Yang style tai chi chuan is the most popular and widely practised style of tai chi in the world today. In relation to the five primary styles of tai chi chuan, in terms of seniority, it is second. The founder of Yang style tai chi chuan was Yang Lu-ch’an or Yang Luchan 1799–1872, who studied under Chen Changxing, 1771–1853 from 1820. Yang became an influential teacher in his own right, and his expression of tai chi chuan became known as Yang style tai chi chuan. Yang style tai chi chuan led directly to the development of the other three major styles of tai chi chuan; Wu style, Wu/Hao style and Sun style.
Yang Luchan became very well-known not only due to his ability as a tai chi master and great teacher, but also as a result of being hired by the Chinese Imperial family to teach tai chi chuan to the elite Palace Battalion of the Imperial Guards in 1850. He held this position until he died in 1872.
Yang Luchan came from a poor working class farming family from Hebei Province, Guangping Prefecture, Yongnian County. Luchan would follow his father when planting the fields. As a teenager, Yang Luchan held various temporary jobs one of which was spent helping at the Tai He Tang Chinese pharmacy in the western part of Yongnian City. The pharmacy was opened by Chen De Hu of the Chen Village in Henan Province. Luchan liked martial arts as a young boy and studied Changquan – meaning ‘long fist’, a long-range fighting system of which he gained a certain level of skill.
One day Luchan reportedly witnessed Chen De Hu or one of his partners, using a style of martial art that he had never seen before, to easily fight off a group of would-be thieves. Luchan asked to study with the pharmacy’s owner, Chen De Hu, but was sent to the Chen Village to find his own teacher instead. At that time, it was Chen Changxing, 1771–1853, the 14th generation Chen Family martial artist who would be Yang Luchan’s teacher.
After becoming proficient in the art, Yang Luchan was given permission by Chen Changxing to teach in Beijing. Among his students were Wu Yuxiang 1812-1880, and his two older brothers Wu Cheng-ching and Wu Ju-ching who were all officials in the Imperial Qing dynasty bureaucracy. In 1850, Yang luchan was hired by the Imperial family to teach tai chi chuan to them and several of their elite Manchu Imperial Guards Brigade units, in Beijing’s Forbidden City. Within this group was Luchan’s best known non-family student, Wu Chuan Yu 1834-1902, whose son, Wu Chien Chuan 1870–1942, went on to further develop and popularise the famous and second most popular tai chi style, Wu style tai chi chuan.
Yang Luchan’s martial skill, teaching influence, and the number of teachers he trained, including his own descendants and family members, marked the beginning of the spread of Yang style tai chi chuan, from the small Chen family village in China, to an internationally recognised martial art and health promoting system.Yang is acknowledged by four of the five tai chi families, as being responsible for directly conveying the art to them.
The Legend of Yang Wu Di (Yang the Invincible)
There are a number of stories surrounding the martial skills of Yang Luchan. He became rather famous after he left the Chen village for never losing a match. What is even more remarkable is that he supposedly never seriously injured anybody in the process. He had refined his martial skill to a very high level, and therefore came to be known as Yang Wu Di (Yang the Invincible). Over time, many stories unfolded regarding Yang Lu chans martial ability. These stories, although not independently verifiable, are worth telling in order to demonstrate the character of Yang Wu Di.
One of the royal families in the capital, The House of Prince Duan, employed many boxing masters and wrestlers. Many of them wanted to have a test of strength with Yang Luchan. Yang always declined their challenges, until one day, a well-known boxing master of high standing, insisted on competing with him. The boxer suggested that they both sit on a chair and put their right fists against each other. Yang Luchan agreed. Shortly after the contest began, The boxing master started to sweat and his chair creaked. Yang Luchan looked as composed and serene as ever though. Yang rose out of his chair and calmly commented to the onlookers: “The Master’s skill is indeed superb, only his chair is not as well made as mine.” The boxing master was so touched by Yang Luchan’s modesty that he praised his admirable conduct and unrivalled martial skill.
Another story tells of Yang Luchan whilst fishing at a lake. Two other martial artists hoped to push Yang in the water and ruin his reputation. Yang sensed this and using his yang style tai chi chuan skills, the two attackers were both sent into the water. The two attackers quickly swam away.
