Why the Chen and Yang Tai Chi forms follow the same pattern. The Myth of Tai Chi part 6 – our final episode!

Sun YatSen, the provisional first president of the Republic of China and the first leader of the Kuomintang the Nationalist Party of China.

In our last look at Tai Chi for a while, we examine the context of the times in which Chen Zhaopei and Chen Fake became prominent for their martial arts in Beijing, and then at a national level, joining the wave of commerciality that had been originally instigated by the legacy of Yang Luchan and the Wu brothers. In addition we explain why the forms are similar in general order between the Yang/Wu and Chen lineages.


Here’s some Chen Canon Fist (mentioned in the podcast episode, posted here as a visual reference) – – under the Heretical Hypothesis this would be representative of the “original stuff” of the Chen village. Everybody is free to make their own mind up 🙂

11 thoughts on “Why the Chen and Yang Tai Chi forms follow the same pattern. The Myth of Tai Chi part 6 – our final episode!

  1. Given that even the Yang family freely concedes that Yang Lu Chan learned the Chen-style in Chen Village, this loose denigration of the Chens as “Tai Chi branding” is a bit silly. The Yang-style is the one that took an already-established Chen-style and tried to “re-brand” it as their own and as a different, better martial art.

    Chen Zhaopei and Chen FaKe did not go to Beijing and rest on the laurels of “Tai Chi” as claimed by the Yang stylists: both FaKe and Zhaopei accepted challenges openly and could not be beat. During that time, no Yang stylist dared challenge them, either.

    Wu TuNan, BTW, was really a shallow, untalented Taiji player; he became known in Taijiquan largely due to the fact that he was an officer in the Chinese Communist Party and wielded political influence which no one wanted to trifle with. Other than that, no opinion expressed by Wu TuNan is worth repeating.

  2. Thanks for your comments Richard.

    Let’s start by saying the explanation given for why Yang and Chen have similar (not “the same”) form patterns is not the “final argument” in the sense that it was a key or pivotal argument to the podcast. It’s was more of a “mopping up” episode. It was the final argument in a chronological sense though, you are correct.

    The podcast slowly builds an argument for Tai Chi as a brand, over several episodes. That’s what needs to be addressed, not picking at little details.

    However, and let’s be clear about this, it is presented as a hypothesis, not as fact. It’s Damon’s opinion. Other hypothesis are available 🙂

    I find your point about the use of similar but different names a bit obtuse. In short, I don’t get it. The use of names of form postures has always seemed a strange way to build an argument to me. You see it often done when looking at Tai Chi history though, the names in General Qi’s Ming Dynasty chapter on martial arts, the postures he describes use a lot of phrases found in Tai Chi, ergo Tai Chi must be linked to whatever art he is describing back in the Ming dynasty. But it doesn’t work like that.

    I don’t think the names of postures in Chinese martial arts were ever that important – I think they were flexible too – could be changed or alternatives used, often on a whim. They were just aids to teaching, not the thing being taught itself. They only matter when you are writing books.

    As to why there are differences between form posture lists – why not? It would be a lot to remember them all exactly. Differences are only natural. Reading and writing was not one of the skills required to be a martial arts teacher.

    It would seem obvious to me that in adopting a new form into their existing Chen martial arts (according to the Heretical Hypothesis) they would use some of the existing posture names they used before. And also that there would be slight differences in the Chen forms between masters, that would eventually be ironed out over time by politically motivated standardisation efforts (Guoshu movement, then Wushu movement, etc).

    So I’d agree with your statement:

    “Applying Occam’s Razor, the simplest answer is that there was a form pre-existing Chen Zhaopei that everyone learned but counted and even named somewhat differently.”

    Yes! – it was Chen martial arts, not Tai Chi. In creating “Chen Taijiquan” in the Republican era they mixed the Wu/Yang and Chen names together.

    I also don’t understand this:

    “most harmful to the Chen Zhaopei hypothesis of why the forms are the same is the Li Yuyi’s manuscript. Written in 1881, it uses many of the same form names overall sequence that the Chen family did.”

