Yang Style History

av Ted Knecht

Yang style Taiji Chuan originated during the 19th century in the Tao Kuang Period of the Qing Dynasty. Up to the present day, the style has had a history of only approximately 150 years; however, Yang style Taiji Chuan has already spread throughout the world and is practiced by millions of people each day.

Yang Lu Chan - The Chen Village Years

The founder of Yang style Tai Chi Chuan was Yang Fu Kui (1799-1872), also known as Yang Lu Chan. Lu Chan was born of a peasant family in the village of Nan Guan in the county of Yong Nian which is a part of the Guang Ping Prefecture of Hebei Province. The martial arts history of the Yong Nian county area was very rich and prosperous, and as a young boy, Lu Chan studied Shaolin boxing skills.


Yang Lu Chan

One day while Lu Chan was working in a local grain store, a rude man came into the Tai He pharmacy next to where Lu Chan was working. The man wanted to buy some expensive herbs, but was only willing to pay a cheap price. The man shouted and waved his fists. The next thing Lu Chan saw was the man being thrown into the street without any effort by the pharmacy owner. Lu Chan felt this was quite odd for a person to be able to do such a feat without the use of force. The name of the pharmacy owner was Chen De Hu. After a few days had passed, Lu Chan built up enough courage and went to Chen De Hu to ask to become his student. Chen was at first fairly cautious, but after seeing that Lu Chan was upright and honest, he told Lu Chan he was from the Chen Village (Chen Jia Gou) in Wen Xian County of Henan Province. He said there were many people who studied Tai Chi Chuan in the village. He also explained that his teacher was the famous Tai Chi Chuan master, Chen Chang Xing. Upon hearing this, Lu Chan was very excited and immediately wanted Chen De Hu to introduce him to Chen Chang Xing.

The Chen Village Tai Chi Chuan style was created between the end of the Ming Dynasty and beginning of the Qing Dynasty. The basic standardization of Chen style Tai Chi Chuan was by the 9th generation ancestor of the Chen Village, Chen Wang Ting. Chen De Hu agreed upon the introduction to his teacher. Upon the acceptance of the introduction, Lu Chan immediately left Yong Nian to go to the Chen Village. While Lu Chan was under the tutelage of Chen Chang Xing, he trained continuously without any interruption no matter if it was winter or summer. After six years of training, Lu Chan finally returned to his home town. During the period in which Lu Chan was gone, many people in the village practiced martial arts and wanted to test Lu Chan’s newly acquired skills. Lu Chan was challenged to a duel in which he was defeated. Even though he had lost the duel, he did not lose hope. He returned to the Chen Village to train for an additional six years. The second time he returned home was during the Chinese New Year. The people were excited that Lu Chan had returned and thought he would be unbeatable. In the same area there was a martial artist who had connections with the Chen Village and who had studied many styles of martial arts. He also heard that Lu Chan had returned home and wanted to test his skills. The result of the match was a draw. Yang Lu Chan felt his skill level was not completely proficient even though he was able to hold his own against such a highly skilled martial artist; therefore he decided to return to his teacher a third time. The third trip to the Chen Village moved Chen Chang Xing so much that he began to teach Lu Chan everything he knew. After two years of study, Chen Chang Xing said that when Lu Chan returned home this time, there would be no one who could defeat him. Subsequently, Lu Chan returned home and was never defeated again.

Yang Lu Chan studied at the Chen Village for a total of 18 years. Although he obtained the true teachings of Chen Chang Xing’s Tai Chi Chuan style, he still was not satisfied with his own abilities. Lu Chan constantly researched every aspect of his style until he achieved an enlightened level of skill and his fame was known to all.

