Tai Chi is an internal art that gives proven health benefits to those who practice. Such benefits include better balance, increased flexibility, stronger bones, improved circulation, toned muscles and a calm the mind. These low impact exercises are all done from a standing position and give each person their own unique health benefits.
The Tai Chi Form is a progression from the foundation practices. Each class we will go through either the Four Directions, Foundations 2 or the Loijia old frame. I will talk you through the movements so even if you are unfamiliar with them you will be able to follow, before then going through individual parts in detail.
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Chen-style Tai Chi
The Chen family-style (陳家、陳氏、陳式 太極拳) or Chen-style Taijiquan is the oldest and parent form of the five traditional family styles of Taiji. Chen-style is characterized by silk reeling (纏絲勁；chán sī jìn), alternating fast and slow motions and bursts of power (發勁；fa jin).
Contemporary t’ai chi ch’uan is typically practised for a number of widely varying reasons: health, external-internal martial art skills, aesthetics, meditation or as an athletic competition sport (sometimes called 武术太极 wushu taiji). Therefore, a teacher’s system, practice and choice of training routines usually emphasizes one of these characteristics during training. The five traditional schools, precisely because they are traditional, attempt to retain the martial applicability of their teaching methods. Some argue that the Chen tradition emphasizes this martial efficacy to a greater extent.
As for the origin and nature of modern Chen-style taijiquan, documents from the 17th century indicate the Chen clan settled in Chenjiagou (Chen Village, 陳家溝), Henan province, in the 13th century and reveal the defining contribution of Chen Wangting (陈王庭; 1580–1660). It is therefore not clear how the Chen family actually came to practise their unique martial style and contradictory “histories” abound. What is known is that the other four contemporary traditional tai chi styles (Yang, Sun, Wu and Woo) trace their teachings back to Chen village in the early 1800s.
Chen Village (Chenjiagou)
According to Chen Village family history, Chen Bu (陳仆; 陈卜) was a skilled martial artist who started the martial arts tradition within Chen Village. The Chen family were originally from Hong Dong (洪洞), Shanxi (山西). Chen Bu, considered to be the founder of the village, moved from Shanxi to Wen County (溫县), Henan Province (河南) in 1374. The new area was originally known as Chang Yang Cun (常陽村) or Sunshine village and grew to include a large number of Chen descendants. Because of the three deep ravines (Gou) beside the village it came to be known as Chen Jia Gou (陳家溝) or Chen Family creek / brook. For generations onwards, the Chen Village was known for their martial arts.
The special nature of Tai Chi Chuan practice was attributed to the ninth generation Chen Village leader, Chen Wangting (陳王廷; 陈王庭; 1580–1660). He codified pre-existing Chen training practice into a corpus of seven routines. This included five routines of tai chi chuan (太極拳五路), 108 form Long Fist (一百零八勢長拳) and a more rigorous routine known as Cannon Fist (炮捶一路). Chen Wangting integrated different elements of Chinese philosophy into the martial arts training to create a new approach that we now recognize as the Internal martial arts. He added the principles of Yin-Yang theory (阴阳; the universal principle of complementary opposites), the techniques of Daoyin (leading and guiding energy), Tui na (expelling and drawing energy), the Chinese medical theory of energy (气功) and Chinese medical theory of the meridians (经络). Those theories encountered in Classical Chinese Medicine and described in such texts as the Huang Di Nei Jing (《黃帝內經》; Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Chinese Medicine). In addition, Wangting incorporated the boxing theories from sixteen different martial art styles as described in the classic text, Ji Xiao Xin Shu(繼效新書; “New Book Recording Effective Techniques”; ~ 1559–1561) written by the Ming General Qi Jiguang (戚繼光; 1528–1588).
Chen Changxing (陳長興 Chén Chángxīng, Ch’en Chang-hsing, 1771–1853), 14th generation Chen Village martial artist, synthesized Chen Wangting’s open fist training corpus into two routines that came to be known as “Old Frame” (老架; lao jia). Those two routines are named individually as the First Form (Yilu; 一路) and the Second Form (Erlu; 二路, more commonly known as the Cannon Fist 炮捶). Chen Changxing, contrary to Chen family tradition, also took the first recorded non-family member as a disciple, Yang Luchan (1799–1871), who went on to popularize the art throughout China, but as his own family tradition known as Yang-style tai ji quan. The Chen family system was only taught within the Chen village region until 1928.
Chen Youben (陳有本; 1780–1858), also of the 14th Chen generation, is credited with starting another Chen training tradition. This system also based on two routines is known as “Small Frame” (xiao jia; 小架). Small Frame system of training eventually lead to the formation of two other styles of Tai chi chuan that show strong Chen family influences, Zhaobao jia (趙堡架) and Hulei jia (Thunder style; 忽雷架). However they are not considered a part of the Chen family lineage.
Other origin stories
Some legends assert that a disciple of Zhang Sanfeng named Wang Zongyue (王宗岳) taught Chen family the martial art later to be known as taijiquan.
