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Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan

Chen Style Tai Chi

   The Chen style is the oldest and parent form of the five main tai chi chuan styles. It is third in terms of worldwide popularity compared to the other main taijiquan styles. Chen style is characterized by its lower stances and bursts of power.


1, What is Chen style Tai Chi or Chen style Taijiquan?

Chen style Tai Chi(Taichiquan or Taijiquan)is the original style of Tai Chi, it emphasizes not only health benefits, but also a distinctive form of self-defence. In the beginning, Tai Chi was developed foremost for self-defense and not for health only. Today, there are some different types of Chen Tai Chi. What many schools teach is the Old-frame, Big-frame, Low-posture Chen family Tai Chi.

So there are some keywords here for this style: Old-frame, Big-frame, Low-posture, Chen family. These keywords as Tai Chi term have specific meaning in Tai Chi community in China. Old-frame means this style is the old routine, not the modern way of doing it. The Big-frame means that it is not the small circle form. Low-posture means that most of the movements need to be done in low-posture, which will increase the intensity and difficulty of the practice, meanwhile it will have more benefits too. Chen family Tai Chi means that this style was only taught among Chen family before, when Chen Fake went to Beijing, this routine began to be known by people who were not from Chen family.

2, The history of Chen style Tai Chi.

(1), The history of Chen Village.

In order to understand the history of Tai Chi,we shoud know something of the histroy of Chen Village.
In the late period of the Yuan Dynasty, the government became very corrupt, the people rebeled against their unmerciful exploitation. A brave army composed of rebel farmers from Anhui Provence crossed the Yellow River, overthrew the Yuan Dynasty and founded the Ming Dynasty(1367). At that time, there was a famous battle in Huai Qing City, near present-day Chen village. Most of the people who lived in this area were killed. Because the new Ming emperor thought the people whould aid the old emperor against his army. After three massacres, there were almost no people living in the region, and the land fell fallow.

In 1372, the emperor published an order asking people from Hong Dong town(in Shan Xi provence)to immigrate to the deserted Huai Qing City. There was a youth whose name was Chen Bu (Chen is the family name) who moved to a small village about 20 miles from Wen Town(part of Huan Qing City) with his wife and children. After this, the name "Chen Village" was given to that small part where they lived.Now, there are about 2600 people in Chen Village. This is a brief history of Chen Village.

(2), The origins of Chen Tai Chi.

In order to protect his family, Chen Bu began to teach his children some of the martial arts he studied before.

Chen Wangting, of the ninth generation, was a candidate for government officer. He was good at martial arts, and helped the government of Qing Dynasty to pacify bandits, becoming famous in that area. But, the government did not use him very well. and, he became disappointed. Chen stopped thinking of becoming an officer in goverment and turned to developping his martial arts. After studying Yi Jing(The Book of Changing), Nie Jing(Yellow Emperor Medicial Book) and Military Book, he turned to the martial arts taught by his ancestor 108 Long Fist Form (different from the routine practiced in modern China). Then, he invented a kind of martial art that has special features(soft with hard, fast and slow). Chen Wangting developed five Tai Chi routines, Cannon Fist one routine, two person push-hands and some weapon forms.
During the period he developed Tai Chi, there was a famous martial artist named Jiang Fa , a friend and a student of Chen Wangting who helped him a lot. Chen needed a good partner to practice and verify his invention.

(3), The development and evolution of Chen Tai Chi.

After Chen Wangting invented Tai Chi, the people in Chen Village studied it very hard. So, Tai Chi became a necessary training in that village.

Chen Changxing (1771-1853, the fourteenth generation of Chen family) wrote some books such as "Ten Important Items of Tai Chi","Useful words of Tai Chi" and "Chapter of Tai Chi Application". Because there were so many repetitions of the routines, he adapted the five routines into one routine creatively. His form was called Old Frame or Big Frame. His students were very famous too, such as Chen Gengyun (from his family), Yang Luchan (the founder of Yang style Tai Chi).

One of the masters of the fourteenth generation, Chen Youben, simplfied the Chen Changxing's routines(First Routine and Second Routine). His style called Xiao Frame(Small Frame), Xin Jia. From then on, people called the form developed by Chen Changxing Old frame, or Lao Jia.

