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The History of Chen Tai Chi

Chen Style Taijiquan is the earliest historically verifiable school of Taijiquan in existence. The style is characterized by changes of tempo balancing acute and slow motions, a twisting, twining quality of body movement, and bursts of explosive energy. While practice can and does improve one's health, Chen style Taijiquan also goes the furthest of the five recognized family styles in maintaining a distinctly martial orientation.

There has been an explosive growth in the number of practitioners in the years since the Cultural Revolution as members of the Chen family and their students began teaching in the West in the late seventies.

The Origins of Chen Style Taijiquan.

It is commonly accepted that Taijiquan was developed in the farming village of Chenjiagou in Wenxian County, Henan Province, China.

Chen Wanting
Chen Wanting
Chen Wangting (1600-1680), a retired military officer and a ninth generation family member of the Chen Family, is credited with having originated Chen Style Taijiquan around 1644. Known methods, forms and theory suggest that Taijiquan is a synthesis, combining elements of Shaolin Boxing (the famed Temple is fairly close by) and several other forms of martial art. Taijiquan theory is largely, however, based on "The Book of Changes" along with concepts from the meridian theory of traditional Chinese medicine, as detailed in "The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Chinese Medicine". Some postures in the forms can also be traced back to the "36 postures" compiled in the "Quan Jing" section of "The Military Handbook"- a text on strategy; discipline; and marital arts by a famous general, Qi Jiguang during the Ming Dynasty.

Chen Wangting created a total of seven sets, including one set of Long Fist; five sets of Taijiquan and one set of Cannon Fist. He placed an emphasis on mental and physical relaxation, training "yi", or intention, and a balance of slow and fast motions which incorporated strikes; takedowns; and joint locks into the forms.

Unique to Chen Wangting's style of movement was a smooth and graceful twisting or "twining" character, which came to be referred to as "chansijing" or "torque". He is also credited with creating push hands drills, in which students practice "adhering" to each others movements to increase their sensitivity to their partners' intentions, which thereby function as a bridge between solo practice and free sparring.

It is a testament to the style's effectiveness that the Chen Family came to rely on their skills not only to fend off successfully armed bandits, but also to supplement their incomes from farming. For centuries, young men of the village served as couriers, soldiers, bodyguards and escorts. Thus, the Chen Family had reason to keep their training methods a closely guarded secret, and in the family, for five generations. Cw and Jf
Chen Wangting & Jiang Fa

At this point in the narrative, historians of the style often make mention of Jiang Fa (18_?- ?), an officer who fought with Li Jiyu, a close friend of Chen Wangting, in an uprising against the Ming Dynasty. When the Qing Dynasty was established, Li and his troops surrendered, only to face persecution from the Qing government. Jiang Fa sought sanctuary in Chen's Village, where he took the guise of a household servant. In private, however, Chen Wangting treated him as a friend. They worked together exchanging their ideas about martial arts. As a result Jiang Fa is commonly credited with having contribution to the early development of the Chen family style.

Chen Changxing and Yang Luchan

Prior to the post-Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) era, perhaps the best-known member of the Chen Family, in the West, was Chen Changxing (1771-1853) of the fourteenth generation family practitioner. He is famous for incorporating the Taijiquan practice in all of his daily activities. Always in "Taiji-mode," his posture was always upright. As a result, he was nicknamed "Mister Tablet."

Yangluchan
Yangluchan
Contrary to family tradition, Chen Changxing taught a few outsiders. Among them was Yang Luchan (1800 -1873), renown for developing his own form, a modified version of the Chen Chanxing's original long form - Liaojia Yilu. Yang's descendents (Yang Shouhao, Yang Cheng-fu) were among the earliest exponents of Taijiquan to teach publicly, beginning in Beijing in 1911, and the art quickly spread worldwide from there. Three other styles (Wu; Sun; and Wu Style) would eventually branch out from the Yang Style. Thus, we can safely say that all other forms of Taijiquan are ultimately derived from the original Chen Style long form.

Chen Fake

Chen Fake
Chen Fake
Chen Fake (1887-1957), a seventeenth generation family practitioner, and ninth generation stylist, expanded greatly on early efforts to bring Chen style Taijiquan to the mainstream of Chinese martial arts. He started following with his father (Chen Yienzhi), who was retained by the second President of the Chinese Republic (1900-1906) and his family as their personal and private martial arts instructor, a role of great distinction in its day. There are numerous stories of Chen Fake's abilities as a martial artist, his courage and skill when establishing his reputation in Beijing, where he came to teach in 1928. In time he was held in high esteem for not making a single enemy throughout his career as a professional martial artist, wisely navigating the complex, and highly competitive society of high-level martial art arena in the capital of his day.

Chen Fake taught in Beijing for nearly 30 years, enhancing the reputation of the family style, and establishing a distinguished lineage of his own students. Amongst them: Chen Zhaokwei (son); Chen Zhaopei; Feng Zhiqiang; Gu Liuxing, etc...

Chen Zhaopei and Chen Zhaokui

Chen Zhapei
Chen Zhaopei
18th generation practitioner Chen Zhaopei (1893-1973) studied under Chen Jin and Chen Fake since he was a child. Invited to teach at Tun Ren Tong, the famous medical establishment, in 1918, his reputation as a martial artist quickly grew and he was soon invited (1930) to teach at the prestigious Nanjing Central Martial Arts Academy. During the Second World War, he quitted the Academy and fought in the resistance movement. Wherever and whenever possible, he continued to teach.

