At PATHS Atlanta Kung Fu, we also offer training in the Internal Chinese Martial Art of 楊 氏 太 極 拳 or Yang Family Tai Ji Quan. Most people will call this “Tai Chi” and it is the style most commonly practiced.
If you’re ever watching a movie or TV show and see a group of people doing Tai Chi in the background…It’s almost assuredly going to be Yang style.
Let’s dive in a little bit and learn more about the name of this art: Tai Chi vs. Tai Ji, Yang style vs. Yang family or sect, and so on.
Yang Shi Tai Ji Quan:
We know that this basically means Yang Family Tai Chi, but let’s break it down a bit more.
Yang Style or Yang Family
楊 = Yáng / Joeng4
Although the character or word can refer to willow, poplar or aspen trees, in this case, it is the last name or Surname of a Chinese family.
This designates a differentiated style of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts or TCMA for short. Whether you understand it as a martial art or not (it is), it makes no difference and we’ll touch on that a bit later.
But the naming of a style based on the founders, or perhaps the family who popularized it, is a common practice in the Chinese Martial Arts or CMA world. This differentiates it not only from other martial art styles, but also from other styles of Tai Chi. Of course, the style / sub-style branching can be a bit more complex than that, this basic idea is useful for our purposes.
家 = Jiā / Gaa1 (gar)
This word means family. Think about styles such as Hung Gar or Hong Jia, referring to Hung / Hong family style.
氏 = Shì / Si6
This word also means clan or family. It seems that many Tai Ji / Tai Chi practitioners prefer to use this character rather than the previously-mentioned one.
However, it’s important to note that either character or word may be used, as in 楊氏 or 楊家 (Yang Shi or Yang Jia, respectively) to refer to Yang family or Yang style.
Tai Chi or Tai Ji
Unfortunately, there is a HUGE misunderstanding of this part of the name, among much of the Western world. Let’s break down the meanings of the words, learn why this disparity exists, and touch on some important ideas.
太 = Tài / Taai3.
This word is an extreme, meaning too, so, very, quite, most, utmost, highest, greatest, senior, noble, etc.
極 = Jí / Gik6.
Here’s where things may get funky for some of you. But the most important point is this: 氣 (Qì / Hei3) and 極 (Jí / Gik6) are two very different words having very different meanings. One refers to (what many mistakenly think of as mystical) energy and the other definitely does not. So the word Taiji or even Tai Chi does not mean Great Energy or anything of the sort.
The “Ji” in Taiji can mean: ridgepole, ridgepiece, highest position, top rank, throne, top, peak, extremity, limit, end, utmost point, extreme, very, pole (as in physics), Polaris and yes, even other meanings.
The key is to understand that Taiji is a Philosophical theory of its own. Without going into too much detail, the easiest way to understand this is to think of the Taijitu or Taiji diagram. Ever seen that little Yin-Yang image? Well, its official name is the Taijitu, or visual representation of Taiji!
This Yin-Yang philosophy is a main principle of different martial art systems and the utmost of importance in the martial art bearing its name, Tai Ji.
Where does Chi come from?
Yes, that sub-head is an intentional play-on-words, slightly ribbing the whole Chi bit – both in concept and the misunderstanding of spelling, enunciation and concept.
But now that we’ve had our fun and we understand that “Tai Chi” is not really the correct spelling of it, just how did this happen?
The answer is actually surprisingly simple and probably not what you might think!
The Chinese to English Conundrum
The written component to the Chinese languages, regardless of specifics, is usually the same, whereas the speaking component does indeed vary. However, neither of them are the easiest to write out in Latin-based writing-systems.
To combat this, throughout the ages, people began creating what is called Romanization systems.
In short, these are simply a set of detailed and structured rule-sets that one uses to write out, in a Latin-based language, (the English alphabet you are use to) Chinese words. They attempt to be able to reconstruct the sound. In other words, if you study the system, not only can you write Chinese sounds, but you can read them and, in theory, be able to pronounce them properly as well.
There have been many of these throughout the years, each attempting to outdo its predecessor.
The problem of Chi vs. Ji came about due to the current and previous Romanization system used for the Mandarin Chinese language. The current system is called Pinyin and the one before that was Wade-Giles. Wade-Giles was preferred up until about 1979, when Pinyin took over to the dominating and official standard.
And herein lay the rub.
To put all this into perspective, check out this:
|太 極 拳 (Tai Chi Fist / Boxing)||Tai Ji Quan||T'ai Chi Ch'uan|
|北 京 (Capitol city of China)||Bei Jing||Pei Ching|
|新 加 坡 (Singapore)||Xin Jia Po||Hsin Chia P'o|
As you can plainly see, Tai Ji use to be T’ai Chi. The official hand-off was in 1979, by which time, many English language books, TV shows, articles, books, schools and more had already been in existence, using the Wade-Giles method. And from this generation, it has been passed on down.
Although it may only seem like a different system, which it is, it had its faults: the misunderstanding of the underlying principle, the misunderstanding that Ch’i and Chi (Qi) were two different words, the overall mis-pronounciation and other things as well.
But now we’ve got it all worked out. 🙂
Ch’uan, Quan, Kwon, Kyun…The Legendary Fist of Boxing
Ever heard of the martial art Taiji or Tai Chi being called “Grand Ultimate Fist?”
If you’ve read this far, then you can guess that technically… This is correct. But in English, the connotations of the words – the hinted at meanings are incorrect.
But I digress. Let’s look at the last word there, Fist.
Technically, the definition of the term is “fist.” But another meaning, and the one more often used in the Chinese Martial Arts world, is a set of Chinese boxing methods or similar. It’s basically used as a suffix at the end of many names of Chinese Martial Art form names, style names, types of strikes and more.
So that’s the Fist. 🙂
Tai Ji Quan in Summary
So what we have is Taijiquan, an Internal Chinese Martial Art system, that makes ample use of Taiji theory (in theory) in application of various combative tactics.
Although Yang style is known for its more expansive, healthy movements, at its core…
It is simply a Style of Martial Art.