Tai Chi History: V. Evolving Stage

How did it go from the True stage (Chen Changxing) to the evolving stage?

First, there is the creation of Yang style Tai Chi when Chen Changxing taught Yang Lu-Chan. At that time it was said that the Chens did not teach people outside the family bloodlines. But as it is passed down in the Chen family they were afraid to go and teach outside because it would not just be a personal humiliation but a humiliation of the entire family and village. The Chens were involved in bodyguard and caravan protection services at the time, so it was deemed not possible to teach outside the village. This was a sort of humble nature expressed by the Chen families, they assumed that there were other people bigger or stronger at kungfu than themselves and did not wish to test themselves too strongly.

So the story is that Yang Lu-Chan lived in Chenjiagou for about 18 years, and he learned the boxing well because he was interested in it, and so many people were practicing and teaching at least the basics openly in the village. After Yang Lu-Chan left the village he went back to Yongnian county in Hebei province, as his home is in Yongnian county.

In Chenjiagou at that time there was a landlord named Chen De-hu (whom) the Yulinyuan of the Qing Dynasty invited. He set up a training area in his courtyard home. At the time, Chen Changxing was then teaching in this training area. Yang Lu-Chan was a servant in this house at the time, so he was able to see what was being trained in the inner courtyard.

Is there any backstory to this? Yes. At the time, in Chenjiagou, there was no solemn ceremony of master and apprentice. If you were in Chenjiagou and you learned it, then you were automatically the master or apprentice. There was no kind of ceremony or certificate.

But simply because Yang Lu-Chan was living in Chen De-Hu’s house and was able to watch what was going on, that was not enough. Yang nevertheless managed to “steal” the boxing. This means when people practice boxing outside in a hot summer, he watched there at that time, from far away. This is called stealing. When the master had finished boxing practicing and had gone home, the students often remained afterwards to practice. So during this time of ten or more years just by watching and practicing on his own Yang was able to learn the form of the boxing very well.

So one night at dusk when Yang was practicing, Chen Changxing had his dinner a little earlier and came to the house of Chen De-hu. He saw a man practicing boxing from far away, that he did not recognize, but as the saying goes a master can judge from just looking at a few moves. Chen Changxing saw that Yang’s boxing had become very well, so he called out, “Who is that practicing boxing over there?” Yang Lu-Chan answered, “Oh me, Fu-Kui.” since at the time his nickname was Fu-Kui. So Chen Chang-xing kept walking by and just said “Good, keep practicing”. Chen Chang-xing did not belie his deep impression of Yang Lu-Chan’s skill at the time.

So the next time, when Chen Changxing’s relatives, sons, nephews etc. all came to practice in the courtyard, and Yang Lu-Chan would go and hide somewhere else, Chen Changxing decided to call Yang into the courtyard. This is how Yang Lu-Chan got “inside the door” and practiced boxing with the family since then.

After he finished learning from Chen Changxing, there is another story about how he left Chen village and went back to Yongnian county.

At the time Chen Dehu had two wives. But without sons. So after Chen Dehu died, there is only his little wife aged just over 40 years, which is similar to the age of Yang Lu-Chan. So there is a saying in the feudal-age agriculture society, that disputes are more in front of widow’s house. In such circumstances Yang Lu-Chan learnt well, the head of the Chen family said to Chen Changxing, look, the people in Chen dehu’s family are now all female, so it is improper for a man not of their family to live in their house, and since Yang Lu-Chan had learnt well we can let him go and develop elsewhere.

It was under these circumstances that Chen Changxing told Yang Lu-Chan that his learning was complete and that he could go outside and make a living on it. In such circumstances Yang Lu-Chan returned to Yongnian county. He became well-known because of his gongfu. Then he taught Wu Yuxiang. Afterwards he moved to Beijing and had many other students.

So, Yang style Tai Chi began to evolve. To Wu style, and others. When Wu Yuxiang asked Yang Lu-Chan, where did you learn it, he answered that his teacher was Chen Changxing in Chenjiagou. So Wu Yuxiang, whose ancestry in the Ming Dynasty were successful military canidates in the imperial examinations (and also officials), he had practiced wushu boxing before. Therefore after learning from Yang he wanted to learn more of the art and wanted to visit the Chen family in Chenjiagou.

