The history of Taijiquan, like most other pieces of history is subject to the will of its interpreters.
Trying to look back in time we are facing the possibility of making a mistake, of something happening not
quite like our sources present it. This is particularly true for pieces of the multi-layered history of China.
After a series of uprisings, in 1644 the Ming dynasty completely lost its political and economic power in China.
One of its most highly-decorated generals - Chen Wanting (9th generation member of the Chen family)
was not left with much of a choice and returned to his home village Chenjiagou.
Chenjiagou was founded in the 14th century by Chen Bo who is considered
the ancestor of Chen family. The village emerged in an area good for agriculture and like
most other settlements across the Chinese provinces, in those turbulent days of civil wars and rebellions,
it was a subject of frequent raids and pillages. But unlike many of its contemporary settlements which
were quickly leveled with the ground Chenjiagou quickly established itself as an impenetrable fortress and
managed to survive the numerous bandit raids. Because of this the martial art of the Chen family which,
has preserved the village through the centuries, acquired a degree of fame that grew more and more with
the passage of time.
And so, having lost all privileges and honors and the benefits of his position as a great general of the Ming dynasty,
Chen Wanting returned to the life of his ancestors and took upon himself the hard task to organize
and write down the martial art skills and knowledge, that had preserved his family for over three centuries.
Chen Wanting wrote not long before his death: "Recalling past years, how bravely I fought to wipe out enemy troops
and what risk I went through. All the favors bestowed on me are now in vain! Now old and feeble life consists in
creating actions of boxing when feeling depressed, doing field work when the season comes and spending leisure time
teaching the youths so they can be worthy members of society." It was exactly Chen Wanting who for
the first time put together the concepts of Daoin and Tuina with martial arts.
He created a system that united the health-improving exercises of Qigong with the martial practices of Wushu. He took
self-defense practices and turned them into a specific version of Qigong, calling it Chansigong
or "silk reeling technique". This led to the merging of two distinctively different practices into one.
Chen Wanting introduced into the martial art the concept of the meridians and invented the "pushing hands"
(tuishou) technique, which was never mentioned before him. In his studies Chen Wanting used mainly the work of the 16th-century
general Qi Jiguang, describing all of the more famous systems of Wushu of the day. Chen Wanting borrowed much
of what was in those works, giving it an interpretation of his own and bringing them to terms with his own theory.
Thus he created a number of forms which later came to be known as Taijiquan. The practice of these forms
allowed the practitioners to learn how to use their own energy in a fight.
Considering that the first mention of the term Taijiquan is in Chen Wanting's works and as far as we can trace the lineage of all
known great masters of Taijiquan to Chen Wanting and since the predecessors of Chen Wanting are unknown, we can assume that
Chen Wanting can be considered the forefather of all styles of Taijiquan.
Taijiquan left the Chen family boundaries for the first time with Chen Changxing - a 14th generation master of Chen
family. He condensed the seven forms devised by Chen Wanting to the two basic forms of traditional Chen
style that are known today - the first traditional form Laojia Yilu and the second traditional
form Laojia Erlu. From the first form later stemmed all the other famous styles of Taijiquan
besides Chen - Yang, Wu, Sun and Hao.
Chen Changxing was the first master who took a student outside the family. It was Yang Luchan whose numerous
victories over different opponents led his contemporaries to call him Yang the Invincible.
At the same time Chen Youben, also a 14th generation master of the Chen family created another form which is
now called Xiaojia (small frame). The movements are performed in the same sequence as in Laojia but require
much less space.
Over time the development of the forms continued and this led to the creation and establishment of Yang style
which is attributed to Yang Luchan. The now known Wu style was shaped by Yang Luchan's student
Wu Quanyuo and his son Wu Jianquan. Sun Lutang created Sun style
and Hao Weizhang laid the foundations for Hao style. Along those well established styles there
are of course many more branches, but most of them do not last long, or remain relatively unpopular so the currently recognized
styles of Taijiquan are as
follows - Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun, Hao.
In the beginning of the 20th century Taijiquan achieved wide recognition and spread throughout China. From 1928 til 1957
in Beijing lived one of the legendary masters of Taijiquan - Chen Fake, a 17th generation member of the Chen family.
Chen Fake further developed the family art, creating a new form - Xinjia. The tradition is passed on by the sons
and nephews of Chen Fake, who shaped the skills and set the direction for the well-known masters of today -
Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Wang Xian and Zhu Tiancai.
Today Head of the Chen family and keeper of the tradition is Chen Xiaowang, a 19th generation master.
Through the different stages of his life he was taught by his grandfather Chen Fake, his father
Chen Zhaoxu, and his uncles Chen Zhaokui and Chen Zhaopi.
Chen Xiaowang has a substantial role in the promotion of Taijiquan. Not only he is a great master
of Taijiquan himself, he also succeeds in systematizing the knowledge of Taijiquan and passing it more easily to
his students. Through his organization WCTA (World Chen Xiaowang Taijiquan Association) Chen Xiaowang
organizes numerous workshops across the world, which are raising the interest for the martial art Taijiquan
and make it more popular and accessible.