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Tai Chi Styles
introductions to other styles and aspects beyond the Yang From

Introducing the Chen Form


Of all the different styles of tai chi, Chen appears to be the oldest. In fact on closer inspection it looks to all intents and purposes to be the case that all the other styles are derived from this style. Chen Wangting, born in 1600 is given the credit with inventing tai chi chuan. From the village of Chen Jia Gou (literally translated as Chen Family Ditch) in the Henan province of China, he was a scholar and a general during the changeover from the Ming Dynasty and the Ching. A combination of renowned fighting ability, deep understanding of ying/yang philosophy and medical knowledge led him to spend years researching and developing a type of kung fu martial art that was based more upon the softer and more internal Taoist monasterial philosophies than other martial arts that had gone before.

This was taijijuan (tai chi chuan), based upon the philosophy of yin and yang, both for exercise and health and for fighting – often considered ‘grand ultimate (tai chi) fist (chuan)’ as a translation – although it is not clear that at this time as a martial art it in fact had such a name at all, tai chi chuan being attributed at a much later date. Prior to this, many martial arts relied upon strength – and the strongest generally won. With tai chi chuan we see relaxation and softness to overcome brute strength, often using the strength of the opponent against them by yielding (and thus overbalancing them). Another aspect of this is that when the body relaxes, the meridians open and chi flows much faster, allowing faster and more fluid movement in combat...

For over a hundred years, tai chi chuan was a strictly guarded secretive martial art, practiced only in Henan by the Chen clans. In the nineteenth century, the first outsider was taught Chen tai chi by Chen Changxing (born in 1771) under oath of secrecy. That outsider was Yang LuChan, who kept his promise not to divulge the secrets of the Form but moved to Beijing under the Manchus and created his own style based upon Chen- the Yang Form. There is some evidence to suggest that Yang’s form was deliberately much softer than the Chen so that the Manchus would not use it as a means for fighting, but as exercise and fitness; whilst the Chen village continued to practice the much stronger form in case they were attacked. Possibly this is correct, as the Manchus were seen at the time to be the oppressive foreign regime imposed on the Han province, but then again possibly not.

There are a number of Chen-style Forms that are still practised today. The original Form that Chen Wangting created is now generally referred to as the Old Frame style, which had five routines known as the 13-move chuan. He also developed a later form called the Cannon (Pounding) Form, derived (I think) more from the Shaolin Temple tradition of kung fu than the Taoist temples. During the eighteenth century one of Chen Wangting’s descendants – Chen You Ben – simplified down these Forms into what has now become known as New Style. Chen Ching Ping (the nephew of Chen You Ben) then created a variation of this New Style called the Small Frame Form.

Although many tai chi practitioners of Yang and Wu styles would look at any of the Form lists for the Chen styles and find some very familiar things there, the Chen styles are somewhat different. They are more ‘external’ to these other styles, and are practised at a lower centre of gravity – a lower position- than Yang and Wu. The Chen is much more varied in its pace: slow sections of the Form gradually build up and store chi, and then faster overtly martial and external section explode into sequence. There is a higher characterisation of more powerful stances, more overt coiling and build-up movements and stamping and explosive releases of power following circular paths that are in general absent from the later Forms and is a far cry from both the Chen Man Ching style of Yang Form that we (Gary and I) practise and the Wu Form. In many ways Chen style emphasise the ‘soft and hard’ aspects of tai chi in a much more obvious way in a highly structured ‘symphony’ of movement.

Academy of Tai Chi and Wushu http://www.taichiacademy.com/chen.htm
Master Liu Yong http://www.taichicollege.supanet.com/index6.html
Tradiitonal Chen Taiji (Sifu Loren Chin) http://www.geocities.com/lorentaiji/history.html

Of all the different styles of tai chi, Chen appears to be the oldest. In fact on closer inspection it looks to all intents and purposes to be the case that all the other styles are derived from this style.
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