The Origin Theories
The main forms of TCC practiced today all trace their origins back to the Chen Village in Wen County, Henan. It is only reasonable to begin our search for the origins of Taijiquan there and the early records from there and those that learnt the art from there.
The Earliest Reference To The Origin
The written works on Taijiquan were not from the Chen village or its members. The earliest being the Taijiquan Classic by Wang Tsung Yueh. The earliest verifiable manual on Taijiquan that we have is from Li I-Yu (1832-1892) who compiled the 3 manuals which are known as the `3 old manuals' in Yung Nien today. Li learnt the art from his uncle Wu Yu Xiang who in turn learnt the major part of his art from Yang Lu Chan, the founder of the most popular Yang style of Taijiquan, and spent a month learning the `Xiao Jia' or 'Small Frame' from Chen Ching Ping. In these old manuals he recorded the Taijiquan Classics, works of his uncle, those of Wang Tsung Yueh and his own writings on the art. In his `Brief Preface To Taijiquan' he wrote that the creator of the art was Chang San Feng and that Wang Tsung Yueh was skilled in it and that it was later transmitted to the Chen village. Later, Li I Yu rewrote the first sentence of his Introduction to say that the founder was unknown. This could very well be due to a a differring origin theories in the post-Chen Ching Ping period. This is the earliest record we have on the origins of Taijiquan.
The Chang San Feng Theory
This is the theory of origins adopted by most of the major styles of Taijiquan and was first put forth by the Yang style. The Yang style traces its origins back to Chen Chang Xin who was taught by Jiang Fa who was in turn taught by Wang Tsung Yueh. Wang Tsung Yueh was supposed to be a student of Chang Sung Chi a noted practitioner of the Internal Boxing of the Wudang Temple. The Wudang Temple certainly exists and their Internal Boxing certainly existed and does share certain characteristics like controling the opponent with calmness. The creator of this Internal Boxing was Chang San Feng, a Taoist on Wudang Mountain. The Wudang martial arts bear little resemblance to the Taijiquan we have today even though they share some of the same characteristics.
The Wudang Temple is still exists and there are still Taoist sages managing the temple and they still teach Wudang martial arts there. It is interesting to note that there is a form called Wudang Taijiquan practiced there. Its postures bear little resemblance to the main styles practiced today even though it has many common characteristics, in terms of technique and principles, of the major styles. The last head of the Wudang Temple, Taoist Xu Ben Shan (1860-1932) was skilled in it and taught it to his disciples together with other Wudang arts. Xu spent most of his life in the Wudang Temple having entered the temple when young. It is unlikely that his art came from the outside since his life is quite well documented. But whether Wudang Taijiquan is the seminal form of all the others cannot be concluded since there is no firm link between the practitioners of the Wudang arts and Wang Tsung Yueh who is the earliest common personage of the the early styles of modern Taijiquan. But it should be noted that there are common theorems between the Wudang Internal Boxing and Taijiquan. and it is possible that Wudang Internal Boxing influenced Taijiquan though it should be considered a separate art.
Some have raised the question of Chang San Feng's existence as there is much legendary material about him. He is recorded by reliable historical documents such as the 'Ming History' and 'The Ningpo Chronicles' which have no relation to martial arts literature as having existed and to have created Wudang Internal Boxing arts. This is in line with the beliefs held at the Wudang Temple itself and one can find much old material pertaining to Chang San Feng there. According to the available material, Chang lived at the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). There was a confusion of dates as the Emperor Yung Ler used searching for Chang as an excuse to send Yan Wang Chu in 1403 to scoure the country in search of his rival, the Emperor Jian Wen. Chang San Feng was widely regarded as a Taoist saint and Emperor Yung Ler knew that he had already died and so came up with the ruse. Historians who have tried to reconcile the misinformation of the Emperor Yung Le with the earlier records have either regarded Chang as a mid Ming Dynasty personage, possibly a different person from the Chang San Feng of recorded as living in the Yuan Dynasty or that Chang had lived for a very long time, beyond normal human life expectancy.
The Zhao Bao style of Taijiquan also traces their art back to Jiang Fa and Wang Tsung Yueh and ultimately to Chang San Feng. Gu Liu Xin, the noted Taijiquan historian, posits based on the writings of Chen Xin that Chen Ching Ping created the Zhao Bao style. Chen Ching Ping was a student of Chen You Pen who created the `new frame' (xin jia) of Chen Taijiquan which was also known as the `high frame' (gao jia) and `small frame' (xiao jia). Chen Qing Ping was also recorded to be a student of the Zhao Bao Taijiquan master Zhang Yan. Wu Yu Xiang who learnt from Chen Ching Ping retained this high standing characteristic in the style he passed down.