    And? The podcast is saying this is because Chen Zhaopi roughly adapted whatever he knew to fit whatever was in Beijing called “Tai Chi Chuan” in 1929 (I think that was the date he arrived in Beijing – I could be wrong). So that’s why the posture names are similar to the Li manuscript.

    Remember, nothing is published (at all) about Chen Taijiquan until after Chen Zhaopi enters Beijing. Tai Chi as a marital art has been up and running for a very, very long time at this point – over 30 years.

    And we have no idea what Chen Yanxi or Du’s form looked like back in the day, only several years later (decades), and after several politically motivated reformations of the martial arts. Videos of them or their students are all after the Guoshu movement, and post the Communist revolution, etc. I don’t think recordings from the 1980s can be relied on to give an accurate picture of what Chen Yanxi was teaching. It would have inevitably beein influenced by what would then commonly be known as “Chen Taijiquan”.

    “However, we have a new candidate for creating the Chen Yilu, Chen Xin. Both, he and Ziming, use Taijiquan branding. Wu Tunan, a lifelong adversary of the Chen family, claims to have visited Chenjiagou in 1917 and met with Chen Xin. While this meeting was neither acknowledged or verified, it might be a point where the Chen family could have taken up Taijiquan branding, but the Chen family did not learn the form nor get form names from Wu Tunan.”

    Interesting, however like you say, it’s speculation. Wu Tunan seems to have lied about everything, including his age. Either way, 1917 is many years after the life of Yang LuChan, and therefore doesn’t effect the overall Heretical Hypothesis of Tai Chi Chuan.

    Sorry if I have misunderstood any of the points you are making, if I have then the error is mine.



  3. Thanks for your efforts to superimpose Taijiquan events into Chinese history and give us context for background of our art. I agree that branding is a satisfying way for us, today, to characterize the developments in how the Yang family, the Wu brothers and others treated taijiquan.

    There were several places in your lengthy arguments, however, where I thought you made some logical leaps that fell short and ignored some facts, which would have taken your conclusions in different directions. I set aside most of those for now and only address one that was a linchpin to your final argument about same forms.

    While I think you were correct that Chen Zhaopei and Chen Fake rode on the coattails of the Tajiquan brand, your hypothesis that Chen Zhaopei, or even Chen Fake, copied the form structure found in Beijing but performed it with their family martial art does not fit with evidence that the form now known as the Chen Yilu pre-existed Zhaopei and Chen Fake.

    Let’s first get relationships and dates sorted out. Chen Fake (1887-1957) was Chen Yanxi’s third son. His two older brothers died of disease.

    Fake’s uncle, Yanxi’s brother, was Yannian (birth and death unknown), so his son, Fake’s first cousin, was Chen Dengke, Chen Zhaopei’s father. So, Fake and Zhaopei were first cousins once-removed even though Zhaopei was only six years younger.

    Chen Zhaopei’s son says that Zhaopei (1893-1972) studied with Dengke, Yanxi, Fake and theory with Chen Xin (d. 1929). Zhaopei left the village in his 21st year (1913) and moved to Beijing in 1928. Fake left the Chen Village for Beijing in August of 1928. He would have been in his 42nd year.

    While the theory that Zhaopei, or even Fake, created the Chen Yilu form comprised of Cannon Fist, or other family martial art, movements but conforming to the sequence taught at that time in Beijing sounds reasonable, but is ludicrous in the details.

    First, while Zhaopei’s form sequence was the same and the names sound similar those that were already in Beijing, as noted by Xiang Kairen in 1929 https://brennantranslation.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/xiang-kairans-taiji-experience/ (Pay attention to the third and fourth text blocks) and published by Chen Zhaopei, himself, in 1930. https://brennantranslation.wordpress.com/2019/09/01/an-introduction-to-chen-style-taiji/ The names were different and the differences confusing noted by Xiang. Why not match those already in use by Taiji practitioners in Beijing?

