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Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan

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Title: Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan  
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Subject: Tai chi, Guang Ping Yang t'ai chi ch'uan, Chen Fake, Hao Zhihua, Neijia
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Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan

Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan)
Chen-style practitioners in Single Whip
Chen-style practitioners in Single Whip
Also known as
  • Chen-style taijiquan
  • Chen family taijiquan
  • Chen school of taijiquan
  • Chen shi taijiquan
Date founded late 16th century
Country of origin China
Founder Chen Wangting
Current head Chen Xiaowang
11th generation Chen
Arts taught T'ai chi ch'uan
Ancestor arts Neijia
Descendant arts Yang-style taijiquan,
Wu (Hao)-style taijiquan
Practitioners Chen Fake,
Chen Zhaopi (陈照丕),
Chen Zhaokui (陈照奎),
Chen Zhenglei(陈正雷),
Chen Xiaoxing (陈小星)

The Chen family-style (陳家、陳氏 or 陳式 太極拳) is the oldest and parent form of the five traditional family styles. Chen-style is characterized by Silk reeling (chán sī jìn; 纏絲勁), alternating fast/slow motion and bursts of power (fa jin; 發勁).[1]

Contemporary t'ai chi ch'uan is typically practised for a number of widely varying reasons: health, external/internal martial art skills, aesthetics, meditation or as an athletic/competition sport (sometimes called "wushu tai chi"). Therefore, a teacher's system, practice and choice of training routines usually emphasizes one of these characteristics during training. The five traditional schools, precisely because they are traditional, attempt to retain the martial applicability of their teaching methods. Some argue that the Chen tradition emphasizes this martial efficacy to a greater extent.[1]


  • History 1
    • Origin theories 1.1
      • Chen Village (Chenjiagou) 1.1.1
      • Other origin stories 1.1.2
    • Recent History 1.2
    • T'ai chi ch'uan lineage tree with Chen-style focus 1.3
  • Chen forms 2
    • Historical forms from Chen Village 2.1
    • Existing Chen Village Forms: Frames - Large and Small, Old and New 2.2
      • Large frame - old frame tradition 2.2.1
      • Large frame – new frame tradition 2.2.2
      • Small frame tradition 2.2.3
  • Closely related Chen traditions 3
    • Chen taijiquan Beijing's branch (Xinjia) 3.1
    • Zhaobao taijiquan 3.2
    • Chen-style Hun Yuan taijiquan 3.3
    • Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan Practical Method 3.4
  • Modern Chen forms 4
  • Weapon forms 5
  • Additional training 6
  • Martial application 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Origin theories

The origin and nature of what is now known as tai chi is not historically verifiable until around the 17th century. Documents of this period indicate the Chen clan settled in Chenjiagou (Chen Village, 陳家溝), Henan province, in the 13th century and reveal the defining contribution of Chen Wangting (陈王庭; 1580–1660).[2] It is therefore not clear how the Chen family actually came to practise their unique martial style and contradictory "histories" abound. What is known is that the other four contemporary traditional tai chi styles (Yang, Sun, Wu and Woo) trace their teachings back to Chen village in the early 1800s.[3][4]

Chen Village (Chenjiagou)

According to Chen Village family history, Chen Bu (陳仆; 陈卜) was a skilled martial artist who started the martial arts tradition within Chen Village.[5] The Chen family were originally from Hong Dong (洪洞), Shanxi (山西). Chen Bu, considered to be the founder of the village, moved from Shanxi to Wen County (溫县), Henan Province (河南) in 1374. The new area was originally known as Chang Yang Cun (常陽村) or Sunshine village and grew to include a large number of Chen descendants. Because of the three deep ravines (Gou) beside the village it came to be known as Chen Jia Gou (陳家溝) or Chen Family creek/brook. For generations onwards, the Chen Village was known for their martial arts.