The present Zhao Bao style is relatively low standing and is performed in a slow manner without fa-jing (strength emissions) except in kicks, in a manner common to the Yang and Wu Yu Xiang styles and those that developed from them.
This theory can not be reliably proven, all that we can ascertain is that the art came down from Wang Tsung Yueh and Jiang Fa to the Chen village and Zhao Bao villiage. It is unlikely that Chang developed Taijiquan as we see it today though he may have invented some of the principles that went into the art. The works attributed to him in the Taijiquan Classics are actually the works of Wang Tsung Yueh. This is evident in the handwritten manuals of Li I Yu.
The Chen Pu Theory
This was the theory put out by Chen Xin, the first to write a book on the Chen style of Taijiquan. He attributed the creation of the art to Chen Pu, this was echoed later by Chen Ji Pu in his later book on the art. Chen Xin records that Chen Pu taught his descendents a way to digest food, and Chen Xin claims this to be Taijiquan. Chen Pu's grave has nothing to indicate that he was skilled in martial arts or to have created Taijiquan, a very significant piece of evidence since the Chen Family was famous for its boxing for genrations, gaining the name `Pao Chui Chen Family'. So this theory has been proven to be false.
The Chen Wang Ting Theory
This theory was first posited by Tang Hao. He based his theory on the side note in the Chen Family Manual (Chen Si Jia Pu) that Chen Wang Ting (1597-1664) was the creator of the Chen Fist, broadsword and spear arts, and on the assumption that the Chen family did not learn arts from outside the Chen family. According to the Annals Of Wen County, Chen Wang Ting served as an officer in Shantung Province from 1618 to 1621 and was officer in charge of the garrison at Wen County in 1641.
The theory was further elaborated upon by Gu Liu Xin, Tang Hao's good friend. He brought in a poem attributed to Chen Wang Ting that stated that Chen Wang Ting `created boxing when bored' and a Boxing Song Formula attributed to Chen Wang Ting as proof of the theory. Modern linguistic studies show that it should actually be translated as 'no bored (free) time to create boxing' instead.
We need to note that the references to boxing in the Chen Family are in the side notes and are not in the main text. Since the Chen family was famous for its boxing, it seems a gross ommission that such an important article of information as Chen Wang Ting creating the Chen family arts is not included in the main text but is in a side note. What more, the earliest published works by the Chen family on their art does not attribute the creation of the art to Chen Wang Ting. The last line of the Chen Family Manual says clearly that the side notes were the work of Chen Xin and so it is a recently added reference. Yet Chen Xin does not posit that Chen Wang Ting is the creator, but instead Chen Pu.
The Boxing Song Formula attributed to Chen Wang Ting is taken from the Liang Yi Tang Ben manual of Chen martial arts, it is also the only old manual that records a form called the 13 postures. Its content is an addition on to an old Chen martial art manual called the Wen Xiu Tang Ben which does not record any form called the 13 postures. So it is possible that the Liang Yi Tang Ben is a later manual with additions not found in the original Chen transmission. The poem attributed to Chen Wang Ting is found in the Liang Yi Tang Ben and there is no other evidence to authenticate it.
Another early Chen family writer is Chen Zhi Ming. It was he who accompanied Tang Hao and Gu Liu Xin on their trip down to Chen Jia Gou for investigations into the origins. His work is thus as important as theirs in terms of evidence for the early Chen arts. In his book on the Chen family arts he quotes from the old manuals and records old song formulas, many of which are revealing (see next chapter for more information)
Chen Xin also authored the Three Three Boxing Manual (San San Quan Pu) which uses Taiji Boxing theories to complement Hsing-I theories. It contains 3 of the 10 thesis of Hsing-I. Tang Hao also posited that Chen Wang Ting had used 29 out of the 32 boxing postures in General Qi Ji Kwang's (1528-1587) book Ji Xiao Xin Shu. We shall examine this claim in detail in the next chapter.
From the above evidence, it is quite clear that the Chen family did probably learn and practice arts from outside the Chen village. Based on this, the theory of Chen Wang Ting creating Taijiquan cannot be supported.
