The Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan family assimilated all the arts they practiced and created their own version of the predominant art which they practiced, Cannnon Pounding (Pao Chui), derived from the original Shaolin Cannon Pounding art. Sung Tai Zhu Chang Quan formed a major part of this new art and there were elements from Shaolin Red Fist in it.
What resulted is five routines of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan family Pao Chui and one routine of `Short Hitting’ (duan da) and the song formula stated a total of a 108 postures consisting the art. There is much confusion over this particular song formula but on closer examination the correct name should be ‘Boxing Canon Complete Formula’ and is only found in the later Liang Yi Tang Ben manual. By the time the Wen Xiu Tang Ben Chen family martial arts manual was written it was noted that the `second and third routines are lost’. The Wen Xiu Tang Ben makes no reference to an art called Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan or ’13 postures’ or 13 anything for that matter. So it is an early reference to the state of the Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan family arts before the advent of the Taijiquan of the Chen family that we know today.
The Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan family was famous for the Cannon Pounding art for several generations and gained the beautiful name of `Cannon Pounding Chen Family’ (Pao Chui Chen Jia) in the region around the Chen village.
Somewhere along the line the Chen Pao Chui art was simplified to just two routines. We have no evidence to indicated who was the one responsible for this simplification. The furthest that we can trace it back is to Chen Chang Xin, Yang Lu Chan’s teacher. But even the Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan family geneology book does not indicate that he was responsible for this momentous change, only indicating that he was a boxing teacher with a nickname `Ancestral Tablet’.
We know for certain that two of the routines were already lost by that time and so only the 3 remaining could account for the final two routines. Whether there was an integration or that another routine was lost through time resulting in the final two is not certain at all.
When did Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan become a form of internal boxing as opposed to to their parental arts which were external boxing?
Most of the Taijiquan lineages regard Jiang Fa as the one providing the input that transformed the art from the external Cannon Pounding to the softer internal art. Some have also credited his input as the reason why the transformed art was called Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, a name reflecting a Taoist origin and also the classification of the art as an internal one. The name, however, was not widely used for the art until Yang Lu Chan popularised it in the capital city of Beijing. From the early writings, we know that the form was originally called the ’13 postures’ and by that time the name Taijiquan was already in use as evidenced by the Taijiquan Classic of Wang Tsung Yueh and the Ten Important Discourses Of Chen Chang Xin1.
The classification of martial arts into external and internal came about because of the new method of combat devised by Chang San Feng, a Taoist which resided in the Wu Dang Mountains. It stressed overcoming external techniques using calmness and appropriate action and from external form this martial art often looked weak in comparison with external styles but could defeat them easily.
Internal Boxing was passed down through the generations with noted practitioners like Chang Sung Chi, Huang Zhen Nan, Huang Pai Jia, Gan Feng Chi and Wang Tsung. Wu Dang Internal Boxing still exists at the place of its birth though it has been diversified into many different styles in the course of the centuries. But still present in its syllabus is a form called Wu Dang Taijiquan. This bears only a little resemblance to the popular Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan of today but has common theories.
We know that Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan was famous for generations for their Pao Chui art which was a Shaolin form. It was only after Chen Chang Xin that the art was considered an internal one and specifically from the lineages stemming from Yang Lu Chan the founder of the Yang style of Taijiquan.
According to Chen Xin, Chen Chang Xin learned part of his art from Jiang Fa. Chen Chang Xin had been practicing his boxing when Jiang Fa who was passing by saw him practicing and burst out laughing. Realising that he was observed Jiang Fa hurried away but Chen Chang Xin caught up with him and angrily challenged him as Jiang had slighted his Chen family art. Chen grabbed Jiang’s shoulder from behind, Jiang simply turne around and Chen was thrown out and lay on the floor. Realising the superiority of Jiang’s art Chen asked Jiang to be his master. Jiang who ran a Toufu shop in Xian was passing through village after visiting his mother in Henan. Jiang said that he would return after three years to teach Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan and he indeed returned at the appointed time after which Chen Chang Xin brought him home and learnt Taijiquan from him.
Chen Xin also said that because Chen Chang Xin had studied with Jiang Fa, the Chen family did not permit him to teach the family art of Pao Chui. This could very well explain why Chen Chang Xin held his classes in secret in the dead of night in the back courtyard of his home where Yang Lu Chan spied upon him.