The special nature of Tai Chi Chuan practice was attributed to the ninth generation Chen Village leader, Chen Wangting (陳王廷; 陈王庭; 1580–1660). He codified pre-existing Chen training practice into a corpus of seven routines. This included five routines of tai chi chuan (太極拳五路), 108 form Long Fist (一百零八勢長拳)and a more rigorous routine known as Cannon Fist (炮捶一路). Chen Wangting integrated different elements of Chinese philosophy into the martial arts training to create a new approach that we now recognize as the Internal martial arts. He added the principles of Yin-Yang theory (阴阳; the universal principle of complementary opposites), the techniques of Daoyin (leading and guiding energy), Tui na (expelling and drawing energy), the Chinese medical theory of energy (气功) and Chinese medical theory of the meridians (经络). Those theories encountered in Traditional Chinese Medicine and described in such texts as the Huang Di Nei Jing (《黃帝內經》; Yellow Emperor's Canon of Chinese Medicine). In addition, Wangting incorporated the boxing theories from sixteen different martial art styles as described in the classic text, Ji Xiao Xin Shu(繼效新書; "New Book Recording Effective Techniques"; ~ 1559–1561) written by the Ming General Qi Jiguang (戚繼光; 1528–1588).[5][6]

Chen Changxing (陳長興 Chén Chángxīng, Ch'en Chang-hsing, 1771–1853), 14th generation Chen Village martial artist, synthesized Chen Wangting's open fist training corpus into two routines that came to be known as "Old Frame" (老架; lao jia). Those two routines are named individually as the First Form (Yilu; 一路) and the Second Form (Erlu; 二路, more commonly known as the Cannon Fist 炮捶). Chen Changxing, contrary to Chen family tradition, also took the first recorded non-family member as a disciple, Yang Luchan (1799–1871), who went on to popularize the art throughout China, but as his own family tradition known as Yang-style t'ai chi ch'uan. The Chen family system was only taught within the Chen village region until 1928.

Chen Youben (陳有本; 1780~1858), also of the 14th Chen generation, is credited with starting another Chen training tradition. This system also based on two routines is known as "Small Frame" (xiao jia; 小架).[5] Small Frame system of training eventually lead to the formation of two other styles of Tai chi chuan that show strong Chen family influences, Zhaobao jia (趙堡架) and Hulei jia (Thunder style; 忽雷架). However they are not considered a part of the Chen family lineage.

Other origin stories

Some legends assert that a disciple of Zhang Sanfeng named Wang Zongyue (王宗岳) taught Chen family the martial art later to be known as taijiquan.[3]

Other legends speak of Jiang Fa (蔣發 Jiǎng Fā; 1574–1655), reputedly a monk from Wudang mountain who came to Chen village. He is said to have helped transform the Chen family art with Chen Wangting (1771–1853) by emphasizing internal fighting practices.[7] However, there are significant difficulties with this explanation, as it is no longer clear if their relationship was that of teacher/student or even who taught whom.[3]

Recent History

The availability and popularity of Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan is reflective of the radical changes that occurred within Chinese society during the Twentieth century. In the declining period of the Qing Dynasty, the emergence of a Republican government and the policies of the People's Republic of China, Chen Tai Chi Chuan underwent a period of discovery, popularization, repression and finally internationalization.

During the second half of the 19th century, Yang Luchan (杨露禅; 1799–1872) and his family established a reputation of Yang-style t'ai chi ch'uan throughout the Qing empire. Few people knew that Yang Luchan first learned his martial arts from Chen Changxing in the Chen Village. Fewer people still visited the Chen village to improve their understanding of Tai Chi Chuan. Only Wu Yu-hsiang (武禹襄; 1812–1880), a student of Yang Luchan and the eventual founder of Wu (Hao)-style t'ai chi ch'uan (武/郝氏), was known to have briefly studied the Chen Family small frame system under Chen Qingping (陳清平 1795–1868). This situation changed with the fall of the Qing empire when Chinese sought to discover and improve their understanding of traditional philosophies and methods.

In 1928, Chen Zhaopei (陈照丕; 1893–1972) and later his uncle, Chen Fake (陳發科, 陈发科, Chén Fākē, Ch'en Fa-k'e 1887–1957) moved from Chen village to teach in Beijing.[8][9] Their Chen-style practice was initially perceived as radically different from other prevalent martial art schools (including established tai chi "traditions") of the time. Chen Fake proved the effectiveness of Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan through various private challenges and even a series of Lei tai matches.[2] Within a short time, the Beijing martial arts community was convinced of the effectiveness of Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan and a large group of martial enthusiasts started to train and publicly promote it.