Yang Lu Chan - The Beijing Years

Not long after, Lu Chan was invited by Wu Lu Ching, a distant relative, to teach his martial arts in the capital of Beijing. Wu Lu Ching was a government official of Emperor Tao Kuang. Upon arriving in the capital, Lu Chan was a guest at the home of a wealthy businessman named Mr. Zhang. Mr. Zhang’s business was small at first, but later became very large and prosperous. Their organization also included instruction in various types of martial arts training. The first occasion to meet the Zhang family was during a banquet in which everyone was to perform his respective martial art. One of the heads of the Zhang family saw the thin body of Yang Lu Chan, and as an insult, placed Lu Chan behind an ordinary martial artist preparing to demonstrate. After Yang Lu Chan performed his style, Mr. Zhang asked if the “Cotton Fist” of Yang Lu Chan could actually defeat an opponent. Lu Chan replied by saying that except for bronze, iron, and rock, his fist could defeat anything with flesh and blood. Consequently, the man asked if Lu Chan would take a challenge from him. Lu Chan agreed without hesitation not only to take a challenge from this man but also from anyone else at the banquet. Following, the guests went out into the garden court to witness the contest. When the contest first began, a martial arts master came running toward Lu Chan as fierce as a tiger. As the two met, Lu Chan raised his arms and the man flew back several meters through the air. Immediately following, another master came up and challenged Lu Chan. Without completing one technique, the man was thrown back several meters onto the ground. After seeing this, the others did not dare challenge the skills of Yang Lu Chan. Upon returning to the banquet hall, Lu Chan was seated at the head table and was toasted by everyone. From that day on, Lu Chan began teaching Tai Chi Chuan at the Zhang residence.

After the martial contest at the Zhang residence, people from everywhere came to challenge Yang Lu Chan; however, all who challenged Lu Chan fell beneath his fist. From that point onward, Yang Lu Chan was given the title of “Yang the Invincible”. Wu Lu Qing introduced Lu Chan to many people within the royal Qing government to whom he taught Tai Chi Chuan. This allowed the art of Tai Chi Chuan to become very popular in the capital; moreover, the royal family invited Yang Lu Chan to their residence to live and teach. Subsequently, Lu Chan brought his two sons to the capital to teach Tai Chi Chuan at the palace.

Yang Pan Hou

Yang pan Hou (1837-1892) was the second child of Yang Lu Chan. pan Hou had practiced Tai Chi Chuan from childhood under the supervision of his father. His skill level was very high. His character was very firm even though he had a very hot temper. There was one time when a martial arts master nicknamed “Man with 10,000 Pounds of Strength” came to Beijing to challenge Yang Lu Chan. After the Yang family heard of the news, Yang Lu Chan did not pay much attention to the matter. However, Yang Pan Hou said to his father that “if our store has something to sell and people want to buy it, why don’t we sell?” What Pan Hou meant was that his family had true martial ability, so why not take the challenge. Consequently, Pan Hou went by himself to take the challenge from the man. When the contest began, the man threw his shirt off and showed his muscles to the crowd. Yang Pan Hou with his skinny body just stood waiting for the man to attack. When the fight commenced, the only image seen was the man pouncing toward Pan Hou. Pan Hou evaded the attack. The man immediately attacked with continuous strikes to Pan Hou’s face. The crowd heard a yell and immediately following, the man went flying through the air several meters into the distance. When everyone was able to see clearly, they realized that Pan Hou used “Separate Heel Kick” to the man’s groin area. While the crowd was still cheering and admiring Pan Hou’s skill, he returned silently back to the palace.

Yang Jian Hou and His Children

Yang Lu Chan’s third child was Yang Jian Hou (1839-1917). His Tai Chi Chuan skills were a harmonious blend of hard and soft. He was especially talented at issuing internal energy and the practice of broadsword, straightsword, and spear. His character was very warm-hearted. Whenever Jian Hou competed and trained with others, he never looked light-heartedly upon anyone; therefore, he too was never defeated.

The third generation of Yang style martial artists consisted of Yang Ling Xiao (1872-1930), also known as Yang Zhao Peng, who was Yang Pan Hou’s son. He studied with Chen Xiu Feng who was one of Pan Hou’s disciples. The first son of Yang Jian Hou was Yang Zhao Xiong (1862-1930), also known as Yang Shao Hou. Shao Hou studied Tai Chi Chuan from his youth and was very good at sparring. His movements were fast and his posture was rooted. The Yang style small frame was transmitted by Shao Hou. There are very few people who know the small frame style. Some people see the style as strictly for fighting and do not wish to teach others. Therefore, this may be the reason why practitioners of this style are becoming fewer and fewer. Yang style small frame leans more toward the fighting aspect rather than health. Because it is performed with quick motions, the style is sometimes called Tai Chi Fast Frame or the Fast Small Frame. The small frame style was researched extensively by Yang Lu Chan for many years whereby he took the essence of Tai Chi Chuan and the various fighting methods and combined it to form a routine which incorporates qigong, massage, and the theory of the meridian systems. The small frame style allows the entire body to receive maximum benefits from small lively movements. The main points of the style are as follows: There are over 200 postures in the routine which are performed in less than two minutes. The practitioner must maintain a low stance whereby the head does not rise higher than four feet above the ground. The fighting applications must be regularly practiced and combined with internal energy. The small frame style is practiced mainly by younger people and is quite different from what most people would consider Tai Chi Chuan. Small frame Tai Chi Chuan not only incorporates speed, vitality, and lightness, but also maintains the essence of relaxation, quiescence, roundness, and softness.

