While kungfu was developed as an external, combative form of physical discipline, Zhang San-feng(living sometime in the perod 960-1279 AD) was creating a twechnique that would make him a legendary patriarch of latter-day Tai Chi Chuan. He is often attributed to the time of Song Dynasty, though the most reliable and accepted evidence indicates that Zhang San-feng was the former magistrate and scholar of Confucianism for Chung Shan County, and was a native from Yi Zhou in today's east Liaoning Province. According to this evidence, he was born on the ninth day of the fourth moon of 1247 AD, in the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368AD).
His fame became established after he had completed a ten-year devotion at the Shaolin Manastery where, besides studying the Chinese Buddhist doctrines, he learned the " exoteric martial arts," wai kung . Zhang San-feng went on to study Taoism at the K'o Hung Mountain Monastery, which led him to wander as a hermit until he reached the Taoist enclave at Wudang Shan, sometimes referred to found in Hubei Province. Here he founded the first major esoteric of internal school, nei kung , of martial arts. This was the birthplace of modern Tai Chi Chuan.
A Chinese Merlin, Zhang San-feng laid out the initial moves of the Tai chi form, based on inspirational and dreams he had experienced. Composed much later, the Tai Chi classics state that one night he dreamed of a Taoist Immortal advising him to reform his strenuous training methods, to relax the rigors he had developed as part of his earlier Shaolin training. The message of the dream troubled him for a long time, until one day he spotted a snake and a crane in deadly combat.
Zhang San-feng noticed that before the snake attacked, it would raise its head, bow its body, and appear to gather its intrinsic energy, ready to strike out like an arrow. In response, the crane would deflect an entire program of motions and responses. He adapted the crane's motion into the " brush knee" posture. The crane would retaliate by stabbing its beak down at its prey, in a manner adapted into the Taking a Needle from the Bottom of theSea motion. The snake used its flexibility to sway or dodge the strike, as in "roll back ";this allowed the snake to lash out at the crane's leg, but the crane would simply raise the vulnerable limb in a relaxed fashion so that the snake's bite could not attach itself, thanks to the "emptiness" of the bird's extremity. This is because the Snake Creeps Down and the White Snake Puts Out Its Tongue postures.
These "crane" moves were integrated into the middle of the Yang style, especially with the kicking sequences designed to strengthen the lower limbs and improve balance. This natural display of yin and yang from the animal kingdom made a great impression, providing him with the realization that yielding is more effective than using brutal force. Zhang San-Feng still incorporated many of the martial postures he had learned from the Shaolin Monastery, but he tempered them with his own variations and innovations , creating his own his chang chuan, "long boxing."
The snake and the crane also have a magical significance in the West. Having deciphered obcure Western alchemical texts, Jung found that the snake symbolized the "chthonic," with earth energy represented as a dragon or physics, which makes up the element equivalent to yin in Chinese philosophy. Distinct from this creeping reptile, the crane stands for the aerial, the spiritual, psychic energy that is the yang principle. Therefore, the snake and the crane present two principle opposites of Nature in both Chinese and European alchemy. In Tai Chi Chuan, the Snake Creeps down has a martial application, but it also signifies the descent into Underworld. "Redemption" takes places in the next move, when the " Golden Bird(crane) stands on One leg," portraying the ascent of the spirit. These movements, then, comprise paradise lost and found.
Even though he was a recluse on Wudang Mountain, Zhang San-feng taught openly, his reputation reaching the Emperor of China. That ruler, sent soldiers to recruit Zhang San-feng in order to increase the martial prowess of his court. The military escort was disappointed, though, when they found Zhang San-feng: he feigned madness(convincingly)and was able to elude the escort. The duped soldiers left empty-handed, leaving the hermit to continue his path in peace . but thereafter he taught more discretely.
Another legend tells of one of the Emperor's sons who went hunting and encountered Zhang San-feng in the forest. The prince's curtiers ordered the disheveled Zhang to leave the area immediately, as his presence was disturbing the game and therefore the hunt. Zhang, quite literally up a tree at the time, politely refused.
There was a order given do dispatch the recalcitrant monk to heaven with a flurry of arrows. Several ace archers fired theur bows at the target, but, to the prince's alarm, Zhang San-feng jumped off his branch and proceeded to catch and break all the arrows as he descended. When safely on terra firma, he returned the snapped shafts to their surprised owners.
Zhang San-feng was ever-elusive - and he dludes us still when we seek more details about his life. When he disappears from history and legend, the course of Tai ChiChuan becomes cloudy again. The story to claritywith the Chen clan, a powerful family from Henan Province in central China. According to the custom of those days, the elders of powerful clans would patronize and retreat into monasteries. It seems reasonable to assume that the Chen Clan were taught their Tai Chi Chuan by disciples from Wudang Mountain, which lies near to their home district.