The increased interest in Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan led Tang Hao (唐豪; 1887–1959), one of the first modern Chinese martial art historians, to visit and document the martial lineage in Chen Village in 1930 with Chen Ziming.[10] During the course of his research, he consulted with a manuscript written by 16th generation family member Chen Xin (陳鑫; Ch'en Hsin; 1849–1929) detailing Chen Xin's understanding of the Chen Village heritage. Chen Xin's nephew, Chen Chunyuan, together with Chen Panling (president of Henan Province Martial Arts Academy), Han Zibu (president of Henan Archives Bureau), Wang Zemin, Bai Yusheng of Kaiming Publishing House, Guan Baiyi (director of Henan Provincial Museum) and Zhang Jiamou helped publish Chen Xin's work posthumously. The book entitled Taijiquan Illustrated (太極拳圖說 see classic book) was published in 1933 with the first print run of thousand copies.[11]

For nearly thirty years, until his death in 1958, Chen Fake diligently taught the art of Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan to a select group of students. As a result, a strong Beijing Chen-style tradition centered around his "New Frame" variant of Chen Village "Old Frame" survived after his death. His legacy was spread throughout China by the efforts of his senior students.

The Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) resulted in a period of Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan decline. The Chinese government engaged in an active policy to suppress all traditional teachings, including the practice of martial arts. Training facilities were closed and practitioners were prosecuted. Many Chen masters were publicly denounced. For example, Chen Zhao Pei was pushed to the point of attempting suicide[12] and Hong Junsheng was left malnourished. To the great credit of the Chen-style practitioners at that time, training was continued in secret and at great personal risk ensuring the continuation of the tradition.

During the Era of Reconstruction (1976–1989), the policy of repression of traditional Chinese culture was reversed. Under this new climate, Chen tai chi chuan was once again allowed to be practiced openly. Through a series of government-sponsored meetings and various provincial and national tournaments, Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan regained its reputation as an important branch of Chinese martial arts. In addition, those meetings created a new generation of Chen-style teachers.

The start of the internationalisation of Chen-style can be traced to 1981. A t'ai chi ch'uan association from Japan went on a promotional tour to the Chen village. The success of this trip created interest in Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan both nationally and internationally. Soon t'ai chi ch'uan enthusiasts from other countries started their pilgrimage to Chenjiagou. The increasing interest led all levels of the Chinese governments to improve the infrastructure and support of Chen Jia Gou including the establishment of martial art schools, hotels and tourist associations.[13]

In 1983, martial artists from the Chen village received full government support to promote Chen tai chi chuan abroad. Some of the best Chen stylists became international "roaming ambassadors" known as the "Four Buddha Warrior Attendants". Those four Chen stylists including Chen Xiaowang (陳小旺; Chen Fake's direct grandson), Chen Zhenglei (陈正雷; 1949–),[14][15] Wang Xian (王西安)[16] and Zhu Tiancai (朱天才)[17] traveled relentlessly giving global workshops and creating an international group of Chen-style practitioners.

Other well known Chen teachers active in China or overseas include:

  • Chen Yu (陳瑜; grandson of Chen Fake)[18]
  • Li Enjiu (李恩久; disciple of Hong Junsheng)[19]
  • Zhang Xuexin (張學信; disciple of Feng Zhiqiang; teaching in the US),[20]
  • Zhang Zhijun (張志俊),[21]
  • Cheng Jincai (程進才; disciple of Chen Zhaokui; teaching in Houston, TX),[22]
  • Joseph Chen Zhonghua (陳中華; disciple of Hong Junsheng and Feng Zhiqiang; teaching throughout North America),[23]
  • Wu (Peter) Shi-zeng (吴仕增; a student of Hong Junsheng in Australia)[24]
  • Chen Bing (陳炳; Chen Village)[25]
  • Chen Xiaoxing (陳小星; Chen Village)[26]
  • Chen Peishan (陳沛山) and Chen Peiju (陳沛匊) have been influential in promoting the less-known Chen Village Small Frame tradition[27]
  • Chen Huixian (陈会贤; Disciple of Chen Zhenglei teaching in the US) [28]
  • Chou Wenpei (周文沛; Berkeley California) Student of 潘詠周. Promote and Document Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan since 1996 [29]

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 (interest in its neijia skills) or healthy life-style (more lively than Yang style) reasons.

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 (effectively the only tai chi known in the West before that time). Such countries with strong links back to Chen Village include the US, Canada, Britain, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.

T'ai chi ch'uan lineage tree with Chen-style focus

The story of Chen-style Tai chi ch'uan is rich and complex. The lineage tree is a concise summary and highlights some of the important personalities that contributed to its history. However, there are some missing details that can provide insight to the current understanding of this art.

