Part 2: The Martial Arts Practiced In The Chen Villiage

The Sung Tai Zhu Quan Connection

Tang Hao was the first to theorise that Chen Wang Ting invented Taijiquan by integrating 29 of the 32 postures of General Qi Ji Kwang. In chapter 3 we have already ascertained that Gu was wrong about the origins of Taijiquan, here we will see how the 32 postures of General Qi fits into the picture as a basis for the development of Chen Taijiquan.

General Qi was a general during the Ming dynasty who compiled a book on effective war techniques called the "New Book Recording Effective Techniques" (Ji Xiao Xin Shu). In it he had sections of strategy, weapons usage, unarmed combat and other aspects of war. In the section on unarmed combat he recorded the names of 16 extant empty hand martial arts and took note of what made effective boxing. He also recorded 32 boxing postures. Gu was the first to assume that these 32 postures were an amalgam of the most effective techniques of the 16 listed fistic forms. For many decades, this was the accepted truth because of his reputation as a Taijiquan historian. Unfortunately he was wrong.

Based on the above assumption, Gu had posited that Chen Wang Ting had developed his Taijiquan from General Qi's form which supposedly consisted of the best techniques from the 16 extent fistic arts during the Ming dynasty. An impressive pedigree. With a closer examination of the postures and their listing we discover something else.

In 1918, the Shanghai Da Shen Bookshop published a book called the `Boxing Canon' (Quan Jing) which was at that time one of the more complete books on the many aspects of boxing. Inside it was included drawings of the original 32 postures of Sung Tai Zhu Chang Quan (First Emperor Of Sung's Long Boxing). Upon closer examination, it was discovered that these 32 postures were identical (there were some variant readings where similar sounding words were used in place of each other though without losing the meaning of the posture name) with the 32 postures in General Qi's book. General Qi had listed the 32 postures of Sung Tai Zhu Quan as the first in the list of the many fistic forms he mentioned.

A parallel comparison of the drawings and names of the 32 postures shows that they are in fact identical. A posture listing of both sets are as follows:

The 32 Postures 1n General Qi's Book

1) Lazily Arranging Clothes

2) Golden Chicken Stands On One Leg

3) Pat Horse

4) Bending Single Whip

5) Seven Star Fist

6) Repulse Riding Dragon

7) Sweep Leg And Empty Bait

8) Hill Fairy Stance (qiu liu shi)

9) Repulse Thrusting Attack

10) Ambush Stance

11) Casting Away Stance

12) Pick Up Elbow Stance

13) Speedy Step

14) Chin Na Stance (Grappling Stance)

15) Middle Four Level Stance

16) Subduing Tiger Stance

17) High Four Level Stance

18) Repulse Insertion Stance

19) Well Blocking Four Levels

20) Ghost Kick Foot

21) Pointing At Pubic Region

22) Animal Head Stance

23) Spirit Fist

24) Single Whip

25) Sparrow Dragon On The Ground

26) Rising Sun Stance

27) Goose Wings Fold Body

28) Riding Tiger Stance

29) Bend Pheonix Elbow

30) Cannon Overhead

31) Follow Pheonix Eblow

32) Flag And Drum Stance

Sung Tai Zhu Chang Chuan's 32 Postures

1) Lazily Arranging Stance

2) Golden Chicken Stands On One Leg

3) Control Horse Stance

4) Bending Whip

5) Seven Star Fist

6) Repulse Riding Dragon Stance

7) Sweeping Foot And Lightly Empty

8) Hill Flowing Stance (qiu liu shi)

9) Repulse Thrusting Stance

10) Ambush Stance

11) Pulling Frame Stance

12) Bracing Eblow Upwards Stance

13) Escaping Step

14) Chin Na Stance (Grappling Stance)

15) Middle Four Level Stance

16) Subduing Tiger Stance

17) High Four Level Stance

18) Repulse Catching Stance

19) Well Blocking Stance

20) Ghost Kicking Stance

21) Pointing To Pubic Region

22) Animal Head Stance

23) Spirit Fist

24) Single Whip

25) Sparrow Dragon Stance

26) Rising Sun Stance

27) Wild Goose Wing Stance

28) Riding Tiger Stance

29) Bend Pheonix Stand

30) Over Head Stance

31) Follow Pheonix Stance

32) Flag And Drum Stance

What does this mean to Taijiquan? Chen Zhi Ming was the member of the Chen family who accompanied Tang Hao to the Chen village. He, like Gu and Tang also wrote about his family's Taijiquan. Chen Zhi Ming work contains records the following about Sung Tai Zhu Quan:

`Tai Zhu stances are the strongest, tumbling and diagonal moving, even ghosts have to be busy to get out of the way' from the Liang Yi Tang Ben manual of Chen martial arts.

