The origin of Tai Chi (Taijiquan) has a couple interesting theories. One theory suggests that during the Yuan and Ming Dynasty, the Daoist Zhang San-Feng, who resided in Shaolin Temple, traveled to Wudang Mountain, and after witnessing a crane battling a snake, he created Taijiquan. The crane always remained hard, while the snake would yield and follow the crane without resisting. By doing so, the snake was able to avoid losing its life to the crane. Zhang San-Feng observed this and realized that softness could control hardness. Wang Zongyue is said to have inherited the teachings of Zhang San-Feng and explained the connection of Taiji Philosophy and Methodology in his T’aiji Treatise:
Taiji is born of infinity, the pivotal function of movement and stillness,
the mother of yin and yang, when it moves, it divides, and when it is still, it unites.
Jiǎng Fā 蔣發 and Chen Wangting 陳王庭
Folklore tell us that Wang passed Taijiquan down to his student Jiǎng Fā 蔣發, who brought it to Chen village, where Chen Wangting is considered to be the founder of Chen Village Martial Arts. One of Chen Wangting’s descendants, Chen Changxing 陳長興 (1771–1853), played a significant role in the evolution of the martial art, by combining the syllabus of Chen Martial Arts into two routines known as Lao Jia 老架 or “Old Frame”. These two routines are named as the First Form 一路 (Yilu) and the Second Form 二路 (Erlu, also called Pao Chui 炮捶, or The Cannon Fist). Interestingly, Chen Changxing also chose to go against the Chen family tradition by taking on Yang Luchan (1799–1871), a non-family member, as his disciple. Yang Luchan and his descendants went on to make the art popular throughout the world, but under their own family tradition known as Yang Style Taijiquan.
Chen Style Taijiquan was taught only in the Chen village region until 1928 when Chen Fake 陳發科 (1887–1957) moved to Beijing. Initially, his style was seen as different from other martial art schools. He proved its effectiveness through private challenges and full contact Lei-tai matches. Quickly, the Beijing martial arts community became convinced of Chen Fake’s Gongfu ability and started promoting Chen Style Taijiquan publicly.
Chen Fake with his earliest disciples:
Front row (L-R): Zhao Zhongmin, Chen Zhaoxu, Liu Musan, Chen Fake, Chen Yuxia (daughter).
Back row (L-R): Zhang Yifan, Hong Junsheng, Yang Yichen, Liu Liang.
Hong Junsheng, a prominent figure in the world of Taijiquan, was one of the closest and most dedicated disciples of Chen Fake. Hong became his disciple in 1930, and continued to study with him until 1944 when he moved to his ancestral home in Jinan, Shandong. Although Hong Junsheng had to leave his teacher due to circumstances at that time, he never stopped paying close attention to his progress in the art. When Hong returned to Beijing to study with Chen Fake in 1956, the master was delighted to see his earliest disciple, and spent considerable effort in making meticulous modifications to the original movements of Hong’s forms and applications. As a result of his close association with Chen Fake, Hong Junsheng’s Taijiquan was significantly enhanced both in terms of its martial effectiveness and its philosophical depth.
After returning to Jinan, Hong taught his method of Taijiquan with a strong emphasis on the practical martial aspects of training, uniting the Gōng (功) and Fǎ (法) components of practice. For almost four decades until his passing in 1996, Hong Junsheng taught his practical method of Taijiquan in Jinan, passing on his knowledge and skills to numerous students who would go on to become accomplished martial artists themselves. His legacy continues to inspire and influence people around the world, who are drawn to the practical and holistic approach of his Taijiquan method.
Master Liu Chengde’s journey in the art of Taiji began in 1964 when he started practicing the Yang style under the guidance of Master Sun Bin. However, it was not until three years later that he encountered his true teacher, Master Hong Junsheng. This meeting proved to be a pivotal moment in Master Liu’s life as he spent the next thirty years studying and practicing Taijiquan alongside his mentor. During his years of training, Master Liu developed an unyielding dedication to the art that he had chosen to pursue. Under the tutelage of Master Hong Junsheng, he learned the intricacies of Taijiquan, push hands, fighting applications and a deep understanding of its philosophical aspects. He also learned the traditional Taijijian sword from Chen Fake’s daughter Chen Yuxia.
Master Liu’s devotion to his craft is reflected in his consistent practice, tireless efforts in refining his technique, and teaching his students with utmost sincerity. Master Liu’s contribution to the spread and preservation of Chen Taijiquan has been remarkable. With his vast knowledge of the art, he has trained numerous students who have gone on to become respected teachers and practitioners themselves. Through his teachings and demonstrations, Master Liu has inspired many to take up this ancient martial art form and experience the myriad of benefits that it has to offer. Despite his age, Master Liu Cheng De continues to practice and teach Taijiquan with the enthusiasm of a young aspirant. His unwavering commitment to his art form and his legacy of instilling passion and love for Taijiquan in his students remain a testament to his mastery and devotion to Chen Taijiquan.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to study under Master Liu Cheng De for more than twenty-five years now. In conclusion, Taiji is not just a physical exercise or a martial art, but a complete system of philosophy and lifestyle that has evolved over centuries. Its origins may be shrouded in mystery and mythology, but one thing is certain – it has stood the test of time and continues to benefit the lives of millions of people around the world. By tracing the roots of this ancient practice, we gain a deeper appreciation for its richness and complexity, and we can better understand its relevance in our modern lives. Let us continue to practice and honor Taiji as a treasure of our heritage and a source of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Master Liu Chengde, Stan Tabor Bai Shi “Discipleship Ceremony” 2007, Jinan China
Through the practice of Taiji, we can cultivate inner peace, improve our posture and balance, and sharpen our focus and concentration. If you want to learn more about Taiji and Qigong and experience its benefits for yourself, I invite you to try my Tai Chi For Vitality And Tranquility course.