A History of Chenjiagou Taijiquan as told by Grandmaster Zhu

Here we present you with an excerpt from one of our teacher’s books which we translated.  It gives you an inside view of Tai Chi came about through the eyes of a Chen villager, where Grandmaster Zhu Tian Cai grew up.  It also provides you with a clearer picture of the Chen lineage.

THE ORIGINS OF TAIJIQUAN

The original birthplace of Taijiquan — Henan, Chenjiagou village is situated in East Wenxian city , Si Li Jin Feng Ling. Six hundred years ago, it was formerly known as Changyang village instead, according to written history, in the early Ming dynasty, around 1368. It was the period when Zhu Yuan Zhang overthrew the Yuan dynasty and became the first Ming emperor. A Yuan general, Tien Mo Er held on to the Huei Chin district in Henan province. There was a prolonged war where Zhu Yuan Zhang wiped out the whole city including the civilians. After the war, in order to rebuild the city, Ming officials decided to relocate en-mass, people from the neighbouring Shanxi province. Chen Pu who was from the Shanxi province had to move. He settled in Wenxian country, in the Huei Chin area. In this part, there were man-made drainage ditches found every kilometre to drain water off to the Yellow River nearby. A family was found between every pair of ditches, so that each family had their own ditches. A pair belonged to the Chen family. Eventually the area bordered by the Chen family ditches was filled up with Chen family members with a population of about 3,000. The ditch is known as ?ou?in Mandarin, hence, the name Chenjiagou came about.

{mosgoogle}

In the early settlement period, the Chen clan concentrated on the rebuilding of their family. To protect themselves in the new territory, they practised martial art when they were not doing farming. It was not until AD 1754, that they started to keep proper records in “Chen Family History”. As there was a time lapse of four hundred years between the mass migration and the time they started their records, some important information had been lost. The recording of martial art was only started from the ninth generation, during Chen Wang Ting period.

In the oral history of the Chen family that was passed down, Chen Pu was considered the first generation of the Chen family. However, there were no further historical reports until the seventh generation. It was said that Chen Pu had four grandsons who prospered.

It was not until the ninth generation of the Chen family, Chen Wan Ting? time that Taijiquan became known. However, it was not known as Taijiquan then. It was known as the Fist Method. It was when the Ming dynasty fell and the Ching dynasty arose that Chen Wang Ting returned to the Chen village and created his forms of boxing. The most famous general at the time was Qi Ji Guang who was known for his “32 movement boxing”. Chen Wang Ting then used this as a foundation upon which he developed his own martial form which later became Taijiquan.

The history records on Chen Wang Ting can also be found in The Wen County History Book. It states that Chen Wang Ting was a famous Martial Artist in the Late Ming Dynasty. This was a fact, which contradicted other sources. There are a few hypothetical versions regarding the origination of Taijiquan that are floating around. Namely:

  1. Zhang Shan Feng invented Taijiquan.

  2. Taijiquan was invented by Wang Chong Yue,

  3. Taijiquan was invented by Zhang Shan Feng, who taught Wang Chong Yue. Wang Chong Yue in turn taught Jiang Fa. Jiang Fa then later imparted the skill to Chen Wang Ting.

Zhang Shan Feng was the Taoist leader during the early Ming Dynasty (around 1368), he practised Taoism in Tai He, more popularly known as Wu Dang Mountain. According to the Ming History Book and Tai He Mountain History record, it was never mentioned that Zhang practised any form of martial art. In 1723, a Taoist Wan Xi Ling who wrote the Zhang Shan Feng History Book, stated that he met the 14th century Zhang Shan Feng. However, there was no claim about Zhang knowing martial art or Taijiquan. According to Taijiquan Handbook written by Tang Hao and Guo Liuxin, nothing was recorded about anyone who had practised Taijiquan imparted by Zhang Shan Feng. Hence, it is not likely at all that Zhang Shan Feng had invented Taijiquan.

