Zhangsanfeng and Taijiquan
Although there are various people credited with the founding of taijiquan, Zhangsanfeng is generally given the major credit. Zhangsanfeng was also known as Zhangtong and Zhangjunbao and is certainly the greatest teacher of taijiquan.
His ancestors lived on Dragon-Tiger Mountain , a Daoist historical site in Jiangxi Province in southeast China. His grandfather moved to Yizhou in Liaoning , a northeast province. His father, Zhangjuren was a very intelligent man. Zhangsanfeng passed the examination given by the government of the Emperor Taizong of the Yuan Dynasty, ( 1279-1368), and was thereby eligible for a high government position. However, he was devoid of worldly ambition and preferred to live in the mountains. This lack of worldly ambition was admired since the educated Chinese saw the hermit who renounced all connection with society as the ideal and the position of government official as much less satisfying. Zhangsanfeng was born at midnight on April 9, 1247. The anniversary of this day is now celebrated by followers of taijiquan with dining, drinking and demonstrations of taijiquan.
To the ancient Chinese, physical appearance reflects a person's level of intelligence and character. This method of evaluation is similar to the more familiar art of palmistry except that the Chinese looked not only at the hand, but also at the whole body. According to legend, Zhangsanfeng was born a wise man because he had the arched back of a tortoise and the figure of a crane. His large round eyes were considered a symbol of intelligence and longevity.
At twelve years of age he began studying the Chinese classics. Because of his good memory and keen perception, he was eventually able to become a government official. Zhangsanfeng spent some time meditating and planning his future during a visit to Gehong Mountain, where Gehong, a minister in the reign of Emperor Yuan (290-370 AD) was said to have become immortal. After the death of his parents, Zhangsanfeng resigned from his government position and returned to his birthplace long enough to give his property away to relatives. Then accompanied by two young boys, he set out to wander the mountains for thirty years visiting old temples in the hope of meeting a wise man. Finally, he settled in midwestem China in the beautiful, green Baozhi Mountains which have three pointed peaks, or "sanfeng" in Chinese. It is said he mastered the well-known shaolinquan during that time.
In 1314 at the age of sixty-seven, Zhangsanfeng finally met a Daoist, Huolong whose name means "fire dragon." This hermit taught Zhang the method of being immortal, but Zhang practiced in the high mountains for four years with very little achievement. He then moved to Wudang Mountain and finally, after staying there for nine years, became aware of the truth and the Dao. Again Zhang started wandering from north to south. When he returned to his birthplace, he found that all of his relatives had died.
When the Yuan Dynasty ended in 1368 and the Ming Dynasty 1368-1654 AD) began, Zhangsanfeng was afraid that the royal family would need him since he was a well-known immortal Daoist, so he pretended to be mad. Thus he earned the nickname of the "Sloppy Daoist."
In 1385, the Emperor ordered him to serve the government, but he hid himself near the border of Yunan Province, which is in southwest China, until 1399. At that time, he returned to Wudang Mountain to meet his best friend, Wanpuzi.
In 1407, Emperor Chengzu sent two officials to visit Zhang on Wudang Mountain, but they could not find him. The emperor then ordered high-ranking officials to build a big temple on Wudang Mountain in Zhang's honor.
In 1459, Emperor Yiuchung bestowed a title of immortality on Zhang. Thus, according to legend, Zhangsanfeng was born at the end of the Song Dynasty and lived through the whole Yuan Dynasty to the reign of Dingzong in the Ming Dynasty a period of more than 200 years!
Legends of how
Zhangsanfeng Created Taijiquan
There are different stories as to how Zhangsanfeng created taijiquan.
After Zhangsanfeng, the famous taiji masters included Wangzong , Chentongzhou, Zhangsongxi, Yejimei , Wangzongyue, and Jiangfa. Finally, Jiangfa taught taijiquan to Chen's family.
Evolution of Taiji
The evolution of Taiji can be traced from shaolinquan exercise to Shaolin boxing, and the addition of Yijing and Daoist qigong techniques.
Shaolinquan is an exercise invented in the famous Shaolin Buddhist Temple in Henan, a northern province of China. The temple was built in the Shaoshi Mountains during the Wei Dynasty in the third century AD. Damo, an Indian Bodhidarma master who came to China in 527 AD, lectured there for many years during the Liang Dynasty, sixth century AD. Finding many of the monks weak, unhealthy and even prone to fall asleep during sermons and meditation, Damo pointed out the importance of having a sound body in the effort to develop a strong inner spirit. Before Damo emphasized the need for strength, physical energy and proper body posture in effective concentration, Buddhist theory stressed development of the soul and neglected that of the body.
Damo, who encouraged the monks to exercise in the early morning for their health, created several systems of exercise: "the change of tendons" or yijinjing, "the marrow washing" or xisuijing and the eighteen Buddha's hands. Thus he founded Shaolin boxing.
After Damo died, his followers left Shaolin, and boxing was abandoned until several hundred years later when Jiaoyuanshangren began to teach at the temple. Jiaoyuanshangren was a master monk who was proficient in boxing and fencing. He learned of the eighteen Buddha's hands and decided to improve the system by adding his own skills. Thus, shaolinquan developed into seventy-two hands and earned a better reputation. One of the many followers it attracted was Zhangsanfeng, who stayed at the temple for about ten years and mastered all of the Shaolin exercises.
The treasures of the Shaolin Temple were called the five quan. Each quan was named for the animal best exemplifying its attributes. Each of the five quan originally had only six postures. Currently, however, each quan has over one hundred postures. You can develop many variations if you master these five quan. The original quan are:
All the styles, names and clans of Chinese martial arts are generated from shaolinquan, the prototypical Chinese martial art. However, taijiquan differs from other martial arts because Zhangsanfeng added the theory of the Yijing and Daoist qigong techniques to shaolinquan. Therefore, the way of practice transcends martial art towards will, mind, body and nature very close to the Way of Nature or practice of the Dao itself.