The founder of this form of Taijiquan was Wu Yu Xiang (1812-1880) who was a native of Yung Nien, the home County of Yang-style 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 writing13.
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. (see later section on why he did so) Wu Yu Xiang had few pupils and his art was made famous mostly through the efforts of the Hao family who learned Wu Yu Xiang’s Style of Taijiquan from his nephew, Li I Yu. Indeed, occasionally this style of Taijiquan 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 Taijiquan. Today, Wu Yu Xiang’s Taijiquan is one of the major styles practiced though it is still relatively unknown in the West.
Wu Yu Xiang’s Teacher Yang Lu Chan
Wu Yu Xiang’s family owned the building which housed the Tai He Tang drug store run by the Chen family of Chen Jia Gou. It was there, many years before, that Yang Lu Chan had witnessed a scene, which led him to the Chen village to study under Chen Chang Xin. Yang Lu Chan also taught martial arts at the Tai He Tang after he returned from the Chen village following many years of study.
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 (see the later section on Wu Yu Xiang’s early form). The Wu brothers also studied the Broadsword and the Long Staff/Spear under Yang Lu Chan.14
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 (he eventually died the following year) 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.
Wu Yu Xiang’s Other Teacher 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 Taijiquan. 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 Taiji 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. (See later section about Wu Yu Xiang’s later form)
Wu Yu Xiang And The Taijiquan Classics
Wu Yu Xiang’s brother, Deng Qing, discovered Wang Tsung Yueh’s Taijiquan Classic in a salt store in the province he was governing. We can speculate that his subordinates knew of his love for Taijiquan and brought the manuscript to him when it was discovered.
Wu Deng Qing forwarded a copy of the Classic to Wu Yu Xiang, who found it inspiring and wrote several thesis based on the principles in Wang Tsung Yueh’s work for his students. In total, there are three works attributed to Wang Tsung Yueh, the Taijiquan Classic, the 13 Postures and the Taijiquan Discourse.
It should be noted that some people suggest that Wu Yu Xiang authored the works that are attributed to Wang Tsung Yueh. The author notes, however, that the Taijiquan Discourse has text that is almost identical to the song formula handed down by Du Yu Wan which is recorded at the back of Chen Xin’s book. That song formula is also attributed to Wang Tsung Yueh in Chen Xin’s book. The author also notes that Wu Yu Xiang did not hesitate to put his name on the works he wrote, notably, the Song Formula of Methods of Use for the Thirteen Postures (Shi San Shih Xing Gong Ke Jue) and Important Words On Hitting Hands (Da Shou Yao Yan). These works and other writings by Wang Tsung Yueh, as well as notes on his early and later forms, were recorded in several handwritten manuals written by Wu Yu Xiang’s nephew Li I Yu. On balance, the author considers this as convincing evidence that Wu Yu Xiang did indeed get access to Wang Tsung Yueh’s authentic work.
Li I Yu’s Scholarly Contributions
Li I Yu (1832-1892) learned the art of Taijiquan from his uncle Wu Yu Xiang, and was one of the great recorders of the writings and content of the art. He left behind several handwritten manuals on the art including the three old manuals of Yung Nien County.
In addition to recording the 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 the Taijiquan’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 Taijiquan.
Wu Yu Xiang’s Early Form
From the manuals of Li I Yu, we have on record the early form that Wu Yu Xiang practiced. It is almost exactly the same as the old Yang form and retains the characteristic names of the postures like Grasp Sparrows Tail. This indicates that what Yang Lu Chan taught was not the Old Chen style, but his style which he attributed to Chen Chang Xin.
By deduction, we calculate that Wu Yu Xiang would have started studying with Yang Lu Chan in 1849, since Yang left for the Chen village at 10 years of age and spent 30 years studying with Chen Chang Xin. We also know that Wu Yu Xiang trained with Chen Qing Ping for 40 days while in 1852, the same year in which he obtained a copy of Wang Tsung Yueh’s writings. Since Li I Yu began studying with Wu Yu Xiang in 1853, we can conclude that the initial form Li I Yu recorded was essentially the old Yang form with which Wu was most familiar. Only later did Wu Yu Xiang modify his form to a small frame sequence that is recorded in a later manual by Li I Yu.
