Thoughts on Chen Taijiquan Illustrated #1 – Yang style vs Chen style

The newest addition to my collection!

My copy of Chen Taijiquan Illustrated arrived, and I’ve almost finished it. It’s an easy read since the word count isn’t very high – it’s essentially a series of high quality training notes, illustrated, which I think really helps to convey the message in a way that text alone cannot. I’m not going to do a full review for a while, I’m going to let the book sink in first, but I might do a series of posts on ideas it has sparked in me.

Here’s the first one.

The thing I wanted to talk about today was how similar Chen style (as described in this book) is to Yang style. I think a Yang stylist would get almost as much out of this book as a Chen stylist. While the content and methods described in the book all clearly derive from Chen style, as do the illustrations, I’d say 90% (or more) of what’s described here is exactly the same as Yang style.

So what’s different? Bits and bobs on silk reeling, some stepping methods and stance details and the bits on fajin. But even then, they’re not something alien to a Yang stylist, and would be easily within reach of anybody who wanted to take their practice in that direction.

What’s the same? The emphasis on posture is really good here – how to round the back, contain the chest, round the kua, the eight energies, the 5 steps, push hands strategy and training methods, quotes from the classics, being centred and upright, rooting, the dantien, martial applications, etc.

What was I surprised not to find more of? Opening and closing using the 5 bows, and empty and solid. Perhaps more on using the force from the ground… There are mentions of these things throughout, but the book never really goes deeply into them. Perhaps it was too complex for the illustrated book-based approach? There’s only so much you can fit in one book, and there’s plenty of content here.

However, the emphasis on the body requirements of Tai Chi, and explanation of why these things are done, is excellent and transfers effortlessly across Tai Chi styles. It’s reminded me a lot how similar Yang style and Chen style are ‘under the hood’, so to speak. I wrote a post recently where I talked about them being similar but different. I still kind of think that. My view is that at some point Chen style incorporated the ideas contained in “Taijiquan” wholesale from Yang Luchan’s lucrative teaching business in Beijing into its larger, pre-existing, village style (which was more militia fighting and weapons-based) – it absorbed it whole – a bit like a whale swallowing a smaller fish. It was easy because all Chinese styles are similar to some extent. But of course, this means that the Yang style is still there inside Chen, and it’s impossible not to see how ‘almost the same’ they are when reading this book. (I think the spiraling and silk reeling stuff was from the pre-existing Chen style). Your opinion may be different. Food for thought!

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on Chen Taijiquan Illustrated #1 – Yang style vs Chen style

  1. Hi Mike,

    Well for somebody who doesn’t care to much, you have an awful lot to say. Let’s just leave it at that then.


  2. Hi Graham:

    Well, I’m not all that concerned about the heresy, but I think you’re pretty much putting yourself out there as a target for disapprobation with your theories. I note that your mainstays to Chinese martial arts are actually Brits like you, so maybe that’s where you got it. If you’re unclear whether there was a Yang Lu Chan there are several easy routes. First of all would be the provincial gazetteers, which recorded everyone born and died in China, as best as possible. The second would be to confront members of the current Yang family and tell them that you doubt their bona fides … that should go over pretty well. Lastly, there are the families of the students of Yang Lu Chan, Yang Banhou, Yang Chienhou, etc. I doubt they would do anymore than raise their eyebrows at you and call the mental health authorities. 😉

    If you knew much about Taijiquan, you’d see the relationship of the “Official Yang Style” to the Chen-style is very obvious. The Yang-family proper acknowledges that Yang Lu Chan learned his Taijiquan in Chen Village, although they avoid the mention of YLC’s status as a servant to Chen De Hu and they never discuss whether YLC was illiterate.

    I personally don’t really care that much what people want to believe. My oft-stated observation is that if Yang Lu Chan learned his Taijiquan in Chen Village and they also set him free, the people who try to diminish Chen Village aren’t doing much good to benefit the village that gave the very impetus to YLC’s fame and fortune.


  3. Hi Mike!

    Long time no speak. My Heretical view on Tai Chi is this: Chen Village Martial Arts (CVMA) are way older than Yang LuChan (YLC) and Tai Chi. It somehow got associated with what YLC was doing in Beijing. That was no bad thing because it was the way to fame and riches, so they just hopped on the Tai Chi bus and went with it, especially when the Communist Party wanted to make Chen village (rural) the historical home of Tai Chi instead of Beijing (urban) because it sounded more Communist. Unlike the other theories of its origins.

    Obviously this goes against the Communist Party line that you’re following, but I think it’s a valid theory. But there is no historical evidence that Yang LuChan even existed, let along went to Chen village or Beijing, so you can take your pick of theories. The first historical reference we have is to Yang BanHou teaching in Beijing. The name “Taijiquan” seems to have been an Beijing invention anyway.

    I’m not a Chen hater. I think the older Chen village martial arts that are preserved in Taijiquan are way more interesting than modern day Yang by a long stretch and seem to have way more depth. To get that rich, something has to be really old, and it is.

    I appreciate my view is heretical, but you can take it or leave it. I’m not trying to force it on anyone. It just makes the most sense to me.


  4. Graham, sometimes your conclusions are simply baffling. Yang LuChan was a servant for Chen De Hu in Chen Village. He wasn’t even literate. He was only taught the first Chen form, which is why the Yang-style has no second form the equivalent of the Laojia Erlu. The idea that the Chenstyle absorbed the information of the Yang-style is ludicrous: not even the Yang Family would make such a claim. Besides, Yang Lu Chan came back to Chen Village either 2 or 3 times for corrections from Chen Changxing … not the other way around.

    Worse yet, the “Official Yang Style” was devised by Yang Cheng Fu from what he could remember he was taught during his childhood. Even YCF’s biographers state that YCF didn’t really start practicing Taiji seriously until he was 30 years old. No doubt looking for a way to make some income. That’s why the Yang-style has even lost the use of the dantian. The idea that the Chens borrowed from the Yang guy that was a servant in the village, or his later descendants, just boggles the mind. But it’s entertaining. 😉


  5. Pingback: Ji – To press or crowd in | The Tai Chi Notebook

  6. Pingback: Reflexiones sobre Taijiquan Chen ilustrado n. 1 - Estilo Yang versus estilo Chen - Artes Marciales

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s