A Tai Chi master is a lifelong student of the secrets of the martial art called Tai Chi, and can belong to one of several schools of thought. The major styles in existence today include New Frame Style, Yang Style, Old Frame Style, and Wu Style. Other popular styles include Zhao Bao Style, Hu Lei Style, Wu Shi Style and Sun Style. To become a Tai Chi master, the student must train the body to release stress, focus and calm the mind, and learn to yield to an attack rather than react with force. The Tai Chi master knows all aspects of Tai Chi and has mastered all of them.
Tai Chi masters of the past often performed great feats of skill that became legendary, earning them the reputation of being a master. Modern Tai Chi masters commonly compete in competitions and get certification from academies and organizations. Tai Chi masters usually have expertise in other Chinese martial art forms as well, such as Wushu or Kung fu. Tai Chi requires so much internal work, however, that the principle skill of a Tai Chi master is not their ability to fight but rather their internal calm and the control of chi, or energy throughout the body.
Real Tai Chi masters are rare and difficult to find. They almost always began their studies of martial arts at a very young age from another master. Tai Chi masters are typically well grounded in Taoist philosophy and often are experts in Push Hands, a form of practice in which two people push gently against each other while maintaining relaxation and balance. The mixture of Tai Chi, Taoism and Qigong can make the Tai Chi master a powerful individual in perfect balance and peace.
Many Tai Chi masters trace their lineage back to Zhang San-feng, a Chinese student of a Taoist priest during the Yuan dynasty, making Tai Chi one of the oldest forms of martial arts. Zhang San-feng taught several others his art, and these students created a lineage of Tai Chi masters down to modern times. Zhang San-feng was already 70 years old when he created Tai Chi, and legend says that he became inspired when he was watching the movements of a bird attacking a snake. Rather than a gentle form of exercise as it is often used today, Zhang wanted a martial art that he could use to defend himself as he traveled across China, especially since he was slow and weak. The name Tai chi chuan literally means "supreme ultimate fist."