The Real History of the Taiyi Five Element Form

One of my favorite of the Wudang hand forms is the Tai Yi Five Element Form.  It was created during the Ming Dynasty under the reign of the Emperor Hongzhi (1488 – 1504) by the 8th generation Wudang Daoist Master Zhang Shouxing (张守性).  It has been passed down through the Wudang lineage for many generations.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) Daoism and martial arts were considered subversive, many left Wudang Mountain, and had to practice in secret or face persecution. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping became the leader of China and a period of social-economic liberalization began. Religious practice was legalized in 1979, and Wudang Daoists began to return home.

In June of 1981, the Tai Yi 5 Element Form was reintroduced to Wudang Mountain by Jin Zitao (金子弢, Manchurian name Aisin Gioro Pu Xuan) a member of the royal Manchurian family.  He had learned the form in 1929 from a priest named Li Helin (李合林).  Wudang’s oral history says that 24 year old Jin Zitao sought solace on the mountain after his wife died in childbirth.  One morning, he saw an older Daoist master named Li Helin practicing the form.  Jin Zitao approached the master, who replied that he could not pass the form on to anyone outside the lineage.  Jin Zitao, not easily dissuaded, asked to be made Li Helin’s disciple.  In 1981, when Jin Zitao was 71 years old, he returned to Wudang and taught the form, keeping it alive for future generations.   Among his students was Zhao Jianying.  Here is a montage of photographs from an old magazine that show Jin Zitao’s time on the mountain.  You can click on CC for our translation of the original Chinese text from the magazine.

The Tai Yi Five Element Form combines elements of Taiji Quan and the Five Animal Frolics qigong set, along with Daoist breathing techniques, making it an effective fighting form and a healing qigong practice.  The form was originally known as the Tai Yi Five Element Capturing and Pouncing 23 movement form (太乙五行擒扑23式). The hands are more active than Taiji Quan, containing many capturing joint locks.  The body pounces.  Turning at the waist builds strength and flexibility in the spine and massages the organs. Many direction changes and one leg movements develop balance.  

The Wudang five element from requires solid fundamental skills and demands hard work, but it is guaranteed to bring your practice to a new level.  Looking at how the form was created, passed down, threatened, and recovered, teaches us about Wudang history.  We should all be grateful to Jin Zitao for returning this treasure to us.

Here is one of my students performing the form.

Wudang Tai Yi 5 Element Form Movement List:

  1. White ape comes out from the cave.  Two peaks lie before the sun. 白猿出洞,双峰拜日
  2. Rein your horse at cliff’s edge.  Withstand clouds at the bottom of the sea. 悬崖勒马,海底顶云
  3. Flood dragon invokes the mists.  Thunderbolt strikes the mountain flood. 蛟龙溟濛,雷劈山洪
  4. Rhinoceros looks at the moon.  Turn around to support heaven. 犀牛望月,转身托天
  5. Green lion holds ball.  Lighting appears over the hall. 青狮抱球,闪起金庭     
  6. Leopard keeps beauty in its mouth.  Raise neck to startle the forest. 豹子含美,仰颈惊林     
  7. The Roc unfolds its wings to startle the animals. 大鹏展翅,群兽震惊  
  8. Deer gleans sesame and bows to drink lucid spring water. 花鹿采芝,俯饮清泉
  9. Yellow python shoots spittle to frolic with the crickets. 黄蟒含津,戏引众猛  
  10. Carp leaps out of water to stir up surging waves. 鲤鱼打挺,波浪滔天
  11. Eagle flies over mountain to catch chickens twice. 雄鹰探山,双擒鸡群
  12. Red-crowned crane soars into the sky and dances in the wind and clouds. 仙鹤腾空,飞舞风云
  13. Golden monkey seals the immortal pills and sire in the stove dies out. 金猴窃丹,炉火皆平   
  14. Green moth surveys the moon and surging wave subsides. 鲸鳄探月,波平浪静
  15. Back bear turns over its paws whose great power shakes the forest. 黑熊反掌,威震森林   
  16. Golden toad becomes immortal and sleeps in Yaochi lake drunken. 金蟾脱壳,醉卧瑶池   
  17. Magpie perches on branch to stand alone on winter plum. 喜鹊登枝,寒立梅荫
  18. Green dragon dives into sea with peaceful and concentrated mind. 苍龙入海,意守心宁   
  19. Wild horse shakes mane to demonstrate fiery violence. 野马抖鬃,烈性飞腾   
  20. Immortal money enters care and peacefully concentrates mind. 神猿入洞,性归心田
  21. Colorful phoenix flies high in sky and hundred birds chirp together. 彩凤凌空,百鸟齐鸣   
  22. Subdue tiger on fairy state to defend Daoist scriptures forever. 伏虎灵台,永守黄庭
  23. Preserve vigor and vital energy forever. 抢元守一,正气共存