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Taijiquan is one of the oldest documented forms of martial arts, dating over 1,500 years. The question of its origin is highly controversial, and proponents of one theory over another base their arguments on differences in:

  • posture and form
  • techniques and combat strategies and
  • legend.
Taijiquan history becomes more clear in modern times and reached a golden period during the turn of century. Legendary fighters such as Yang Lu Chan, his family and students contributed to its renown. Now taijiquan is one of the strongest threads in the tapestry of Chinese martial arts.
 1.  Prehistory
 2.  Chen Village
 3.  Yang Family
 4.  Other Styles
 5.  Synthetic Styles


T'ai Chi theory and practice is based on a long history that spans thousands of years. Its progress is attributed to many legendary figures and mythical methods including:

1. Long Fist of Hsa Suan Ming (618-905, Tang Dynasty)

2. Hsien-Tien (The stage before the universe is created pugilism)

3. Chang Chuan (Long Fist) of Li Tao Tze (618-905, Tang Dynasty)

4. Nine Little Heavens form of Hen Kon Yu (907-921, Liang Dynasty)

5. Hu Tien Fa ("Post-Heavenly Method") of Yi Li Peng

6. Wudang Tai Chi of Chang San Feng (1247 - 14??)

7. Wang Tsung Yueh (1736-1795)

8. Jiang Fa (1716-1795)

9. Chen Chou- t'ung and Southern Tai Chi (1700 - 1800)

The general public often attributes Zhang Sanfeng (simplified Chinese: 张三丰; traditional Chinese: 張三丰; pinyin: Zhāng Sānfēng; Wade-Giles: Chang1 San1-feng1, variant 張三豐, pronounced the same) as the founder of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. The Chang San Feng legend can be viewed as having three phases: phase I (prior to 1669) merely claims that Chang was a Taoist immortal; phase II (after 1669) claims that he founded the "internal" school of boxing; and phase III (post 1900) claims that Taijiquan originated with Chang. The Chang San Feng legend evolved during the Ming period (1368-1644), based on the close association of early Ming rulers with Taoism and Taoist priests, whose prophecies had supported the founder of the dynasty. Little is known about Zhang except that he is described as an eccentric, itinerant hermit with magical powers, who died once, but came back to life, and whose life, based on varying accounts, spanned a period of over 300 years. According to legend, Chang San Feng created a new set of exercises now known as taijiquan in the Wudang Mountains. Chang's new insight in the practice of martial arts are expressed according to four basic principles:

  • use calm against action 
  • use soft against hard
  • use slow against fast and
  • single techniques against a group of techniques.
Those ideas seem to be contrary to conventional combat training and, in general, the philosophy of Chang San Feng serves to counter-balance the teachings of Bodhidharma and the Shaolin school.  

Chen Village

Chen Village (陳家溝, Chenjiagou; 'Chen' - surname, 'Jia' - the family of, 'Gou' - gully or ravine, because the village lies in a gully not far from the Yellow River) is considered by most knowledgeable practitioners to be at the source and of taijiquan. Chen Village is located in Wenxian county, east of Wen, Henan. The history of Chen Style Taichiquan can be traced back to the legendary founder Chen Bu (陈卜, 1368? - ????). He was a scholar and martial artists originally from Shanxi. The Chen family migrated to Henan province in 1374 and settled in the current Chen Village. Chen Bu started to trained the village in a martial art style that predated taichiquan. Over time, the Chen family refined the techniques into a style that we now called Chen style Taichi chuan (陳家、陳氏 or 陳式 太極拳).

Famous proponents of the Chen style include:

  • Chen Wang Ting (陈王庭, 1600-1680) was an officer in the Ming Dynasty. He was considered to be the ninth-generation descendent of Chen Bu. He was credited as being the creator of the Chen Fist, broadsword and spear arts. He took pre-existing Chen training and created a new system composed of seven routines. This new system includes five routines of tai chi chuan (太極拳五路)), 108 form Long Fist (一百零八勢長拳)and a Cannon Fist (炮捶一路) form.
  • Chen Suo Le (1368-1644) the father of the twins: Chen Shen Ru and Chen Xun Ru.
  • Chen Jingbai (1796-1821) a famous armed escort in Shandong province.
  • Chen Chang-Xing (陳長興 Chén Chángxīng, Ch'en Chang-hsing, 1771-1853) was credited with the creation of the "Old Frame" (老架; lao jia) of Chan style Tai Chi. Some legends suggested that he was a student of Wang Zhongyue (王宗岳) also from Shanxi or Jiang Fa (蔣發 Jiǎng Fā), a monk from the Wudang mountains. Chen later taught Yang Lu Chan.
  • Chen You Ben (陳有本) credited with the creation of Xin Jia, or "new" frame (新架) of Chen style Tai Chi.
  • Chen Ching Ping (1795-1868) promoted the Zhao Bao Style.
  • Chen Kung Yuen a noted as the instructor of the household of Yuan Shi Kai (the last emperor of China).
  • Chen Miao (1841-1926) one of the best Chen stylist.

