History of Yang Style Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan)

The creator of Yang Style Tai Ji Quan ( Tai Chi Chuan), Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872AD) was born to a peasant family in Guang Fu, Yong Nian County, Hebei province. As a young apprentice in a pharmacy in his village, Yang, Lu-chan was taken to Chen Village (Chen Jia Gou) in Henan province by the owner of the pharmacy to work in his new shop.

One night he heard louds sounds coming out from a court yard, he went to investigate and discovered people practising martial arts in a court yard in the evening. His enthusiasm was tiggered by the scene of a group of people young and old training martial arts and the amazing techniques and powerful punches they were doing, he decided to quietly watch and learn from the hillside a short distance away.

After watching and learning during the group’s practice sessions, he carried on practising diligently for hours after the group had finished. Despite him only learning through watching from a distance and without proper guidance from the teacher, he became quite good at the martial art.

While he was practising alone, the teacher of the martial arts, Chen Chang Xing, walked past and saw what he was doing. He was surprised to see an unknown young man practising what he taught and doing it so well. He decided to question Yang Lu Chan how Yang learned his art without attending a single class. Yang confessed and apologised. Chen realized that Yang had great potential and decided to take him as the first student without the surname of Chen and taught him the secrets of the martial arts, which is now known as Tai Ji Quan.

Yang Lu Chan continuously visited the Chen village in a period of over 10 years and learned from Chen Chang Xing. He became so efficient in his practice; he practically won all the sparring sessions with villagers. He returned to his own village in Hebei province and set up a martial art school. The name of martial arts he taught at the early stage was called “Long fists” or “Cotton Fists” due to it softness and gentle appearance and the time taken to practise the whole form.

After teaching at his home town for a while, he decided to travel to Beijing and carried on his teaching.

Upon arrival at Beijing, he was invited to teach in the residence of Military officers, aristocrats, royals and rich merchants.

It was a common scene where the rich and the royals employed martial arts teachers to reside in their homes to teach members of the household martial arts, and Yang was one of these teachers. As a martial arts teacher from the countryside, the local masters and teachers in the residence constantly invited him for sparring and Yang Lu Chan was said to have won all of the fights he was involved in. Because of his incredible skill in Martial arts, he was given the name of “Invincible Yang”.

The martial arts of “Long fists” or “Soft Quan” became popular in the martial art circle, more and more people started to learn from Yang Lu Chan. The Martial arts was eventually named as Tai Ji Quan after his friend and student Wu Yu Xiang discovered a book “Tai Ji Quan Lun” in a Flea market when he was on his way back from a Tai Ji Quan learning trip in Zhao Bao village (neighbouring village of the Chen village).

Amongst many of his students, there were three famous ones in the history of Tai Chi,  

Yang Luchan passed on his art to:

  • his second son, Yang Pan-hou(1837–1890), people used to call him "Mr. The Second." He learned taijiquan from his father even as a child. Even though he practiced very hard and continuously, he was still scolded and whipped by his father. He was good at free fighting. One day he was challenged by a strong martial artist. When the challenger grasped his wrist and would not let him escape, Yang, Ban-hou used his jin to bounce the challenger away and defeat him.

    He was so proud that he went home and told his father. Instead of praise, his father laughed at him because his sleeve was torn. After that, he trained harder and harder, and finally became a superlative taijiquan artist. who was also retained as a martial arts instructor by the Chinese Imperial family.

    Yang Pan-hou became the formal teacher of Wu Quanyou, a Manchu Banner cavalry officer of the Palace Battalion, even though Yang Luchan was Wu Chuan-yu's first Tai Ji Quan teacher. Wu Chuan-yu became Yang Pan-hou's first disciple. Wu Chuan-yu's son, Wu Jianquan, also a Banner officer, became known as the co-founder (along with his father) of the Wu-style.
  • The third son of Yang, Lu-chan was Yang Jian (A.D. 1842-1917), also named Jian-hou and nicknamed Jing-hu (鏡湖). People used to call him "Mr. The Third." He also learned taijiquan from his father since he was young. His personality was softer and gentler than his brother's, and he had many followers.

    He taught three –postures—large, medium, and –small—although he specialized in the medium posture. He was also expert in using and coordinating both hard and soft power. He used to spar with his disciples who were good at sword and saber, while using only a dust brush. Every time his brush touched the student's wrist, the student could not counter, but would be bounced away.

    He was also good at using the staff and spear. When his long weapon touched an opponent's weapon, the opponent could not approach him, but instead was bounced away. When he emitted jin, it happened at the instant of laughing the "ha" sound. He could also throw small metal balls called "bullets." With these balls in his hand, he could shoot three or four birds at the same time.

    The most impressive demonstration he performed was to put a sparrow on his hand. The bird would not be able to fly away because, when a bird takes off, it must push down first and use the reaction force to lift itself. Yang, Jian-hou could sense the bird's power and neutralize this slight push, leaving the bird unable to take off. From this demonstration, one can understand that his listening jin and neutralizing jin must have been superb. He had three sons: Zhao-Xiong (兆熊), Zhao-Yuan (兆元), and Zhao-Qing / Cheng Fu (兆清). The second son, Zhao-yuan died at an early age.

