The founder of Tai Chi is historically a Taoist monk called Chan Sang Feng, who lived in China in the 13th century. He was reputedly a great master of the Shaolin Martial Art, and a former Shaolin Buddhist Monk.
It is said that he was not happy with the hard straight oriented techniques of Shaolin, and wished to use a softer method in training. One day while resting on the veranda, he watched in fascination a battle between a large bird and a snake. The bird was ten times the snakes size. But as the bird lunged and snapped at the snake, the wily reptile, coiled, dodged, and lashed attacks back at its giant foe. Eventually the bird gave up in exhaustion and flew off in search of easier prey. It is said at that moment Tai Chi was invented.
Chan San Feng combined the softness of the snake, with his profound martial art skill, and Tai Chi Chuan was born. The next five centuries are shrouded in mystery; it was not until the 18th century when a man called Chen Chang Hsing was teaching the then secret art of Chen Tai Chi to his relatives, that history becomes clearer.
A man called Yang Lu Chan, who was employed as a servant by the Chens, had been secretly watching, and learning their art. Already a skilled martial artist, Yang had learned their art very well, and when it was discovered, Chen Chang Hsing was so impressed he allowed him to learn the whole system. It was from this moment the Yang Style of Tai Chi was born.
Yang Lu Chan became very famous over the years, and was asked to teach the Chinese Royal Family who ordered him not to teach anyone but themselves and family members. In secret, Yang disobeyed and taught many students. Yang Lu Chan passed his art to his two sons Yang Pan Hou and Yang Chien Hou. But it was Master Yang Cheng Fu, son of Yang Chien Hou, who revolutionised the art. He wanted the ordinary people to gain good health, both mental and physical from practising Tai Chi. He modified the art making it simpler, and more straight forward, and emphasised the health giving qualities more than the martial arts aspects.
The art spread across the whole of China, and through the teachers that followed Yang Chen Fu to other parts of the world. Today Tai Chi is thought of as a health art for all ages, rather than a martial art, although a few schools teach the original Tai Chi Martial Art.
From the teaching of Yang Cheng Fu many styles of Tai Chi were born. Apart from the Yang and Chen styles already mentioned, there is the Wu, Sun, Woo Chien Chuen, Chen Man Ching and many varieties of these styles.