Tai Chi Chuan originally was a martial art, but today, it is seldom practiced to that purpose. Tai Chi Chuan can also be considered as a form of Chi Kung (qigong) and it is also related to daoist meditation.
So why practice Tai Chi Chuan, if you could as well practice Chi Kung, daoist meditation and self-defense?
Tai Chi Chuan is very unique that it not only reaps the benefits of these 3 practices: When Chang San Feng merged these elements into Tai Chi Chuan, he created something new and unique and its benefits are by far greater than the sum of its elements.
Chi Kung (qigong) is an umbrella term for all sorts of energetic exercises. Chi Kung practices aim at increasing and harmonizing the chi flow in the body. The earliest beginnings of Chi Kung are hidden in the mists of antiquity, the earliest references date back 5000 years, but the beginnings are probably much older.
Tai Chi Chuan was invented by the taoist sage Chang San Feng, probably in the 12th century. Outwardly it is a martial art, but its inner principles come from Chi Kung and taoist meditation.
According to the tradition of the Yang-family, Tai Chi Chuan was created by the sage Chang San Feng. He was a master of external martial arts (Shaolin) before he became a disciple of the immortal Huo Lung (fire dragon), from whom he learned daoist meditation. He was amazed by the flow of energy he experienced in the meditation and asked his master how to incorporate this energy-flow into his martial art. The master remained silent. Then Chang San Feng witnessed the fight between a crane and a snake and suddenly realized the he just saw the principles in action. He then modified the external movements until they were in harmony with his inner chi-flow, thus creating a new art: Tai Chi Chuan.
Tai Chi Chuan was transmitted secretly until it emerged in Chenjiagou, when Chiang Fa, a passing stranger, taught it to the villagers.
For a long time, Tai Chi Chuan was only transmitted in secret, until it came to the Chen village, when Jiang Fa taught it there. Yang Lu Chan learned this art from Chen Chang Hsing and later went to Beijing where he became the instructor of the imperial guards. His art, that was formerly known under other names such as „cotton boxing“ of „soft boxing" was eventually named „Tai Chi Chuan“.
Yang Lu Chan had two sons who in turn became famous masters. From then on, their art was transmitted from generation to generation in the Yang-family. But the masters of the Yang family had other students, imperial guards, manchu princes and other important persons. These were not taught the entirety of the style, which was jealously guarded by the family. These students in turn had their own students, who in their turn learned their version of Tai Chi Chuan. There was a multitude of different ways of doing the movements, often named after the first practitioner’s family name, i.e. Wu, Hao, Tung or Sun. This is how the many „styles“ came into being. Event the original was now named after the family in which it was handed down, hence the Yang-style. Some students of the Yang family, notably students of Yang Cheng Fu, did not change the name of the style they learned, although they were not taught the original or made changes by themselves. One such student in particular became famous for bringing Tai Chi Chuan (taijiquan) to the west: Cheng Man Ching.
According to Fu Zhong Wen, "there is only one Tai Chi". He states that in fact Yang Lu Chan learned the form known today as the Yang-style from Chen Chang Hsing and did not make it up himself.
Master Chu King Hung is one of the three disciples of the great-grandson of Yang Lu Chan. He teaches the family style as he has learned from his Master to whom it was handed down from his ancestors.
External martial arts need a high degree of strength and fitness to be effective. Usually, the heavier, stronger and/or quicker person wins. With the age, the fighing prowess diminishes.
In internal martial arts, the motor behind the movements is not strength in the conventional way. It is chi, which can be used to directly affect an adversary through his meridian system. The techniques are effortless if done correctly, even with a much stronger or heavier adversary.
The basics of external martial arts can be mastered in a couple of months, in internal arts, several years of intense training are necessary before the techniques can be applied in self-defense.
Today, real internal arts have become very rare. Even the well-known internal martial arts such as Pa Kua Chang (baguazhang), Hsing I Chuan (xingyiquan) and Tai Chi Chuan (taijiquan) are usually practiced externally, the internal principles having been lost. The Original Yang Style is an exception, the internal principles have not been forgotten and can be learned by everyone.