Chen Fake (陳發科, 陈发科, Chén Fākē, Ch'en Fa-k'e 1887-1957) the first person known to teach the Xin Jia (New Frame) system outside of Chen's Village.

The modern Chen style is actively promoted and practiced worldwide. The Chen Village is still the acknowledged centre of Chen style Tai Chi.


Yang Family

The style of Tai Chi most practiced today is the Yang Style. The origins and history of this style start with

  • Yang Lu Chan (杨露禅, 1799-1872) studied and modified the Chen style into a new type of T'ai Chi. He eliminated the difficult jumps and leaps, explosions of strength, and vigorous foot stamping, and refocused training on the understanding of internal power.
  • Yang Pan-Hou (1837 - 1892) the eldest son of Yang Lu Chan and the teacher of Wu Quan You (Wu Style). He taught the style known as Guang Ping Yang taijiquan and developed a T'ai Chi form known as "Xiao Jia" (Small Frame).
  • Yang Chein Hou (1839 - 1917) is the second son of Yang Lu-ch'an.
  • Yang Shao Hao (1862 - 1929) is the oldest son of Yang Chien Hou.
  • Yang Cheng Fu (1883 - 1936) is the son of Yang Chien Hou. He is reputed to have taught hundreds of students and popularized Taiji throughout China.

Additional information on the history of the Yang style is available detailing the Yang Style family tree and the various branches that forms new and distinctive styles. The Yang style is popular because of its compact form, its grace and beauty of movement, and the ease with which it can be practiced. It has caught on in other parts of the world as well, with Yang-style taijiquan clubs and associations springing up everywhere.


Other Styles

There are many other T'ai Chi styles that vary in principle, form and function. We will describe the main styles that are popular today, but you should note that many other styles and practitioners have not been documented.

  • Wu Yu Xiang (1812-1880) was a native of Yung Nien, the home County of Yang-style founder, Yang Lu Chan. He later went to Chen village to study with Chen Qing Ping of Zhao Bao Village.This style is characterized by compact, rounded, precise, and high standing postures.
  • Li I Yu (1832-1892) learned the art of Taijiquan from his uncle Wu Yu Xiang. Li Style had the characteristics of the small frame Wu Style, but also some similarities with the medium frame Wu Style.
  • Hao Wei Zhen (1849 - 1920) was a student of Li I yu. Hao Style used a fast form to teach the students to recognize and apply power.
  • Sun Lu Tang (1861-1932) learnt taiji from the Hao Wei Chen. He developed a new style by combining taiji principles with his knowledge of Bagua and Hsing-I. Sun's taijiquan teaches high-standing posture and emphasis on opening, closing and active stepping.
  • Wu Jianquan (1870-1942) a student of Yang Lu Chan and Yang Pan Hau. He popularized a style known as Zhong Jia" ("medium frame"). This style is popular in Hong Kong and South East Asia.
  • Tung Ying Chieh (1890-1964) was a student of Yang Cheng Fu and Li Xiang Yun. He created the Tung family taichiquan and teaches a fast style of T'ai Chi for advance taiji practitioners.
  • Ching Men Ching (1901-1975) was a student of Yang Cheng Fu. He was instrumental in promoting T'ai Chi in North America. He taught a modified form of T'ai Chi with 37 moves, which is now known as Ching Men Ching style.


Modern Period: the Synthetic Styles

Since the founding of New China, taijiquan has undergone unprecedented development. Physical culture workers and medical personnel in China have collected works attributed to and studied various schools of taijiquan, and special hanging charts, books and musical compositions have been published. In 1956, the Chinese State Committee of Sports simplified the Yang Family Style into 24, simplified forms. This series was edited to progress logically from the easy to the difficult, and takes five minutes to complete. " Simplified Taijiquan" is promoted as a health exercise and is a National standard for China. The Chinese government continued to standardize the practise of T'ai Chi by promoting modified forms based on the synthesis of the major T'ai Chi styles. The current forms include

  • Simplified Yang Style Taiji Quan in 24 Forms
  • Yang Style Taiji Quan in 40 Forms
  • Yang Style Taiji Quan in 72 Forms
  • Taiji Quan in 42 Forms
  • Taiji Quan in 48 Forms
  • Taiji Quan in 58 Forms
  • Taiji Quan in 66 Forms
  • Chen StyleTaiji Quan in 56 Forms
  • Wu Style Taiji Quan in 46 Forms
  • Sun Style Taiji Quan in 42 Forms
 More demanding and varied in content, these new sets of taijiquan can also include several traditional dual training exercises, such as hand pushing and counter-pushing, sword fencing and combat with other weapons.