Monday, September 22, 2008

Chen style tai chi chuan

The family style is the oldest and parent form of the five main tai chi chuan styles. It is third in terms of world-wide popularity compared to the other main taijiquan styles. Chen style is characterized by its lower stances, more explicit Silk reeling and bursts of power .

Many modern tai chi styles and teachers emphasize a particular aspect in their practice of tai chi chuan. The five traditional family styles tend to retain the original applicability of tai chi teaching methods. Some argue that Chen style schools succeed in this to a greater degree.

Sourced histories center around Chen Wangting , who codified pre-existing Chen training practice into a corpus of seven routines. Wangting is said to have incorporated theories from a classic text by General Qi Jiguang 戚继光, Jixiaoxinshu 继效新书 and Huang Di Nei Jing 黄帝内经 《黃帝內經》 , which described martial arts from 16 different styles.

Some legends assert that a disciple of Zhang Sanfeng named Wang Zongyue taught Chen family the martial art later to be known as taijiquan.

Other legends speak of Jiang Fa . Reputedly a monk from Wudang mountain who came to Chen village, he is said to have radically transformed the Chen family art for the better when he taught Chen Changxing internal fighting practices. However there are significant difficulties with this explanation: it is no longer clear if their relationship was that of teacher/student or even who taught whom.

Chen Village

Historically documented from the 1600s, the Chen family were originally from Shanxi, Hong Dong . First generation, Chen Pu , shifted from Shanxi to Wen County, Henan Province . Originally known as Chang Yang Cun or Sunshine village, the village grew to include a large number of Chen descendants. Because of the three deep ravines beside the village it became to be known as Chen Jia Gou or Chen Family Village. Chen village has since been a center of tai chi learning. Ninth generation Chen Wangting is credited as performing the first formal codification of Chen family martial art practice.

Perhaps the best known Chen family teacher was 14th generation Chen Changxing . He further synthesized Chen Wangting's open fist training corpus into two routines that came to be known as "old frame" . Chen Changxing, contrary to Chen family tradition, also took the first recorded non-family member as a disciple, Yang Luchan , who went on to develop his own family tradition . Tai chi proved very popular and the other three traditional styles of tai chi chuan further sprang from Yang family tradition, some of these styles also borrowing from the Chen family "Small Frame" tradition . Chen family teaching remained hidden and was not officially "released" to the public until 1928.

Chen Youben , of the 14th Chen generation, is credited with starting a mainstream Chen training tradition that differed from that created by Chen Changxing. It was originally know as xinjia as opposed to Chen Changxing's lao jia. It gradually became to be known as xiao jia or small form.
Small Form eventually lead to the formation of two styles with Chen family influences - and hulei jia which are not considered a part of the Chen family lineage.

Recent History

In recent decades Chen style Taijiquan has come to be recognized as a major style of martial art within China. In Western countries Chen style is rapidly growing in popularity for either martial art or healthy life-style reasons.

This more recent popularity can be seen to be grounded on "promotional" efforts made by leading Chen style masters at two major periods during the 1900s:

In the late 1920s Chen Fake and his nephew broke with Chen family tradition and began openly teaching Chen style - providing public classes in Beijing for many years. Chen Fake's influence was so great that a powerful Beijing Chen style tradition survived his death; it was centred around his "New Frame" variant of Chen Village "Old Frame." His legacy spread throughout China by the efforts of his senior students .

At this time mention must also be made of the first in-depth book ever written on Chen style. It was written by a 16th generation family member Chen Xin 陳鑫 called Taijiquan Illustrated 太極拳圖說 and proved very popular but was not actually published until 1932, well after Chen Xin's death.

A second significant "promotional wave" in Western countries began in the 1980s. It can be traced to changes in Chinese foreign policy and the migration of Chinese Chen stylists around the world. On a more organised level mention must be made of Chen Village's international "roaming ambassadors" known as the "Four Buddha Warrior Attendants." These specially trained sons of Chen Village are Chen Xiao Wang , Chen Zhenglei, Wang Xian and Zhu Tiancai. They are extremely well known internationally on account of their many years of relentless global workshops and talks.

Other well known 19th generation Chen teachers active in China or overseas include: Chen Yu 陈瑜, Li Enjiu李恩久, Zhang Xuexin张学信, Zhang Zhijun张志俊. Growing in more recent popularity are Chen Zhonghua陈中华, Chen Xiaoxing陈小星, Chen Xiang陈项.

Chen Peishan and Chen Peiju have been influential in promoting the less well known Chen Village Small Frame tradition . They continue to travel and teach Small Frame Chen taijiquan around the world.

Chen style schools with links back to Chen Village and Beijing have blossomed rapidly in Western countries in the last twenty years - offering a significantly different alternative to Yang family style . Such countries with strong links back to Chen Village include USA, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.

Chen forms

Chen Wangting's Corpus of Seven Routines

Chen Wangting is generally credited with codifying less structured practices of his family's art into a corpus of seven training forms/routines. In addition to these "open fist" sets there was also practise of weapon forms and a two person combat "form" called tui shou .