Chen Qingping (of the fifteenth generation) married a girl who lived in a small town 5 miles from Chen Village, called Zhao Bao. He developed his style following Chen Changxing and Chen Youben . His style became more complex, and more circular. So, people called it Zhao Bao Frame, also, Chen Qingping taught the master who created Wu(hao) style.

Chen Fake, of the seventeenth generation, great-grandson of Chen Changxin, was a great Chen Tai Chi master in later China. When he moved from Chen village to Beijing, he was the top authentic master. Around 1928, he was invited to Beijing to teach Tai Chi by his nephew(Chen Zhaopi, eighteenth generation, 1893-1972, the first Chen Tai Chi master in Beijing, later went to Nanjing in the south of China). After Chen Fake began to teach in Beijing, he did a lot of outstanding work for Chen Tai Chi. From 1929 to 1957, he taught Tai Chi in Beijing.

Chen Zhaokui, son of Chen Fake, studied Tai Chi from his father when he was very young, and mastered this system. His father taught the Old Chen Frame which people call Chen family low posture, big frame, old frame form. In China, many people also call it Chen Fake Form or Chen Zhaokui Form.

After Chen Zhaopi moved to Nanjing, he did not see his uncle Chen Fake for 30 years. After, he moved back to Chen Village and taught many good students such as Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Wang Xian and Zhu Tiancai. So, the form between Chen Zhaopi and Chen Fake is different. Nowaday, the form practiced in Chen Village mostly came from Chen Zhaopi.

Chen Xiaowang, grandmaster of Chen Tai Chi, was born and grew up in Chen Village never studied Tai Chi from his grandfather Chen Fake. He studied First Routine (75 forms) from his uncle Chen Zhaopi. In 1972, Chen Zhaopi died. In 1973, Chen Zhaokui(the son of Chen Fake)went to Chen Village to teach. But, Chen Xiaowang and some other masters in Chen Village said: The form(83 forms) which Chen Zhaokui taught is Xin Jia, new frame. The frame (75 forms)which they practice ss Lao Jia, old frame.However, they have not shown any proof or evidence until now. And, in 1985, Chen Xiaowang wrote a book "Chen Tai Chi", in which he expresses this view made in Chen Village.

So, before 1985, the date of Chen Xiaowang 's book, when people talked about the old frame, it meant Chen Fake's form(from Chen Changxing, old frame), and, the new frame or Xin Jia ,which meant Chen Youben form. But, after Chen Xiaowang's book, people became confused. In China, this topic was debated intensely for a time...

The top master, Chen Fake moved to Beijing in 1928, and taught the real Old Frame. So, some people even in Chen Village said: "Old frame is new frame. New frame is old frame", "Chen Village is old place, but, the Tai Chi does not mean old..."

Chen Fake had many good students such as Tian Xiuchen (his form is popular in Beijing), Li Jingwu(famous Tai Chi grandmaster), Hong Junsheng(Chen Style hong Form Tai Chi founder), Feng Zhiqiang (founder of Hunyuan Chen style), Gu Luixin(the author of "Tai Chi Quan"), Lei Muni,and Xiao Qinglin (famous Tai Chi grandmaster).

In our opinion, all forms are good, and excellent, and are the fruit of Chinese culture. People should not argue this question too much only for business reasons or vanity. What we should do is study the advantages of the different forms, and digest Tai Chi nutrition by ourselves. Make Tai Chi go from outside to inside of our body. In the end, the Treasure of Tai Chi will be shown through our practice. At that time, people will understand: All Tai Chi in the world is one family, because all of them are from one word: Dao...

3, What are the features of Chen style Tai Chi?

The philosophy of Yin-Yang pervades Tai Chi from beginning to end. It is mainly manifested as "open and close", "round and square", "enroll and extend", "heavy and light", "soft and hard", "slow and fast", "up and down". These are the basic principles of Tai Chi.
Not only does Tai Chi have a unique appearance, but also the unique requirement of internal practice. So, when people practice Tai Chi, they must first use mind rather than force. Mind and Qi movements are inside our body. Spirit and power movement are outside. Chen style has a special force, named Chansijin---Silk Reeling. As Tai Chi classic texts say: "When one part moves, all others will move together"; "Mind coordinates with body".

The main features of Chen Tai Chi.

(1), Movement of Mind and Qi controled by mind (Shen).

The classics say:
"Circulate Qi with heart, and sink down the Qi in order to gather Qi into your bones"
"Move the Qi to your body, but never do it too casually. Then, your heart can control the Qi."
"Heart is the commander, Qi is the war flag."