    Here is Chen Mengsong, Zhaopei’s grandson, at 50, performing his grandfather’s form according to requirement of both Zhaopei and Fake when they first came to Beijing that the back of the calf touch the ground. https://youtu.be/zq_1rzwTeGc?t=60

    Second, why would Chen Fake have chosen still different names from Chen Zhaopei as evidenced by Fake’s student, Pan Yongzhou who started his studies with Fake in 1930. http://www.kokolia.cz/taiji/taijiGenealogie/Chen_Pan.html Pan in this list notes later changes to the way the forms were enumerated. Here he performs Fake’s 64-count form. https://youtu.be/GvWGBYOEcoo

    Third, Xiaojia, taught in a separate branch of the family, essentially 3rd cousins. Chen Xin (1849-1929), a Confucian scholar, wrote *The Illustrated Book of Chen Taijiquan* over a 12-year period (1908-1919). Note the use of the Taijiquan brand. One volume of the book illustrated the Xiaojia first form. Since Xin died in 1929, it was quite unlikely that Zhaopei wrote from Beijing telling him to enumerate an Yilu form quickly before he died. Since the manuscript was not published until 1933, it was possible, but unlikely, that over half of text was modified after Xin’s death to include a form a little different once again from Chen Fake’s or Chen Zhaopei’s. http://www.chinafrominside.com/ma/taiji/chenxin.html

    Also, Chen Ziming, Chen Xin’s student, published *The Inherited Chen Family Taiji Boxing Art* in 1931. While he was fully up to speed on Taijiquan branding issues, which he addressed in his book. He presented yet another list of form names enumerated differently even than his teacher’s, https://brennantranslation.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/taiji-boxing-according-to-chen-ziming/

    I won’t even get into Zhaobao and other lineages, but they all point to the same place.

    So, why so many varying lists of form names?

    Applying Occam’s Razor, the simplest answer is that there was a form pre-existing Chen Zhaopei that everyone learned but counted and even named somewhat differently.

    However, we have a new candidate for creating the Chen Yilu, Chen Xin. Both, he and Ziming, use Taijiquan branding. Wu Tunan, a lifelong adversary of the Chen family, claims to have visited Chenjiagou in 1917 and met with Chen Xin. While this meeting was neither acknowledged or verified, it might be a point where the Chen family could have taken up Taijiquan branding, but the Chen family did not learn the form nor get form names from Wu Tunan.

    Furthermore, we have Du Yuze and Fu Zhensong who both studied with Chen Yanxi. Fu Zhensong (1872-1953) claimed to have studied “Taijiquan” with Yanxi at in Biyang, Henan starting in 1888. And, Du Yuze studied Chen family martial arts for six years with Yanxi about 1914, then with Chen Meng Biao who took over the position with the Du family. Here is Du Yuze performing the Chen Taijiquan Yilu. https://youtu.be/yfy7XVSugUU

    This form followed the sequence of all modern versions of the Chen form, and with more variation, Yang, Wu and Wu/Hao forms, yet Du had no contact with the Chen Family after about 1925 when Mengbiao died.

    Finally, and most harmful to the Chen Zhaopei hypothesis of why the forms are the same is the Li Yuyi’s manuscript. Written in 1881, it uses many of the same form names overall sequence that the Chen family did. While it is not proof, it is evidence that although Yang Luchan may of may not have visited then Chen Village, Wu Yuxiang or one of his family evidently did.

    The simplest explanation again is that a form with a sequence that all Taijiquan systems share has existed since at least the mid-1800s. There is even circumstantial evidence that the foundation for this form is much older, since the first of five sets in the traditional, before Chen Changxing, Chen Family martial art was a 64/66-count form called the Thirteen Postures.

  4. Oh no, I think we’re taking a break from Tai Chi. 🙂 Now we’ve solved that mystery, I think we’ll do the Bermuda Triangle next 🙂

  5. Graham, you and Damon should tee up for 18 episodes on Sal’s book. 😏

    I still think it’s a stretch to say YLC never went to Chenjiagou for training before heading to Beijing. Come on, haven’t you seen “Tai Chi Zero” and “Tai Chi Hero”? The whole noble-peasants-in-the-field philosophy from nature i s laid out, shamanic inspiration to steampunk commercialization to confronting the Confucian political hierarchy in Beijing protected by baguazhang.