Big frame/small frame split

Around the time of the 14/15th generation Chen Village practice appears to have differentiated into two related but distinct practice traditions which are today known as big frame and small frame. The various practise routines embodied in big/small frame traditions modified and assimilated Chen Wangting's seven set corpus and the original practise routines are now said to have been lost.

There are conflicting claims about which of these two traditions came first. Western theories and most of the famous masters from Chen Village tend to favor the view that big frame tradition came first . There is a minority view from outside of Chen Village that tend to favor the reverse view.

There are also conflicting stories about the reason for the differentiation into these two traditions. Zhu Tian Cai comments that small frame tradition routines tended to be practiced by "retired" Chen villagers . It seems this was because the more demanding leaping, stomping, low frame, and intensive Fa jing of the advanced big frame tradition routines have been eliminated and the retained movements emphasize the training of the soft internal skills. Keep in mind that this is only a tendency and a master of the principles may use them to add fa jing, leaping, stomping, and low frame back to the small tradition at will. Just as a master of the large frame can perform the set small, large, smoothly, with fa jing in every movement, low, middle, or high. The traditions are only significantly different because the elder practitioners tend to focus on longevity and may develop injuries if they practice in the same manner as the younger practitioners.

Other authors, however, say that "big" does not simply mean large exaggerated outer movements and nor does "small" simply mean confined/close outer movements. They argue that in small frame both large and small motions are used - with the smaller motions considered to be more advanced. It is also useful to frame the discussion in terms of human physiology. The large and small frame traditions have similar training methods and are training the same tai chi principles it is only the external presentation that confuses beginners.

In the book "Chen Style: The Source of Taijiquan" the explanation is given that both the large and small frames were devoped at the same time, by two related masters, as distillations and simplifications of the existing routines.

Keep in mind throughout this discussion that no literature of Chen style before 1932 appears to mention anything about New, old, big or small styles . As with so much of Tai Chi history complete comprehension and certainty is hard to find.

Big frame tradition

Chen family traditions were kept secret from the public until around 1928 when the big frame routines were taught openly for the first time. This was started in Beijing by Chen Fake's nephew and then by the legendary Chen Fake himself.

Big frame encompasses the classic "old frame" routines, one & two, which are very well known today.
It also includes the more recent "new frame" routines, one & two, which evolved from the classic Old Way/Frame routines thanks to the work of Chen Fake in Beijing in his later years .

Xin yi hun yuan tai chi is an offshoot of the new frame tradition and blends in material from Feng Zhiqiang's Xing Yi]] background.

Lao jia – old frame 老架

The Chen lao jia consists of two forms and It was taught privately in Chen Village from the time of Chen ChangXing - the 14th generation creator of these routines. These were the very first Chen tai chi routines to be publicly revealed. This happened in Beijing from 1928 onwards - being taught by Chen Fake and his nephew.

Yi lu at the beginner level is mostly done slowly with large motions interrupted by occasional expressions of fast power that comprise less than 20% of the movements, with the overall purpose of teaching the body to move correctly. At the intermediate level it is practiced in very low stances with an exploration of clear directional separation in power changes and in speed tempo. The movements become smaller and the changes in directional force become more subtle. At the advanced level the leg strength built at the previous level allows full relaxation and the potential for Fajing in every movement.

The second empty hand form, "er lu" or "cannon fist" is done faster and is used to add more advanced martial techniques such as advanced sweeping and more advanced fajing methods. Both forms also teach various martial techniques.

Xin jia – new frame 新架

This style was first seen practiced by Chen Fake in his later years and many regard him as the author of the style. Credit for actual public teaching/spread of these two new routines probably goes to his senior students .

When Chen Zhaokui returned to Chen Village to train today's generation of Masters he taught Chen Fake's, unknown adaptation of old frame. Zhu Tian Cai recalls, as a young man at the time, they all started calling it "xin jia" because it was adapted from classic old frame.

The main difference from old frame is that the movements are smaller and more obvious torso twisting silk reeling and twining of the arms/wrists is employed. This form tends to emphasise manipulation, seizing and grappling rather than striking techniques.

Zhu Tian Cai has commented that the xinjia emphasises the silk reeling movements to help beginners more easily learn the internal principles in form and to make application more obvious in relation to the Old big frame forms.

In Chen Village xin jia is traditionally learned only after lao jia. Like lao jia, xin jia consists of two routines, yi lu and er lu . The new frame cannon fist is generally performed faster than the other empty hand forms, at the standardized speed its 72 movements finish in under 4 minutes. !

Small Frame tradition 小架

This style was until recently not publicly known outside of Chen Village. DVD material has been made available in more recent times though authentic, public teaching is still hard to find. The reasons for this may be more to do with the nature of small frame tradition itself rather than any particular motivation of secrecy .

