Tai Chi History: Part 4

Tai Chi History Part 4: Leaving the Chen Village

Part 4 of a seven parts article continues with the Brief History of Tai Chi and how it leaves the Chen village.

As this knowledge was passed on it is likely that it was added to, improved on and that various styles emerged – as was the case with Kung Fu. (It should be made clear at this point that the term ‘Tai Chi’ is being used in this article in a general sense, strictly speaking it was not until a much later era that it was used to describe a combat art. Before then the various styles where known by other names). So now we come to the Chen Village circa mid 1600’s, when history becomes a little clearer – but only just.

The village was and still is very remote and again, there is debate about how Tai Chi came to be practised there, some sources even declaring that the whole Tai Chi thing was devised by a village member named Chen Wan Ting. Whether or not Chen was the true author of Tai Chi or that he further refined martial art skills passed down from unknown sources, his contribution was significant enough for his style to be acknowledged as the origin of Chen Family Style Tai Chi.

Over subsequent generations his Forms were passed on in secret through family members and further developed to a very high level. The village prospered by developing a flourishing trade in herbs which was greatly assisted by the ability of village members to fight off attempts to steal the produce. Word began to spread about this seemingly amazing internal martial art, eventually reaching the ears of Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872).

At the time, Yang was already a proficient martial artist and highly motivated to improve his abilities. For whatever reason, either deciding to investigate the Chen system for himself or being advised to do so by his teacher – being the only way to advance any further – he arrived in the Chen village at some point in the early 1800’s. Because the Chen system was still secret and not taught to outsiders it is said that Yang passed himself off as a servant for many years, contriving to learn the art by spying on training sessions, only learning it properly when he was discovered and able to prove his worthiness to be taught. Whatever the truth may be he learnt very well because he came to be known as “Yang the Invincible,” being able to defeat anyone who challenged him in combat.

Yang eventually left the Chen village, began travelling and as well as proving himself invincible, taught his own style of Tai Chi to others (in private – not public). He started a family (having three sons and four grandsons – one of whom was Yang Cheng Fu) and eventually became martial arts teacher to the Imperial Court and the Emperor’s personal guard – a position reserved for the proven best martial artist in China. Of the three sons, one died early but the other two learnt their Farther’s art and joined him as instructors in the Imperial Court. Their collective style became known as the Yang Family Style.

It was during Yang’s time at the Imperial Court that the Scholar Ong Tong (after watching a contest in which Yang Lu Chang defeated a series of challengers) wrote a verse that defined Yang’s technique as the physical manifestation of Taiji (Tai Chi) philosophy. Thereafter Yang’s Style was referred to as ‘Taijiquan’ and by association, so too were all the other styles that sprang from it.

Click here to read Part 5 – Yang family begets other styles

More details on tai chi as offered at the Golden Lion Academy can be found by clicking on the link.