< Part 7: The Development Of Sun Style Taijiquan

Sun style Taijiquan was developed by the famous martial artist Sun Lu Tang (1861-1932) also known as Sun Fu Quan. It contained the essence of his martial arts experience and techniques. Sun was famous also for his Pa Kua and Hsing-I which he learned from famous masters. He was already highly skilled when he came to learn Taijiquan and in the later part of his life, taught it as his preferred art.

Sun style Taijiquan is the most recently developed of the five major styles which were taught when Taijiquan was first made public. His great reputation as a martial artist made Sun a sought after master but Sun never taught his art to promote violence, he taught it to promote peace and good health. His form of Taijiquan incorporated what he felt were the key elements of Pa Kua and Hsing-I into the framework and theories of Taijiquan.

Having learnt from the great Hao Wei Chen (1849-1920). Sun's own form of Taijiquan retains many of its characteristics like the high standing and emphasis on opening and closing. With more emphasis on mobile stepping, Sun's Taijiquan is often referred to as the active step small form of Taijiquan.

In order to more fully understand Sun Taijiquan, we must first examine the arts which Sun Lu Tang studied and for which he was famous for. Even though Sun Lu Tang is a recent historical figure, there is much legendary material about him. Fortunately, his daughter Sun Jian Yun is still around to provide us authentic details into the life of her father. A diary of his which recorded his experiences in martial arts was stolen, a great loss to the martial arts community, perhaps one day it will be recovered and the precious wisdom of a great martial artist be shared with the martial artists of the world.

Through the efforts of Sun Lu Tang's family and students, and his great reputation as a martial artist, Sun style Taijiquan is quite well known and is practiced in many countries. Since the liberalisation of China, Sun Jian Yun, his daughter, has been able to meet with foreign enthusiasts adding new impetus to the promotion of the style. Sun Taijiquan stylists from China are also beginning to make their presence felt throughtout the world. Both bringing the precious treasure of the life work of Sun Lu Tang and the spirit which he taught and lived to all.

Sun Lu Tang The Man

Sun Lu Tang was born poor and physically weak, the son of a poor farmer. Though he was very poor, Sun's father bartered the produce he grew for Sun's education. Sun was a very intelligent child and progressed quickly in his studies. Unfortunately, he only managed to study for a few years. Due to a bad season, his father could not afford let him continue his studies and due to the Imperial Tax, his father was forced to sell all that he had. And to make the situation even worse, he died shortly after that.

So poor was Sun and his mother that in the end, his mother had to beg a rich man to take Sun in as a servant so that he would at least not go hungry. The man saw that Sun was frail and weak, so he said he would provide him with food but would not pay him any money. The man's son was a bully and would beat Sun any chance he got. For the sake of his mother, Sun endured the suffering and worked hard for his keep.

Later he studied martial arts with a local teacher, who was skilled in the external school of martial arts. Sun wanted to learn martial arts in the beginning because he didn't want to be bullied by the rich man's son. But he soon developed a genuine love for the martial arts. He was a quick study and his teacher taught him quickly. Later, because he injured a member of the rich man's family when he tried to beat him, he was fired from his job and returned home to his mother.

There, he was only interested in martial arts and would not work but spent his time practicing. In order to relieve his mother's burden, he often ate wild vegetables which he found in the country side. Things got so bad that he decided that he wouldn't be a burden on his mother any more and commited suicide by hanging himself. Fortunately for posterity, two men saw him hang himself and quickly cut him down, bringing him back to his mother. They told him that no matter how bad things got, it was not worth dying. They gave him some money and left.

Sun and his mother used the money to send Sun to live with his uncle. His uncle owned a calligraphy shop and Sun would help in his uncle's shop. His uncle was a kindly man and would not only feed and house him but also pay him for his work in the shop. Through his uncle's contacts, he met his first internal martial arts teacher and learned Hsing-I Quan.

Later, he would go and live with his teacher and train full time. To progress further, he would later learn Pa Kua under the famous Pa Kua master Cheng T'ing Hua. All this time, Sun was very respectful of his mother and made sure that she was well taken care of. So great was his love and respect of his mother that when he visited her grave, he would take a bow every five steps.

Sun taught at many places and because of his skill became a famous martial arts teacher. Always heeding his teachers' words, he always taught martial arts in terms of morality and never advocated violence and even turned away students who wanted to take up martial arts to learn how to fight. He once said that if somebody wanted to fight, he should use a gun.

Later Sun would meet up with Hao Wei Chen, the famous Wu Yu Xiang style Taijiquan master and learn Taijiquan from him. Sun later integrated Pa Kua and Hsing-I principles into his Taijiquan and developed his own style of Taijiquan. He also wrote books on the internal martial arts he practiced and these have become important works for the martial arts community.

There are many legends about the man but as Sun Jian Yun, his daughter, cautions, her father was an exceptional martial artist but he was not superhuman. Sun always stressed that the keys to success in martial arts was to persevere in correct practice.

Sun Lu Tang's First Martial Art

Sun Lu Tang's first martial art was an external martial art. He learned Shaolin Hung Boxing from his teacher, surnamed Wu, who had studied for two years at the Shaolin Temple. He also learned the light work skill (qing gong) from his teacher.

His teacher was highly skilled and Sun was very talented. Sun gained a very good martial arts foundation from him and received a firm grounding for the internal martial arts.

