The concept of Taiji (a Chinese term which literally means 'great ridgepole' or 'Supreme Ultimate') is backed by the vast knowledge system of Ancient China and constitutes something similar to a universal law for all things and phenomena. Taiji can be seen as one of the basic trends of Dao philosophy. This concept has a lot of interpretations and uses, as well as formalized manifestations, such as the martial art Taijiquan (which literally means 'Supreme Ultimate Fist').

Today Taijiquan is viewed in a number of different ways—as a martial art, a set of health exercises, a type of sport, an aesthetic pastime, and finally as a an art for developing the body and energy.

Martial Art

Taijiquan is usually perceived as an internal martial art, an art that focuses not so much on the methods of self-defence and attack (which are typical for the external styles such as karate, judo, aikido, ju-jutsu, wing chun, etc.) but on nurturing one's internal power and the acute sensitivity of the body.

So during taijiquan classes pupils do not work on their fighting skills as is the case with external martial arts. Instead, they perform the so called 'forms'—lengthy sequences of smooth and intricate movements resembling a mystical dance. For this reason many people not familiar with taijiquan compare this art to a dance or gymnastics, which of course is not true. Taijiquan practice sessions are focused on multiple repetitions of the same forms and fragments of these forms—for days, weeks, months and even years—until they turn into an organic part of the body, an integral part like for example the movements of the legs and arms when walking or the movements of the tongue when talking.

According to the typical European understanding, man moves his body physically, using the strength of his muscles, which are the focus of the external styles. According to the internal martial arts, the body is controlled through energy. In Ancient China this energy was called 'qi'. Qi flows through everything around us just like the Universal Ether: it is part of all animate and inanimate things—stones, water, grass, trees, animals, people, planets and stars. Qi is constantly flowing.

Qi is the energy of life. It fills up and flows freely through the body of the strong and healthy. Yet when one is sick and feeble, qi is either insufficient or its free flowing is obstructed and it gets stuck somewhere. Qi is a fine energy and when in small quantity it cannot be perceived directly through the senses. Every person is born with a certain quantity of initial (innate) qi yet most people gradually loose their qi due to the urban living conditions, the stress, alcohol, their everyday problems, etc. This is why usually people have insufficient qi.

To guarantee that when practicing the forms in taijiquan the movements of the energy qi control the movements of the body, one has to accumulate a lot of qi. Then one must learn how to move qi inside the body and teach the body obey its movement. The following stage is to learn how to interact with external qi. Thus Taijiquan is inextricably bound up with energy: all movements are filled with energy. Otherwise it would be an intricate and meaningless gymnastics that has nothing to do with the martial arts or the energy development of the person.

It is believed that the connection between the body and energy is done through the mind or more exactly through concentration and attention. For example if we focus our attention on the top of the head, the quantity of qi there will increase. Qi energy is directly linked to our thought. Thus if we direct our thought to some place in our body, the qi will gather in this same spot. If our thought moves smoothly through our body in a particular direction, qi will move in the same direction too.

Let's return to the question of martial arts. Seeing taijiquan as a martial art presupposes that the person develops his ability to accumulate and strengthen his energy and control it so as to be able to use it later in a fight and move his body not simply using his muscles but greatly reinforcing his movements by fueling them with the qi energy. So from this point of view the elements of the taijiquan forms are nothing less than powerful fighting techniques—grips, throwing techniques, striking techniques, defensive blocks, etc.

The internal art of cultivating strength

The INBI club adheres to other views of this art calling it 'alchemical' (indicating the Daoist internal alchemy—a system for the energetic transformation of the person). The alchemical sense of all Daoist practices (Taijiquan, Baguazhang, Xing Yi Quan, Dao Yoga, Dao Massage, etc.) refers to the development and cultivation of a person's power and energy, while the possibility to apply these in fights is seen as an effect of the achievement of high-level development.

