The father of Tai Chi and a mysterious immortal Zhang Sanfeng

Zhang Sanfeng was born in 1247 near Longhushan Mountain. As a young boy he was given to Shaolin Temple to learn martial arts. When he was around 20 he couldn’t stay in Shaolin as he felt that the place doesn’t hold him and felt more interest in Taoism than Buddhism. So he went away and lived as a wanderer. He lived modestly and was observing nature most of the day. He was spending years and years in Huangshan Mountains and villages around. Zhang used to wake up before sunrise and went to sleep with right after sunset.  He spent a long time in forests and rarely went to the village. He slept each night in a temple, but in the morning disappeared on some place where he chooses- on the peak, near the stream or in a village. If someone needed help in any village job he would just appear help in field work, gathering cattle or building house and disappear without a word. Zhang rarely spoke and only when he spent longer time in the village. He didn’t need to buy food as he was eating what he collects, grows or hunts…  After 10 years he moved to Wudang Mountains. Zhang led there the same lifestyle.  He was learning there and later teaching meditation, Herbalism, alchemy, traditional medicine and Qi Gong.

One morning when he was wandering around the forest, he heard a strange noise and saw something interesting. Zhang saw a snake and magpie fighting bitterly. He was staring without a word and watching how both of them switching from fast to slow moves and not allowing each other to win. The snake was moving flexibly accurately, avoiding bites and scratches of magpie while magpie was switching from attack technique to withdraw technique when the snake was trying to bite her. At the end no one won and each animal runs away on different side. Zhang was so inspired by this how they balance, are contradictory, but indivisible like yin yang and how accurately, they coordinate each movement whether it is slow or fast. According to legend Sanfeng was inspired by that and created concept of Tai Chi- practice of balancing energy and cultivating it. He started practicing it by himself. At the beginning he kept new martial art in secret and went on early mornings to practice it on his own and day by day was improving his breath, peaceful mind, slow movements, relaxing and coordinated movements. One day a bunch of robbers tried to attack him in a forest and for the first time he used this art in practice. By sneaky moves he avoided their strikes and was moving accurately and avoiding combat. When they got too tired, he attacked them with full power and defeated all of them.  After some time he decided to teach the other monks at Wudang  mountains Tai Chi.

He founded Sanfeng style of Tai Chi and was the first generation of Sanfeng lineage that belonged to Wudang Taoist Sect. Zhang Sanfeng was teaching them both slow and fast forms at every dawn and every evening.  After a few decades of intensive training and life in the monastery he gave full permission to his disciples to become masters of first generation and went to live alone again. It was at the end of XIII century. Taoist masters of the first generation of Sanfeng style started to continue his tradition and teach new young Taoists as their disciples the same what Zhang taught them. Later they developed the full new concept of Wudang Martial Arts. They still continue this tradition today and currently there is the 15th generation of Sanfeng style. Between XIII and XX century, Tai Chi started to be widespread among other areas and teachers that formed their styles.

Except martial arts Zhang Sanfeng was teaching other monks Taoist medicine. He was specialized in Herbalism and traditional medicine and he was contributing there a  lot.   Zhang used to say” To cultivate the mood before cultivating the medicine; to cultivate the character before cultivating the best medicine; when the mind is steady, the medicine will come naturally by itself; when the mood and character have cultivated, the good medicine will be in reach”. (Wudang Store, 2015) During XIV century, Zhang Sanfeng appeared a few times at Wudang to check how they teach. Taoists concluded that he achieved immortality. They granted him the status of an immortal and deity. Soon bronze, porcelain or wooden figures of Zhang Sanfeng appeared in temple altars at Wudangshan and Taoists worshipped him. Across whole China many people that are practicing martial arts and Tai Chi keep his figure in home altar and worship him as well.   In the middle of XIV  century first  Ming emperor  Hongwu  heard rumors about Zhang Sanfeng his life, martial arts and other good things. He came to Wudang to meet Zhang Sanfeng and Zhang burnt incense to worship the emperor as a gesture of respect but went before Hongwu came.   The Hongwu emperor  declared Mount Wudang to be most important Taoist Mountain  because of Zhang Sanfengs significance. King of Hunan came to the worship Wudang Mountain and tried to find Zhang but he wasn’t there. Hongwu sent his officials to search for Zhang but they couldn’t find him.

Third Ming Emperor-Yongle wrote a letter to Zhang and sent it to Wudang Mountain. The emperor wanted to invite Zhang Sanfeng to join the imperial state service what was very well paid and was great honor to serve the emperor at that time. Except that in letter emperor paid so much respect to Zhang Sanfeng, he called him a deity, saying that how great he is and that he wants to learn from Zhang Sanfeng. Emperor envoys were unsuccessful in finding Zhang so emperor ordered the building of Meeting God Palace and built a large copper statue of Zhang Sanfeng there. It is located in Wudang and is the largest temple that emperor built in Chinese history. Emperor bowed in front of his statue and burnt incense for him. It was the only time in Chinese history that emperor burnt incense for some Taoist and some immortal.

Enjoy China 😉


Source: Chinese legends 3- A father of Tai Chi and a mysterious immortal Zhang Sanfeng

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