Sun Lu Tang And Hsing-I Quan

Sun Lu Tang got to meet his first Hsing-I Quan teacher through friends of his uncle. His uncle's scholar friend, surnamed Chang, was impressed with his calligraphy and allowed him to visit him at any time to learn more about calligraphy. During his spare time, Sun would also go over there to practice his martial arts. It was during one of these sessions that one of the scholar's friends, Li Kuei Yuan. Li found Sun to be intelligent and upright and having a good martial arts background. He offered to teach Sun Hsing-I Quan which he had learned from the famous Kuo Yun Shen.

Sun studied hard and soon learnt all that Li had to teach him. In order to help Sun progress further, Li recommended Sun to study under his teacher Kuo Yun Shen and went with Sun to study under Kuo together. Kuo was very impressed with the progress Sun had made in Hsing-I Quan and taught him diligently. So agile was Sun at his Hsing-I that Kuo nicknamed him the `lively monkey'.

Kuo worked Sun hard and taught him all he knew. After eight years, he graduated Sun and presented to him the Hsing-I manual he had received from his (Kuo) teacher Li Neng Jan. Kuo told Sun that in order to improve his martial arts further, he should take up Pa Kua Chang from his friend Cheng T'ing Hua.

Sun Lu Tang And Pa Kua Chang

Sun Lu Tang went and studied under the great Pa Kua Chang master Cheng T'ing Hua (?-1900). Cheng himself was one of the best students of the great modern founder of Pa Kua Chang, Dong Hai Chuan.

When Sun first met Cheng, he was soundly defeated and was greatly impressed with Pa Kua Chang. He practiced diligently and eventually learnt all that Cheng had to teach him. It was here that Sun gained his speed in foot work, a skill which gained him fame.

Sun began Pa Kua Chang relatively late in life, at around 30 years of age but his perseverance and constant regular hard practice gained him great proficiency. He stayed with Cheng for 3 years. After 3 years, Cheng graduated him and told him that if he wanted to improve he needed to go out into the world and test himself. It was Cheng that changed Sun's given name from Fu Quan to Lu Tang.

For the rest of his life he was known more by the name of Sun Lu Tang than by his old name Sun Fu Quan. Sun's Pa Kua Chang came from the Cheng lineage and retained much the same syllabus but Sun's exceptional speed on his feet made his Pa Kua Chang truly magnificient.

Sun Lu Tang Learns Taijiquan

Sun Lu Tang was already a highly skilled and relatively famous martial artist by the time he learnt Taijiquan. Hao Wei Chen was visiting Beijing and being unfamiliar with the territory was not able to meet up with his friends who lived there. Having no other alternative, Hao had checked into an inn and subsequently fell ill. Not something very unusual for those of us who have travelled to unfamiliar regions.

In any case, Sun Lu Tang came to hear about it and went to visit him. Hao Wei Chen already had a reputation of being a highly accomplished martial artist and Sun was in the habit of visiting highly accomplished martial artists to make their acquantance and to exchange knowledge. Sun went to visit him to make his acquantance, having heard that he was a great master but did not know at the time that the art practiced by Hao was Taijiquan. When he found Hao sick in bed, he took care of him and even got a doctor to treat him. Hao eventually recovered from his illness and was very grateful to Sun for looking after him. It must have been hard being ill and alone in a very big city full of strangers.

In gratitude, Hao taught Sun Taijiquan, Wu Yu Xiang style Taijiquan to be exact. Hao himself had studied personally under Wu Yu Xiang's nephew Li I Yu and was a native of Yung Nien where Yang Lu Chan, Wu Yu Xiang and Li I Yu lived. Sun, being already highly skilled, learnt the art from Hao and became accomplished in it. He was now a master of the three internal martial arts.

Sun Lu Tang Develops His Own Style

Sun Lu Tang had studied and mastered the three internal styles. He continued to study them and to research into their theories, refining them and constantly improving his art.

Later, Sun would crystalise his teaching, experience and methods into his own style of Taijiquan. It was primarily based on Hao's Wu Yu Xiang style Taijiquan. That he chose Taijiquan as his final art expressing the essence of his art is indicative. He is supposed to have incorporated the rapid foot work of Pa Kua with the leg and waist methods of Hsing-I with the soft body of Wu Yu Xiang's Taijiquan. In actual terms of the form, it retains many characteristics of the form Hao taught him as well as the sequence of postures.

The postures themselves have not changed all that much, retaining the original applications and still resemble very much the Wu Yu Xiang style as taught by the Hao family. What is evident is that the stepping is more active and smaller, the hand techniques differ only marginally and some Hsing-I characteristics are evident.

In his later years, he preferred to teach Taijiquan rather than Pa Kua or Hsing-I. He was very capable in his application of his Taijiquan and Sun Lu Tang, the great Pa Kua and Hsing-I master, was also now acknowledged as a great Taijiquan master.

Sun was not selfish with his art and wrote several books on them to share them with martial artist everywhere. These books remain important references for the serious martial artist and some contain valuable photographs of Sun's form in the three internal martial arts.

Sun Taijiquan Today

With Sun Jian Yun's presence made available, the Sun style Taijiquan practitioners around the world have access to the direct transmission of Sun Lu Tang via his daughter who was privy to many of the private aspects of his life and art. The popularity of Sun Taijiquan has grown because of that and through continuing efforts of the teachers of this style of Taijiquan is being spread to every corner of the world.

The Taijiquan community throughout the world continues to regard Sun Taijiquan as an authentic expression of the internal arts and one of the major styles of the art. Sun Lu Tang's martial art and spirit continues to bring health, morals and martial skills to all those who practice the system.

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