Evolution of Taiji

For five generations the skill remained a closely guarded secret taught only within the Chen family. Given that their very survival was dependant upon their fighting skills, the reluctance of the Chen family to share their knowledge with outsiders is understandable. Not until the time of Chen Changxing (1771-1853), the fourteenth-generation standard bearer of Chen Taijiquan, was the art taught to an outsider, Yang Luchan (1799-1872).


Yang Luchan went to Beijing after leaving Chenjiagou, where he modified the routine he had learned from his teacher, adapting it to suit people whose main goal in learning was to keep fit. This became known as Yang style Taijiquan. Omitted were many of the explosive movements, deep postures, stamping and variations in tempo that identify the Chen style. Over the course of the next two generations of the Yang family, the Yang style was further revised until Yang Chengfu, grandson of Yang Luchan, developed the "Big Frame" which has become the most widely practiced form of Taijiquan both in China and throughout the world. Characterized by slow, steady and flowing movements, this was the form that Yang Chengfu taught as he travelled throughout China.

While Yang Taijiquan and the other major styles were being propagated all over China, Chen style continued to be practiced almost exclusively in Chenjiagou. Despite being the source of Taijiquan "shadow boxing", it remained the least understood of the major styles. Chen style Taijiquan truly became a public art as late as 1928, when Chen Fa-ke (1887-1957) of the seventeenth generation of Chen Clan came to Beijing at the invitation of his nephew to teach the family art. His demonstrations caused astonishment among Taiji circles familiar only with the slow and gentle manifestation of Taijiquan. The use of swift movements, stamping of the feet, leaping and dodging, and explosive fajing (emitting energy) actions caused some observers to question how this could be Taijiquan.