    Yang, Jian-hou's first son, Yang, Zhao-xiong (A.D. 1862-1929), was also named Meng-xiang (夢祥) and later called Shao-hou (少侯). People used to call him "Mr. Oldest." He practiced taijiquan since he was six years old. He had a strong and persevering personality. He was expert in free fighting and very good at using various jins like his uncle Yang, Ban-hou. He reached the highest level of taijiquan Gong Fu. Specializing in small postures, his movements were fast and sunken. Because of his personality, he didn't have too many followers. He had a son called Yang, Zhen-sheng (振聲).

    Yang Jianhou passed on the middle frame long form, sometimes called the 2nd generation Yang form or the Yang Jian hou form to his disciples who still pass on this more martial form that is when seen more reminiscent of Chen style for which it is closer to in time as well as form than the Yang Cheng fu form or 3rd generation styles. 

    Yang Jian Hou passed his Tai Ji Quan to his sons and disciples, the few well known ones are Yang Shao-hou(1862–1930) and Yang Chengfu (1883–1936), Li Jin Lin and Niu Chunming (1881–1961).

    Yang Chengfu removed the vigorous Fa Jin (release of power) from the Hand (solo) Form, as well as the energetic jumping, stamping, and other abrupt movements in order to emphasise the Da Jia (large frame style), but retained them in the Weapons (sword, saber, staff, and spear) forms. 

    The Hand Form has slow, steady, expansive and soft movements suitable for general practitioners. Thus, Yang Chengfu is largely responsible for standardizing and popularizing the Yang-style Tai Ji Quan widely practised today.
  • Wu Yuxiang (1813–1880), a friend of Yang Lu Chan, is a highly educated scholar from a rich family in the village. After learning from Yang Lu Chan, he decided to travel to Chen village to learn from Chen Chang xing. However, Chen said he was old and no long taught the martial arts and recommended his nephew Chen Qing Ping, in the neighbouring village “Zhao Bao”.

    Wu went and learned from Chen Qing Ping in Zhao Bao. Wu then returned home and, on his way, discovered the book “Tai Ji Quan Lun” by Wang Zong Yue. Wu felt that the principles and theories matched the core essence of what he had learned from Yang Lu Chan and Chen Qing Ping, therefore declared what he learned were in fact Tai Ji Quan.

    After Many years of practice and Wu Yu Xiang developed his own Wu style (also regarded as Wu/ Hao style because of the famous great student Hao Wen Zhen), which eventually, after three generations, led to the development of Sun Style Tai Ji Quan by Sun Lu Tang.

Yang, Jian Hou's third son was Yang, Zhao-Qing (A.D. 1883-1935), also named Cheng-fu. His personality was mild and gentle. When he was young, he did not care for martial arts. It was not until his teens that he started studying taijiquan with his father. While his father was still alive Yang, Cheng-fu did not really understand the key secrets of taijiquan. It was not until his father died in 1917 that he started to practice hard. His father had helped him to build a good foundation, and after several years of practice and research, he was finally able to approach the level of his father and grandfather.

Because of his experiences, he modified his father's taijiquan and specialized in large postures. This emphasis was completely reversed from that of his father and brother. He was the first taijiquan master willing to share the family secrets with the public, and because of his gentle nature he had countless students. When Nanking Central Guoshu Institute (南京中央國術館) was founded in 1928, he was invited to be the head taijiquan teacher, and his name became known throughout the country. He had four sons, Zhen-Ming (振銘), Zhen-Ji (振基), Zhen-Duo (振鐸), and Zhen-Guo (振國).

Three Postures of Taijiquan

Yang Style Taijiquan can be classified into three major postures: large, medium, and small. It is also divided into three stances: high, medium, and low. Large postures were emphasized by Yang, Cheng-fu. He taught that the stances can be high, medium, or low, but the postures are extended, opened, and relaxed. Large postures are especially suitable for improving health. The medium posture style requires that all the forms be neither too extended nor too restricted and the internal jin neither totally emitted nor too conserved. Therefore, the form and jin are smoother and more continuous than the other two styles. The medium posture style was taught by Yang, Jian-Hou. The small posture style—in which the forms are more compact and the movements light, agile, and quick—was passed down by Yang, Shao-Hou. This style specializes in the martial application of the art. In conclusion, for martial application the small postures are generally the best, although they are the most difficult, and the large posture style is best for health purposes.

Yang Cheng Fu’s descendants have actively promoted Yang Style Tai Ji Quan, they are Yang Shou Zong, Yang Zhen Guo, Yang Zheng Ji and Yang Zhen Duo etc.

In the past 100 years, disciples of Yang style Tai Ji Quan carried on the family tradition and spreading the benefits of Yang style Tai Ji Quan all around the world. These teachers included Fu Zhong Wen, Cui Yi Shi, Li Yu Lin, Li Tian Ji, Dong Ying Jie, Zheng Man Qing, Zhao Bin, Yip Tai Tak, Wang Sheng Xian, Fu Sheng Yuan etc.