A Brief History of Taijiquan

Chen-style taijiquan

Chen Bu founds the Chen Family, and begins the martial arts tradition of the Chen Village. In 1374, Chen Village moves to Henan, and later becomes known as Chenjiagou Village.

9th Generation Chen Family Leader Chen Wangting (1580-1660) is credited with integrating different elements of Chinese Philosophy, (Yin/Yang theory, Chinese Medicine, Daoyin breathing) and creating an extensive corpus of open fist routines. This appears to mark the beginning of “internal” martial arts.

Chen Chanxing (1771-1853) synthesized Chen Wangting’s extensive training corpus into two forms: First Form, and Cannon Fist. He is credited with teaching the first non-Chen family student, Yang Luchan who would become the creator of the world famous Yang style of Taiji.

Chen Fake (1887-1927) relocates from Henan Province, to Beijing. At this time, taiji chuan in the Beijing area was mostly of the Yang style, and practiced slow and relaxed. Chen Fake’s fast taiji initially startled the taiji community, and the authenticity of his style was in doubt. After taking on all-comers at a Lei Tai tournament and winning, no one doubts his method any more.

Chen Fake trained many students and disciples, and among the more well-known are Hong Junshun, Lei Muni, and Feng Zhiqiang.

Chen Fake’s second son was Chen Zhaoxu (1912-1959). His daughter was Chen Yu Xia (1924-1986). His third son was Chen Zhaokui (1928-1981).

Chen Zhaoxu‘s second son is Chen Xiaowang

Chen Zhaokui‘s son is Chen Yu

Chen Fake is Chen Yu and Chen Xiaowang’s grandfather.

As of 2015, both Chen Xiaowang, and Chen Yu are alive and teaching.

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Yang-style taijiquan

Yang Luchan (1799-1872) after studying taiji at Chen Village, Yang Luchan relocated to Beijing and founded Yang-style taijiquan.

Yang Jianhou (1839-1917) and Yang Penhou (1837-1890) were Yang Luchan’s sons, and represent the Second Generation of Yang family taijiquan

Yang Chenfu (1883-1936) and Yang Shaohou (1862-1930) are the sons of Yang Jianhou, and represent the Third Generation of Yang family taijiquan.

Yang Chenfu removed the fajin, leaps, and stamping, smoothing out the form to make it easier for anyone to learn. His slow, evenly-paced form of 103 movements is the taiji that most people think of today as “tai chi”

Yang Zhenduo (1926- ) is the Fourth Generation Yang family lineage holder.

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Wu-style taijiquan

Wu Jianquan (1870-1942) learned taiji from his father, Wu Quanyou, who was a student of Yang Luchan. Wu Jianquan (like Yang Chenfu) removed the overt fajin, the jumping and stomping movements, smoothing out the form to better teach a general audience. He is the founder of Wu-style taijiquan.

Wu Gongyi (1898-1970) was the eldest son of Wu Jianquan

Wu Gongzao (1902-1983) was the second son of Wu Jianquan

Wu Yanxia (1930-2001) was the daughter of Wu Gongzao

Wu Ta hsin (1933-2005) was the son of Wu Gongzao

Wu Dakui (1923-1972) was a son of Wu Gongyi

Wu Guangyu (1946- ) is the eldest son of Wu Dakui

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other styles of taijiquan

Hao-style taijiquan

Sun-style taijiquan

Guan Ping Yang style taijiquan

Notes:

  1. It seems apparent that the modern perception of taijiquan as “slow”, “graceful”, “meditative”, “dance-like”, and “relaxing” stem from changes to whatever Yang Luchan taught after leaving Chen village. Wu Jianquan, the founder of Wu style, and Yang Chengfu, third generation Yang style. are both credited with “de-martializing” the taiji they learned from their respective fathers, deliberately, to make taiji easier to learn by the masses.
  2. “laojia” and “xinjia” are terms related to Chen-style taijiquan. “laojia” means “old method/frame” and “xinjia” means “new method/frame”. Chen Fake is credited with creating the xinjia forms.
  3. “yilu” and “erlu” are terms related to Chen-style taijiquan. “yilu” means “first form/routine” and “erlu” means “second form/routine”.
  4. tai chi? or taiji? it is a more accurate pronunciation to type or speak “taiji”. Taiji sounds closer to what mainland Chinese speakers say, and removes any confusion between the “chi” of tai chi, and the chi of chi gung/qigong.
  5. “gatekeeper”, “lineage holder”, “indoor disciple” are all terms that some Western tai chi practitioners from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s seem to like to use to describe Chinese practitioners of taijiquan. The underlying assumption is that if you have managed to gain access to training opportunities from gatekeepers, lineage holders and their indoor disciples, you are “getting the goods”, an American taiji euphemism for “the real deal training secrets and methods”
  6. Chen Fake is perhaps one of the most legendary figures in all of taijiquan. He won all challenges and was known for being able to handle the most aggressive fighters without severely injuring them. Chen Fake’s power was described in two vivid ways: A. Chen Fake could cause dust to fall from roof tiles from the force he transmitted into the ground with his stamping. B. Grabbing or manhandling Chen Fake was likened to trying to hold onto live electrical power lines. While in Beijing, Chen Fake was purported to practice the Xinjia Yilu up to thirty (30) times a day. When I personally got my practice up to thirty times a day, i noticed two things. A. I required a lot food. B. I required a lot of sleep. I find that practicing the forms ten to twenty times a day results in less body recovery time. Chen Fake described his own power like this, “I have a whirlwind inside me”. He was adamant that grinding repetitions would lead to “real skill”, and that “real skill” shows itself. Last year (2014) while grinding repetitions, my taiji underwent a metamorphosis and ever since, I, too, have a whirlwind inside of me.