Meanwhile, by 1958, decades of foreign occupation, war, revolution and economic privation had taken its toll and the status of Taijiquan was at an all-time low in Chen's Village: there was concern that the style might die out in its' place of birth. At the request of the village elders, Chen Zhaopei returned to village and served as the chief instructor, where he was responsible for passing on the Old Frame and traditional weapons sets to the 19th generation, in particular to the designated standard-bearers, the present-day "Four Tigers of Chen's Village", all of whom have since dedicated themselves to the propagation of the style and thereby gone on to build worldwide followings.

Unfortunately, the effort would cost him dearly. Despite near constant persecution and public humiliation, and at great personal risk, Chen Zhaopei continued to train the 19th generation through the long years of the Cultural Revolution. Finally just the prohibition against Taijiquan as a traditional art began to lift in 1972, Chen Zhaopei, succumbed to illness and exhaustion. Today he is credited with helping to maintain and spread the family style in difficult times, and honored for single-handedly reviving the style in the Village of its birth despite immense obstacles.

Chen Zhaokui
Chen Zhaokui
Chen Zhaokwei (1928 - 1981), also a member of the eighteenth generation, joined his father, Chen Fake, in Beijing at the age of 3. He is widely recognized today as one of the most gifted of the Chen Family practitioners of the style in the 20th century and shares most of the credit for passing on of the New Frame set to the public-at-large. He taught mainly private groups, in Beijing and various parts of the country. During a series of visits to the Village, he passed on the New Frame set to the designated standard bearers of the style, who in time became known as the "Four Tigers of Chen's Village". Largely due to his efforts, both Frames, Old and New, are now taught side-by-side in most schools teaching Chen Style of Taijiquan.

His accomplished disciples include: "The Four Tigers" of Chenjiagou; "The Three Zhangs" of Zhengzhou; and Ma Hong of Xijiazhong.

Four Contemporary Masters:

Chief Instructor of the Los Angeles Chen Tai Chi Center, Master Qichen Guo, studied with two of the "Four Tigers of Chen's Village" and with two of the "Three Zhangs" in Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan Province. In order, he has trained with:

Chen Xiaowang
Chen Xiaowang
Grand Master Chen Xiaowang - (1946-) 19th generation. Grandson of Chen Fake, Chen Xiaowang trained under Chen Zhaopei and Chen Zhaokwei, becoming known as one of the "Four Tigers," the representative exponents of the 19th generation in Chenjiagou. In 1980 he won first place in the National Wushu Tournament, beginning a string of first place honors on the national level. He is the creator of two short forms, the 19- and 38- posture routines. He leads an international following from his base in Australia, and is famous for his expression of fajin or "releasing explosive power."

Grand Master Zhang Maozhen- (1943-). Since he was a toddler, Zhang Maozhen was trained in the Small Frame and Old Frame sets under the direction of his father Zhang Laiyun, a disciple of Chen Zhiming, a 9th generation practioner; and Leo Xienpei, Principal of Henan Martial Arts Academy. He later trained under Chen Zhaokwei, learning the New Frame set, and became known, in time, as one of the "Three Zhangs of Zhengzhou" . Although a non-villager, He is closely associated with seniors such as Chen Moushen; Chen Baixian etc. in Chenjiagou. Zhang advocates training of the middle section, and is expert on neutralising attacks with movements of his chest and waist. He recently saw the publication of his book on the art, "The Essence of Chen Style Taijiquan."

Chen Zhenglei
Chen Zhenglei
Grand Master Chen Zhenglei - (1949-) 19th generation. Grandnephew of Chen Fake, Chen Zhenglei is one of the "Four Tigers of Chen Village." He began his training under his uncle, Chen Zhaopei, at age 8, and continued under Chen Zhaokwei when he returned to Chenjiagou to teach the next generation the New Frame Set. A born competitor, in his youth, Chen Zhenglei won a string of gold medal victories on the provincial and national levels. He became a celebrated coach; the teams he led regularly taking gold and silver medal honors in competition. Official appointments followed. He has done much to spread the family style, developing the 18-posture "essentials" short form, traveling to over 50 countries to teach, and authoring numerous publications, videotapes and DVDs. In his teaching he emphasizes form, respect for tradition; and dedicated practice.

Zhang Zijun
Zhang Zijun
Grand Master Zhang Zijun - (1944-) Also one of the "Three Zhangs of Zhengzhou", followed and studied with Chen Zhaokwei from 1973 through 1981 until Chen Zhaokwei passed away. He is an unconventional teacher, training students to emphasize directing the movement of the body with the extremities, and a systematic approach to training that can shorten the amount of time necessary for someone to master the applications of the style, in particular joint-locks (qinna) and throws. A self-described "Taiji Idle-er", he leads large followings in both Henan and Sichuan Provinces, China.

Our Place in the Tradition:

Qichen Guo
Qichen Guo

An officially recognized Taijiquan Master and bearer of the rank, "5th Degree Master of Wu Shu" (martial arts), Master Guo Qichen is a specialist in traditional Chen Style Taijiquan. He brings together the training methods of all four grandmasters he studied over a quarter century of intense training in Chenjiagou and Zhongzhou, both in Henen Province, China. Today, Guo Qichen draws on his background from the Physical Education Bureau and devotes himself to a careful analysis of traditional training methodologies. He tests key concepts and integrates the essential principles into his practice and training.

In 2001 Guo Qichen founded The Los Angeles Chen Tai Chi Center in Los Angeles, where he quickly attracted a devoted following. There his teaching can encompasses an emphasis on meditation and health, as well as a focus on combat and self-defense. He believes that the legacy of the great grandmasters of Taijiquan was never meant to be segmented into rival camps, and strives to unite the very best of the major pedagogical streams within the Tradition of Chen Style Taijiquan into a coherent whole and share this knowledge with a wide and interested audience.

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