Wang Chong Yue, was from Shan Xi. He had written a few theories about Taijiquan. However, there are no known chronicles about his life to be found anywhere in the official records. An estimation would put place him around 1795. He should be born around 1730, which was the same period as Chen Chang Xin’s father (Chen Chang Xin, 1771-1852). Chen Bin Wang (Chang Xin’s father) and his brothers Chen Bin Ren and Chen Bin Qi were already well-established martial artists. They were called “The Chen Threesome”. The hypothesis that Wang Chong Yue taught Jiang Fa was not possible as Jiang Fa was Chen Wang Ting’s servant. That is to say that Wang Chong Yue was teaching Jiang Fa who was 100 years older.

 

 

THE EVOLUTION OF TAIJIQUAN

The original Fist Method consisted of seven sets, of which only two sets survived by the time of the fifth generation of Chen Chang Xing. These are the first set of Taijiquan, and the Cannon Fist (known as the second form). Chen Chang Xing’s cousin, Chen You Ben, modified the original form and created his own style. His style is known as the “New Form Chen Style Taijiquan” today. Chen You Ben’s student and relative Chen Qing Ping learnt Taijiquan and changed the form to a style known as the “Zhao Bao form” as he lived in Zhao Bao Town, about 10km from Chen family village. Hence, the old form was passed on from Chen Chang Xing to his family and students. This was only imparted amongst Chen family members, until Yang Lu Chan, an outstanding individual was taken in as a student.

Yang hailed from the Yongnian country of Hebei province, and was orphaned at a young age. A wealthy landowner, Chen Ge Hu, adopted Yang who was then seven or eight years old. Yang went on to work as a clerk in Chen Ge Hu? herb store. When Chen Ge Hu decided to close the store because he was getting old and had no children to pass it on to, he moved back to Chenjiagou. He brought Yang along with him, where Yang worked as a servant for the household. Around that time, martial arts was popular and there were ten training halls in the village. Chen Ge Hu? family owned one of them. The training were taught under the fourteenth generation Chen Chang Xin. In Chen Ge Hu? training hall, there were twenty-seven youngsters around Yang? age. As a servant, Yang was not privileged to learn, but he was allowed to stand at the side to watch. The training was not a secret. Whenever, Chen Chang Xin left the training hall, the other youngsters would call out to Yang, who was nicknamed, Fu Kuei, to join them in their practice.

Thereafter, Yang would practise in the hall after his afternoon chores, and became quite good over the years. Then one day, Chen Chang Xin happened to come in earlier, and noticed a shadowy figure practising. When asked who he was, Yang identified himself as Fu Kuei. When Chen Chang Xin started the class, Yang moved to the side and watched. Chen Chang Xin called out to Yang, and told him to come in. That was how Yang was accepted as a student. Chen Chang Xin accepted him as he saw that Yang had good form, the punches executed were powerful, and showed good potential. Yang was about twenty years old at that time. Thus, Yang studied with Chen Chang Xin for another seven years.

When Chen Ge Hu died, leaving behind his middle-aged widow, the villagers were concerned that Yang, who was thirty years old then, would be living alone with the widow. To avoid gossip, the villagers consulted with Chen Chang Xin, and decided to send Yang back to his home district. Before Yang departed, Chen Chang Xin told him that he was skilled enough to teach Taijiquan.

Yang went on to Beijing to teach around 1852. He had modified the Chen Taijiquan to a softer form for easier practice, to suit the needs of the general public. Later, Yang went back to Chenjiagou to further this training, but Chen Chang Xin had died. Yang then learnt from Chen Chang Xin? son, Chen Gen Yuan. It was also known in the Chen village that Yang had an official title from teaching Ching officials, and had a special robe to mark his status. However, whenever Yang returned to Chenjiagou, he would take off his robe, as he did not want to appear haughty. The Chen villagers knew him as a humble man.

While in Beijing, Yang and his son, Yang Ban Hou taught a Man Tribe (northern Chinese tribe) person named Quan You. The Yangs taught him a simpler version of Taijiquan. Quan You then imparted the Yang’s style to his son, Wu Jian Quan, who further changed his father’s form according to his own needs, and came up with his variation. Thus, the Wu Jian Quan style was developed.

