Nowadays the Wushu Museum of Wudang city shows evidences that between the 13th and the 17th centuries existed a Taoist monk, who had the name of Chan San Feng, and sustain that he was undoubtedly the main propeller of martial internal arts development, with special relevance for Tai Chi Chuan. Master Chan San Feng emphasized as a primordial way to reach the inner evolution, the work towards the balance between Yin and Yang, which follows the Nature law of Tao, such as supported by the Taoist Philosophy. Thus, he developed the meditation practice in harmony with body exercises that were driven by an internal energy, which was improved and strengthened through the Tai Chi practice.
Yang Luchan (1799-1872) Yang Luchan was born in the little village of Yong Nian of the Henan Province (China) and he was a Martial Arts Master of reputable value and high level technical skill, who became known as the Invincible. Accordingly to oral reports gathered from Great Master Fu Sheng Yuan and from his son, Master Fu Qing Quan, Yang Luchan was undoubtedly brilliant in the Martial Arts practice and after having travelled several times to Chienjiagou, what he did along an eighteen years period, he could learn with Chen Chang Hsing the art of Mien Chuan, who had learnt it previously from Jiang Fa. Some authors say that Jiang Fa learned the Art of Mien Chuan from Wang Tsung Yueh, character that is connected with Wudang Internal Martial Arts. However and as Great Master Fu Sheng Yuan says “nobody can say that Jiang Fa learned directly the art of Mien Chuan from Wang Tsung Yueh”, since there is a great probability that he was not his contemporaneous, and in spite of being accepted that there is a connection between both, the involved characters are not known, given that there are no registers of any kind confirming that, so what may be said or written are just hypotheses. Though, it is certain that the art of Mien Chuan was not practiced by the Chen Family, who only practiced Pao Chui at the time, a Shaolin Martial Art. Furthermore, it is said and accepted that the root of Mien Chuan was associated to Wudang and is known that it had already the 13 postures, inherent to the 5 directions and the 8 energies.
Yang Luchan became famous for his martial skills, in such a way that he was invited by the Emperor to visit the Beijing Imperial Court and afterwards he taught the Imperial Princes and the Imperial Guard. One day in the Imperial Court when he was fighting, demonstrating the Art of Mien Chuan, his martial performance was compared by Wong Tong He to the Tai Chi balance. Wong Tong He was a scholar man who had a deep knowledge of the Taoist philosophy, and when he noticed the excellent performance of Yang Luchan and his amazing capacity for defeating several reputable opponents, he wrote:
“Hands holding Taiji shake the whole world,
A chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heroes.”
So, Wong Tong He had a main role in the association of Mien Chuan with Tai Chi, since till the moment this man identified the Art of Yang Luchan as Tai Chi, this art was just known as Mien Chuan. Thereafter, Yang Luchan’s Art was known as Taiqiquan (Tai Chi Chuan), as well as all the styles that were born from his teachings. At that time Tai Chi was just one and as Fu Sheng Yuan and his son, Master Fu Qing Quan, always say, authentic Tai Chi Chuan is still only one.
Grand Master Fu Sheng Yuan points quite often the following analogy concerning the success and expansion of Yang Luchan Art:
“Yong Nian is the sea and Chienjiagou is the boat. As the water is getting higher and higher and the sea bigger and more powerful, the boat goes up and up, thus it becomes more and more visible”.
With this sentence Fu Sheng Yuan intends to say that in fact without Yang Luchan, nowadays, Tai Chi would not be known in the world such as it is, since he was undoubtedly the main responsible for the spread of this art. In a first moment in the Imperial Chinese Court and later through his descendants and followers through whole China and the world, and I recall the words of Fu Sheng Yuan “ ... if the water of the sea wouldn’t rise, the boat would not be visible. ".
Yang Luchan’s Life Episodes and Yang Family History
One day a troublemaker burst into the local dispensary and proceeded to insult the proprietor, claiming that he was not a local. He did this in an attempt to shame the proprietor into reducing the price on some precious herbs that he wished to buy. Without provocation the bully struck out at the proprietor, who with a sudden thrust of his hands sent the troublemaker hurling a few meters out of the dispensary.
The crowd that gathered was greatly impressed by the incident. Lu Chan, who was amongst them, thought to himself that the proprietor must posses outstanding Wu Shu (martial art) ability and he was filled with respect at his skill. In his youth, Lu Chan had learnt Shaolin Chuan, but had never managed to acquire its techniques. He made up his mind to call on the proprietor to find out what Chuan (fist) technique he practiced.