Chen Xin (1849-1929), 8th generation Chen family member, provided one of the most important written description of the Chen style.[11] He was the grandson of Chen Youshen (陈有恒), 6th generation Chen family member. Chen Youshen was the brother of Chen Youben (陈有本), the creator of Small Frame. Chen Xin's father was Chen Zhongshen and Chen Xin's uncle, Chen Jishen were twins. In that 7th generation Chen family, Chen Zhongshen, Chen Jishen, Chen Gengyun (陈耕耘, the son of Chen Chanxing), Yang Luchan (杨露禅, founder of Yang Style) and Chen Qingping(陈清萍, promoter of Zhaobao style Tai chi ch'uan) were all martial artists with exceptional abilities.

Chen Xin initially trained with his father but his father ordered him to study literature rather than the martial arts. It was only later that he decided to use his literature skills to describe his understanding of the secrets of Chen style. In Chen Xin's generation, his older brother, Chen Yao and his cousin, Chen Yanxi(陈延熙, father of Chen Fake) were considered masters of the Chen style. Chen Xin's legacy is his book and his student, Chen Ziming (陈子明). Chen Ziming, went on to promote Chen style small frame throughout China and wrote books [30] promoting the art. Chen Ziming was in the same generation as Chen Fake.

Chen forms

Forms or taolu (Chinese: 套路; pinyin: tàolù) are series of choreographic moves to simulate an attack or defense. They are the key training methods in traditional Chinese martial arts. Chen style tai chi ch'uan is no exception. This art is defined by a distinct training curriculum. But it is not only the external appearance of the movement that differentiate this style from other martial arts, each movement is based on intricate theories unique to this system. Because it is an art, it is subject to the interpretation of each practitioner. The resulting interpretations created subdivision within the style. Each variation of Chen style are due to its history and their particular training insight of the teacher. Currently, the sub division of Chen style t'ai chi ch'uan includes: historical training methods from Chen Village, forms derived from the lineage of Chen Fake commonly known as Big Frame: Old Frame and New Frame, training methods from Chen Fake's student such as Feng Zhiqiang and Hong Junsheng, another Chen village teaching system known as Small Frame and closely related t'ai chi ch'uan traditions of Zhaobao t'ai chi ch'uan (趙堡太極拳).

In the distant past, the effectiveness and efficacy of a training method was determined through actual combat. In the modern era, such tests of skills no longer takes place. There are no recognized central authorities for the martial arts. This had led to the determination of authenticity for any style depending on anecdotal stories or appeal to historical lineage.[31] Chen t'ai chi ch'uan also follows this trend. However, the Chen style practitioner follows a more stringent requirement. According to Chen Fake, the last great proponent of the Chen style in the modern era, the external appearance of the form is not important. A correct Chen style t'ai chi ch'uan form should be based on the same fundamental principle and that each element of a form should have a purpose. In Chen Fake's words: "This set of Taijiquan does not have one technique which is useless. Everything was carefully designed for a purpose." ("这套拳没有一个 动作是空的, 都是有用的"). [8][9] The understanding of each sub-division should be interpreted with this idea in mind.

The fundamental principles for Chen style tai chi chuan are summarized as follows:[6][32]

  • Keeping the head upright (虚领顶劲, xū lǐng dǐng jìn)
  • Keeping the body straight (立身中正, lìshēn zhōngzhèng)
  • Drop the shoulders and sink the elbow (松肩沉肘, sōng jiān chén zhǒu)
  • The chest curve inwards and the waist pressed forward.(含胸塌腰, hán xiōng tā yāo)
  • Sink the energy to the dantian (心气下降, xīn qì xià jiàng)
  • Breath naturally (呼吸自然, hū xī zì rán)
  • Relax the hip and keep the knees bent (松胯屈膝 ,sōng kuà qū xī)
  • The crotch is arch shaped (裆劲开圆, dāng jìn kāi yuán)
  • keep the mind pure and clear (虚实分明, xū shí fēn míng)
  • The top and bottom works together (上下相随. shàng xià xiāng suí)
  • Adjust hardness and softness (刚柔相济, gāng róu xiāng jì)
  • Alternate fast and slow (快慢相间, (kuài màn xiāng jiàn)
  • The external shape is curved (外形走弧线, wài xíng zǒu hú xiàn)
  • The internal energy travels a spiral path (内劲走螺旋, nèi jìn zǒu luó xuán)
  • The body leads the hand (以身领手, yǐ shēn lǐng shǒu)
  • The waist is an axis (以腰为轴, yǐ yāo wèi zhóu)

Historical forms from Chen Village

Historical forms refers to training methods that are described in traditional boxing manuals from Chen village [33] or through oral recollections or through verbal histories.[8][9] Those forms are no longer being practiced since Chen Changxing (陳長興, 1771–1853), 14th generation Chen Village martial artist, reduce the methods into two routines.

