As with most ancient art forms, the history of Taijiquan begins with a mythical story.
By Trish Cooper
The Earlier Development of Taijiquan
As with most ancient art forms, the history of Taijiquan begins with a mythical story. In 1200ce there was a young peasant boy by the name of Chang Chun-Pao. He spent his childhood in a Shaolin Monastery where he mastered Chan Buddhist meditation and Shaolin Martial Arts. At age 15, he left the monastery in search for a teacher that could help further his studies.
In his later years, Chang Chun-Pao settled in Szechuan where he spent his days meditating and contemplating the art of fighting. Through careful observation of nature, and meticulous practice, he attempted to combine the best quality of each animal into his martial arts. He soon realized the answer he was searching for could not be found in any man or animal. He must follow the Tao, and in order to create the ultimate fighting style he must incorporate the principles of nature. The rest of his life was dedicated to the creation of an effortless martial art that encompassed the principles of nature. After a life time of study, Chang Chun-Pao wandered off into the mountains, never to be seen again.
As legend has it, Chang Chun-Pao’s fighting style was passed down to Chen Village several hundred years later. One of Chang Chun-Pao’s alleged students (Jiang Fa), wandered into Chen village and trained Chen Changxing (1771-1853). This is where myth and history collide, and where Taijiquan originated. (1)
Chen Family History of Taijiquan
Martial arts in the Chen family existed long before Jiang Fa’s visit. Their style of fighting was developed from Shaolin Boxing, and from fighting techniques acquired during their time in war. A garrison commander by the name of Chen Wangting (1600-1680), played a key role in the development of Chen style martial arts, and helped build the foundation that Taijiquan would later be derived from. Chen Wangting was a 9th generation member of the Chen family and an exceptional martial artist. He chose to further his practice by developing a style of martial arts that incorporated Yin-Yang theory and the Five Elements. This system of martial arts continued to evolve and with the help of Chang Chun-Pao, became the art of Taijiquan. (1)
Chen and Yang Style Taijiquan
Shortly after Chen Changxing was trained by Jiang Fa, he taught his new system of fighting to a young man named Yang Luchan(1799-1872). Yang Luchan was the first outsider to learn the Chen family system of martial arts, and was the first to teach Taijiquan outside of Chen Village. Yang Luchan went on to train people of noble roots how to fight, and later trained his own grandchildren. (2)
His grandsons, Yang Chengfu(1883-1936) and Yang Shaohou(1862-1930), went on to teach two contrasting styles of Taijiquan. Yang Chengfu was a gentle man who developed a slow, gentle form of martial arts. It consisted of large, soft movements that were done at a slow and even pace. This form was later coined Yang style, and is the common form taught around the world. Yang style Taijiquan is great for developing balance, maintaining health, and calming the mind. (2)
Unlike his brother, Yang Shouhou had an aggressive demeanor and very few disciples. He practiced the style his grandfather had taught him but used small, forceful movements. Rather than maintaining a slow pace, Yang Shouhuo would use a mixture of slow and fast movements, and would fa jin (issue power) throughout the form. This style of martial arts is now referred to as Chen style Taijiquan, and is considered to be closer to the original martial art of Chen Village. (3)