At first the proprietor was reluctant to even discuss his technique. Later, moved by Lu Chan's sincerity and earnest desire to know more, he told him that he practiced Mien Chuan (soft / continuous fist), also called as Tai Chi Chuan. He explained to Lu Chan that his skill was limited, but that his Master lived in Henan's Chen Jia Gou (Chen family village), and was known as Chen Chang Xing.
He advised him to seek Master Chen out, with a view to learning from him. Six years later, he returned to Yong Nian, arriving during the festivities of the Lunar New Year. Observing his return, some of the local Wu Shu practitioners sought to test his skill by trying to crowd him, under the pretext of being in a festive mood. None of them managed to get close to him and the crowd laughed, saying that at last he had been successful in mastering Wu Shu.
There lived in Yong Nian a noble named Wu, who was related to Master Chen Chang Xing and himself was a Wu Shu expert. On hearing of Lu Chan's return, he challenged him to a competition, from which Lu Chan emerged undefeated.
After some 10 years of study, Lu Chan's Wu Shu was exceptional. However, he had still not acquired a deep understanding or appreciation of Tai Chi Chuan's intricate techniques. Thus he was prompted to return for a third time to Chen Jia Gou.
At that time, it was common practice among Wu Shu masters, not to pass every aspect of their skill to their tuti. Master Chen was no exception.
However, Lu Chan's humility and earnest respect moved his Master deeply. Chang Xing gathered his clan together and announced: "Lu Chan has been a tuti for over 10 years. He has journeyed to Chen Jia Gou on three separate occasions. His spirit and determination in perfecting his Wu Shu are traits not easily found among all of us. As I am getting on in years, I cannot allow my Wu Shu to be lost. I have decided to hand this art which i had learned from Jiang Fa and technique to Lu Chan for posterity."
Following his announcement, Master Chen was still plagued by doubt as to the future of his knowledge and he decided to test Lu Chan's integrity for the last time. He did this by distancing himself from Lu Chan. His ploy had no effect and Lu Chan continued to devote his his efforts towards the perfection of his Wu Shu technique. Often when they met, Chang Xing would pretend to be drunk, lying on his bed or just ignoring Lu Chan totally.
Lu Chan remained unperturbed and never uttered an ill word about his Master. Eventually, Master Chen was totally convinced of Lu Chan's integrity and he transmitted the entire essence and secret of his Wu Shu to him.
Three years later, Master Chen had completed his task and he told Lu Chan, "You may go now as you have mastered Tai Chi Chuan to distinction. You can now say that no-one compares with you."
So Lu Chan left his Master's village and some years later established himself in Beijing. There he acquired a great reputation for his matchless skill and was never defeated, earning himself the nickname of Yang Wu Di (Peerless Yang, Yang the invincible).
In his travels, Lu Chan once visited the home of the Chang family in Beijing. A family of humble origin, the Changs had grown wealthy through their involvement with the coal mining industry. Consistent with their new-found social stature, they employed a number of Wu Shu teachers in their household as retainers, as well as a number of aspiring martial artists. Every evening, they would gather as a family, to practice their Wu Shu in preparation for competitions.
Living in Yong Nian at that time, was a Beijing noble named Wu. He was seeking Wu Shu teachers to instruct the Chang household and agreed to introduce Lu Chan to the Chang family. Many of the Chang family retainers were well known Wu Shu teachers, mainly of big strong physique. Lu Chan on the other hand was small and slightly built. His punny appearance caused the head of the household to consider him disparagingly. Thus on arrival at the Chang family, Lu Chan found himself relegated to an inferior position at the table to that of the other teachers. (It was customary at that time, for a host to signify his respect for the status of his guest by the position he accorded him at the table). During the course of the meal, the host asked Lu Chan what kind of Wu Shu he trained in. To which Lu Chan replied: "My Wu Shu is neither Monkey technique nor Shaolin technique. It is called Mien Chuan."
The host was not familiar with this type of boxing and he disparagingly asked if Lu Chan's Mien Chuan could be applied in combat. Being honest and unassuming, Lu Chan chose to ignore the obvious slight and responded: "The Mien Chuan I practice is not for fighting, however, should it be required for fighting, it is far superior to an iron fist."
His curiosity aroused, the host asked if Lu Chan would demonstrate his technique in a competition with some of his guests.