Chen Xin also introduced to Wu Tu Nan another Taiji master from the Chen village called Du Yu Wan (the source for a song formula attributed to Jiang Fa’s teacher from Shanxi which is probably Wang Tsung Yueh. This is found at the back of Chen Xin’s book). According to Du, his art came down from Jiang Fa who was from Kaifeng in Honan and that his form and Yang Lu Chan’s form was the same, even bearing the same postural names like `Grasp Sparrow’s Tail’ and the same sequence. Du told him that his Taijiquan was not a family transmitted art but a teacher transmitted art. The previous generations of the art, that is the founder of his lineage, were present when Jiang Fa was teaching Chen Chang Xin and had also learnt the art from Jiang Fa. He then demonstrated his form to Wu Tu Nan and the form was the same as the Yang style of Taijiquan.
According to Chen Xin, Chen Chang Xin was very stiff in the upper body and was therefore nick named `Mr Ancestral Tablet’. When he was learning under Jiang Fa, Jiang made Chen practice some loosening exercises to rid him of his stiffness before teaching him Taijiquan. The rest of the Chen family continued in their practice of Pao Chui for which they were famous for.
The input from Jiang Fa, who traced his lineage back to Chang San Feng, which indicates that his art was Wu Dang Internal Boxing or at the very least derived from it, would mark the change of the Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan art from an external one to an internal one.
The earliest available literature on Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan indicates that the art consisted of only 13 postures, the 8 Gates and Five Steps. We know that the 8 gates were 8 postures which represented 8 different types of Jing (refined strength). The Five Steps were the five different directions of their application. These were probably incorporated into the existing Pao Chui postures and the slow, relaxed, continuous and smooth manner of performing the form, the very element which made Internal Boxing look weak, was also incorporated. The result was a long form which had all the elements of Internal Boxing, a modified Pao Chui form which was a vehicle for Internal Boxing’s theories and practices. This would have been the art that was transmitted by Chen Chang Xin.
The form was also known as the 13 postures since all the techniques within derived from the basic 13. This has always been standard in the Taijiquan Classics that have come down from the Wu Yu Xiang and Yang Lu Chan.
The Wen Xiu Tang Ben does not state the existance of the new form. The Liang Yi Tang Ben, a later manual does record it but calls it the 13 sections instead. Chen Xin’s book recorded the Xin Jia of the Chen Style of Taijiquan. The material he records is quite different from that which was gleaned from him from Wu Tu Nan.
We need to first recognise that Chen Xin’s book was published posthumously. He had 3 other collaborators who published the book after his death. How much of the book is attributable to him is a matter of uncertainty. The fact that the book was only published four years after his death would indicate that considerable editing could have taken place by his 3 collaborators.
The Yang related styles of Taijiquan all agree on the classication of the basis of the art which is the 13 postures. The postures of Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Tsai, Lieh, Chou, Kao, Gu, Pan, Jin, Tui and Ding. These are the postures delinated and referred to in the accepted Classic writings. In Liang Yi Tang Ben, the form is called not only the 13 postures but also 13 sections, a rather different classication which is carried on into Chen Xin’s book where the entire form is taught as consisting of 13 sections, each section having sub-postures. This other classication is ignored by Tang Hao and Gu Liu Xin in their writings.
The 13 postures actually consists of 8 basic postures and 5 movements. The 8 basic postures differ slightly in the early Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan style publications. The Liang Yi Tang Ben records the first four as Peng, Ji, Lou, Na and Chen Xin’s book records them as Peng, Lu, Ji, Na. Chen Tze Ming’s book has the same song formula as in Chen Xin’s book but here the first four are recorded as Peng, Shu, Ji, Na. The full 8 postures are named in Chen Tze Ming’s book as Peng, Shu, Ji, Na, Tsai, Lieh, Chou, Kao. It must be noted that the earlier manual, the Wen Xiu Tang Ben did not contain any boxing theory. It was only in the later Liang Yi Tang Ben that Taijiquan was first mentioned in the Chen family documents and that boxing theory was recorded.
The Lao Jia or Old Frame of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan was first promoted by Chen Fa Ke in the early half of this century. The Xin Jia or New Frame, Zhao Bao style and the Hu Lei style all retain close resemblance to each other in terms of how the postures are done. The Yang style, however, varies quite greatly from the other Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan related styles. Given that this was the style first taught by Yang Lu Chan when he returned from the Chen villiage, it would indicated that what he was taught may have differed from the standard Chen syllabus.
However, due to the ecumenical efforts of the current generation of masters, six major styles of Taijiquan are now officially recognised. They are the Chen, Yang, Wu Yu Xiang, Wu Chien Chuan, Sun and Zhao Bao styles. The Hu Lei style is also growing in popularity and may in time be considered a major style.
The 5 greatest promoters of the art today are Feng Zhi Chiang, Wang Xi An, Chen Zhen Lei and Chen Xiao Wang. Their efforts have spread the practice of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan throughout the world and continue to serve as inspirations for those who practice it.