According to one legend, Tai Chi (also written T’ai Chi Ch’üan, or taiji quan in the more modern pinyin transliteration) was invented during the Song dynasty (12th-13th century), by a Taoist monk from the Wudang Mountains, Zhang Sanfeng. Zhang Sanfeng was already adept in the practice of the Shaolin “external school” (waijia). According to legend, one night in a dream he received the revelation of the “internal school” (neijia) techniques from the Taoist warrior god Zhenwu. Waking up, he put these new techniques to good use by killing 100 bandits single-handed!
Another charming story describes how the sage one day saw a white crane attacking a snake. Observing the fluid circular defensive motions of the snake, and the rapid, stabbing offensive motions of the bird, Zhang Sangfeng was inspired to create the fluid and explosive forms of Tai Chi.
Zhang Sangfeng must have been an expert practitioner of the forms, since he is said to have lived for hundreds of years and to have ended his life by merging with the Dao and becoming an immortal.
These are all legends of course, not history, and it is not even certain that Zhang Sanfeng was a real historical person. But like most legends, the stories of the Zhang Sanfeng’s life contain elements of truth, and have something to tell us about the historical origins of Tai Chi, by associating it closely with Taoist philosophy.
The first references to a physical practice that begins to look like Tai Chi can be found in the founding works of the Taoist philosopher Zhuang Zhou:
“Inhaling and exhaling in different ways, spitting out the old breath and introducing the new breath, imitating the bear, or the bird stretching its neck, all this tends towards gaining eternal life. This is what those who practice daoyin gymnastics enjoy, those who nourish the body and desire to live as long as Pengzu