"The whole body should be controled by mind and spirit instead of by Qi. The body will be stiff if you only focus on Qi".
So, we may come to the conclusion from the above: Tai Chi is the martial art that should use Mind and Spirit, not only Qi. We should not only focus on the movement of Qi when we practice Tai Chi, because Qi is the war-flag. Mind and Spirit command.

(2), Flexible movement through extending limbs and trunk.

The classics say:
"Neck erect, leads force upward. Sink Qi into Dan Tian."
"Hollow the chest and keep the back vertically align. Sink down the shoulders and elbows."
"Relax the waist and arch groin. Open hips and bend knees."

"Concentrate Qi and Spirit, extend your body and arms"
In this way, Tai Chi helps people keep good posture, and strengthen the back, legs and other parts of body. We will have the Peng-Force (ward-off power) when our body is in the correct posture.

(3), Silk-Reeling energy.

The classics say:

"Movement looks like the reeling of silk."

Silk-reeling is the spirit of Tai Chi. In the beginning, it should be in large circles. Later on, the circle will be smaller and smaller; this is the advanced level. This movement is a very important feature of Chen Tai Chi.

(4), Movement from soft to hard, and back to soft.

The classics say:
"Softest, then it can be hardest."
"Soft outside, hard inside"
"Tai Chi should not be too soft, and, control everything by siprit and mind".
"When you do Tai Chi, firstly, change stiff into soft, then, make soft to hard. Soft and hard, hard and soft, this is Tai Chi."

Here, we can understand that Tai Chi is an exercise that makes stiffness or rigidity go away through practice. Then, change the real soft into hard. Always remember Yin and Yang---Soft is Yin and Hard is Yang.

Master Chen Xin said: "Only Yin without yang is weak-hand. Only Yang without Yin is Stiff-hand. One Yin and Nine Yang is a stick-hand. Two Yin and Eight Yang is messy-hand. Three Yin and Seven Yang still hard. Four Yin and Six Yang is good-hand. Only Five Yin and Five Yang is excellent-hand. Because there is always Tai Chi when excellent-hand practices it, and, he can make form disappear during practice." This is the standard of Soft and Hard in practicing Tai Chi.

(5), Movement of Slow to Fast, From Fast to Slow.

The classics say:
"You should be fast when your enemy is fast. you should be slow when he is slow"
"I will not move if he has not moved. However, I have already moved when he is still just begining".
"From slow to fast, from fast to slow. then combine them together".

Thus, Chen Tai Chi should combine fast and slow together. The First Routine is slower than the Second. The speed should vary among different forms in one routine. And, different movements should be different in speed even in the same form.
In brief:"Be fast and slow as needed."

Your Tai Chi practice will be as good as our understanding of these featured principles, this is why it is very important to learn and understand these classic Tai Chi principle, and apply them into the daily practice. Without principle, no body in the world can master the art of Tai Chi. Without physical practice, people will not be able to understand these crucial Tai Chi principle.

4, What are the benefits of practicing Chen Tai Chi?

We have mentioned that Tai Chi is a martial art instead of only for health purpose. Therefore the most important benefit of doing Tai Chi, especially Chen Tai Chi is for self-defense. The reason for slow-movement is for move fast later on. So being slow is not the purpose, it is part of practicing progress. It is the same reason for being soft too. So we should not get confused when we see Tai Chi practitioners demonstrate it slowly and softly, being soft and slow has martial art training reason. In China, Tai Chi is considered as a very high level martial art in terms of the training method.

Chen style Tai Chi will help you to understand the soft force, understand the importance of keeping dynamic balance in combat, train the whole body in order to have the special Tai Chi force, which enable us to conquer the hard force with soft force. With the special practice, which is called Push-Hand, people will gap the bridge between the form and real combat.

Chen style Tai Chi is good for health too. The combination of slow and fast movements, the softness and hardness and well-designed routines will ensure our body get enough physical, mental and exegetical training. We do not have to do other exercises in order to keep body in good shape after you do Chen style. Chen style will offer you enough cardio-exercise after you practice the whole routine, will give you enough chances to improve your flexibility and mobility, will make your respiratory system get the maximum capacity with the sepcial deep breathing exercise.

For more information of the health benefit of Chen style, please refer to related part of this site.

By Master Hai Yang

Master Hai Yang is the founder of Wudang Internal in downtown Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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