Yang Cheng Fu

The third son of Yang Jian Hou was Yang Zhao Qing (1883-1936), also known as Yang Cheng Fu. Cheng Fu was a very warm-hearted, intelligent person. He trained under the tutelage of his father in the deepest way. His Tai Chi Chuan skills were like an “iron needle hidden in cotton". The characteristics of his postures were large, relaxed, and full of vitality. The postures of Yang Cheng Fu’s large frame style can be divided into high, medium, and low. The postures can be selected based upon the practitioners age, sex, strength of body, and other various demands. Because of this, Yang style Tai Chi Chuan is not only used to cure illness and to maintain health, but also is used to strengthen the body and to develop a high level of martial combat skills. Consequently, many people have found his Tai Chi Chuan most suitable.


Yang Chengfu

Yang Cheng Fu was born on July 7, 1883 and passed away on March 3, 1936. He studied the art continuously in Beijing under the instructions of his father. Not until after the passing of his father did Cheng Fu travel to southern China to teach. He taught in various cities throughout China in such places as Wuhan, Hankou, Nanjing, Hangzhou etc.

Some of Yang Cheng Fu’s students were Yang Sau Chung, Tung Ying Chieh, Fu Zhong Wen, Yang Zhao Xin, Tian Zhao Ling, Chen Wei Ming, Zhang Qing Lin, Wang Ting Xing

In 1925, Yang Cheng Fu published the book, “The Art of Tai Chi Chuan”, using actual photographs of Yang. Later in 1931, he published “The Applications of Tai Chi Chuan” using new photographs. In 1928, he was invited to be the head of the Wudang section of the Nanjing Central Guo Shu Academy. Later he was also invited to be the head of the Zhejiang Provincial Guo Shu Academy in Hangzhou. In 1930, Cheng Fu settled in Shanghai where he published the book entitled “The Complete Principle and Theory of Tai Chi Chuan”. In 1932, he was invited by Chen Ji Tang and Li Zong Ren to teach in the city of Guangzhou. Two years later he returned to Shanghai. After Yang Cheng Fu traveled to southern China, he gradually moved away from the martial aspect of Tai Chi Chuan to more of the health aspects. When Yang Cheng Fu first arrived in Shanghai, he was invited to demonstrate at the “Soft Fist” Society. When Yang performed “Separate Heel Kick” he issued much power causing a loud sound to be heard. Later, he changed the kick to a slow and even movement. “Fist to Groin” originally issued much power at the last moment of execution, but this was also changed to a slow and even motion. His method of practice gradually changed to slow and continuous movements without any breaks.

Yang Cheng Fu was a very large person whose push hand skills were tremendous. His sensitivity was very keen and agile. When he issued power, he was precisely on target; his speed was lightning fast; and his striking distance was short so that he could throw a person several meters through the air without harming his opponent. In fact, according to some of his students, the feeling of being pushed by him was actually comfortable and invigorating.

The Story of a Cotton Thread

In the year 1932, Master Yang Cheng Fu and his disciple, Fu Zhong Wen, traveled south to the city of Guang Zhou in Guang Dong Province to teach the art of Tai Chi Chuan. One day, a martial arts teacher by the name of Liu and his disciples went to the residence of Master Yang. Upon observing the way in which Liu was dressed and the manner in which he held himself, Master Yang knew that this man’s talents in fighting were extraordinary. Upon meeting Yang Cheng Fu, Liu raised his hands, saluted Master Yang and said: “It is well known that your skills in Tai Chi are superior and for three generations your family has been without equals. I have especially come here to see your skills.” Master Yang realized Liu was challenging him to a duel and that the conflict would be unavoidable. Master Yang suddenly thought of an idea to prevent a fight but to maintain the code of the martial world (Wu Lin). He told his disciple, Fu Zhong Wen, to go and get out a one foot piece of cotton thread. Young Fu was shocked when he heard this because the cotton thread was used as a training tool only among the indoor disciples of the Yang style. It was never before shown to outsiders.

