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Tai Chi San Francisco - History and Traditions
Origins of our San Francisco Tai Chi classes
The origins of Tai Chi (Taiji) can be traced back to the 16th century, during the Ming dynasty, to Chen Jia Gou (Chen Village, 陈家沟) in Wen county of Henan province, China. Chen Wan Ting 陈王庭 (1580-1660), the ninth generation ancestral leader of the Chen Village, is credited as being the first disseminator of Tai Chi (Taiji). Codifying the pre-existing martial arts training of his Village, Chen Wang Ting developed Tai Chi (Taiji) by integrating the skills of sixteen different martial art styles with elements of Chinese philosophy, key principles of Yin and Yang (complementary opposites), Dao Yin (leading/guiding energy) and Tu Na (expelling/drawing energy) techniques, as well as theories drawn from Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Chen Chang Xing 陈长兴 (1771-1853), fourteenth generation Chen Village family member and fifth generation inheritor of Chen style Tai Chi (Taiji) 陈式太极, further synthesized Chen Wang Ting's open-hand fighting techniques into two routines known as the Old Frame 老架, with each routine named individually as the First Form 一路 and Second Form 二路 (more commonly referred to as Cannon Fist 炮捶). The Chen family system, as synthesized by Chen Chang Xing, continued to be taught exclusively in the Chen Village until the 1900s. In 1928, Chen Chang Xing's great-grandson, Chen Fa Ke 陈发科 (1887-1957), the ninth generation inheritor of Chen Tai Chi (Taiji), moved to Beijing to spread his family's martial art. Since the Chen family system differed radically from other martial art styles of the time, Chen Fa Ke was faced with countless private challenges and public matches to prove the effectiveness of Chen style Tai Chi (Taiji). Defeating all of his challengers, Chen Fa Ke earned the respect of the Beijing martial arts community and within a short period of time, attracted a large number of students, many of whom were already well known martial artists in other styles. One of Chen Fa Ke's top inner circle disciples was the late Great-Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang 冯志强 (1928-2012), ninth duan Wushu master and China's National Treasure of Tai Chi (Taiji).
Chen Chang Xing was also the first member of the Chen Village to break tradition by teaching his family's art to a non-Chen member by the name of Yang Lu Chan 杨露禅. Yang then adapted the Chen family art he learned from Chen Chang Xing and popularized it throughout China as his own family tradition called Yang style Tai Chi (Taiji) 杨式太极. Yang style Tai Chi (Taiji) would later become the basis for more contemporary forms such as the Simplified 24 Tai Chi, Simplified 32 Tai Chi Sword, Yang Tai Chi 40 Form, as well as the Combined 42 Tai Chi Competition Form and Sword, all of which students learn in our Tai Chi classes in San Francisco.
During the 1800s, Yang Lu Chan relocated to Beijing and taught Yang style Tai Chi (Taiji) to the Imperial Guards. One of the military officers of the Imperial Guard Brigade was Wu Quan You 吴全佑 (1834-1902), who in 1850, began his study of Yang style Tai Chi (Taiji) under Yang Lu Chan. In 1870, Wu Quan You became a senior disciple of Yang Lu Chan’s eldest son, Yang Ban Hou, and began to teach Tai Chi (Taiji) to the Manchurian military forces. One of Wu Quan You’s top disciples was his son, Wu Jian Quan 吴鉴泉 (1870-1942). Wu Jian Quan became the most widely known teacher of Tai Chi (Taiji) in his family, and is therefore often considered the co-founder of Wu style Tai Chi (Taiji) 吴式太极. In addition to his efforts in promulgating Wu style Tai Chi (Taiji), Wu Jian Quan is also credited for the refinements he made to his father’s art, such as its characteristic slightly forward leaning posture and larger frame movements, which more clearly distinguish it from its Yang style origins.
