Taoist Warriors of Wudang Mountain

A Taoist temple at Wudang. (Image:  drnan tu via  flicker CC BY-SA 2.0)
A Taoist temple at Wudang. (Image: drnan tu via flicker CC BY-SA 2.0)

Wudang Mountain — the birthplace of Tai Chi. Set within the peaks and cliffs of the mountain lies a cluster of Taoist temples where Taoist warriors practice Tai Chi. At the end of staircases up into the temples are courtyards filled with warriors focused on their training, swinging fans adorned with the symbol of yin and yang, almost in a meditative state. The beautiful scenery surrounding the temples testifies to the display of agility, flexibility, and discipline of these warriors as they break from silence to forms and techniques that seemingly defy the rules of gravity.

The place where it all started

Widely referred to as the most sacred of China’s five great mountains, Wudang has cradled many Taoist warriors as they achieved spiritual fruition and master the martial arts. UNESCO has recognized the collection of age-old structures as a world heritage site. Definitely an “architectural and artistic achievements of China’s Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties,” as described by the international organization.

Architectured to honor the “Mysterious Warrior” — the deity Xuan Wu — most of the temples have long been standing on the mountain since the 7th century. However, from 9 monasteries, 9 palaces, and 72 temples, the number has dropped to 53 sacred ancient buildings today. There’s the Purple Cloud Temple, rumored to be the dwelling place of the Green Dragon Blade. Another is the Nanyan Temple, where the devotees view the cliff as the gates to Heaven. The Golden Hall which, as legend says, was originally built in Beijing and then transported to the mountain. All these temples have witnessed the hardship and struggles of Taoists since Tai Chi’s genesis.

Wudang is the most sacred of China’s five great mountains. (Image: Tauno Tõhk via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Taoist martial artists in Wudang

Branded as the “First Divine Mountain Under Heaven (天下第一仙山),” Zhang Sanfeng established the Wudang sect in the mountain during the 13th century. History says that the legendary Chinese Taoist stood a whopping 7 feet tall and was as firm as a pine tree. This living legend is said to have lived for 200 years and to have achieved immortality as a diety.

His teachings have attracted many followers from many places, and have even promoted the Taoist theory in subsequent years.

His major achievement was the invention of Tai Chi. According to one legend, his inspiration for crafting the martial arts came when he witnessed a fight between a snake and a magpie inside a cave where he did his exercises. The magpie attacked the snake incessantly, but to no avail. Stricken with exhaustion, the snake found the perfect opening and ended the battle with one deadly strike, thus, the birth of Tai Chi — “Conquering the unyielding with the yielding and coping with all motions by remaining motionless.”

Tai Chi’s principle is essentially the integration of the mind and the body into one, the full control of breathing and movements, maintaining proper posture, and developing song (loosening 松) and jing (serenity 静). When these principles are followed, the body will cultivate the qi, or life energy, that will flow smoothly throughout the body. When the mind and body become one, accompanied by an active qi resulting from a disciplined Tai Chi practice, total harmony is then achieved. There is a profound cultivation aspect of Tai Chi to improve the moral state of the practitioner, but that seems to have been lost nowadays.

Tai Chi’s principle is the integration of the mind and the body into one. (Image: wikimedia / GNU FDL)

Today, people from different races travel from their homeland to train as a skilled martial artist in Tai Chi and Kung Fu at Wudang Mountain. Aspiring students also get to learn Taoist healthcare.

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