Although it recently had the term "small frame" attached to it "xiao jia" was previously known as "xin jia" . Apparently the name change occurred to differentiate it from the new routines that Chen Fake created in the 1950s which then became called "Xin Jia" .

Even today some people confuse Chen Fake's altered routines with small frame tradition and believe he revealed the secret teaching of small frame tradition as well.

Zhu Tian Cai comments that small frame tradition routines also used to be practiced by "retired" Chen villagers. It seems this was because the more demanding leaping, stomping, low frame, and intensive fa jing of the advanced big frame tradition routines have been eliminated and the retained movements emphasize use of the more subtle internal skills, which is a more appropriate regimen for the bodies of elder practitioners. He also observed that young children used to imitate Small Frame routines by watching older villagers practicing and this was encouraged for health reasons.

Xiao Jia is known mainly for its emphasis on internal movements, this being the main reason that people refer to it as "small frame"; all "silk-reeling" action is within the body, the limbs are the last place the motion occurs.

Closely related Chen forms

Zhaobao Taijiquan

Zhaobao Taijiquan is gaining increasing recognition as minor Chen style tradition in its own right within the Western tai chi community. While Zhaobao and Chen style are obviously related it is independent of present Chen family practice and lineage. It was said to have been created by a Small Frame practitioner Chen Qingping.

Chen Shi Xinyi Hun Yuan Taijiquan

Xinyi Hun Yuan tai chi chuan is much like traditional Chen style Xin Jia with an influence from Shanxi Hsing Yi. It was created by one of Chen Fake's senior students Feng Zhiqiang 馮志強. Specifically, the style synthesizes a large amount of Xin Yi . Outwardly it appears similar to traditional Old Frame Chen forms.

"Hun Yuan" refers to the strong emphasis on circular, "orbital" or spiraling internal principles which are at the heart of this evolved Chen tradition. While such principles already exist in mainstream Chen style the Hun Yuan tradition develops the theme further. Its teaching system pays attention to spiraling techniques in both body and limbs and how they may be harmoniously coordinated together.

Modern Chen forms

Similar to other family styles of tai chi, Chen style has had its frame adapted by competitors to fit within the framework of competition. A prominent example is the 56 Chen Competition form and to a lesser extent the 48/42 Combined Competition form .

In the last ten years or so even respected grandmasters of traditional styles have begun to accommodate this contemporary trend towards shortened forms that take less time to learn and perform. Beginners in large cities don't always have the time, space or the concentration needed to immediately start learning old frame . This proves all the more true at workshops given by visiting grandmasters. Consequently shortened versions of the traditional forms have been developed even by the "Four Buddhas." Beginners can choose from postures of 38 , 19 , 18 and 13 . There is even a 4 step routine useful for confined spaces .

A comprehensive list of forms, old and new, can be found

Weapon forms

Chen Tai Chi has several unique weapon forms.
* the 49 posture Straight Sword form
* the 13 posture Broadsword form
* Spear solo and partner forms
* 3, 8, and 13 posture Gun forms
* 30 posture Halberd form
* several double weapons forms utilizing the above-mentioned items

Additional training

Before teaching the forms, the instructor may have the students do stance training such as zhan zhuang and various qigong routines such as silk reeling exercises. These stance training and qigong exercises are done to condition and strengthen the body to have the correct frame and alignment so as to be able to develop silk reeling energy before moving to the more complicated movements that are in the forms.

Other methods of training for Chen style using training aids including pole/spear shaking exercises, which teach a practitioner how to extend their silk reeling and fa jing skill into a weapon.

In addition to the solo exercises listed above, there are partner exercises known as pushing hands, designed to help students maintain the correct body structure when faced with resistance. There are five traditional phases of push hands in Chen Village that students may learn before they can move on to a more free-style push hands structure which begins to resemble sparring.

Martial application

In contrast to some tai chi styles and teachers, the vast majority of Chen stylists believe that tai chi is first and foremost a martial art; that a study of the self-defense aspect of tai chi is the best test of a student's skill and knowledge of the tai chi principles that provide health benefit. In compliance with this principle, all Chen forms retain some degree of overt fa jing expression.

In martial application, Chen style tai chi uses a wide variety of techniques applied with all the extremities that revolve around the use of the of tai chi chuan to manifest either ''kai'' or ''he'' through the physical postures of Chen forms. The particulars of exterior technique may vary between teachers and forms. In common with all neijia, Chen style aims to develop for the execution of martial techniques, but focuses especially on cultivating fa jing skill. Chen family member Chen Zhenglei has commented that between the new and old frame traditions there are 105 basic fajin methods and 72 basic Qinna methods present in the forms.

Chen style in popular culture

* Ren Guang Yi created a shortened version of Chen style cannon fist for Hugh Jackman to perform in the Darren Aronofsky film, The Fountain.

* In the video game, Shenmue II, the main character Ryo Hazuki meets a Chen Style Master, Jianmin Tao, in a park in Hong Kong and spars with him throughout the game.

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