Chen Wangting (陳王廷; 陈王庭; 1580–1660), ninth generation Chen Village leader, was credited with the creation of seven routines. Those routines were:[6]

  • The First Set of Thirteen Movements with 66 Forms (头套十三式 66式)
  • The Second Set with 27 forms (二套 27式)
  • The Third Set with 24 forms also known as the Four Big Hammer Set (三套24式 又称大四套捶)
  • Red Fist with 23 forms (红拳 23式)
  • The Fifth Set with 29 forms (五套29式)
  • The Long Fist with 108 forms (长拳 108式)
  • The Canon Fist with 71 forms now commonly known as the second form (炮捶 俗称二路71式)
  • Weapon forms including the broadsword, the sword, the staff and the hook (器械 刀,枪,棍,钩等多种)
  • Two man training routines (对练套路)

The first five sets is known as the five routines of t'ai chi ch'uan (太極拳五路). The 108 form Long Fist (一百零八勢長拳) and a form known as Cannon Fist(炮捶一路) was considered to be a separate curriculum. In terms of weapons, the Chen clan writings described a variety of weapons including: spear, staff, swords, halberd, mace, sickles but the manual specifically describes training for spear, staff, broadsword and straight sword. Pushhands as a means of training was not described in those historical manuals but rather it was described as a form of pair training.

Existing Chen Village Forms: Frames - Large and Small, Old and New

There are three main variants of Chen forms that are being practiced today. Each variant uses the concept of frames (架, jia) to describe the difference in appearance within each form. The concept of frames refer to the general width of stances and range of motion within the form. In Large Frame (大架, da jia ), the standard horse stance is at least two and half shoulder widths wide and hand techniques that are large and expansive in appearance. In contrast, small frame (小架; xiao jia), the standard horse stance is at most two shoulder width wide and the hand techniques are shorter and more compact. Each frame have their own distinctive lineage and training ideas. There are two types of Large Frame: old frame (老架; Lǎo jia) and new frame (新架 xin jia). Both type of large frame are traced directly to the teachings of Chen Fake.

Large frame - old frame tradition

The large frame - old frame system of training consists of two forms. They are known simply as the First form (Yi Lu) and the Second Form (Er Lu)also known as the Canon Fist (pao quan). This system was first taught by Chen Fake in Beijing in 1928. There are 72 moves in the First Form and 42 moves in the Second Form. The historical roots can be traced back to Chen Fake's great grandfather, Chen Changxing (陳長興 Chén Chángxīng, Ch'en Chang-hsing, 1771–1853) who was also the teacher of Yang Luchan. Due to this common lineage, there are similiarites on stances even though more than fifty years separates the Yang training traditions and the form revealed by Chen Fake in Beijing. The description of Yilu in Chen style parlance are: Movements are large and stretching, Footwork is brisk and steady, the body is naturally straight, the entire body controlled by internal energy. (拳架舒展大方,步法轻灵稳健,身法中正自然,内劲统领全身。) The exercise requires the close coordination between mind-intent, internal energy, and the body; the outer appearance is an arc and the internal energy travels along the path of a spiral; the energy winds around so that the external action appears soft but corresponding internal action is hard. (练习时,要求意、气、身密切配合,外形走弧线,内劲走螺旋,缠绕圆转,外柔内刚。) [34]

Erlu training starts after the student is proficient in performing Yilu. Yilu trains the student on the unique principles of Tai chi in contrast Erlu focus on fighting applications based on those principles. In appearance, the Erlu stances are shorter, the moves are faster and more explosive. The intent is that each posture is training for a strike rather than on a grapple and the technique uses the energies of smaller and smaller circles.[35]

Large frame – new frame tradition

An older Chen Fake plays the "xin jia" form he introduced to the world

The Xin Jia (New Frame; 新架) is attributed to Chen Fake, and some regard him as the author of the style, while others see him as the inheritor of a mix of different older methods held by the family that he developed as his own practice. Credit for actual public teaching/spread of these two new routines probably goes to his senior students (especially his son, Chen Zhaokui).