The primary task of taiji practices is to build and open the human body so as to allow the qi energy to flow and circulate the body freely and prevent it from pouring out or remaining stuck somewhere.

Thus Taijiquan is a practice directed at developing personal energy, one's abilities to accumulate, preserve, apply and transform one's energy, since its quantity and quality control personal strength and health. Taijiquan lets you learn how to transform your energy and your body through the Taijiquan techniques, and not how to use a martial art for the sake of fighting. The goal of the practices is to develop the person, improve his health and increase his internal strength (the limit, according to the Daoist concepts, is immortality).

Practicing Taijiquan without understanding and studying the energy comprising your own body is equal to practicing a simple set of gymnastic exercises and is in no way related to Taiji.

Chen style Taijiquan

The history of Taijiquan in its present form is usually related to the Chen family and especially to the legendary founder Chen Bu (born 1368), an outstanding practitioner and a master of martial arts born in the region of Shanxi. It is known that in 1374 the Chen clan moved to a town in the Henan province known today under the name of Chenjiagou (literally 'the Chen village').

The distinctive features of the Chen style Taijiquan are the variety of forms and the depth of the energy work which is based on the universal laws of the Cosmos. The Chen Taiji is characterised by both softness and brutality, roundness and squareness, detention and acceleration, opening and closing, lightness and fullness, twisting and untwisting.

Silk Reeling

One of the basic differences between Chen style Taijiquan and the other Taijiquan styles is the stress on perfecting the Silk Reeling (chan si jin) technique. The name of this technique is related to the reeling of the silk from the silk-worm's cocoon, since the movements of the technique resemble this motion. The principles in performing the Silk Reeling technique are valid for all the Chen style taijiquan forms, thus it represents the key principle and the symbol of taiji and determines the characteristic spiral basis of all movements.

The function of this practice is to unify the physical and energy structures of the whole body and link the energy of these parts with the dan tian centre which reinforces the practice and fills up the movement. The performing of the Silk Reeling itself does not require great physical strength, even little children and elderly people can learn it. Yet to become a true master of this art one has to put in a lot of time, thought, efforts and patience.

The Silk Reeling technique allows you to coordinate your whole body, link all its vessels and joints into a single whole, and with time these efforts gradually pass from the plane of the physical into the plane of the energy and the spirit. Performing the Silk Reeling technique regularly will bring you to the level of involving 99% of the physical potential of your body, whereas the typical person uses upto 40-50% of its abilities.

Laojia form

The first variant of laojia (Lao Jia Yi Lu—the first or 'old' form) is the 'forefather' form for all other basic styles of taijiquan (such as for example the Yang style and the Wu style). This form consists of both fast and slow movements, the Silk Reeling technique is of central importance in it (as well as in the Chen style as a whole).

The first form of laojia presents an important training method in taijiquan which is why it is studied before all other forms and sequences.

It is considered that as a whole the movements of laojia are done with greater amplitude than those of the other forms of the Chen style Taijiquan. They are also believed to be less complex. The performance of the form is characterised mainly by working on the waist support and 'mastering' or fixing the end points of each movement before moving on to the next one.

The movements are done in a very soft manner, the speed of movement sometimes slows down, then accelerates, so that fast and slow movements follow one another. The fa jin (meaning «energy emission») technique is activated in not more than 25% of the sequence.

Pao Chui

The movements of the second complex of Chen style taijiquan called paochui (meaning 'cannon punches') are considered rather complicated, since they require a lot of energy, being characterised by more strength and less softness. Pao chui is traditionally studied after the pupil has mastered the basic laojia form, which involves the necessary sensitivity and control of the qi energy. Masters say: 'Five years to perfect the first form and five years to learn the cannon punches'. Taijiquan masters advise that if laojia is studied only superficially and the fundamental principles of taijiquan are not understood, then the pupil may achieve a state where he performs paochui only formally, based on its external, be they beautiful, movements.

