Is it "Tai Chi Chuan" or "Taiji Quan"?
There is no difference. The Chinese characters for the art 太极拳 - are transliterated differently according to whether the Wade-Giles or the Pinyin system is used.
T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Wade Giles) is often vulgarized as "Tai Chi Chuan.
Taijiquan (Tai Ji Quan) (pinyin)
ch’i = qi (ki in Japanese!)
and chi = ji (pinnacle)
The earliest version was developed by two British scholars, Wade and Giles who created the Wade - Giles System.
After the Chinese civil war the Chinese developed an alternative syllabic transliteration system — Pin Yin. This system uses "taijiquan", and modern publications will generally use the Pin Yin.
But after many years " T’ai Chi Ch’uan" (the colloquial "Tai Chi Chuan" has become so well known that it is often retained.
Are there different styles of taiji?
There are five major styles of tàijíquán, each named after the Chinese family from which it originated: (Wikipedia)
- Chen style (陳氏) of Chen Wangting (1580–1660)
- Yang style (楊氏) of Yang Luchan (1799–1872)
- Wu Hao style (武氏) of Wu Yuxiang (1812–1880)
- Wu style (吳氏) of Wu Quanyou (1834–1902) and his son Wu Jianquan (1870–1942)
- Sun style (孫氏) of Sun Lutang (1861–1932)
At Mountain State Tai Chi we teach the Wu Style (吳氏)of Wu Quanyu.
Is one style of taiji better than another?
Chen Man Ching was one of the first taiji masters to teach the art in America. According to Robert Smith, one of his students, Master Chen told him three things are needed to progress: A good system, a good teacher, and a good student. This makes for a lot of moving parts, and if any of these are absent then learning an already difficult art becomes even more so.
I can say with the utmost confidence that in Grandmaster Wang's taiji we have an excellent system. In Master Zhang we have an excellent teacher. As for me and you, history will be the judge.
How is Taiji Quan different from other martial arts?
Everyone is born with certain natural physical abilities which, for the sake of simplicity we'll quantify as: speed, strength, and timing. Most martial arts, in particular the "external" martial arts, seek to train and increase those natural abilities, and hence, they place a premium on, to one extent or another, athletic prowess. This is not to say that there are not martial arts which use concentration and intention to augment their training, but even an art like Aikido, the name of which includes the word "ki" (Chinese = "chi"), and which seeks to move in harmony with an attacker's energy, does so by largely physical means.
None of the above is meant to imply that there is anything wrong, or second-rate about any of the external martial arts. All arts have produced some very great masters, and they are all to be respected.
But Taiji is a little different in that it seeks to replace one's natural abilities, with a different set of natural abilities. "Speed" is replaced with "relaxation", "strength" is replaced with "whole body movement", and "timing" is replaced with "perception". These responses are not our "natural" ones, run counter to the flinch response, and do no rely on muscular tension.
The bodies normal response to strong stimuli is to "flinch", which is a natural, and physical reaction to "trouble". Taiji exhorts one to "not fight where there is trouble" but instead to follow the movements of one's opponent. This cannot be done by relying on the body's "natural" flinch response, but must be achieved by first learning how to relax, and then by learning how to "sense" and "follow", both of which are technical terms relating to taiji principles. Again, the main mechanism of this process is more cerebral (shen and yi) than physical, and therein lies all the complexity of the art.
From the outset Taiji seeks to train a student to cultivate the six harmonies, three of which refer to external integrations, and three of which relate to internal integrations. The three external integrations, which incidentally are shared with many external martial arts, are: opposite hand and opposite foot; opposite elbow and opposite knee; and opposite shoulder and opposite hip.
However, Taiji, which is an internal martial art, also seeks to promote the three internal integrations. And these are: shen leads yi; yi leads ch'i; and ch'i leads jin (or li). Very simplistically translated, the above could be rendered as "spirit/heart leads the mind; the mind leads the ch'i; and the ch'i leads the trained force.
And, yes, all that sounds like gibberish to someone unfamiliar with the art. However, many famous masters, as well as the Taiji Classics give testimony to the above. Moreover, it is best not to forget that Yang Luchan arrived in Beijing from Chen Village, defeated all challengers, and became the instructor to the bodyguards for the royal family. His nickname was "Yang the Invincible", and it was not earned during peaceful times.