    The third film in the planned trilogy was never made. This is your big opportunity—write the script where YLC goes to Beijing and meets the Wu brothers, court politics flip and he’s alone in the big city with a family to support. 😏

  6. I’m a “dabbler” … sure … but that’s all that I’ve ever claimed to be, in terms of specific martial arts. My interest is in body mechanics, as you should have known. I don’t expound upon martial-arts history without even understanding the basic underlying body mechanics: that’s why I keep asking for examples of body mechanics. The thread that ties the Chinese martial arts together is the body mechanics that they all give acknowledgement to. You know … you may have even seen some of the very basic acknowledgements to the sameness of Chinese martial arts, if you’ve been around them enough to have seen this symbol: ☯

  7. I skimmed through it to find the salient area. Like I said, “western dabblers”. Where can I find a demonstration of your ‘expert’s’ Taiji movements so that I can see how informed he is? You could take the same incidents he mentions and come up with a myriad of other speculations. Let’s see … you’re off into “if-maybe” histories on Taiji and on the operatic origins of CMA’s: what does that tell us about your acumen and knowledge? 😉

    None of these obscure western takes on Chinese martial arts would last long in China, BTW. These exotic ruminations are by western dabblers and for western dabblers. It’s kind of like how many westerners think that “Empty Force” is a viable martial arts discussion, not knowing that they would just get the dead-eye if they tried to seriously offer the idea up in a group of actual Chinese martial artists.

  8. I’m just impressed we made Mike “I’ve never listened to a podcast in my entire life” Sigman listen to a podcast. 🙂

  9. Skill with a prescribed model of shenfa is not relevant to being qualified to make observations on broad currents in history, any more than being a Ph.D. historian on a craft makes one a highly-skilled artisan.

    With respect to the history of the taolu, Graham, one interesting piece of oral history in the Wu Jianquan line of Wu(3) family taijiquan, from WJQ’s son-in-law Ma Yueh-liang, is that what was passed down in the first three generations of both the Yang and Wu families was the fast form.

    According to this story, the slow solo form publicly taught in Beijing and then Shanghai beginning in the late 1910s and 1920s was developed by Wu Jianquan (in that line) and Yang Yuting (Beijing school of Wu style), and YCF and his coterie for Yang style—in all cases for the public teaching of large group classes (of paying students). This is what CZP and then CFK would have encountered coming to Beijing in 1928 (CFK basically poached entire classes from the Beijing Wu school, according to recollections of the late Hong Junsheng). Public group classes are of course very different from the close-family learning environment CZP and CFK would have been familiar with in Chenjiagou—the kind of small-batch training that preserved at least vestiges of the Chen family art through the ravages of the mid-twentieth century to high-altitude garages in the West. Add in timely political connections in Beijing (Gu Luxin) and Wen County, the wisdom of the peasant masses imagined by Tang Hao and mass production of silk pyjamas, and you have the Disneyesque exploitation of folk legend and vague philosophy to a genuine economic success story in Chenjiagou, where the leader of the band now enjoys hundreds of disciples both domestic and foreign paying handsomely for the privilege to LARP , making him a millionaire several times over and bringing boom times to Henan’s version of Orlando.

    Wu Jianquan and Yang Chengfu moved their teaching from Beijing to Shanghai in 1928–leaving a vacuum in the taiji marketplace of Beijing that CZP successfully exploited.

    A “fast” or usage solo form is retained in multiple extant teaching lines from Li I-yu, Wu Yuxiang’s nephew, including Li’s direct family as well as Hao Weizhen. Dong Yingjie learned this from Hao Weizhen and retained it in his family teaching after later becoming a student of YCF. Similar usage forms with interesting applications and jin come down in at least one extant line from Yang Shaohu (he did have a few disciples). These lines all teach some version of the large-frame slow, evenly-paced taolu as a foundational training form.

    None of this meandering challenges Damon’s central thesis in this sixth episode of his taiji musings, just adds some additional detail.

  10. I had to give up on this one. Can we see a small demonstration of Taijiquan from your speaker, please? Some of his explanations and observations are so bizarre that now I’m curious about his actual credentials to theorize.

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