Yang Ban Hou lived from 1837 to 1892, which would indicate that he was already a teenager and was already skilled at Taijiquan when Wu Yu Xiang went to study with Chen Qing Ping. We know that Wu Yu Xiang tutored Pan Hou when he was studying with Yang Lu Chan from various sources like Zhao Bin and Gu Liu Xin. We don’t know, however, if he continued to tutor Ban Hou after he trained with Chen Qing Ping.
While some assert that the Yang Small Frame was due to influence from the Wu Yu Xiang, at this point we must consider this as conjecture. The Yang Small Frame which comes down to us from Wu Chien Quan has little resemblance to Wu Yu Xiang’s small frame and the primary reason for the origin of that form was the Imperial Court Dress which hampered movement. We note that Yang Pan Hou’s training regime, which is still taught in Yung Nien, included training in three heights and in four frames, one of which is a small frame, the form did not change but the way it was done changed. Consequently we refer to Yang Ban Hou’s form and that of his brother and father (they taught together and so their forms should have been relatively alike) as the old Yang form. It is unlikely that Wu Yu Xiang’s small frame had influenced Yang Ban Hou’s form whilst Pan Hou was studying with his father.
Wu Yu Xiang’s Final Form
Wu Yu Xiang modified his form to incorporate the information from both his teachers and the Taijiquan classic writings. His modified later form differed from that of both his teachers and is characterized by compact, rounded, precise, and high standing postures. The basic structure of the form was based on the Yang sequence with a change of name for the posture Grasp Sparrow’s Tail to Lazily Arranging Clothes was done later after Wu’s death. The postures themselves were modified.
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 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 Wu Yu Xiang’s Taijiquan, 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 this style of Taijiquan.
Hao Yue Ru’s Modification
Wu Yu Xiang’s form originally retained the energetic slapping of toes and jump kick, as well as quick movements interspersed with slower ones, which were characteristics that the old Yang form has as well.
Hao Yue Ru inherited his art from his father Hao Wei Zhen who in turn learned it from Li I Yu. Hao Yue Ru was a professional martial arts teacher and in order to cater for mass instruction covering a wide age range, he taught the form devoid of these jumps and strength explosions to enable the basics to be better grasped when the form was taught to a large class. The slow even movements was a basic method of practice and the Hao Style then used a fast form which retained the elements of the original.
This is the form that is practiced extensively today. Some have termed this form “Hao style Taijiquan” to differentiate it from the other Wu Yu Xiang lineages which retain the old characteristics both in the normal sequence and the fast form.
Wu Yu Xiang Taijiquan Spawns Sun Taijiquan
When Hao Wei Chen was visiting Beijing, he fell sick. Sun Lu Tang happened to hear of it and went to see him. Sun Lu Tang, already an accomplished Hsing I and Pa Kua master, had heard of Hao’s boxing prowess, but did not know which type of boxing he practiced. Sun attended to Hao and took care of him until he recovered from his illness. In gratitude, Hao taught Sun Lu Tang his Taijiquan. Later Sun Lu Tang incorporated elements from Hsing-I and Pa Kua into his Taijiquan and developed a new version which was later termed Sun style Taijiquan. Apparently he felt that Taijiquan was the style that best suited him and he taught little else in his later years. (more information in a later document on Sun style Taijiquan)
Wu Yu Xiang’s Taijiquan Today
Wu Yu Xiang style Taijiquan is one of the five major styles but is still relatively unknown and seldom practiced outside China. The most popular form of this style is the one promoted by the Hao family. Its popularity is increasing as China opens up and more and more people learn this style of Taijiquan.
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.