Taijiquan, which is better, or is it all personal preference….
I’ve been thinking, which Taijiquan style is “real” or “best”? Is there a best, or are they just different? Is there a style that has a better grasp on what Taijiquan is really supposed to be?
First, I want to say, this is all my opinion based on my training, and things I have read over the last, darn near. 30 years training Taijiquan. Also, I am only talking about the following systems (family styles) here; Chen, Zhaobao, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu, and Sun. I have trained the following, in order of longest to shortest amount; Yang, Chen, Wu, Sun. And I am considering Wu/Hao at the moment. And I doubt there are any answers in anything I am about to type…. I’m trying to figure this out myself….or if there is actually anything to figure out to begin with.
The Chen family is given credit, and takes credit, for developing Taijiquan. However the folks from Zhaobao village claim they developed their taijiquan from the same source the Chen family developed their style from at roughly the same time.
Legend says that taijiquan comes from Zhang Sanfeng, a Taoist priest. There is no verifiable historical proof of his existence; dates, times, etc., and length of life attributed to him vastly disagree, and some even say he is an immortal. This is all based on books written by reputable folks who are simply repeating what they were told by their shifu. Also note there is a Wudang Taoist style of taijiquan that claims its origin to Zhang Sanfeng (One of my old MT threads about Zhang Sanfeng)
However there is a link between Chen Village and Zhaobao village in the form of Chen Qingping ( 陳清苹, 1795-1868) more on him in a bit. Also note the Chen family denies any link to a mystical Taoist named Zhang Sanfeng.
Chen, and/or Zhaobao, being first, does that make them better, or the true taijiquan. Does being first mean that yours is the true essence of a thing? Or do those that take it from you develop it and make it better, or is it just different? The style is rather different in appearance to what you see from all other styles, except for Zhaobao which is similar. Also, Chen is said to have changed since the founder, Chen Wangting (1580–1660), designed it. There may have been one long form that was later split into Laojia Yilu and Laojia Erlu, and then Xinjia and a few others too. I once trained a form of Chen that was called Shandong Province Old Style Chen that was supposed to be from before the split and closer to what Chen Wangting did. But there is no way to know that for sure.
Yang Taijiquan comes from Chen style. Yang Luchan (1799 – 1872), founder of Yang style taijiquan, who it is believed studied Changquan in his youth, later trained with his teacher Chen Changxing (1771 – 1853). From here Yang Luchan developed Yang style taijiquan. Sadly, we really do not know what original Yang style looked like. It is very likely that it had obvious fajin in it, which was later removed by his Grandson, Yang Chengfu (1883–1936). But it is also said to have been changed by Yang Luchan’s son, Yang Jianhou (1839–1917), who is the father of Yang Chengfu. It is also believed that the style of Yang Luchan was unchanged by his other son. Yang Banhou (1837–1890). Yang Banhou was the teacher of Yang Jianhou’s older son, Yang Shaohou (1862 – 1930). But we still do not know exactly what Yang Luchan, Yang Jianhou, Yang Banhao or Yang Shaohou taught. There are many who claim lineage to them, but many are doing a slow, fajin free, taijiquan form. And it is highly unlikely that anything directly from Yang Luchan was without obvious Fajin, so most of their claims, although they may be telling us exactly what their teacher told them, are likely false. Add to that the current Yang families work to delete any other form of Yang Taijiquan from history, other than that which comes from Yang Chengfu, and you find it very hard to figure out if a claim about links to Yang Luchan, Yang Banhou, Yang Shaohou, or even Yang Jianhou are real or not. I have seen one who made this claim and there is obvious fajin and it looks like Yang, but even then, without research there is no way to know if it is really from Yang Luchan or Yang Banhou. But, does any of this mean that it is better taijiquan than Chen or Zhaobao. Does the changes made by Yang Luchan show a better understanding or a further development of Taijiquan. And, for that matter, does the removal of obvious fajin show the same? Or are they just different? Is what we have today from Yang Chengfu better than all of them? I tend to think not, but that is only my opinion.
On to Wu/Hao style. Wu Yuxiang (1812–1880) was a scholar who wrote many books on taijiquan. He trained in 2 styles of taijiquan before he came up with the style that later became Wu/Hao. The first is likely Chen but it could be Zhaobao, since his teacher was Chen Qingping, although there are claims it was Chen Changxing. The reality is more likely that Changxing was too old to teach and referred him to Chen Qingping, which I tend to believe based on the years we are talking about. He later trained Yang style with Yang Luchan and this is historically true. From that combination of styles, Wu/Hao style emerged, and changed, from what was originally done. There is a bit more to it when you are talking the Wu/Hao style of today and this link will give you the additional history
But did this combination of styles give Wu Yuxiang insight into taijiquan that his teachers did not have? Was he able to better understand things because he was a scholar? Is what he developed better, or did it show a deeper understanding? Or again, is it just different?
