The Founders of Taijiquan
Taijiquan is a major division of the traditional Chinese martial art of Wu Shu. It derived its name from the philosophical term "taiji" that first appeared in the "Book of Changes", written anonymously during the Zhou Dynasty (11th Century - 221 BC): In all changes exists taiji which causes the two opposites in all things. The two opposites cause the four seasons, and the four seasons cause the eight natural phenomena. Here the eight natural phenomena denote the Heaven, the Earth, Thunder, Wind, Water, Fire, Mountains, and Lakes.
Chen Wangting, Father of Taijiquan
There are different assertions as to who was the father of taijiquan. It is generally believed that the honor should go to Chen Wangting who lived in the 16th century. Although nothing was known about the exact date of his birth and death, it has been confirmed that he belonged to the ninth generation of a Chen family in Wenxian County, Henan Province. According to the local chronicles he served as a royal guard in his home village in 1641 and retired after the fall of the Ming Dynasty three years later. It was in the 1770's that Chen evolved five taijiquan routines, a changquan (long-range boxing) routine in 108 forms and a paochui (cannon boxing) routine. In creating taijiquan, Chen Wangting was greatly influenced by Qi Jiguang (1528-1587), a famous general in the Imperial army, who compiled 16 popular routines in his Boxing in 32 Forms as a textbook for military training. Out of these forms Chen assimilated 29 into his taijiquan sets, in a style distinctively his own. In the following three centuries, the second, third and fourth taijiquan routines and the changquan set in 108 forms worked out by Chen Wangting gradually fell into disuse, while the cannon routine became the second routine of the present day Chen school of taijiquan.
Yang Luchan (1799-1872) Founder of the Yang School
Born into an impoverished family in Yongnian County, Hebei Province, Yang Luchan left his home at ten and worked as an indentured servant in the Chen family in Wenxian County. His master Chen Dehu, a fellow of the Imperial Academy, was fond of martial arts and employed Chen Changxing of the 14th generation to teach young men in the evenings. Yang Luchan would watch attentively while waiting upon the Wu Shu master, who readily accepted his as one of his disciples. Yang trained very hard and distinguished himself as a Wu Shu artist. Yang returned to Yongnian at 40 and lodged at a pharmacy owned by his late master Chen Dehu, making a living by teaching taijiquan. The premises of the drugstore belonged to a landlord named Wu Yuxiang who and his brothers were all Wu Shu lovers and took lessons in taijiquan from Yang. Not long after Yang left Yongnian for Beijing to teach taijiquan there. Drawing on his years of experience, he adapted his routine to suit people whose main objective in learning it was to keep fit. Later it was revised and further improved by his third son Yang Jianhou, who changed its style into a "medium frame" with moderate postures and slow, steady and flowing movements. This was later repeatedly revised by Jianhou's third son Chengfu and developed it into the "big frame" which is the present form of the Yang school of taijiquan.
Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) Founder of the Wu School.
Wu Yuxiang came from a family of Wu Shu lovers and profited from his brief association with Yang Luchan from who he learned taijiquan. In order to get a hang of the Chen style, he paid a visit to Chen Changxing in 1852, only to find him too old and feeble to give instruction. So he found one of his distant nephews, Chen Qingping, who taught Wu the new-frame taijiquan as distinguished from Chen Changxing's old-frame style. After more than one month of hard training, Wu acquired, its essential points, as shown by what he said to his brother: " Now that I have obtained a deep understanding of the Chen school, all that needs to be done is persistent practice ". Meanwhile his brother had obtained a copy of the Manual of Taijiquan written by Wang Zongyue, which was of great enlightenment to Wu. It was on the basis of this book that he wrote two of his own, namely, Important Points of a Wu Shu Master and, ironically enough, Four Character Secret Formulas Not to Be Passed On to Anybody. Concise and to the point, they laid down the foundation of the unique Wu school of taijiquan, which is characterized by quick and short-range movements. While his brothers served as officials in different parts of the country, Wu Yuxiang lived a secluded life in his home village studying and teaching the martial art. Even at his death bed, he was still discussing taijiquan with his attendants. Wu's most outstanding disciple was his sister's son Li Jinglun (1832-1892), who in turn passed on his skills to his fellow townsman Hao He (1849-1920). It was said that Hao was so strong that, in practicing the push hand exercise, he could lift his partner and hurl him to settle securely in a chair ten feet away. It was one of his pupils who founded the Sun school of taijiquan.
