These five schools mentioned in previous pages are "Chen", "Yang", "Wu", "Wu", and "Sun". Each of these schools took on the family-name of their main teacher or leader. For instance, the "Yang" style was developed and taught by the "Yang" family, and although the principles of all Taijiquan styles contain the philosophy of "yin" and "yang", the style's name had nothing to do with this philosophy.
The CHEN family style had the oldest formally recorded records of the practice of Taijiquan. Most scholars theorize that Wang Tsung Yueh was the first to transmit the knowledge of Taijiquan to the Chen family in the 18th century. It is commonly believed that Wang, when traveling through the Chen village, happened to see villagers practicing boxing. He made a few disparaging remarks in public about their skill...or lack of it. This angered some of the villagers and they challenged him to test their skill. Wang quickly and easily defeated them. Realizing that Wang's skill was far superior, the villagers begged him to stay and teach them his art. According to the stories, Wang taught them something he called Taijiquan.
As was common practice in ancient China, the family of Chen kept the fighting art that Wang had taught them a family secret and it was never taught to anyone outside of the family until the arrival of Yang LuShan (1799-1872), who became the founder of Yang style Taijiquan.
The Chen style is referred to as "lao" or "old" frame taijiquan. The Chen style has evolved into several routines, with some of the movements retaining much of the "martial" emphasis of the original boxing forms.
The YANG family style is by far the most popular and widely practiced style in the Western world. It is also the most fragmented style, with major differences in the choreography and postures of the routines between various groups within the style. The Yang style is commonly referred to as the "big" frame style because of its original wide stance and open movements.
It is commonly believed and documented that the Yang style originated with Yang LuShan, one of only two students taught by the Chen family who were not within their own blood-line.
After learning the Chen style forms in Henan Province, Yang traveled to his birthplace in Hobei Province and began teaching the forms. There, the thoughtful and skilled instructor developed a style with significant variations, thus the Yang family style was created (and continued to evolve). He then traveled to Beijing, the capital of China, to teach his Yang family style of taijiquan to the royal families and "Mandarin".
Yang LuShan like to fight and traveled throughout northern China in search of fighters with good reputations to challenge. His skill was highly respected and it earned him the nickname of Yang WuTi, which translates roughly to "Yang with no enemy and no rival". His small, thin build was in contrast to the typical "fighter" of the day, and legends about him abound.
Yang LuShan became the first instructor to openly teach Taijiquan to the public. His Yang style stressed the health, physical fitness, as well as the self-defense and fighting aspects of the art.
In his later years, Yang LuShan explained that while teaching in Beijing, he witnessed the improvement of his student's health and realized that Taijiquan could play an important role in saving his nation by strengthening the weak.
Despite his teachings and stress on health, when listening to the many stories which abound about the skill of Yang LuShan, one is immediately impressed with the personal emphasis on his martial skills. He lived in a time when martial artists were like the gun-slingers of the American West. He faced many challengers, and easily defeated them all.
The stories tell of the high skill, intelligence, and sensitivity that he used, not the toughness, strength, size, or stamina common in other martial arts of that era.
Even in such a short history of the Yang style, we would be remiss if we didn't include Yang Cheng-Fu, (1883-1936). A huge man by Chinese standards, well educated, and mostly self-taught from notes, memories, and early childhood instruction from his grandfather (Yang Lu-Shan), he was able to grasp the principles of Taijiquan and reach a high skill level in the art. He is responsible for the well-defined, soft, and stable Yang style forms so popular today.
Wu Du Nan, a famous modern Yang style master from Beijing practiced and taught regular classes in the parks until the age of 102. His excellent memory and recollections of practicing taijiquan since his youth was often used by scholars to verify historical research. He remained active in Chinese martial arts associations until his death in the late 1990s.
The WU Yu Xiang family style (sometimes referred to as "Hao" family style) was founded by Wu YuXiang (1812-1880). YuXiang was skilled in Shaolin Martial Arts, but began studying Taijiquan with Yang LuChan (of the Yang family style) after seeing a demonstration of his martial skills. Later he studied with Chen QingPing. This Wu style is characterized by compact, rounded movements with relatively high postures, making it easier for those who are sick or elderly to practice. It was based on the Yang sequence of movements, with some quick movements breaking the normal slower rhythms. The Wu YuXiang style was not popular until several of his students (members of the Hao family) made it popular in later years by teaching it to many students. Today's Wu YuXiang form is primarily one that was originally taught by Hao YueRu, a famous martial arts teacher who promoted and taught it openly. It is still relatively unknown outside of mainland China.
The WU Jian Quan family style is the 2nd most popular style of Taijiquan in the modern world. Wu Jiang Quan's Manchurian father, QuanYu, was one of Yang LuShan's (of the Yang family style) top students and worked as a bodyguard in th eImperial Court. QuanYu taught several disciples, and his art was handled down through three lineages, Yang YuTing (1887-1982), Chang Yun Ting (1860-1918), and his own son Wu Jian Quan (1870-1942) who popularized this style of Taijiquan.
Wu Jian Quan reached a very high level of skill in Taijiquan. He remained a close friend of the Yang family and often taught the Yang small frame form as taught by his father QuanYu. In later years, he continued to refine his form, removing some of the quick movements and made it more even in speed. He moved to Shanghai where his family still lives. Current masters of the Wu style include Wang Pei Sheng, Wu Ying Hwa, and the recently deceased Mah Yueh Liang.
The SUN family style is often called the "active step" form because of its quick and mobile stance and footwork. It was developed by Sun LuTang, (1861-1932) an amazing martial artist who was also famous for his skill at the other internal martial arts of Baguazhang and Xingyiquan (Neijia) as well as external Shaolin forms. The Sun style is the most recent of the five major schools of Taijiquan.
Sun LuTang learned Taijiquan from Hao Wei Chen (Wu Yu Xiang style), then continued to study and refine it using his knowledge of the other internal styles. Is said that Taijiquan was his preferred art and he taught his style to many students. The Sun family style retains most of the original Wu Yu Xiang style postures, with more emphasis on quick footwork and waist methods from his other martial styles.