongside martial practice in the narrower sense, there are numerous theoretical concepts which are influenced to a crucial extent by Chinese philosophy. From the Qing Dynasty on (1644 – 1911 AD), such concepts were increasingly set out in writing. In Taijiquan in particular, there are a great many texts dating from this period. Fundamental terms such as the ‘highest supreme’ taiji, the spirit shen, the heart/consciousness xin, qi, yin-yang, bagua or the eight trigrams and the five elements wuxing become central.

Throughout its long history, Chinese martial arts continued to oscillate between the two extremes of individual self-defence and the military skills of battle. The two trends are technically quite distinct. In war, larger, armoured forces faced each other, so that the use of distance arms was a priority. Hand weapons, such as there were, would be heavy and long. For individual self-defence the preference was, at best, for light armour and weapons of close range.

Thus, such situations might elicit greater use of the bare hand or foot. Although the realms of self-defence and of military martial arts differed, it may be assumed that there was always a lively interchange between them. The many Tai Chi Chuan masters who taught Tai Chi Chuan both in the army and self-defence or the use of bodyguards are a good case in point.

Tai Chi Chuan is not the invention of any one individual. Its ancient roots developed out of Chinese martial arts. In the evolution of Tai Chi Chuan, various traditional currents merged and a new art was shaped on the base of the old knowledge. Development did not stop there, however. Through exchange and comparison with the martial arts of other schools and in relation to developments in society, Tai Chi Chuan was adapted by its masters to the circumstances of the times. Ultimately, this led to the decisive transformation of the twentieth century, in which the movements of Tai Chi Chuan were slowed down and the combative aspect finally put in the background.

The author is aware that the limited space of this magazine makes it almost impossible to supply a complete or comprehensive survey of the history of Tai Chi Chuan. Many controversial questions have had be passed by. But the aim here was never to answer all these questions, but rather to make an attempt to shift the reader’s perspective. Tai Chi Chuan is not an art that appeared out of a vacuum; it is part of Chinese martial arts and their history. A historical perspective that takes this into account should hopefully provide the reader with new avenues of thoughts on her/his beloved craft.