Studying this form involves also the understanding of fa jin—the explosive power or the power of emission. The sequence of the 'cannon punches' is typically performed in a vigorous, explosive manner. Performing the whole form—from its beginning to the final movement—takes no more than four minutes.

The Pao chui sequence of the Chen style Taijiquan consists of 43 movements. Due to the large number of energetic movements—such as jumps, strikes, 'sealing' and withdrawal—pao chui is considered one of the most important methods for training you body for real fights.

Xin Jia

Chen Fake (1887-1957) is considered the creator of the xinjia (the sequence of the 'new form') which is opposed to laojia (the 'old form' sequence). The two versions of xinjia as a whole resemble laojia yet they involve a finer use of the energy and a more qualitative dynamic strength, for the performing of xinjia involves a lot of power and requires great skill.

Tui Shou

In the Taijiquan system there is one more practice called 'pushing hands'. This practice involves 'working on knowing oneself through the other'. One of the basic principles of tui shou is: 'Overthrow yourself, follow your partner'. which means that you need to learn to develop your rhythm in accordance with the external power of your opponent, and thus achieve good control and hearing. If the movements of your partner are quick, you react quickly, if they are slow, you move slowly. Being in constant contact with the hands of your partner, practicing listening and redirecting the force of the attack of your opponent, using the power and energy of this very movement for you own counteraction. All this teaches you about the harmony and balance of the interaction with your partner.

Historically there are two types of tui shou: work in motion and static practice. Once tui shou is mastered in a static position, the pupils move on to practicing it in one step, then in three steps, and finally in free motion. In parallel to the developing skills of the practitioners they can increase the speed of movements and motion through space, as well as the level of technical difficulty of the method.

The methodical practice of tui shou involves the mastering of the following principles:
— Ting (listening)—the ability to listen and feel the opponent
— Zou (leading)—following the attacking movements of the opponent
— Nian (sticking)—following the retreat of the opponent
— Hua (transformation)—conneting Zou and Nian in a single movement
— Fa (expulsion)—attacking motion.

Weapons training

The Chen style is the Taijiquan style that involves most weapons trainings using: the Jian sword, the Dao broadsword, spears, halberds, staffs; there are various forms for pair work with weapons, as well as work with objects that are not part of the basic program for weapons trainings (sticks, the long and thick staff, a metal rod).

The Dao sword form consists of 23 movements, which are quite simple to perform yet rather direct and vigorous. This specific technique is fast and dynamic, it involves striking, slashing, stabbing, dodging, smooth cutting movements, and also uses a lot of leaps.

The Jian sword technique needs more subtlety and grace. The basic principles are: no direct opposition, directing the opponent's force to the emptiness, thus using evasion in order to carry out a subsequent attack. The Jian sword form consists of 50 movements and the technique of performing resembles the forms that use no weapons.

The forms using the spear and the long staff are technically very similar, the arsenal of movements of these two kinds of weapons include pushes, strikes, moving aside, stabs (for the spear), etc. The moves using spears and sticks are quite dynamic and aggressive. The corresponding Chen form consists of 71 movements.

The Halberd form consists of 30 movements and is to a large degree similar to the spear and long stick form , which is quite natural since all these weapons are related to the type of practice that involves the so called 'long energy'. On the other hand the halberd form contains some unique movements, which make up the characteristic features of this form. A particular feature of this form is also the weight of the weapon (the training halberd weighs 3 kg. while the combat steel halberd weighs 10 kg). The halberd form is performed in a very powerful and dynamic manner.

Forms with double weapons (double forms for two Jian swords or two Dao broadswords) resemble the single forms for these weapons yet they require better skill when managing the two weapons simultaneously. The double Jian form consists of 39 movements and the double Dao form—of 35 movements.

Generally the weapon forms in Chen style Taijiquan are similar to the basic principles for performing all other forms: in every movement the body moves as a single unified whole, all movements are gathered and interlinked in the dantian centre, in time the weapon should become an inseparable part of the body during the performance of the weapon form.