When Chen Zhaokui returned to Chen Village (to assist and then succeed Chen ZhaoPei) to train today's generation of Masters (e.g. the "Four Buddhas") he taught Chen Fake's, unknown (to them) practice methods. Zhu Tian Cai, who was a young man at the time, claims that they all started calling it "xin jia" (new frame) because it was adapted from classic old frame.

Some of the main differences that 'new' frame has compared to 'old' frame are xiongyao zhedie (chest and waist layered folding), which is the coordinated opening and closing of back and chest along with a type of rippling wave (folding) running vertically up and down the dantian/waist area, connected to twisting of the waist/torso. The stances tend to be more compact in the goal of better mobility for fighting applications, while they still remain quite low. This form tends to emphasize manipulation, seizing and grappling (qin na) and a tight method of spiral winding for both long and shorter range striking.

Zhu Tian Cai has commented that the xinjia (new frame) 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.

It was also recounted that by the time of the cultural revolution, Chen Village was losing qualified teachers of Taijiquan, and the resident students (who are now the more famous exponents of the style) had not been taught much in the areas of tuishou (push hand) or martial application methods. It was not until the return of Chen Zhaokui that these methods were covered in detail, over a series of visits. What some called "Xinjia", or Chen Zhaokui's form, was explicitly practiced with the purpose of developing tangible and effective martial arts methods and strengths. This is another reason it was said to be exciting for younger students.

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 (cannon fist). The new frame cannon fist is generally performed faster than the other empty hand forms, at the standardized speed its 83 movements finish in under 15 minutes. !

Small frame tradition

The small frame (xiao jia; 小架) 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" (new frame). Apparently the name change occurred to differentiate it from the new routines that Chen Fake created (from big frame tradition's "old frame" routines) in the 1950s, which then became called "Xin Jia" (by the young men of Chen Village).

Even today some people confuse Chen Fake's altered routines (from big frame tradition's "old frame" 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 practising 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 traditions

Chen taijiquan Beijing's branch (Xinjia)

This branch of Chen t'ai chi ch'uan is accredited to Tian Xiuchen, a student of Chen Fake. Beijing's branch, called Xinjia (New Frame; 新架) by Chen Zhaokui's descendents, is attributed to Chen Fake, and some regard him as the author of the style.

When Chen Zhaokui returned to Chenjiagou he taught Chen Fake's form, unknown to them, and some of the village started calling it "xinjia" (new frame) because it was adapted from classic "laojia" (old frame). Because of this distinction, Chen Fake's disciples decided to name his master style as "Beijing's Chen style" to differentiate it from Chenjiagou "Xinjia" and considered as the 1st generation to Chen Fake. This means that the disciples of Chen Fake continue the chen lineage (18th, 19th, 20th, 21st generation, etc...) but they usually start counting from his sifu.

The most diffusión of this style came through Tian Xiuchen (18 generation Chen style and 2nd generation Beijing's Chen style), the disciple that more time was learning Chen style with Chen Fake. He introduced Taijiquan teaching in Chinese universities.

The lineage of this branch continued with masters Tian Qiutian, Tian Qiumao and Tian Qiuxin (19th generation Chen style and 3rd generation Beijing's Chen style).

Present day we can know Tian Qiutian's disciples: Pan Ying, Bai Shuping and Wang Xiaojun (4th generation). Dr. Wang Xiaojun is a national Wushu referee of China and a graduate supervisor of Beijing Sport University (BSU). He has a PhD in Taiji Quan studies, he is President of National Traditional Chinese Exercise Medicine Institute, after serving as Director of Wushu Department of BSU. He is also a member of Chinese Wushu Association and a director of China Association of Research and Development on Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Zhaobao taijiquan

The Zhaobao Taijiquan shares many stylistic similarities with Chen-style taijiquan due to the influence of Chen Qingping, a Chen Family stylist. His disciples such as He Zhaoyuan and Wu Yuxiang promoted this unique style. Despite the similarities in appearance, this style has its own history, theory and philosophy. This style is considered to be a distinct and separate traditional Chinese martial art.

