History of Tai Chi Chuan and Chen Style
Written by: Emptymind
Jan 9, 2021

A Brief overview and importance of Chen Style Tai Chi

Whenever we are in China, usually traveling between Shaolin Temple, Wudang Mountain and other locations of martial arts importance, the origins of the Chinese Kungfu styles always comes up in conversation. We all agree on the two major forms, the internal and the external and thats where it oftens ends. The external or harder styles of martial arts in China are often grouped under Shaolin. Likewise, the soft styles or internal martial arts are often grouped under ‘Wudang.’ This is aided by the competitiveness of Wudang and Shaolin to claim to be the first or the best. Even Chinese cinema and television pit Wudang against Shaolin, with the Wudang protaganist a female, fighting her counterpart male, a Shaolin monk.This generalization can cause confusion and in the case of Tai Chi Chuan, more importantly, it suggests that Tai Chi originated in Wudang Mountain. This claim has grown over over the centuries to massive proportions, due to the Chinese love of folklore and myths. The history books differ in the story of Tai Chi Chuan and this has done a disservice to the two main styles practiced today, Yang style and Chen style.

We have visited Wudang Mountain many times and it holds a special place in our hearts. We have filmed some incredible martial arts schools there and interviewed teachers of a very high standard. At Wudang Mountain the Tai Chi schools assert that that the founder of Tai-Chi Chuan, is Chang Sanfeng, a 13th century Taoist master. He was said to have created Tai Chi toward the end of his life, living at the Purple Cloud summit on Wudang. However there is little evidence to support this except for tales written in books that may not be as old as some say and paintings on temple walls that date only in the last few decades. This is not to say it’s not true and we feel the roots of Tai Chi could have been planted at this time on Wudang Mountain. But we have only legend to support this wonderful idea.However, the Tai Chi we see today owes it’s origin in Chen Village or Chen Jia Gou (Chenjiagou). This is especially so as a martial art and it’s perhaps no coincidence that Chen Village is a few hours drive from Shaolin Temple. Chen Wangting (1600–1680) is historically recognized as the first person to develop and codify Tai Chi, which became known as the Chen style. Indeed, Chen Wangting is also recognized as coining the phrase internal martial arts and combining Yin-Yang theory. Through generations of the Chen family the art flourished and in fact broadened to other styles when Chen Changxing (1771–1853) taught the secrets of Chen style to his apprentice Yang Luchan (1799–1872). This passing of Chen Tai Chi created the Yang style we see all over the world. Similarly, Wǔ Yuxiang (1812–1880), a student of Yang Luchan and Chen Qingping (1795–1868), combined Chen and Yang technique to form Wu style Tai Chi. From the Chen family the story of Tai Chi is in the routines or forms, from the beginning we have routine 108 form Long Fist and a more rigorous routine known as Cannon Fist developed by Chen Wangting. Later we get the two routines that came to be known as “Old Frame” and the two routines is known as “Small Frame”. The history and the evidence of martial lineage in Chen Village is plentiful and on display as you walk around the village. We urge you to read the history books and explore the story of Tai Chi Chuan. Better yet, visit Chen village and join the practice at the main school or other Chen teachers such as Chen Bing’s own school (featured in our movie, Chen Village).

Like Wudang Mountain and Shaolin Temple, we at Empty MInd Films have visited Chen Village on numerous occasions. It is tiny in comparison, a small rural village among the countryside surrounded by farms. However, most of the entire village practices Tai Chi and the Chen family school is at the heart of the village. Today the three main Chen family members are Chen Xiaowang and his brother Chen Xiaoxing and Chen Zenglei (grandson of Chen Fake who established Chen style in Beijing). Our movie, Chen Village offers an exploration of life in Chen Village, and Tai Chi is at the heart of this. You can read an in-depth review of our movie, Chen Village by the Journal of Martial Arts.