Sun Lutang (1861-1932) Founder of the Sun School.
Sun Lutang was a native of Wanxian County in Hebei Province. He first learned Xingyiquan (form-and- will boxing) under Li Kuiyuan and then Baguaquan (eight-diagram fist) under Chen Tinghua. As a master of both, he enjoyed a high reputation in Beijing and was nicknamed " Living Monkey King, " a legendary hero in Chinese mythology. In 1912, Sun happened to meet Hao He at an Inn in Beijing. Hao had come to the Capital to visit his relatives and friends fallen ill. Sun took good care of him and got the best doctor to treat him. grateful for Sun's kindness and help, Hao later taught him taijiquan, which he incorporated into the routines he had learned, thus creating the Sun school characterized by a smoot and coherent sequence of movements in advance and retreat. When the whole set is performed, it is like the clouds drifting in the sky or water flowing down a stream. Sun has left behind many books on different Wu Shu routines he was versed in.
Wu Jianquan (1870-1943) Founder of the Wu School.
Wu Jianquan was of Manchu nationality and a native of Daxing County, Hebei Province. His father learned taijiquan from Yang Luchan when the latter was teaching it in Beijing, and then from Yang Luchan's second son Yang Banghou (1837-1892), who had in his childhood studied the small-frame routine from Wu Yuxiang. Shortly after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, Xu Yusheng founded the Society of Physical Culture in Beijing, where Yang Shaohou was engaged to teach the small-frame taijiquan of the Yang school. After repeated improvements in the years that followed, the Yang style gradually developed into one of slow and gentle movements without jumps and leaps, thus making it increasingly popular among the people. Later members of the Yang family stopped teaching the small-frame completely, but Wu Jianquan continued his research and made it more popular until it was finally recognized as a distinct style known as the Wu school of taijiquan. In 1928 Wu was invited to teach as a professor in the Shanghai Wu Shu Society and the Jingwu Sports Society. In 1935 he himself founded the Jianquan Taijiquan Society, which played an important role in further promoting the Wu school. The Wu style is a combination of the big and small frames, with movements that are both compact and unrestrained.
Chen Xin (1849-1929) Exponent of the Chen School.
Chen Xin, who belonged to the 16th generation, was both a man of letters and a Wu Shu expert. He decided to record the movements and explain them in written form as an authentic document for future followers. In his childhood Chen Xin took a great interest in the new-frame taijiquan, invented by his grandfather's brother Chen Youben. But he did not achieve much as his father intended him to be a scholar. Neither did he go far in his academic pursuits; he was just a gongsheng, almost on the bottom rung of the literary ladder. It was in his later years that he devoted himself to a serious study of taijiquan. He spent twelve years writing Taijiquan of the Chen School with Illustrations in which he described the correct postures and movements and explained, from the philosophical and medical points of view, how to govern "external force" with "internal force". The manuscripts, in more than 200,000 words, were completed in 1919, when Chen Xin's health was sinking rapidly. Having no son to inherit them, he called in his nephew and said to him, " Pass these on if they are worth passing; burn them if they aren't." It was not until 1932 that the manuscripts came to light, and they were published the next year in four volumes - as the most original and complete book on the orthodox school of taijiquan. After Chen Xin, the most outstanding exponent of the Chen school was Chen Fake (1887-1957). He was invited to Beijing in 1928 and lived there until his death, teaching the old-frame routine handed down from his great grandfather Chen Changxing.
Words of Shi-fu Aguirre: I don't specialize in any Internal art. I once, in 1986 studied an old style of Taijiquan that is not popular. I met my teacher here in New York and returned with him to Tai Pei to continue the training. The deal was that after completing the routine that I would then finish teaching his fifty senior citizen students in New York. I kept my word.
I had suffered chronic bronchitis for 6 years coughing like thunder, it was not until the study of this Taiji that within six months of practice I never coughed again. The routines were broken down into 3 parts. The complete form was 20 minutes long and the stances were very low. He wanted me to train with him at 5:30am everyday. His legs were so muscular that he had muscles on his knees. At the end of the routines smoke would rise from my shoulders. After so many years of Wu Shu training I discovered I had Qi. Yes everyone has it, just don't know how to bring it out. I was always powerful but it was that moment that I could see it visually. Today's taiji is very moderate, I am grateful I had the chance to learn a very old traditional style of Taijiquan.
I wanted to dedicate a page on my site to Taijiquan for having healed me and I hope this information can help those interested in learning the History of Taijiquan.
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