The Chen family-style (陳家、陳氏 or 陳式 太極拳) is the oldest and parent form of the five traditional family styles. Chen-style is characterized by Silk reeling (chán sī jìn; 纏絲勁), alternating fast/slow motion and bursts of power (fa jin; 發勁).
Contemporary t'ai chi ch'uan is typically practised for a number of widely varying reasons: health, external/internal martial art skills, aesthetics, meditation or as an athletic/competition sport (sometimes called "wushu tai chi"). Therefore a teacher's system, practice and choice of training routines usually emphasizes one of these characteristics during training. The five traditional schools, precisely because they are traditional, attempt to retain the martial applicability of their teaching methods. Some argue that the Chen tradition emphasizes this martial efficacy to a greater extent.
Origin Theories Edit
The origin and nature of what is now known as tai chi is not historically verifiable until around the 17th century. Documents of this period indicate the Chen clan settled in Chenjiagou (Chen Village, 陳家溝), Henan province, in the 13th century and reveal the defining contribution of Chen Wangting (陈王庭; 1580–1660). It is therefore not clear how the Chen family actually came to practise their unique martial style and contradictory "histories" abound. What is known is that the other four contemporary traditional tai chi styles (Yang, Sun, Wu and Woo) trace their teachings back to Chen village in the early 1800s.
Chen Village (Chenjiagou) Edit
According to Chen Village family history, Chen Bu (陳仆; 陈卜) was a skilled martial artist who started the martial arts tradition within Chen Village. The Chen family were originally from Hong Dong (洪洞), Shanxi (山西). Chen Bu, considered to be the founder of the village, moved from Shanxi to Wen County (溫县), Henan Province (河南) in 1374. The new area was originally known as Chang Yang Cun (常陽村) or Sunshine village and grew to include a large number of Chen descendants. Because of the three deep ravines (Gou) beside the village it came to be known as Chen Jia Gou (陳家溝) or Chen Family creek/brook. For generations onwards, the Chen Village was known for their martial arts.
The special nature of Tai Chi Chuan practice was attributed to the ninth generation Chen Village leader, Chen Wangting (陳王廷; 陈王庭; 1580–1660). He codified pre-existing Chen training practice into a corpus of seven routines. This included five routines of tai chi chuan (太極拳五路), 108 form Long Fist (一百零八勢長拳）and a more rigorous routine known as Cannon Fist (炮捶一路). Chen Wangting integrated different elements of Chinese philosophy into the martial arts training to create a new approach that we now recognize as the Internal martial arts. He added the principles of Yin-Yang theory (the universal principle of complementary opposites), the techniques of Doayin (leading and guiding energy) and Tu-na (expelling and drawing energy), theories encountered in Traditional Chinese Medicine and described in such texts as the Huang Di Nei Jing(《黃帝內經》; Yellow Emperor's Canon of Chinese Medicine). In addition, Wangting incorporated the boxing theories from sixteen different martial art styles as described in the classic text, Ji Xiao Xin Shu(繼效新書; "New Book Recording Effective Techniques"; ~ 1559–1561) written by the Ming General Qi Jiguang (戚繼光; 1528–1588).
Chen Changxing (陳長興 Chén Chángxīng, Ch'en Chang-hsing, 1771–1853), 14th generation Chen Village martial artist, synthesized Chen Wangting's open fist training corpus into two routines that came to be known as "Old Frame" (老架; lao jia). Those two routines are named individually as the First Form (Yilu; 一路) and the Second Form (Erlu; 二路, more commonly known as the Cannon Fist 炮捶). Chen Changxing, contrary to Chen family tradition, also took the first recorded non-family member as a disciple, Yang Luchan (1799–1871), who went on to popularize the art throughout China, but as his own family tradition known as Yang-style t'ai chi ch'uan. The Chen family system was only taught within the Chen village region until 1928.
Chen Youben (陳有本; 1780~1858), also of the 14th Chen generation, is credited with starting another Chen training tradition. This system also based on two routines is known as "Small Frame" (xiao jia; 小架). Small Frame system of training eventually lead to the formation of two other styles of Tai chi chuan that show strong Chen family influences, Zhaobao jia (趙堡架) and Hulei jia (Thunder style; 忽雷架). However they are not considered a part of the Chen family lineage.
Around the time of the 14–15th generation, Chen Village practice is said by some to have differentiated into two related but distinct practice traditions, which are today known as big frame (sometimes called large frame) and small frame. The various practise routines embodied in big/small frame traditions modified and assimilated Chen Wangting's seven set corpus and the original practice routines are now said to have been lost. (Though recent claims are being made that Chen Wangting's 108 form has been rediscovered from two possible sources: senior Beijing disciples of Chen Zhaokui; Chen relatives back in Shanxi Province)
There are conflicting claims about which of these two traditions came first. Western theories and most of the famous masters from Chen Village (see Chen Zhenglei's English language book) tend to favor the view that big frame tradition came first (noting that "small frame" tradition was originally called "new frame"). There is a minority view from outside of Chen Village that tend to favor the reverse view.
Lao jia – old frame Edit
The Chen lao jia (old frame; 老架) consists of two forms yi lu (1st routine) and er lu (2nd routine) It was taught privately in Chen Village from the time of Chen ChangXing—the 14th generation creator of these routines. These were the very first Chen tai chi routines to be publicly revealed. This happened in Beijing from 1928 onwards—being taught by Chen Fake and his nephew.