On to Wu style (not the same as Wu/Hao, not even related) Wu Quanyou (1834 – 1902) was a military officer, possibly a palace guard, during the Qing dynasty and he was a Manchu. He learned taijiquan from Yang Luchan, or at least that is the claim, some also say he learned from Yang Banhou. It is believed he actually learned from Yang Luchan’s son, Yang Banhou. In talking with my Yang Shifu, he does not believe that the Yang family actually taught Wu Quanyou the full Yang Taijiquan. He does believe they taught him a partial version that was basically defense without anything for attack. He thinks this based on what he was told by his teacher (Tung Ying Chieh, 1867 - 1961). Yang Luchan was a Han and from the Ming Dynasty and they believe he would not teach an enemy (Manchu) how to attack Han people. And refusing to teach a Manchu military officer/palace guard was not a good idea in those days either. Now this is possible, but even if it is true, Wu Quanyou was a Manchu military officer and already knew how to fight before he trained taijiquan. Wu style is rather different in its stances and extended attacks as compared to Yang style and I am of the belief that this is where Wu Quanyou’s prior training in marital arts shows up. Then, do we really know what Wu Quanyou actually did? It was changed by his son Wu Jianquan (1870–1942). It was then changed again when it went to Shanghai and changed again when it went to Hong Kong. Today there is a Northern Wu style, that is based in Beijing that is supposed to be similar to what was done by Wu Jianquan, and it looks different than the Southern (current) Wu family style, which is now based in Toronto Canada.
Now, don’t take this wrong, I rather like Wu style taijiquan, would even train it if I lived in Toronto, but my Yang Shifu does not feel it is actually taijiquan and it took me a long time, and work with the style, to figure out why and later to agree with him. It does not follow many of the basics of taijiquan as they come from Chen or Yang. But still, this is my opinion, and I could be wrong, still, I don’t look at it as a taijquan. Could it simply be that Wu Quanyou and those that came after him changed it to something better, because of their background and training? Could it be that Wu family came up with something that Taiji people from other styles just can’t grasp?
Yang Chengfu’s 10 essentials
Chen Taijiquan Essential Principles
Then we come to Sun style, of Sun Lutang (1860 – 1933). Sun Lutang was a rather accomplished martial artist before he ever trained taijiquan. He was considered a master of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang before he ever trained taijiquan with Hao Weizhen (1842 – 1920) (Hao Weizhen - Wikipedia) Did Sun Lutang’s background and expertise in Xingyiquan and Baguazhang give him a better understanding about all thing internal and make his Taijiquan a better type of Taijiquan?
I’ve done some Sun style, and I like it. And even though it is called an old people’s style, due to the higher stances, I think it is the style that shows the most obvious applications in the postures. Also, it has a follow step that is very similar to the follow step that you see in a much later style called Jeet Kune Do. But to be honest, I am not sure it would be considered taijiquan if you are using the basics of Chen and Yang style as a test to prove if it is taijiquan or not. I am still working with it and maybe someday I will figure it out. But not for one second would I believe that I know more about any of this than Sun Lutang…or for that matter any of the people I have mentioned here.
I do know doing something slow does not make it taijiquan, if that were the case you could take any Karate, TKD, or Wushu form and slow it down and call it taijiquan and it simply does not hold true. And when thinking of things like this you have to take in to account that there is a lot of trash talk between styles of taijiquan, so figuring any of this out, based on some of the written history, by reputable sources in Taijiquan, is not easy.
Then, the whole thing could come down to what style is best for you. Where one person swears by Chen style and berates all others, there is likely another doing Wu and looking at all others as doing a bad job. And it could be, and likely is, understanding could also come down to what style fits you best (personal preference), and that is something I am still trying to figure out after almost 30 years.
Years ago, Chen Zhenglei came to my area for a seminar, and my wife was going to be his translator. My Yang shifu wanted me to tell Chen hello and welcome him to the area. My Yang Shifu then said “Chen style is a good taijiquan, just the stances are to low”. I meant with Chen Zhenglei and told him my shifu wanted to welcome him to the area, to which Chen seemed happy to hear. He asked me shifu’s name and I told him. He then asked who was my shifu’s teacher. I told him Tung Ying Cheih. To which Chen Zhenglei said. “Yang style, good taijiquan, but the stances are to high”
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