Chen-style Hun Yuan taijiquan

Hun Yuan t'ai chi ch'uan (Chinese: (traditional) 陳式心意混元太極, (simplified) 陈式心意混元太极) is much like traditional Chen-style Xin Jia with an influence from Shanxi Hsing Yi. It was created by Feng Zhiqiang 馮志強 (one of Chen Fake's senior students). Master Feng, who died on 5 May 2012, was widely considered the foremost living martial artist of the Chen tradition.

"Hun Yuan" refers to the strong emphasis on circular, "orbital" or spiraling internal principles 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.

Specifically, the style synthesizes both Chen tai chi and Xin Yi (both Qigong and, to a lesser degree, martial movements). Outwardly it appears similar to traditional Old Frame Chen forms and teaches beginners/seniors a 24 open-fist form as well as a 24 Qigong system.

The training syllabus also includes 35 Chen Silk-Reeling and condensed 38 and 48 open-fist forms in addition to Chen Fake's (modified) Big Frame forms (87 and 73).

The Hun Yuan tradition is internationally well organised and managed by Master Feng's daughters and his long-time disciples. Systematic and comprehensive theory/practice international teaching conventions are held yearly. Internally trained instructors teach tai chi for health benefits with many also teaching Chen martial-art applications. Master Feng's specially trained "disciple instructors" teach Chen internal martial art skills of the highest level.

Grandmaster Feng in his late years rarely taught publicly but devoted his energies to training Hun Yuan instructors and an inner core of nine "disciples" that included Cao Zhilin, Chen Xiang, Pan Hou Cheng, Wang Fengming and Zhang Xue Xin.

Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan Practical Method

This branch of Chen t'ai chi ch'uan is accredited to Hong Junsheng, a student of Chen Fake. Hong used the term "Practical Method" (实用拳法) to emphasize the martial aspects of his research and training.

Currently Li Enjiu is the Standard Bearer and Chen Zhonghua is International Standard bearer of Chen-style taijiquan Practical Method.

Modern Chen forms

Similar to other family styles of t'ai chi ch'uan, Chen-style has had its frame adapted by competitors to fit within the framework of wushu competition. A prominent example is the 56 Chen Competition form (developed by the Chinese National Wushu Association from lao jia routines) and to a lesser extent the 48/42 Combined Competition form (1976/1989 by the Chinese Sports Committee developed from Chen and three other traditional styles).

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 (75 movements). 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 (synthesized from both lao and xin jia by Chen Xiao Wang), 19 (1995 Chen Xiao Wang), 18 (Chen Zheng Lei) and 13 (1997 Zhu Tian Cai). There is even a 4-step routine (repeated 4 times in a circular progression, returning to start) useful for confined spaces (Zhu Tian Cai).

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

Weapon forms

Chen Tai Chi has several unique weapon forms.

  • the 49 posture Straight Sword (Jian) form
  • the 13 posture Broadsword (Dao) form
  • Spear (Qiang) solo and partner forms
  • 3, 8, and 13 posture Gun (staff) forms
  • 30 posture Halberd (Da Dao/Kwan Dao) 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.[36]

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.[5]

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 methods of push hands[36] that students learn before they can move on to a more free-style push hands structure, which begins to resemble sparring.

Martial application

A martial application exhibiting peng, and rollback.

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 t'ai chi ch'uan uses a wide variety of techniques applied with all the extremities that revolve around the use of the eight gates of tai chi chuan to manifest either kai (expansive power) or he (contracting power) through the physical postures of Chen forms.[1] The particulars of exterior technique may vary between teachers and forms. In common with all neijia, Chen-style aims to develop internal power for the execution of martial techniques, but in contrast to some tai chi styles and teachers includes the cultivation of fa jing skill.[5] 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.


