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History of Tai Chi Chuan – Branches and Family Styles



While Yang Lu Chan left the Chen village in Huo Nan, beginning the Yang family style of Tai Chi, the Chen family continued to practise and develop their style of Tai Chi. Chen You-heng continued the teaching of the Chen style employing the developments brought by Zhiang Fa. This style is known as the New Frame of Chen style. Another Chen family member and student of Chen Chang-hsing was Chen Gen-yun. He continued a more traditional style of Chen family Tai Chi which is known of the Old Frame of Chen style. Chen Yau-pun, yet another Chen family member, veered away from Zhiang Fa's tradition to create the 'new' school of Tai Chi. His student Chen Quin-ping was an originator of the Zhao Bao Style of Tai Chi. One of his student was Li Jing-Ting who, in turn was the founder of the Hu Lei Style of Tai Chi.

Wu Yu-xiang was a student of both Yang Lu-chan and Chen Qing-ping. He taught his nephew Lee I-yu who in turn taught Hao Wei-chen. This gave rise to the Wu Shi Style (or Hao Style) of Tai Chi Chuan. Hao Wei-chen taught Sun Lu-tang. Sun Lu-tang also studied Hsing-I Quan under Kuo Yun-shen and Pa Kua Chang under Cheng T'ing-hua (a student of Dong Hai-chuan, the founder of Pa Kua Chang). He combined all of these forms into a new style: the Sun Style of Tai Chi Chuan.

Yang Lu Chan’s second and third sons, Yang Pan-hou and Yang Chien-hou, carried on their Fathers style of Tai Chi.

An incident is recorded about Yang Pan Hou (1837-1892) in the book Chinese Boxing Methods. Yang Pan Hou was walking with his son when a practitioner of Shaolin Boxing attacked them, Yang Pan Hou counter attacked using the two fingers of the 'Dragons Mouth' technique to the opponents neck. The Shaolin Boxer dropped dead on the spot. Yang Pan Hou carried on walking with his son and in an even manner as if nothing had happened he just said , The last sound he made was like a swallow singing.

Yang Pan Hou trained his students with brutal force and often broke their bones. Because of these extreme training methods and his insistence on heavy contact and realism in the training to achieve fighting ability Yang Pan Hou had very few students. Amongst their number was Wu Chun Yu. Wu Chun Yu taught his son Wu Chien Chun. He later modified the style and founded the Wu style of Tai Chi Chuan. Wu’s style is especially popular in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

Yang Lu-Chan’s third son, Yang Chien Hou (1842-1917), taught the Hao Chuan to his son, Yang Shao Hu (1862-1930). Yang Shao Hu also learnt a lot from his uncle Yang Pan Hou. One of Yang Shao Hu's three main students was his second cousin Chang Yiu Chun. In an interview with Chang Yiu Chun in China War Arts Magazine he said that he studied with Yang Shao Hu from 1911 until his death in 1930. It is stated that Yang Shao Hu had only three students because people could not handle his brutal training methods and beatings; at the end of training session students would have blood on their shirts and occasionally a broken bone.

Yang Chien-Hou was to become extremely important because it was his third son, Yang Cheng-Fu (1883-1936), who formed the distinctive characteristics of what is now known as the Yang’s style of Tai Chi. Until Yang Cheng-Fu then Yang family had essentially taught Hao Chuan, a variation of the Chen system. Initially Yang Cheng-Fu resisted his father’s attempts to teach him Tai Chi. However, after his father’s death, this changed and he studied hard to become extremely proficient. Yang Cheng-Fu also popularised the style, being the first to spread Tai Chi beyond the family, and trained many students. By the early 20th century, the Yang family style of Tai Chi Chuan had become one of the most popular fighting styles in China.

Yang Cheng-fu used to practice Hao Chuan up until about 1915. Hsu Yu Sen says in a book that he wrote in 1930 that when Yang Chen-fu was young and living in Beijing he would practice the main form at least twelve times every day at the Pao Fu Temple. However when he moved to Shanghai and became an opium addict his health declined and he did not practice very much. Tseng Chao Jen in his 1939 Book Says that Yang Chen-fu got so fat that there were many Tai Chi postures he could no longer do because his belly was so big it got in the way and he would also easily get out of breath.

Yang Cheng-fu changed the Yang family forms. He added his own ideas and modifications to the style giving birth to the Yang system known today.

No one knows why, possibly as a result of his opium addiction. He stopped practicing Fa jin and Dim Mak, no longer did any movements that caused him any exertion or strain or anything remotely acrobatic or demanding. This slowed down simplified version is today one of the most widely practiced styles and is known as the New Yang Style of Tai Chi.

In his later years, although he did not practice his Tai Chi much, he still retained his Fa jin and Dim Mak ability. This is clearly illustrated by what happened to a person called Cheng Man Ch’ing who tried to learn Tai Chi from him.

The following information is taken from the book 'Chinese Boxing Masters':

“Cheng Man Ch’ing approached Yang Chen fu wanting to learn something from him. Yang Cheng fu did not bother to even get up from his chair, he just waited till Cheng Man Ch’ing was close enough then using the hand sign, 'Immortal Points the way to heaven', a Fa jin Dim mak strike to his neck and knocked him out.”

On the only other occasion that Cheng Man Ch’ing dared to approach Yang Cheng-fu much the same thing happened but this time Yang Chen fu knocked him out with a palm strike to the jaw. Cheng Man Ch’ing hung around Yang Chen Fu's students for about six months and then made up his own small simplified Tai Chi form based on the New Yang style. This he took to the United States where he started his own school, starting Tai Chi’s popularisation in the west. Though this form lacks much from the traditional Yang style it still has many merits. Being relatively simple and less demanding it is a particularly good introductory training set for those wishing to learn Tai Chi.

In his 1946 book on Tai chi Cheng Man Ch’ing says that all his life he had been a heavy drinker and by the time he was 45 he was frequently getting very drunk. He eventually died of a heart attack in 1975.

Many people today practice the New Yang Style of Tai Chi created by Yang Cheng-fu and even more the simplified short form created by Cheng Man Ch’ing. But very few people still practice the Old Yang Style of Yang Lu Chan (Hao Chuan).

We are very fortunate to have a relatively recent first hand account of how Hao Chuan, The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi, should be performed and what techniques the style used. The following description is taken from the introduction by Gu Liu Xin to the book 'Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan' by Yang Zhen Duo:

“Yang Shao Hu was swift and powerful in delivering his blows and, with eyes blazing like torches, a grim smile on his face and roaring and howling as he darted back and forth, others held him in awe.”

The technical features of this kind of Tai Chi Chuan were: overcoming strong attacks with movements that appeared to be soft, adapting oneself to others movements and following up with quick attacks, using the motion of Sudden Connection to defeat the opponent with surprise attacks. The hand movements included, catching, striking and capturing, injuring the attackers muscles and harming his bones, attacking the opponents vital points and controlling his arteries and veins, using Continuous Force and Sudden Connection Force to strike the attacker down with lightning speed.

Today the practitioners of Chen, Wu, Yang and Sun styles of Tai Chi Chuan can be found everywhere. Many of the relatives of the first developers are alive and practising their forefathers’ systems, however the origins are viewed. (For those interested in finding out more about the various theories of the origins of Tai Chi, Peter Lim’s website is a good starting point.)



Lower age limit for Tai Chi Chuan training is 18 years.
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"To yield is to preserve unity. To bend is to become straight. To empty oneself is to become full.
To wear oneself out is to be renewed. To have little is to be content. To have abundance is to be troubled."
- Lao zu





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