`Seven star fist and hands take care of each other, Pat Horse Fist comes down from Tai Zhu' from the Wen Xiu Tang Ben manual of Chen martial arts

From the above, which are the earliest sources of information about Chen family martial arts, it is clear that it was Sung Tai Zhu Quan that formed the basis of Taijiquan with 29 of its 32 postures adopted into the form, and did not come from General Qi's work which has no mention in Chen literature. This inaccurate hypothesis having been originated by Tang Hao.

Sung Tai Zhu Quan or Sung Tai Zhu Chang Quan as it was also known, comes from the south of China and is a external hard boxing form. It is characterised by powerful strikes and movements, body shaking, being structurally aligned, postures flowing with coordinated footwork, being very firm and stable both in standing and stepping and is effective in grappling (chin-na). All of which are present in Chen Taijiquan today. Sung Tai Zhu Chang Quan was not the only art practiced and ultimately integrated into their unique family boxing routines, from Chen Zhi Ming's record of the Chen arts song formulas, we know that Shaolin Red Fist was also practiced.

Shaolin Red Fist (Hong Chuan)

The Liang Yi Tang Ben records that the Chen Villiage practiced 'four small sets of Red Fist'. The Red Fist boxing is a Shaolin form. Given the close proximity between the Chen Villiage and the Shaolin Temple, it is not surprising that this form of boxing would be practiced there. The Red Fist boxing is also widely practiced in Shanxi where it is several different and but related sets, Tai Zhu Quan being one of them. Stylistically, it stresses low postures, soft use of muscles, using the mind instead of strength, speedy emission of power, guarding the four directions, agility, using the Qi circularly, closing into the opponent and using sticking and leaning.

Shaolin Cannon Fist (Pao Chuan) And Cannon Pounding (Pao Chui)

Shaolin Cannon Boxing consists of 3 sets, 2 sets of Small Cannon Fist and one set of Big Cannon Pounding. All three stress offense, using strikes like the pounding of cannons. Firm stances and powerful, explosive blows characterise it. This set is still being practiced in the Shaolin Temple to this very day.

Postures in it that are similar to Chen Taijiquan include `Tornado Kick' (Xuen Fung Jiao), and `Cannons In Series' (Lien Huan Pao). The San Huang Pao Chui which is derived from the Shaolin art contains movements like `Dash Leftward' (Zhuo Chong) and `Dash Rightward' (Yu Chong) in it and would indicate that there is some relationship to the Pao Chui of the Chen family. The Chen family was famous for several generations for their Pao Chui (Cannon Pounding) boxing art and were known as the `Pao Chui Chen Family' (Pao Chui Chen Jia).

Wu Dang Transmission?

Since the art was popularised there has been a widely accepted tradition among the non-Chen lineages that there was input from the Wu Dang arts into Taijiquan. So much so that Taijiquan is considered by many noted practitioners as a Wu Dang art.

The first to record Wu Dang's Internal Boxing at length was Huang Bai Jia and later the art was transmitted to Kan Feng Chi. Fortunately, we still have a record of Kan's art with us and it is still practiced. What has come down to us is the art which he combined both the Shaolin and the Wu Dang schools into a single art and he called it Hua Chuan (Flower Fist). If there is indeed a connection between the two arts, there should be some similar postures other than similar Taoist theories.

We do find similar postures but not similar to Chen Taijiquan but to Yang Taijiquan and its derivatives. Postures like Hitting Ears With Both Fists (Shuang Feng Kuan Er) complete with smashing the face onto the knee first, Playing The Lute (Shou Hui Pi Pa) with its characteristic elbow break on retreating, Cross Hands (Shi Zi Shou) with its cross hand block, Embrace Tiger And Carry Back To Mountain (Bao Hu Kui Shan), etc., are present in Kan's form.

Other resemblance comes from the art of the other great Wudang Internal Boxing master Chang Sung Chi. His art consisted mainly of the `4 stable 8 methods', the 4 stable techniques denoting the four directions and the eight methods are which are eight different combat techniques with myrid changes. These methods have another interesting name of `Yin Yang Five Element Eight Triagram Taiji Hands'. Chang Sung Chi's boxing theories include similar theorems and practices like sinking the qi to Huang Ting (Dan Tien), hollowing the chest and lifting the spine, listening to jing, using softness to neutralise an attack.

The postures are similar to those found in Yang Taijiquan and one can see the similarity in the two man sets in terms of technique. Indeed, even in an early Ta Lu interaction is there complete with the wrist grab (T'sai), arm lock/break (Lieh) and the attack to the face following it (Bi).

This would seem to bear out the Yang lineage's assertion that at least part of the art taught to Yang by Chen Chang Xin had input from the Wu Dang lineage related to Kan Feng Chi, Chang Sung Chi and Huang Pai Jia.