A rich man in Beijing called Chang had heard of Yang Luchan’s great skills and invited him to demonstrate his Yang style tai chi chuan. Chang thought little of his ability due to his small size. Yang Luchan was served a simple dinner. Yang Luchan continued to behave like an honoured guest, even though he was well aware of his Chang’s thoughts. Chang questioned Yang Luchan as to whether his style of martial arts could actually be used to defeat people given that it was so soft in its application. This question was a great insult given that Chang had invited Yang Luchan on the basis of his reputation as a great fighter. Yang Luchan replied that there were only three kinds of people he could not defeat. They were men of iron, men of brass and men of wood. Chang ordered his best bodyguard, Liu, to test Yang Luchan’s martial skill. Liu attacked Yang Luchan aggressively. Using his Yang style tai chi chuan prowess, Yang Luchan employed a simple yielding technique and threw Liu across the yard. Chang was so impressed by his fighting techniques that he ordered a banquet to be prepared for Yang Luchan immediately.
Another story tells of Yang Luchan when he was at Guangping, where he often fought with people on the castle wall. One opponent was unable to defend himself against Yang Luchan’s attacks and kept retreating to the wall’s edge, until he was unable to keep his balance any longer. As the opponent began to fall over the edge, Yang Luchan leaped forward from about thirty feet away, and caught the opponent’s foot and saved him from falling to his death.
Origin of the Moniker Taijiquan
When Yang Luchan first taught his martial style in Yung Nien, his art was referred to as Mien Quan (Cotton Fist) or Hua Quan (Neutralising Fist). He is reported to have met many challenges whilst teaching at the Imperial Court, and it is said that he always won convincingly, using soft techniques. As a result, Yang Luchan gained a great reputation.
Those who were regular guests or members of the imperial households would come to watch him compete in his many contests. During one occasion in which Yang Luchan had won against several revered opponents, Ong Tong He, the well-known scholar was present. Ong Tong He was so inspired by the way Yang moved and executed his techniques, that he felt that Yang Luchan’s style expressed the physical manifestation of the principles of Taiji. Ong Tong He is said to have wrote the following verse for him.
“Hands Holding Taiji shakes the whole world, a chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heroes”.
Yang Luchan’s style then came to be known as Taijiquan, more commonly written as tai chi chuan, and more appropriately as Yang style tai chi chuan.
Yang Luchan’s Influence
Yang Luchan taught Yang style tai chi chuan to his second son, Yang Pan-hou 1837–1890, who was was kept on as a martial arts instructor by the Chinese Imperial family. Yang Pan-hou became Wu Chuan-yu’s, formal tai chi instructor. Wu Chuan Yu was a Manchu Banner Cavalry Officer of the Palace Battalion. Even though Yang Luchan was originally Wu Chuan Yu’s first tai chi chuan instructor, it was Yang Pan Hou that took over that role. Wu Chuan Yu was Yang Pan Hou’s first disciple. Wu Chuan Yu’s son, Wu Chien Chuan, who was also a Banner Calvery Officer, was the founder, along with his father, of the well-known Wu style of tai chi chuan.
Yang Luchan’s third son Yang Chien-hou 1839–1917 passed it to his two sons, Yang Shao-hou 1862–1930, and Yang Chengfu 1883–1936. Both of these masters are believed to have been very strict teachers, and only interested in teaching those students that could stand their tough training methods.
Wu Yuxiang 1812–1880, who was taught by Yang Luchan, went on to develop his own Wu/Hao-style. This led to the development of Sun style tai chi chuan, created by Sun Lutang 1860-1933.
Yang Chengfu removed certain aspects of the Yang style tai chi chuan that he had learnt from his predecessors. He took out the vigorous Fa-jing (release of power) from the Hand Form. He also removed the energetic jumping, stamping, and other abrupt movements so as to emphasise the large frame style. He retained them in the weapon’s forms however – the sword, saber, staff and spear. As a result, The Hand Form has slow, steady, expansive and soft movements suitable for general practitioners.