Yi lu (the first empty hand form) at the beginner level is mostly done slowly with large motions interrupted by occasional expressions of fast power (Fa jing) that comprise less than 20% of the movements, with the overall purpose of teaching the body to move correctly. At the intermediate level it is practiced in very low stances (low frame) with an exploration of clear directional separation in power changes and in speed tempo. The movements become smaller and the changes in directional force become more subtle. At the advanced level the leg strength built at the previous level allows full relaxation and the potential for Fajing in every movement.
The second empty hand form, er lu or "cannon fist" is done faster and is used to add more advanced martial techniques such as advanced sweeping and more advanced fajing methods. Both forms also teach various martial techniques.
Xin jia – new frame Edit
The Xin Jia (New Frame; 新架) is attributed to Chen Fake, and some regard him as the author of the style, Some of the main differences that 'new' frame has compared to 'old' frame are xiongyao zhedie (chest and waist layered folding), which is the coordinated opening and closing of back and chest along with a type of rippling wave (folding) running vertically up and down the dantian/waist area, connected to twisting of the waist/torso. The stances tend to be more compact in the goal of better mobility for fighting applications, while they still remain quite low. This form tends to emphasize manipulation, seizing and grappling (qin na) and a tight method of spiral winding for both long and shorter range striking.
Zhu Tian Cai has commented that the xinjia (new frame) emphasises the silk reeling movements to help beginners more easily learn the internal principles in form and to make application more obvious in relation to the Old big frame forms.
Small Frame tradition (xiao jia) Edit
The small frame (xiao jia; 小架) style was until recently not publicly known outside of Chen Village. DVD material has been made available in more recent times though authentic, public teaching is still hard to find. The reasons for this may be more to do with the nature of small frame tradition itself rather than any particular motivation of secrecy.
Even today some people confuse Chen Fake's altered routines (from big frame tradition's "old frame" routines) with small frame tradition and believe he revealed the secret teaching of small frame tradition as well.
Zhu Tian Cai comments that small frame tradition routines also used to be practiced by "retired" Chen villagers. It seems this was because the more demanding leaping, stomping, low frame, and intensive fa jing of the advanced big frame tradition routines have been eliminated and the retained movements emphasize use of the more subtle internal skills, which is a more appropriate regimen for the bodies of elder practitioners. He also observed that young children used to imitate Small Frame routines by watching older villagers practising and this was encouraged for health reasons.
Xiao Jia is known mainly for its emphasis on internal movements, this being the main reason that people refer to it as "small frame"; all "silk-reeling" action is within the body, the limbs are the last place the motion occurs.
Modern Chen Forms Edit
Similar to other family styles of t'ai chi ch'uan, Chen-style has had its frame adapted by competitors to fit within the framework of wushu competition. A prominent example is the 56 Chen Competition form (developed by the Chinese National Wushu Association from lao jia routines) and to a lesser extent the 48 /42 Combined Competition form (1976/1989 by the Chinese Sports Committee developed from Chen and three other traditional styles).
In the last ten years or so even respected grandmasters of traditional styles have begun to accommodate this contemporary trend towards shortened forms that take less time to learn and perform. Beginners in large cities don't always have the time, space or the concentration needed to immediately start learning old frame (75 movements) . This proves all the more true at workshops given by visiting grandmasters. Consequently shortened versions of the traditional forms have been developed even by the "Four Buddhas". Beginners can choose from postures of 38 (synthesized from both lao and xin jia by Chen Xiao Wang), 19 (1995 Chen Xiao Wang), 18 (Chen Zheng Lei) and 13 (1997 Zhu Tian Cai). There is even a 4 step routine (repeated 4 times in a circular progression, returning to start) useful for confined spaces (Zhu Tian Cai).
Chen Tai Chi has several unique weapon forms.
- the 49 posture Straight Sword (Jian) form
- the 13 posture Broadsword (Dao) form
- Spear (Qiang) solo and partner forms
- 3, 8, and 13 posture Gun (staff) forms
- 30 posture Halberd (Da Dao/Kwan Dao) form
- several double weapons forms utilizing the above-mentioned items
Martial application Edit
The vast majority of Chen stylists believe that tai chi is first and foremost a martial art; that a study of the self-defense aspect of tai chi is the best test of a student's skill and knowledge of the tai chi principles that provide health benefit. In compliance with this principle, all Chen forms retain some degree of overt fa jing expression.
In martial application, Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan uses a wide variety of techniques applied with all the extremities that revolve around the use of the eight gates of tai chi chuan to manifest either kai (expansive power) or he (contracting power) through the physical postures of Chen forms. The particulars of exterior technique may vary between teachers and forms. In common with all neijia , Chen-style aims to develop internal power for the execution of martial techniques, but in contrast to some tai chi styles and teachers includes the cultivation of fa jing skill . Chen family member Chen Zhenglei has commented that between the new and old frame traditions there are 105 basic fajin methods and 72 basic Qinna methods present in the forms
Additional training Edit
Before teaching the forms, the instructor may have the students do stance training such as zhan zhuang and various qigong routines such as silk reeling exercises. Other methods of training for Chen-style using training aids including pole/spear shaking exercises, which teach a practitioner how to extend their silk reeling and fa jing skill into a weapon.
In addition to the solo exercises listed above, there are partner exercises known as pushing hands , designed to help students maintain the correct body structure when faced with resistance. There are five methods of push hands that students learn before they can move on to a more free-style push hands structure, which begins to resemble sparring.
Typically a Chen-Style Taichi class should comprise this: