Zhang Sanfeng was a legendary Chinese Taoist priest who is believed by some to have achieved immortality, said variously to date from either the late Song Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty or Ming Dynasty. His name is said to have been Zhang Junbao before he became a Taoist.
Zhang's legend is that of indifference to fame and wealth. After declining official position and dispatching his property to his clan, he traveled around China to live the life of an ascetic. Zhang spent several years at Hua Mountain before settling in Wu Tang Mountain.
A legendary culture hero, Zhang Sanfeng is credited by modern practitioners as having originated the concepts of neijia (內家); soft, internal martial arts, specifically T'ai chi ch'uan, as a result of a Neo-Confucian syncretism of Chán Buddhist Shaolin martial arts with his mastery of Taoist Tao Yin (neigong) principles. It is said that on one occasion Zhang Sanfeng observed a bird attacking a snake on Wudang Mountain and was greatly inspired by the snake's defensive tactics. It remained still and alert in face of the birds onslaught until it made a lunge and fatally bit its attacker. This battle inspired him to create a 72-movement T'ai chi ch'uan“set.” He is also associated in legend with the Taoist monasteries at Wudang Mountains in Hubei province.
Huang Zongxi's Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan (1669) gives him credit for the development of a Taoist "internal martial arts" style, as opposed to the "external" style of the Buddhist martial arts tradition of Shaolin. Stanley Henning's article, "Ignorance, Legend and Taijiquan" is critical of the myth that Zhang San Feng created Tai Chi Chuan, and asserts that it is very likely that Zhang never existed.
Zhang Sanfeng is also said to have been versed in Shaolin Gung Fu, an expert in the White Crane and Snake styles of Chinese martial arts, as well as in the use of the Chinese straight sword or jian. According to relatively late (19th century) documents preserved within the Yang and Wu family's archives, the name of Zhang Sanfeng's master was Xu Xuanping (許宣平), said to be a Tang dynasty hermit poet and Taoist Tao Yin expert.
The Tai Chi Chuan families who ascribe the foundation of their art to Zhang traditionally celebrate his birthdate as the 9th day of the 3rd Chinese lunar month.