Master Yang warmed up by performing “Grasp Sparrow’s Tail” and “Cloud Hands"; thereupon, he took the cotton thread between his thumb and index finger and asked: “Who has the strength of a thousand pounds to tear this piece of thread in half?” Upon hearing this, Liu sneered at Master Yang while sending one of his disciples out to take the challenge. The disciple grabbed the other end of the cotton thread and asked: “When shall we begin?” Master Yang replied by saying: “It is completely up to you.” Following, the disciple fiercely pulled at the thread. Master Yang adhered to his every move. Suddenly the disciple reversed the direction of motion, however, Master Yang, without hesitation, also moved in the same manner.

This went on for several rounds without the disciple being able to tear the thread in two. While the thread was being pulled it remained straight no matter which direction the force was being applied. Liu saw what was occurring and summoned his disciple to step back. After Liu performed several exercises to warm up, he jumped into the air and performed several tornado kicks. Immediately following this, he jumped toward Master Yang as agile as a rabbit and grabbed the other end of the thread. Master Yang was just as agile and moved in the same manner. Without hesitation, Liu jumped back in a retreating maneuver while trying to break the thread; in the same instance, Master Yang followed in Liu’s footsteps preventing the thread from being broken. Afterwards, Liu shot forward as fast as an arrow, then darted to the left and then to the right, moving in all directions. Within all of this motion, both Liu and Master Yang never made contact with each other. The way in which the two moved was similar to a dragon lantern moving in the night. Spectators witnessing the event were astonished by the skill of Yang Cheng Fu. The entire time this was occurring the thread was never broken nor was it even bent. The thread remained straight during the entire match. After a long period of trying to break the thread, Liu was completely out of breath and covered with sweat. Master Yang, on the other hand, was very calm and relaxed without any signs of exhaustion.

When the match was over, Liu realized that the skill level of Master Yang was very extraordinary and therefore held a grand Panquet in honor of Master Yang. From that day forth, both Liu and Master Yang became very good friends. In the same way as Master Yang’s grandfather and father did before him, Yang Cheng Fu had developed his skills of understanding energy (Dong Jin) and listening to energy (Ting Jin) to an outstanding skill level. He was able to adhere and yield to every single move his opponent performed and did not expend any energy. Even to this day, the story of how a piece of thread can demonstrate martial skills is told in the martial arts community near the Guang Zhou region.

Yang Lu Chan was able to build upon the basics of Chen style old frame Tai Chi Chuan and make it more compatible for the common person to learn no matter what his age. At that moment, people termed his style “Yang family Tai Chi Chuan”. The Yang style passed through reform and constant improvement during the first two generations of father and son. The formal standardization of the style finally occurred when it came into Yang Cheng Fu’s hands. The postures became wide and comfortable; the structure was strict and demanding; the body was upright and erect; and the movements were harmoniously flowing, light, agile, and rooted.

Tai Chi Chuan Blossoms

It was because of the hard work of the third generation inheritor that Tai Chi Chuan became popular and developed into what it is today. Moreover, this allowed the onset of many other styles to flourish. An example of this was Wu Yu Xiang, a disciple of Wu Lu Qing, who created Wu style Tai Chi Chuan. Wu Yu Xiang transmitted his style to Hao Wei Zhen who later developed Hao style Tai Chi Chuan. Hao Wei Zhen passed his style to Sun Lu Tang who created Sun style Tai Chi Chuan. Yang Pan Hou taught Chuan You who then transmitted the art to his son, Wu Jian Chuan, thereby creating the other Wu style Tai Chi Chuan. In summation, it can be said that Yang style Tai Chi Chuan is the root of Wu, Hao (partially), Sun, and Wu style Tai Chi Chuan. In 1956, the National Chinese Sports Association extracted postures from Yang style Tai Chi Chuan to create a simplified version of Tai Chi Chuan. Afterwards, the 88 posture and the 48 posture Tai Chi Chuan routines were created.

Yang style Tai Chi Chuan has developed and advanced tremendously over a very short historical time frame. This testifies to the importance Tai Chi Chuan has in the prevention and healing of illnesses and the promotion of health and longevity. It is possible that after the mutual exchange of ideas and knowledge between all Tai Chi Chuan practitioners, Yang style Tai Chi Chuan can become internationally ranked and can make great contributions to the health and well-being of the world.

I nicked this usefull peace of information from Ted Knecht's page.