On The History of Yang Cheng-Fu Style Tai Chi Chuan
By Xie Bing-Can
Tai Chi Chuan is a national treasure of China. its rich content is based on profound theories and a colorful heritage. It is grand and wondrous, highly scientific and artistic. It is perfect for improving health and for self-defense. Amongst the various kinds of pugilism, Tai Chi Chuan is unique in its concept and structure.
More than 100 years ago, during the Ching Dynasty, Yang Lu-Zan thrice left his home to seek tutelage from Cheng Zhang-Xing of Cheng Jia Kou, in Wen county, Henan province. After 18 years of hard work and dedication, he mastered the gong-fu of “8 techniques and 5 steps.” Later he taught in Beijing, making friends and competing in contemporary, highly skilled matches, where he developed a reputation and became known as “the invincible Yang.” During his practice, he developed and revised some Tai Chi Chuan postures for various reasons. To suit the masses, he modified the more difficult movements, such as fa jing (releasing power), jumps, leaps, foot stamping, et cetera. The new sequence was devoid of these challenging movements. The movements became light, soft, circular, continuous and even in speed.
As guns and others weapons were developed, the need for all martial arts diminished. Yang Lu-Zan’s third son, Yang Jian-Hou further developed Tai Chi Chuan into a “middle frame” work (with moderately sized postures), from which evolved the well-known Yang style “grand frame” Tai Chi Chuan of today. Today’s version is attributed to Yang Cheng-Fu, who was Yang Jian-Hou’s third son. In this period, many schools blossomed, such as Wu style, Hao style, Sun style, the 24 movement form, the 48 form, the 88 form, et cetera. Not only are the various styles widely practiced in all parts of China, they have spread abroad to Hong Kong, Macau, southeast Asia, the United States of America, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and Russia.
Yang Cheng-Fu’s Tai Chi Chuan, in its entirety, contains pugilism, sword and saber, fixed- and moving-step push hands, shiao da lu (Small and Large Rollback), swing, leverage, freestyle competition, and releasing power (fa jing). The student most follow a sequence and gradually learn all the technique. When Yang Cheng-Fu practiced Tai Chi Chuan, he followed closely the rules and tenets, keeping the body centered, with movement light and soft, and so on.
Our current Tai Chi Chuan is based on the writing of the late master, Fu Zhong-Wen. Yang Zheng-Fu’s entire treatise, including “The Application of the 37 Postures,” “On Practice,” and “The Ten Important Points” serves as a compass while “Wang Zhong-Yuen’s Treatise,” “Wu Yu-Rang’s Treatise,” “Understanding the 13 Posture Martial Art” and “Lee Yi-She’s 5-Character Formula” provide the theories. The profound theories may be plainly interpreted, but the postures cannot be mastered without repeated practice. During this learning process, these points must be emphasized.
The large set of Yang Cheng-Fu style Tai Chi Chuan consists of 37 distinct postures. For the entire set, “Grasp the Bird’s Tail” appears six times, and “Single Whip” and “Brush Knee Twist Step” nine times each. These are five kinds of punching moves, and five kinds of leg moves. Together, the set is known as “8 Moves and 5 Steps” or “The 13 Postures.” The eight moves consist of four main directions and four diagonal corners. Peng (wardoff), Lu (rollback), Ji (press) and An (push) are the four main directions. Chai (pluck), Lie (split), Zhou (elbow) and Kau (shoulder) are the four diagonals. These are the basic techniques with Peng, Lu, Ji, An–the four main jins (powers)–serving as the foundation, while the four diagonal moves are nestled within. Therefore, one must not be sloppy even at the beginning of the Tai Chi Chuan exercise. To develop the four main powers, one must go through the push hands exercise.
Meanwhile, during practice, pay attention to the feelings of being relaxed, calm, slow, even and light. Let these sensations permeate all the movements. Gradually the motions will become rounded, smooth, light and gentle. One will then feel comfortable and relaxed.
–edited by Barbara L. DeCoster, Ph. D.