Most martial arts have their roots and origins at the Shaolin Monastery. There are plenty of theories and a lot of books written about this (which I recommend at my ‘Books’ page). But, the quick version is that over the centuries, practitioners of the original Shaolin styles started changing their styles and created their own followers and schools. This is why we have so many magnificent martial arts all over the world. Isn’t that amazing?
Though most sources agree that Tai Chi Chuan was developed in Chen village somewhere in the 17th century, it is safe to say that Tai Chi Chuan essentially derived from the Shaolin Monastery like most other martial arts.
There is however a legend, which has more controversy surrounding its validity, but it is definitely the more interesting and exciting story about how Tai Chi Chuan may have originated.
There was once a Taoist priest named Zhang San Feng who lived during the Song Dynasty somewhere in the 13th century. After being taught at the Shaolin Monastery, Zhang San Feng continued his martial arts practice and spiritual development on Wudang Mountain.
One day, after witnessing a fight between a snake and a crane (some say a magpie), he was inspired to change his comparatively hard style of Shaolin Gong Fu into a softer style. This later developed into Tai Chi Chuan among other arts.
Zhang San Feng is said to be the first master to get rid of external training methods, like hitting sand bags and lifting weights, and to instead focus on internal training methods like breath control, channelling of qi and visualisation. He is therefore regarded by most internal arts as the patriarch of internal Kung Fu, including Tai Chi Chuan.
There are many uncertainties and mysteries surrounding this legend, but one thing we know for sure is that somewhere around that time Chinese martial arts started branching into two major groups and are still classified like that to this day: Wudang, named after the Wudang Mountains and Shaolin, named after the Shaolin Monastery.
The events of the 21st century in China eventually influenced the spread of Tai Chi Chuan to the rest of the world and created many new followers, approaches and styles.