Yang Chengfu is credited with ‘smoothing out’ the relatively vigorous training routine he had been taught from his family. He created a smooth, even paced large frame form, with expansive movements in stepping and utilised large circular motions with the arms. This large frame form has been the standard for Yang style tai chi chuan and an inspiration to the public for Tai chi chuan in general since Yang Chenfu’s influence. Yang Chengfu is therefore largely responsible for standardizing and popularizing Yang style tai chi chuan as it is practised today.
He was among the first instructors to teach tai chi chuan to the general public at the Beijing Physical Culture Research Institute from 1914 until 1928, after which time he moved to Shanghai.
He escaped to Hong Kong from the Chinese communists in 1949, where he privately taught many students at his home until he died in 1985.
Yang Shou-chung had three daughters; Tai Yee, Ma Lee, and Yee Li who supposedly continue to teach in Hong Kong. Yang Shou-chung taught many people over time, but accepted only three people as his disciples. These Yang style tai chi chuan practitioners were: Master Ip Tai Tak (Yip Tai Tak, 1929–2004) in Hong Kong, Master Chu Gin Soon, in Boston, USA, and Master Chu King Hung, born in 1945 in the United Kingdom. Master Chu King Hung is head of the International Tai Chi Chuan Association (ITCCA).
Yang Zhen Duo
Yang Zhenduo has appeared several times on the cover of Tai Chi Magazine and other martial arts publications, and has written books and articles on the study of the art. He has also produced 3 complete sets of teaching videos.
He has been invited many times to hold seminars and teach in many countries around the world, and has promoted Yang style tai chi chuan to expand the ties of friendship between all Nationalities.
Master Yang Jun was born in 1968 in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China. A Grandson of Grandmaster Yang Zhenduo, a Great Grandson of Yang Cheng Fu and a direct descendant Yang Luchan, the creator of Yang style tai chi chuan. Master Yang Jun is a sixth generation descendant of the Yang Family, and a fifth lineage holder of Yang style tai chi chuan.
Master Yang Jun spent his childhood and influential years living with his grandparents. He became deeply immersed in his family’s heritage of tai chi chuan whilst seeing and hearing his grandfather, Yang Zhen Duo, training students. At the age of 5 years old, Yang Jun began studying tai chi chuan with Yang Zhenduo, and became proficient in the Hand Form, Sword, Saber, Push Hands, and other aspects of Yang style tai chi chuan.
Since 1986, Master Yang Jun has taught with his Grandfather in China and the USA. After many years and dozens of seminars around the world, Yang Jun has now become an accomplished and respected martial artist and tai chi practitioner. He is a proficient teacher in his own right who’s skill is unquestionable.
Master Yang Jun graduated with a degree in physical education from Shanxi University, China in 1989. Between 1995 and 1997, Yang Jun served as the Vice President of Operations, Techniques and Training of The Shanxi Province Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Association. Since 1997, Yang Jun held the position of First President of the same association, which now has over 30,000 members in Shanxi alone. Yang Jun and his grandfather Yang Zhenduo, founded the International Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Association in Seattle, Washington, USA, in October 1998. He has served as its President since that time, and moved there in August 1999 with his wife Fang Hong to establish the Association. In September 1999, he started the Yang Cheng Fu Tai Chi Chuan Center in Seattle’s Chinatown.
In 1995, the Chinese Wu Shu Academy recognized Yang Jun as a Wushu master in Shanxi Province, and in 1996, he was certified as the highest level national judge, and held the position of the head judge at the 1998 National Tai Chi Chuan Competition in China.
Master Yang Jun has been interviewed by several martial arts magazines due to his lifetime of experience and expertise in Yang style tai chi chuan. He has also appeared in several instructional videos, including ‘Yang Style Taijiquan’ by his grandfather Yang Zhenduo and ‘Taijiquan, Sword and Saber’ in1996, produced by China Sports Publishers. Master Yang Jun has published several educational videos of his own, including ‘Yang Style Taijiquan Form 49’ in 2001 and ‘Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan Traditional Form’ in 2005.
Grandmaster Yang Zhen Duo, officially named Yang Jun as the Fifth Lineage Holder of Traditional Yang style tai chi chuan, at the First International Tai Chi Chuan Symposium, held at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, TN in July 2009.