It is indeed strange for Yang Lu Chan to have admitted learning from Chen Chang Xin and yet attribute at least part of the art as having come from outside the Chen villiage arts unless there was some element of the truth in it. What could be possibly gained from it unless he denied he studied from Chen Chang Xin, a member of the Chen family of the Chen Villiage. We know that the Chen family did study arts from outside their villiage, so input from the Wu Dang Internal Boxing lineage should not be so strange. And it would be in line with the song formula at the back of Chen Xin's book which attributes transmission to Jiang Fa and Wang Tsung Yueh.

The Shaolin Pole Techniques

The Shaolin Temple is well known for its martial arts, in particular its fistic, broadsword and pole arts. Of the weapon arts of the Shaolin School, probably the most famous is its pole arts. It was the favoured weapon of the Shaolin Monks and they seldom left the temple without it in hand.

The song formula from Chen Zhi Ming's book confirms that the pole techniques of the Chen family originated from the Shaolin Temple. The 'Sitting Arhat Pole Formula' has these lines: 'Old Temple is the Shaolin Temple, the halls had 500 monks...if you want to know where this pole came from, Sitting Arhats transmitted it at Shaolin.' Gu Liu Xin did a comparison between the Chen family pole techniques and the Shaolin Temple Pole techniques and concluded that they were indeed related, sharing the same theory, the same body, hand and foot methods. This is not surprising since the Chen Villiage is quite close to the Shaolin Temple.

The Yang Family 24 Flower Spear

The Yang family Flower Spear art was extent even in the Ming Dynasty and was recorded in General Qi Ji Kwang's `Ji Xiao Xin Shu' and consisted of 24 postures. We need to note here that this Yang family is no relation to Yang Lu Chan, the founder of the Yang style of Taijiquan who was also famous for his spear techniques. The song formula recorded by Chen Zhi Ming in his book indicates that the original set of 24 techniques were practiced by the Chen family. The '24 Spear Song Formula' has this line: 'If you ask this spear's name and family: Yang family Flower Spear 24'. The spear used in this set is a relatively long one and its main emphasis is on thrusting techniques.

Training with the Short Stick (Pang)

One of the methods of training of Chen Taijiquan is to make use of a short stick or club held in both hands and using twisting motions to train in it. A similar exercise can be found in Kan Feng Chi's training methods where the same thing is done.

We also have this method of training coming down from the training methods of Chang Sung Chi, the other great Wudang Internal Boxing master. This could indicate that at least part of the training methods used by the Chen family could have come from a Kan Feng Chi, Chang Sung Chi related lineage.

Hsing-I Quan Influence?

The `Three Three Boxing Manual' written by Chen Xin contains three out of the ten thesis of Hsing-I Boxing as well as Taijiquan theories. This would indicate that some time in the history of Chen martial arts, Hsing-I Boxing was practiced. Whether the whole art was present is questionable since only three of the thesis are present.

Wu Tu Nan's Interview With Chen Xin And His Meeting With Chen Fa Ke

Wu Tu Nan visited the Chen Villiage in 1917. There were few educated people in the villiage at the time and he was directed to meet Chen Xin, this was before Chen Xin's book was published. Chen Xin was very frank in his interview with Wu Tu Nan and gave him an account of how Taijiquan came to the Chen Villiage (see chapter 6 on Yang style historical development for details). He said that both Taijiquan and the indigenous Chen family Pao Chui was practiced in the villiage but that Taijiquan came down from Jiang Fa. He also introduced Wu to Du Yu Wan who practiced Taijiquan and who said his art came down from Jiang Fa who was of the Wudang lineage, Du's subsequent book on Taijiquan in 1935 confirms this view and the authenticity and accuracy of Wu Tu Nan's interview material.

Chen Xin had told Wu that he was writing a book on Taijiquan. Wu then asked Chen Xin whether he practiced Taijiquan. Chen Xin replied that his father had let his older brother learn martial arts but had made him get an education instead so he did not know any martial arts. Wu then asked how he was going to write a book on martial arts if he did not practice martial arts. Chen replied that Taijiquan is based on the Book of Changes and that he felt that as long as an art conformed to the Book of Changes it was Taijiquan. So he intended to use the boxing postures of Pao Chui and relate them to the Book of Changes and that his purpose of the book was to show how the Book of Changes was related even to martial arts, it was not his intention of writing a martial arts manual.

With this background information, Wu Tu Nan had asked Chen Fa Ke during a meeting around 1950 whether his art was Taijiquan, given that the definition of Taijiquan was that is was based on the 13 postures. Chen Fa Ke had replied that his art was not based on the 13 postures and so was not Taijiquan. The meeting was cordial and it was not confrontational.

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