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  2. ^ a b Chen, Mark (2004). Old frame Chen family Taijiquan. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books : Distributed to the book trade by Publishers Group West.  
  3. ^ a b c Wile, Douglas (1995). Lost T'ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch'ing Dynasty (Chinese Philosophy and Culture). State University of New York Press.  
  4. ^ Wile, Douglas (1983). Tai Chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions. Sweet Ch'i Press.  
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  6. ^ a b c 余功保 (2006). Chinese Taijiquan dictionary(中国太极拳辞典). 人民体育出版社.  
  7. ^ Szymanski, Jarek. "The Origins and Development of Taijiquan (tr. from "Chen Family Taijiquan - Ancient and Present" published by CPPCC (the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) Culture and History Committee of Wen County, 1992)". Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c 洪均生 (1989). 陈式太极拳实用拳法/: 十七代宗师陈发科晚年传授技击精萃. 山东科学技术出版社.  
  9. ^ a b c Junsheng Hong (2006). Chen style taijiquan practical method: theory. Zhonghua Chen (trans.). Hunyuantaiji Press.  
  10. ^ Brian Kennedy (8 January 2008). Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey. Blue Snake Books. pp. 50–.  
  11. ^ a b Chen, Xin (1999). "Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan". Jarek Szymanski. Retrieved 27 September 2014. 
  12. ^ Cheng, Jin Cai (June 13, 2004). "Remembering Grandmaster Chen Zhaokui". International Chen Style Tai Chi Development Center. Retrieved 2011-01-22. 
  13. ^ Burr, Martha (1999). "Chen Zhen Lei : Handing Down the Family Treasure of Chen Taijiquan". Kungfu Magazine. Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  14. ^ "Chen Zhenglei Website(陈正雷网站:英文)". Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
  15. ^ "Chen Zhenglei Website(陈正雷太极网:中文)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  16. ^ 王西安拳法研究会 (in Chinese). Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  17. ^ 天才太极院 (in Chinese). Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
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  19. ^ "尚武太极网". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  20. ^ "Zhang Xue Xin (1928–) Chen Style Taiji 19th Generation Master". Feng Zhi-Qiang Chen Style Taijiquan Academy. 2006. Retrieved 2011-01-25. 
  21. ^ "陈式太极--张志俊". 太极乡音( Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  22. ^ "International Chen Style Tai Chi Development Center". Retrieved 2012-05-15. 
  23. ^ Chen, Joseph (2011). "Chen Zhonghua - Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method and Hunyuan Taiji". Hunyuan Taiji Academy. Retrieved 2011-01-25. 
  24. ^ "Chen Style Taijiquan Academy". Retrieved 2011-01-27. 
  25. ^ "Chen Bing Taiji Academy (陳炳太極院)". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  26. ^ "陈小星老师简介". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  27. ^ "ISCT - International Society of Chen Taijiquan/国際陳氏太極拳連盟". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  28. ^ "Chen Huixian Taijiquan Academy". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  29. ^ "Chen Taichi on-line". Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  30. ^ 陈子明 (2008). 太极拳精义. 山西科学技术出版社.  
  31. ^ Peter Allan Lorge (2012). Chinese Martial Arts: From Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge University Press. pp. 7–.  
  32. ^ 王教练 (6 September 2008). "Chinese Tai Chi Martial Arts in Shanghai (上海太极拳培训学习中心 )". 豆瓣(douban). Retrieved 2015-06-04. 
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  34. ^ "陈式太极拳老架一路 (Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan Old Frame First Form)". 互动百科. 1999. Retrieved 11 July 2015. 
  35. ^ Santiago, Xavier (2013-02-15). "Yilu & Erlu". Chen Zhonghua. Retrieved 11 July 2015. 
  36. ^ a b Gaffney, David; Sim, Davidine Siaw-Voon (2009). "4". The Essence of Taijiquan. Warrington, UK: Chenjiagou Taijiquan GB. 


  • Chen, Zhenglei (2003). Chen Style Taijiquan, Sword and Broadsword. Zhengzhou, China: Tai Chi Centre.  

External links


  • "A study of Taijiquan"—Explores the extreme difficulty Westerners face in attempting to explore the history of Tai Chi. (Website maintained by Bing YeYoung, a disciple of Chen Zhaokui).
  • An interview with Ma Hong Student of Chen Zhaokui, on Chen-style.
  • Memory of Chen Fa-Ke by his student 潘詠周.

Contributor Links

  • Beijing Chen Style Taijiquan Association demostration
  • International Society of Chen Taijiquan—ISCT Homepage headed by Chen Peishan and Chen Peiju (20th generation Chen family descendants)
  •—Chen Tai Chi Resources (e.g. videos/explanations of all Chen open fist forms)
  • The World of Taijiquan—Website maintained by Jasmine Bu and Chong Sien Long (both disciples of 19th generation Grandmaster Zhu Tiancai).
  • Chen's Taichi Association - Eastern Canada—Organization operating under the direct guidance of Chen Zhenglei
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