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Xue Sheng

Taijiquan, which is better, or is it all personal preference….part 1

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I’ve been thinking, which Taijiquan style is “real” or “best”? Is there a best, or are they just different? Is there a style that has a better grasp on what Taijiquan is really supposed to be?

First, I want to say, this is all my opinion based on my training, and things I have read over the last, darn near. 30 years training Taijiquan. Also, I am only talking about the following systems (family styles) here; Chen, Zhaobao, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu, and Sun. I have trained the following, in order of longest to shortest amount; Yang, Chen, Wu, Sun, and dabbled in Wu/Hao. And I doubt there are any answers in anything I am about to type…. I’m trying to figure this out myself….or if there is actually anything to figure out to begin with.

The Chen family is given credit, and takes credit, for developing Taijiquan. However the folks from Zhaobao village claim they developed their taijiquan from the same source the Chen family developed their style from at roughly the same time.

Legend says that taijiquan comes from Zhang Sanfeng, a Taoist priest. There is no verifiable historical proof of his existence; dates, times, etc., and length of life attributed to him vastly disagree, and some even say he is an immortal. This is all based on books written by reputable folks who are simply repeating what they were told by their shifu. Also note there is a Wudang Taoist style of taijiquan that claims its origin to Zhang Sanfeng

However there is a link between Chen Village and Zhaobao village in the form of Chen Qingping ( 陳清苹, 1795-1868) more on him in a bit. Also note the Chen family denies any link to a mystical Taoist named Zhang Sanfeng.

Chen, and/or Zhaobao, being first, does that make them better, or the true taijiquan. Does being first mean that yours is the true essence of a thing? Or do those that take it from you develop it and make it better, or is it just different? The style is rather different in appearance to what you see from all other styles, except for Zhaobao which is similar. Also, Chen is said to have changed since the founder, Chen Wangting (1580–1660), designed it. There may have been one long form that was later split into Laojia Yilu and Laojia Erlu, and then Xinjia and a few others too. I once trained a form of Chen that was called Shandong Province Old Style Chen that was supposed to be from before the split and closer to what Chen Wangting did. But there is no way to know that for sure, or if even it was close to the "original" style.

Yang Taijiquan comes from Chen style. Yang Luchan (1799 – 1872), founder of Yang style taijiquan, who it is believed studied Changquan in his youth, later trained with his teacher Chen Changxing (1771 – 1853). From here Yang Luchan developed Yang style taijiquan. Sadly, we really do not know what original Yang style looked like. It is very likely that it had obvious fajin in it, which was later removed by his Grandson, Yang Chengfu (1883–1936). But it is also said to have been changed by Yang Luchan’s son, Yang Jianhou (1839–1917), who is the father of Yang Chengfu. It is also believed that the style of Yang Luchan was unchanged by his other son. Yang Banhou (1837–1890). Yang Banhou was the teacher of Yang Jianhou’s older son, Yang Shaohou (1862 – 1930). But we still do not know exactly what Yang Luchan, Yang Jianhou, Yang Banhao or Yang Shaohou taught. There are many who claim lineage to them, but many are doing a slow, fajin free, taijiquan form. And it is highly unlikely that anything directly from Yang Luchan was without obvious Fajin, so most of their claims, although they may be telling us exactly what their teacher told them, are likely false. Add to that the current Yang families work to delete any other form of Yang Taijiquan from history, other than that which comes from Yang Chengfu, and you find it very hard to figure out if a claim about links to Yang Luchan, Yang Banhou, Yang Shaohou, or even Yang Jianhou are real or not. I have seen one who made this claim and there is obvious fajin and it looks like Yang, but even then, without research there is no way to know if it is really from Yang Luchan or Yang Banhou. But, does any of this mean that it is better taijiquan than Chen or Zhaobao. Does the changes made by Yang Luchan show a better understanding or a further development of Taijiquan. And, for that matter, does the removal of obvious fajin show the same? Or are they just different? Is what we have today from Yang Chengfu better than all of them? I tend to think not, but that is only my opinion.

On to Wu/Hao style. Wu Yuxiang (1812–1880) was a scholar who wrote many books on taijiquan. He trained in 2 styles of taijiquan before he came up with the style that later became Wu/Hao. The first is likely Chen but it could be Zhaobao, since his teacher was Chen Qingping, although there are claims it was Chen Changxing. The reality is more likely that Changxing was too old to teach and referred him to Chen Qingping, which I tend to believe based on the years we are talking about. He later trained Yang style with Yang Luchan and this is historically true. From that combination of styles, Wu/Hao style emerged, and changed, from what was originally done. There is a bit more to it when you are talking the Wu/Hao style of today and this link will give you the additional history

But did this combination of styles give Wu Yuxiang insight into taijiquan that his teachers did not have? Was he able to better understand things because he was a scholar? Is what he developed better, or did it show a deeper understanding? Or again, is it just different?

On to Wu style (not the same as Wu/Hao, not even related) Wu Quanyou (1834 – 1902) was a military officer, possibly a palace guard, during the Qing dynasty and he was a Manchu. He learned taijiquan from Yang Luchan, or at least that is the claim, some also say he learned from Yang Banhou. It is believed he actually learned from Yang Luchan’s son, Yang Banhou. In talking with my Yang Shifu, he does not believe that the Yang family actually taught Wu Quanyou the full Yang Taijiquan. He does believe they taught him a partial version that was basically defense without anything for attack. He thinks this based on what he was told by his teacher (Tung Ying Chieh, 1867 - 1961). Yang Luchan was a Han and from the Ming Dynasty and they believe he would not teach an enemy (Manchu) how to attack Han people. And refusing to teach a Manchu military officer/palace guard was not a good idea in those days either. Now this is possible, but even if it is true, Wu Quanyou was a Manchu military officer and already knew how to fight before he trained taijiquan. Wu style is rather different in its stances and extended attacks as compared to Yang style and I am of the belief that this is where Wu Quanyou’s prior training in marital arts shows up. Then, do we really know what Wu Quanyou actually did? It was changed by his son Wu Jianquan (1870–1942). It was then changed again when it went to Shanghai and changed again when it went to Hong Kong. Today there is a Northern Wu style, that is based in Beijing that is supposed to be similar to what was done by Wu Jianquan, and it looks different than the Southern (current) Wu family style, which is now based in Toronto Canada.

Now, don’t take this wrong, I rather like Wu style taijiquan, would even train it if I lived in Toronto, but my Yang Shifu does not feel it is actually taijiquan and it took me a long time, and work with the style, to figure out why and later to agree with him. It does not follow many of the basics of taijiquan as they come from Chen or Yang. But still, this is my opinion, and I could be wrong, still, I don’t look at it as a taijquan. Could it simply be that Wu Quanyou and those that came after him changed it to something better, because of their background and training? Could it be that Wu family came up with something that Taiji people from other styles just can’t grasp?

Yang Chengfu’s 10 essentials

Chen Taijiquan Essential Principles
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