The Four Old Schools Of Taijiquan In the Sung Manual: Sung's Taiji And Its Offshoots
The manual was first given to Wu Tu Nan by a friend of his in late 1908 or early 1909. Later when Sung Si Ming came to Beijing to teach Taijiquan, Wu had the opportunity to compare the manual he had with Sung Si Ming's manual and they agreed in content. In the manual it lists four old schools of Taijiquan, namely Hsu, Yu, Cheng and Yin. The postures delinated in the manual have names similar to Yang Taiji and the form and sword form postures are almost identical to the Yang style, it is obvious that the Sung style of Taiji came from the Yang style so the historical data in the manual is suspect and cannot be regarded as factual.
That Jiang Fa Transmitted It To The Chen Village
The early sources all record the existance of this personage and that he was skilled in the art of Taijiquan. Zhao Bao style traces their lineage to him and even Chen Xin's book 'Chen Family Taijiquan Pictures And Sayings' has a song formula of his which Jiang apparent got from his teacher from Shanxi (who would be Wang Tsung Yueh). So even in Chen Xin's book, there is a reference to Jiang as being a teacher of the art.
This song formula in Chen Xin's book comes down from Du Yu Wan, whom Wu Tu Nan had met during his investigative visit to the Chen Villiage. Du himself wrote a book which was published only once in 1935. The original handwritten manual has been traced to the Zhao Bao viliage though it has not been made public. It states that Jiang was the teacher of Du's art and was taught by Wang. There is a chapter i Du's book called 'Wudang Taijiquan Beginnings' indicates that Du considered his Taijiquan as coming from the Wu Dang school.
The Yang family tradition also records that it was Jiang who taught Chen Chang Xin the art. Wu Tu Nan's book 'Research On Taijiquan' (1984) records his encounter with Chen Xin on the matter. Chen Xin admitted that Chen Chang Xin had learnt the art from Jiang Fa after Jiang had defeated Chen Chang Xin and that because of that, Chen Chang Xin was not allowed to teach Pao Chui.
The Chen Taijiquan proponents have also said that Jiang was a student of Chen Wang Ting, pointing to a painting of Chen Wang Ting and a man surnamed Jiang as proof of the matter. The painting needs to be dated to verify it as a early source but it doesn't really need to be done because the name given the man is Jiang Pu and not Jiang Fa. This bit of information coming from Chen Xin's book. This incorrect attribution has led to the placing of Jiang Fa as a Ming dynasty personage, affecting also the Zhao Bao dating. But the writings of Chen Xin indicate that Chen Wang Ting was a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) personage and Jiang Fa was a Ching Dynasty (1644-1911), Chien Loong Era (1716-1795) personage. So their assertion is baseless. Chen Xin emphasized the fact that Chen Wang Ting and Jiang Fa were from different eras because some in the Chen Villiage believed that Jiang Fa had taught Chen Wang Ting martial arts.
Given the evidence above of the nature of the early Chen family arts, Jiang Fa could indeed have been the person who `softened' the existing art to the present day Taijiquan and input the 13 postures into the art. The 13 postures consists of the 8 different Jings and the Five directions of movement. It is interesting to note that the early Chen documents record different names for the 8 jings than the conventionally accepted ones which are in the Taijiquan Classics. (see next chapter)
Jiang Fa's Teacher: Wang Tsung Yueh
The song formula at the very back of Chen Xin's book indicates that Jiang Fa's teacher was from Shanxi, that would indicate Wang Tsung Yueh and the contents of the song formula is almost virtually identical to the Taijiquan Treatise (Taijiquan Lun) which is attributed to Wu Yu Xiang (this attribution originates from Tang Hao, who assumed because Wu Yu Xiang compiled the sayings on `Hitting Hands' of which this was one section, that it was Wu Yu Xiang who wrote it. This is to differentiate it with Wang Tsung Yueh's Taijiquan Classic of the same name). This would mean that Wu Yu Xiang did have access to Wang's teachings and that the Chen family does acknowledge his existance and that he taught Jiang Fa. This would make the theory that Wu Yu Xiang inventing Wang's personage improbable. Besides Wu did not hesitate to put his name on the other works he wrote which are a part of the Tajiquan Classics.
Zhao Bao also records him in their lineage and he is an important figure in the Yang lineage as well. The Taijiquan Classic of his is probably the most profound work on the nature and function of the art of Taijiquan.
Tang Hao and Gu Liu Xin have written that Wang had learnt his art from the Chen family but one must note that this is pure conjecture as there is no evidence to suggest that this is so. In documents pertaining to Wang's life, there is no mention that he learnt his art from the Chen family.