During his studies with Chen Chang Xing, Yang Lu Chan was fortunate to receive the financial support of his friend, Wu Yu Xiang 武禹襄 (1812-1880). In exchange for Wu Yu Xiang’s financial support, Yang Lu Chan transmitted to Wu the knowledge he gained from Chen Chang Xing. Upon Yang’s third return home, however, Yang conveyed to Wu Yu Xiang that he had promised Chen Chang Xing not to teach others the Chen style Tai Chi (Taiji) he had been taught. Consequently, Wu Yu Xiang went directly to seek tutelage under Chen Chang Xing. By this time, Chen Chang Xing was in his later years and referred Wu to Chen Qing Ping 陈清平, a Tai Chi (Taiji) master in the neighboring Zhao Bao village. Wu Yu Xiang studied Zhao Bao style Tai Chi (Taiji) 赵堡太极 intensively with Chen Qing Ping. Upon returning home, Wu Yu Xiang synthesized the knowledge he had obtained from his studies with Chen Qing Ping. Over the next twenty years, Wu Yu Xiang, together with his nephew, Li Yi Yu 李亦畬, combined this knowledge with the theories and principles laid out in the Tai Chi Classic. This became the basis for their own style of Tai Chi known as Wu style Tai Chi (Taiji) 武式太极 (note: while the Pinyin romanization is the same, the Chinese characters and pronunciation of this Wu 武 style developed by Wu Yu Xiang and Li Yi Yu is different from the Wu 吴 style Tai Chi developed by Wu Quan You and Wu Jian Quan). Li Yi Yu’s best student was Hao Wei Zhen 郝为真 (1842-1920). Hao Wei Zhen is credited for spreading Wu style Tai Chi (Taiji) outside of its home village, and as such, this style of Tai Chi (Taiji) is often referred to as Wu (Hao) Tai Chi (Taiji) 武(郝)太极 .
One of Hao Wei Zhen’s top students, in turn, was an expert martial artist and Neo-Confucian and Taoist scholar by the name of Sun Lu Tang 孙禄堂 (1860-1933). Prior to studying Tai Chi (Taiji) with Hao Wei Zhen, Sun Lu Tang was already an accomplished master of both Baguazhang and Xingyiquan. Sun studied Bagua Zhang under Cheng Ting Hua 程延华 and Xingyi Quan under Li Kui Yuan 李魁元 and Guo Yun Shen 郭云深. Sun Lu Tang’s foundation in Baguazhang and Xingyiquan led him to develop high skill in Tai Chi (Taiji) at a much more rapid pace than the average student. In 1914, Sun Lu Tang was invited to serve on the founding faculty of the Beijing Physical Education Research Institute along side renown masters such as Yang Shao Hou 杨少侯 (elder grandson of Yang Lu Chan), Yang Cheng Fu 杨澄甫 (younger grandson of Yang Lu Chan), and Wu Jian Quan. Combining the knowledge he had obtained from Hao Wei Zhen with his skills in Bagua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan, along with the influence of these three colleagues, Sun Lu Tang developed Sun style Tai Chi (Taiji) 孙式太极. The youngest of the five family styles of Tai Chi (Taiji), Sun style Tai Chi (Taiji) is unique for its agile steps and is the epitome of the softness and neutralization of Tai Chi (Taiji), the brisk trapping footwork of Bagua Zhang, and the explosive power of Xing Yi Quan.
Our teacher, Master Mike Ng, has had the distinct privilege to study both the traditional and contemporary forms of these five major Tai Chi (Taiji) styles, including weaponry and practical applications. He continues to preserve and advance the teachings of authentic Tai Chi (Taiji) in our San Francisco Tai Chi classes.
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Pastmaster Chen Wang Ting 陈王庭 师祖
Original Disseminator of Chen style Tai Chi (Taiji)
Pastmaster Chen Chang Xing 陈长兴 宗师
Fifth Generation Inheritor of Chen style Tai Chi (Taiji)
Pastmaster Yang Lu Chan 杨露禅 宗师
Founder of Yang style Tai Chi (Taiji)
Pastmaster Sun Lu Tang 孙禄堂 宗师
Founder of Sun style Tai Chi (Taiji)
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