The founder of this form of Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan was Wu Yu Xiang (1812-1880) who was a native of Yung Nien, the home County of Yang style Tai Chi Chuan founder, Yang Lu Chan. Wu Yu Xiang had two brothers, Wu Deng Qing (1800-1884) and Wu Ru Qing. Both brothers were officials in the Qing government. Wu Deng Qing was the magistrate of Wu Yang, a County in Henan Province, and Wu Ru Qing was a secretary in the Penalties Department under his older brother.
All three of the brothers were very interested in martial arts, having initially learned martial arts from their father. The main art learned was Shaolin Hung Boxing thus they had a good foundation in martial arts. When Yang Lu Chan started teaching Taijiquan at Yung Nien, the Wu brothers went to watch him. All three brothers were enthralled by Yang Lu Chan’s skills and began studying under him. Wu Yu Xiang also became a tutor to Yang Lu Chan’s sons, teaching them reading and writing.
Later, Wu Yu Xiang went to seek out Yang Lu Chan’s teacher Chen Chang Xin to further his skills, but instead ended up learning from Chen Qing Ping at the Zhao Bao village. Wu Yu Xiang had few pupils and his art was made famous mostly through the efforts of the Hao family who learned Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan from his nephew, Li I Yu. Indeed, occasionally this style of Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan is referred to as Hao style. Li I Yu is a important early recorder of Taiji material and his works are important references in any study on the origins and historical development of Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan. Today, Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuann is one of the major styles practiced though it is still relatively unknown in the West.
The Wu brothers on seeing Yang’s consummate skill, went to study under him and learned what is now called the old Yang style of Taijiquan. The Wu brothers also studied the Broadsword and the Long Staff/Spear under Yang Lu Chan.
In an effort to better his skills, Wu Yu Xiang decided to travel to the Chen Village in 1852 to seek out Yang Lu Chan’s teacher Chen Chang Xin. On the way there, he stayed at an inn in the Zhao Bao Village. There he spoke to the inn-keeper about his desire to go to the Chen Village to further his skills. The inn-keeper, desiring to earn more of Wu’s money, sought to keep him in Zhao Bao Village telling him that Chen Chang Xin was old and sick and did not teach anymore, but that a highly skilled member of the Chen family was teaching martial arts in the Zhao Bao Village. That teacher was none other than Chen Qing Ping.
Chen Qing Ping is recorded in Chen Xin’s Chen Family Manual as being a student of Chen Yu Ben, who created the New Style of Chen style Tai Chi Chuan. The style taught by Chen Qing Ping was also known as the Gao Jia or High Frame. The Zhao Bao Village records show that Chen Qing Ping also received instruction from Zhang Yan whose art had come down from Jiang Fa. So whether or not Chen Qing Ping founded Zhao Bao Taijiquan is in dispute with the Chen family claiming that he did and the Zhao Bao lineages claiming that he didn’t. The postures of the Zhao Bao Village form does show resemblance to the Chen style Tai Chi Chuan form, but the way the postures are executed has more of the flavor of other Taiji lineages.
Based on the inn keeper’s information about Chen Chang Xin’s health and Chen Qing Ping’s skill, Wu Yu Xiang approached Chen Qing Ping and studied under him for forty days, gaining a new understanding of the art. When he returned he modified his form to include skills he learned from his second teacher, as well as with the ideas found in Wang Tsung Yueh’s Taijiquan Classic, which his brother had discovered in a salt store.
In addition to recording Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan classic writings of Wang Tsung Yueh and his uncle Wu Yu Xiang, Li also wrote some important works on the art. These were also included in his manuals. Li I Yu’s compilation of song formulas and classic writings form the basis of what are now known as the Taijiquan Classics. These Classics catalog Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan’s principles and their application.
Li I Yu passed down the art to Hao Wei Chen (1849-1920) and the Hao family continues to this day to popularize it. Descendants of both Li and Wu Yu Xiang are still around today and continue to practice this form of Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan.
The Thirteen Torso Methods are the keys to power development in Wu Yu Xiang’s Taijiquan and there is emphasis on rising, falling, opening and closing. The Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan form’s movements are simple and circular with each movement expressing aspects of the 8 basic postures of Taijiquan (peng, lu, chi, an, tsai, lieh, chou, kao), .
Wu Yu Xiang taught few students and we know of only one significant one, his nephew Li I Yu. Li I Yu did not teach widely and only taught a few students, notably Hao Wei Chen who was also a native of Yung Nien County.
Hao Wei Chen and his descendents did the most to promote Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan, making it one of the major styles today. Hao taught his son Hao Yue Ru who in turn taught his son Hao Shao Ru who was the recent master of the form. The form itself was not pictorially recorded until Hao Shao Ru’s book which remains today the standard text for Old Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan.
With its high standing postures, it appeals to those who regard the lower standing styles as being hard on the knees. Like the other styles of Taijiquan, it continues to bring health and self defense skills to those who practice it.