Other than Wang's manual discovered in the salt store, Tang Hao obtained in 1930 the Yin Fu Spear Manual written by Wang Tsung Yueh, the manual also contains the Taijiquan Classic. The preface of the Yin Fu Spear Manual states that in his old age, Wang was a school teacher with his own private school in Luoyang in 1791 and was also active in Kaifeng in 1795 and was still alive in 1796. The consensus of the early evidence does suggest that they all believe he existed and they do record his teachings. It is unlikely that he was was just a fictitious character invented by Wu Yu Xiang.
Yang Lu-chan was born in 1799 in Yung-nein in the prefecture of Kuang-p'ing in the province of Hopeh in China. There are several versions of his early life. One maintains that his family were farmers but his father soon noticed an interest in his son in martial arts. He arranged for lessons for him from a teacher named Liu. Yang Lu-chan soon mastered all his teacher could teach him and wanted to know more. Liu told him about Tai Chi Chuan, the secret of the Chen Family, but said that it was impossible for outsiders to learn the form.
Undeterred Yang Lu-chan set out for Hui-hsing in Hunan province where he managed to get employment as a servant in the household of Chen Chai-kou. At this household there was a famous teacher of Tai Chi, Chen Chang-hsing who was teaching the form to the young men there. Yang spied on them and at night practiced what he had seen.
After some time Chen Chiang-hsing happened to see him practicing one evening and realized the excellence of his technique. He decided to break with the tradition of secrecy and invited Yang into the school. Other accounts of Yang Lu-chan's early life claim that he came from very poor circumstances and was a bonded worker in a pharmacy before coming to Chen Chang-hsing's attention.
In any case, after some period of study, so great was his mastery of the form that Chen dismissed him and Yang returned to Yung-nein to teach martial arts. Later, one of his students Wu Yu-xiang, recommended that he go to Beijing to propagate the art. Yang eventually established a school of Tai Chi there, although not without some difficulties. In time he taught Tai Chi to the Imperial court and became known as 'Yang the Unsurpassed'.
Yang Lu-chan had three sons: the first Yang Ch'i died in early youth. His other two sons, Yang Pan-hou (1837-1892) and Yang Chien-hou (1842-1917) both continued to study and practice Tai Chi with their father, although perhaps not as diligently as he would have liked. One account claims that after his death an outstanding student Chen Hsui-feng, proclaimed himself the head of the Yang Family school and split with Yang's son's. In time, however, the two factions were reconciled.
Yang Pan-hou apparently became a very adept practitioner of Tai Chi, however he found few that he could work with. He had three students Ling Shin, Wan Ch'un (or Wang Kiu-yu) and Wu Quan-yu (or Wu Chuan-yuck). The first left no students, the second taught only Kuo Lien-ying. The third Wu Quan-yu taught Wang Mou-chai and Ch'i Ko-ch'en as well as his son Wu Chien-chuan. The latter, dissatisfied with the Yang style created his own style called Wu Style which he taught to his son Wu Kung-yi and Cheng Wing-kwong who carried on the Wu Style. Consequently the Yang tradition died out on this side of the family.
Yang Chien-hou also had three children. The eldest Yang Shao- hou (1862-1928) [also known as Yang Chao-hsuing]. He had one son Yang Chen-sheng who he taught his art to. The second son Yang Chao-yuan died early in youth. The third son, Yang Cheng-fu (1883-1936) [also known as Yang Ch'eng-pu and Yang Chao-ch'ing] is in large measure responsible for the popular transmission of the Yang Family Style to many people in the east and west.
Yang Cheng-fu practicing Tai Chi.
Known as 'Yang the Invincible' he had four sons; the eldest Yang Chen- Ming (also known as Yang Shou-chung); the second Yang Chen- chi; the third Yang Chen-tuo; and the fourth Yang Chen- kuo. He also had a number of outstanding students including Wu Hui-chuan, Chang Yin-lin, Tung Ying-chih, Hu Yuen-chou and Chen Wai-ming.
Chen Wai-ming taught Tai Chi in Shanghai in the 1930's and 40's before the revolution. He had four senior students to whom he passed on his innermost secrets and teachings. One of these was Lee Shiu-pak who after the revolution found himself in Hong Kong and began teaching Tai Chi there. Later on he emigrated to Canada and settled in Montreal where he established a school. His various students in Eastern Canada have gone on to carry on his and the Yang Family tradition.
In Li I Yu's Handwritten Manuals