Other legends speak of Jiang Fa [zh] (蔣發 Jiǎng Fā; 1574–1655), reputedly a monk from Wudang mountain who came to Chen village. He is said to have helped transform the Chen family art with Chen Changxing (1771–1853) by emphasizing internal fighting practices. However, there are significant difficulties with this explanation, as it is no longer clear if their relationship was that of teacher/student or even who taught whom.
The availability and popularity of Chen-style tai ji quan is reflective of the radical changes that occurred within Chinese society during the 20th century. In the decline of the Qing Dynasty, the emergence of a Republican government and the policies of the People’s Republic of China, Chen Tai Ji Quan underwent a period of discovery, popularization, and finally internationalization.
During the second half of the 19th century, Yang Luchan (杨露禅; 1799–1872) and his family established a reputation of Yang-style t’ai chi ch’uan throughout the Qing empire. Few people knew that Yang Luchan first learned his martial arts from Chen Changxing in the Chen Village. Fewer people still visited the Chen village to improve their understanding of Tai Chi Chuan. Only Wu Yu-hsiang (武禹襄; 1812–1880), a student of Yang Luchan and the eventual founder of Wu (Hao)-style t’ai chi ch’uan (武/郝氏), was known to have briefly studied the Chen Family small frame system under Chen Qingping (陳清平 1795–1868). This situation changed with the fall of the Qing empire when Chinese sought to discover and improve their understanding of traditional philosophies and methods.
In 1928, Chen Zhaopei (陈照丕; 1893–1972) and later his uncle, Chen Fake (陳發科, 陈发科, Chén Fākē, 1887–1957) moved from Chen village to teach in Beijing. Their Chen-style practice was initially perceived as radically different from other prevalent martial art schools (including established tai chi “traditions”) of the time. Chen Fake proved the effectiveness of Chen-style t’ai chi ch’uan through various private challenges and even a series of Lei tai matches. Within a short time, the Beijing martial arts community was convinced of the effectiveness of Chen-style t’ai chi ch’uan and a large group of martial enthusiasts started to train and publicly promote it.
The increased interest in Chen-style t’ai chi ch’uan led Tang Hao (唐豪; 1887–1959), one of the first modern Chinese martial art historians, to visit and document the martial lineage in Chen Village in 1930 with Chen Ziming. During the course of his research, he consulted with a manuscript written by 16th generation family member Chen Xin (陳鑫; Ch’en Hsin; 1849–1929) detailing Chen Xin’s understanding of the Chen Village heritage. Chen Xin’s nephew, Chen Chunyuan, together with Chen Panling (president of Henan Province Martial Arts Academy), Han Zibu (president of Henan Archives Bureau), Wang Zemin, Bai Yusheng of Kaiming Publishing House, Guan Baiyi (director of Henan Provincial Museum) and Zhang Jiamou helped publish Chen Xin’s work posthumously. The book entitled Taijiquan Illustrated (太極拳圖說 see classic book) was published in 1933 with the first print run of thousand copies.
For nearly thirty years, until his death in 1958, Chen Fake diligently taught the art of Chen-style t’ai chi ch’uan to a select group of students. As a result, a strong Beijing Chen-style tradition centered around his “New Frame” variant of Chen Village “Old Frame” survived after his death. His legacy was spread throughout China by the efforts of his senior students.
The Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) resulted in a period of Chen-style t’ai chi ch’uan decline. The Chinese government engaged in an active policy to suppress all traditional teachings, including the practice of martial arts. Training facilities were closed and practitioners were prosecuted. Many Chen masters were publicly denounced. For example, Chen Zhao Pei was pushed to the point of attempting suicide, and Hong Junsheng was left malnourished. To the great credit of the Chen-style practitioners at that time, training was continued in secret and at great personal risk ensuring the continuation of the tradition.
During the Era of Reconstruction (1976–1989), the policy of repression of traditional Chinese culture was reversed. Under this new climate, Chen tai chi chuan was once again allowed to be practiced openly. Through a series of government-sponsored meetings and various provincial and national tournaments, Chen-style taiji regained its reputation as an important branch of Chinese martial arts. In addition, those meetings created a new generation of Chen-style teachers.
The start of the internationalisation of Chen-style can be traced to 1981. A t’ai chi ch’uan association from Japan went on a promotional tour to the Chen village. The success of this trip created interest in Chen-style t’ai chi ch’uan both nationally and internationally. Soon t’ai chi ch’uan enthusiasts from other countries started their pilgrimage to Chenjiagou. The increasing interest led all levels of the Chinese governments to improve the infrastructure and support of Chen Jia Gou including the establishment of martial art schools, hotels and tourist associations.
In 1983, martial artists from the Chen village received full government support to promote Chen tai chi chuan abroad. Some of the best Chen stylists became international “roaming ambassadors” known as the “Four Buddha Warrior Attendants”. Those four Chen stylists including Chen Xiaowang (陳小旺; Chen Fake’s direct grandson), Chen Zhenglei (陈正雷; 1949–), Wang Xian (王西安) and Zhu Tiancai (朱天才) traveled relentlessly giving global workshops and creating an international group of Chen-style practitioners.