Around the same time, Wu Yu Xiang also learned the Chen style Taijiquan Old Form from Yang Lu Chan. Then he learned the Zhao Bao form which is the ‘small frame’ version of Chen style Taijiquan from Chen Ching Ping. Combining the two, Wu Yu Xiang created his own form of the Wu Style Taijiquan. Later, Wu Yu Xiang taught Li Ji Yu who was Wu Yu Xiang’s nephew. Li Ji Yu, in turn, taught Hao Wei Zhen who then taught Sun Lu Tang. Sun Lu Tang was already well recognised for his Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang in Beijing. He was 50 years old when he started learning Taijiquan. Subsequently, Sun Lu Tang combined all the styles he had learnt into a single form, the Sun Style Taijiquan.

The Yang style, a variation of the original Chen style, went through many modifications since Yang? time. His sons were also proficient martial artists and each had, in turn, modified their father’s art. The most popular form seen today is the one taught by Yang? grandson, Yang Cheng Fu. It was Yang Cheng Fu who popularised the Yang style. His version is characterised by open and extended postures.

Thus, this was how the five major styles of traditional Taijiquan, namely, Chen Style Taijiquan, Yang Style Taijiquan, Wu Jian Quan Style Taijiquan, Wu Style Taijiquan, Sun Style Taijiquan have evolved.

 

THE EXPANSION OF CHEN STYLE TAIJIQUAN

It was the ninth generation Chen Style Taijiquan master, Chen Wang Ting who developed the art to the level that we see today. During his period, there existed various martial arts in Chenjiagou, namely, the 108-movement Chang Quan, Hong Pao Quan, 15-Hong-15 Pao, 5-set Chui, 5-set Quan, besides the Taijiquan pushing hands and weaponry. It was the 14th generation masters, Chen Chang Xin and Chen You Ben who combined the 5-set Chui and the 15-Hong-15-Pao styles into the Chen Style’s Second Routine. From then onwards, Chenjiagou started to differentiate between the various forms, which had been developed into the Old Form, Small Form and the New Form.

In 1928, Grandmaster Chen Fa Ke went to Shanghai to teach Chen Style Taijiquan. It was in his later years, that Grandmaster Chen Fa Ke further developed and added his own enhancement to the style which he then imparted to Chen Zhao Kui. In 1974, Grandmaster Chen Zhao Kui returned to Chenjiagou to impart this style, which later became known as “New Form Chen Style Taijiquan”. This New Form contained 11 more movements than the Old Form, and had a total of 83 movements. The original First Routine is typical of Grandmasters Chen Fa Ke and Chen Zhao Kui’s fighting style.

From 1960 to 1979, Grandmaster Chen Zhao Kui travelled to Shanghai, Nanjing, Zhengzhou, Jiaozuo etc., to teach and spread awareness of Chen Style Taijiquan. Similarly, disciples of Chen Fa Ke who learned from him in the 1940s, such as Hong Jun Sheng, Tian Xiu Chen, Gu Liu Xing, Feng Zhi Qiang, Lei Mu Ni, taught all over China, and contributed to the expansion of Chen Style Taijiquan.

When Grandmaster Chen Zhao Pi retired back to Chenjiagou in 1957, he set about improving and tightening the standard of Chen Style Tajiquan. He then brought under his tutelage, four disciples, Chen Xiao Wang, Wang Xi An, Zhu Tian Cai and Chen Zheng Lei. All were sent out to participate in various competitions held at different, friendly matches and displays, which slowly increased the profile of Chen style in the public’s eye.

Lately, many students from all over the world such as Japan, United States, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia and Europe had been coming to various parts of China, in Beijing, Shanghai, Zhengzhou, Chenjiagou in order to learn and practice Chen Style Taijiquan. Many Chen Style Taijiquan instructors had then been invited overseas to impart this martial art. This has greatly broadened the awareness of the Chen Style Taijiquan, and has generated not only public interest in the art, but has also been recognised as an accomplished healing art in the sporting and medical circles. After years of competing in the international arena, Chen Style Taijiquan has finally made a name for itself and impressed itself internationally.