He found an excuse to travel there quickly. At that time Wu Yuxiang’s elder brother was at Wuyang County (on the south bank of the Yellow river). He was a magistrate there. So if his brother went just south he would pass by Chenjiagou. There were no roads or trains so just by walking they would pass by Hulaoguan. Hulaogyuan and Chenjiagou were straight south and straight north. So they had to pass by this area (now called Sishui cross). So anyways Wu Yuxiang went to Chen village and asked to see Chen Changxing. Chen Changxing was old at the time, but did not say he would not teach him.

I think, why Tai Chi boxing is in disorder later on, so disorderly, there must be some roots. So he said he wanted to learn from Chen Changxing who was so old. So Chen changxing did not say he would not teach him, but said he will recommend someone who can do a better job at teaching (someone who is younger) in Chenjiagou. This person was Chen Qingping laoshi. Chen Qingping was the 15th generation.

About the 15th generation. At that time the former generation was very careful. Chen qingping and Yang luchan were the same generation. So because Wu yuxiang learned from Chen Qingping, and Chen Qingping and Yang Luchan were the same generation, he was placed “in the next round”, and considered a grandson-student of Chen changxing. Such a placement was reasonable, so Chen changxing did not teach him, and said I am too old to teach, but will recommend you to someone a very good teacher.

So, Wu Yuxiang finally arrived in Wuyang County. He then said that in a salt store of Wuyang County, there had a book, which is ‘On Tai Chi Boxing’ by Wang Zongyue. This was said to be a very mystical coincidence.

So, Wu Yuxiang taught Hao Weizhen, who passed down to two generations and then to Sun Lutang. Sun Lutang was very skilled at Xingyiquan and Baguazhang. Since he was a famous expert and very friendly with good wude (morals), he was able to learn with very skilled Tai Chi masters easily. So by Sun Lutang’s time, there was already an integration of Xingyiquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan. At the time his art was known as “He zai yi qi” (combination) form. He then formed what became known as Sun style Tai Chi. Therefore, in the viewpoint of evolving stage, Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu/Hao and Sun, these five each had their own characteristics. it had passed to 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. Well in the past as a saying goes in the society, that all of these styles were in the same family, directly or indirectly, they were all evolved from Chen family.

But since 1980, there has been many Tai Chi Boxings, such as Wudang Tai Chi, Zhaobao Tai Chi (ed: Taoist Tai Chi. You see?). Before, there was no Zhaobao tai chi. When you hear this, don’t you think that it is strange? In the past of feudal society they each have their own family. Chen family was Chen style. Yang family was Yang style. Wu family was Wu style. Wuu(Hao) family was Wuu or Hao. Sun family was Sun style. Each was considering their own reputation. But Zhaobao (and Wutang) is the name of a place. In the past, Chen Qingping married a woman from Zhaobao village and and taught Tai Chi boxing there. In the past we all knew Zhaobao village even from 100 li away.  It’s name was Zhaobao Shelf (like Chen Family Ditch). So what is Zhaobao shelf? Later on, Chen Qingping taught He zhaoyuan, who has many apprentices. It is also called He Style Zhaobao Shelf. This is how we have Zhaobao style today. Since the 1980s, there is also a person called Lai Huyou. He began calling it Zhaobao style Tai Chi. So we call it Zhaobao Tai Chi now because it is the common term, but normally in the past (in the long-time past) the Chens would never have taught tai chi in Zhaobao village because it was a different family. So that is why you don’t ever hear anything about Zhaobao Tai Chi from before the 1980s.

So there is a proverb, handed down like this, the different types of Tai Chi boxing, including the Chen style and Sun style, all share the same ancestor. The Hao style of tai Chi only existed for a very short time and so did not achieve anything. It was promoted by Hao Weizhen but was not passed down to very many people. So as it was so rare it was said to have achieved nothing and was not regarded as a full sect of tai Chi boxing. Only at that time was Sun style able to stand out as a new sect of tai Chi boxing. So that is why it is said that all these five families share the same ancestor.

Before, Zhaobao Tai Chi was only ever practiced in Zhaobao village, but today has spread and many people have become interested in it. This then forms the rating for the evolving stage.

Well, as to whom the father of Chen style Tai Chi boxing learned from — I think it is a textual criticism with historical significance. we also home to get a clear idea about it. we have enough evidence to testify the origin and the developing stages of Zhaobao Tai Chi boxing, otherwise we would not call it an independent sect.

Without evidence, anyone can say whatever. History is written by a man. When the man recorded what he did in a particular time, it became history in after time. As long as there is reliable evidence to support what we say, we are justified in rating Zhaobao Tai Chi boxing as one sect of Tai Chi Boxing. This is the end of the evolving stage.

from “Lecture on Chen Style Tai Chi” by Zhu Tiancai.