Now among the guests assembled, were well known and reputable Wu Shu Masters, many of whom had shown disdain at Lu Chan's puny physique. Anxious to uphold their reputation, they grabbed the opportunity in the hope that Lu Chan would be defeated and disgraced. Unperturbed, Lu Chan agreed to his host's request, saying that, "To have an open competition, we must not stand on ceremony. That is, we must treat it in the spirit of true competition and not worry about death. Should it end in tragedy, there should be no regrets."
So, the contest began, with one Master lunging fiercely at Lu Chan with a clenched fist. A slight raising of Lu Chan's hands served to hurl his attacker several meters away, where he fell badly hurt and bleeding. One of his colleagues, enraged at his friend's plight, sprang to take his place and suffered a similar fate. The remaining teachers did not dare to take up the challenge.
Somewhat alarmed, the host immediately reorganised his seating arrangement, as a gesture of deference to the victor. Lu Chan however, thought the gesture to be hypocrite. Once news of the incident spread out, Wu Shu experts came, from far and wide, to challenge Lu Chan. However, he was never defeated and lived up to Master Chen's expectations. As his reputation spread... throughout Beijing, "Yang Wu Di" as he was called, became a much sought after celebrity guest in the households of the nobility. It became the vogue to invite him along to banquets and celebrations as an honoured guest of the household.
Unswayed by all this attention, Lu Chan maintained the principle of not teaching Wu Shu to just anyone. He would first give much thought and consideration to each individual case. Students who were genuinely honest in their search, were rewarded, as he passed his knowledge to them without regard to status or influence.
Yang Lu Chan's fame also earned him enemies who envied his prowess and these people often schemed to harm him, though none dared challenge him openly.
One day, while he was fishing by a river, some 5km south of Yong Nian, Lu Chan felt someone commencing to attack him from the rear. Without moving from his position, he arched his back to "Pat the High Horse" and caused his attacker to fall into the river.
One of Yang Lu Chan's son, Ban Hou, is upright but somewhat short-tempered. His Wu Shu students often had to put up with his temper. Lu Chan and Ban Hou both have engaged in separate challenges from a Wu Shu Master named Lieu at West No. 4, Beijing City. These challenges have since become part of Wu Shu annals.
Master Lieu's Wu Shu was considered one of the best in Beijing City. His tuti's were also highly regarded as being formidable. Lieu issued a challenge to Ban Hou which was accepted. As Ban Hou emerged from Lieu's house into the garden, Lieu attacked him from behind with hands outstretched, in an attempt to gouge his eyes out. Wu Shu experts refer to this action as Duan Deng or "dimming the light." In a flash, Ban Hou turned, warding off with both hands and causing Lieu to be thrown a great distance away.
Another Wu Shu expert named "Almighty Strength", used to boast that he had been through all seven states in China and had found none who could defeat him. He was reputed to be able to grind stones into powder with his bare hands and he publicized his skills widely throughout Beijing capital. Wishing to determine which of the two was superior, he challenged both Lu Chan and his son Ban Hou to a competition.
Both father and son were at Yong Nian at that time, when villagers brought news of the challenge to them. Lu Chan was not interested in journeying to Beijing. Ban Hou however, could not resist a challenge and told his father that if he did not want to go, he (Ban Hou) would make the journey alone.
On his arrival, it was agreed that the competitors would meet at West No. 4, Beijing City, to take up their challenge. The morning of the competition saw tens of thousands gathering before the stage to witness the event. Ban Hou arrived, riding a white horse. "Almighty Strength" was already there, boasting his muscular physique to the ovation of the crowd. Ban Hou looked puny next to his opponent as he was small and slim. Most of the spectators did not think he stood much of a chance.
The competition began with "Almighty Strength" roaring thunderously, like a tiger emerging from the jungle. By this time, the crowd was growing concerned for Ban Hou's life. "Almighty Strength" threw a punch at Ban Hou who turned to neutralize it. The punch sailed past and "Almighty's" fist landed in a large upright stone that stood by the side of the stage, causing the stone to break into many pieces. The crowd cheered, and was convinced that Ban Hou was going to lose. As "Almighty" attempted a second blow to Ban Hou's face, he emitted a loud cry and "raised hands", sending "Almighty" flying onto the ground. While the crowd applauded his victory, Ban Hou humbly mounted his horse and rode off.
Yang Ban Hou was also skilled in using the iron rod. Though the weapon was very heavy, he managed to practice with great ease. An onlooker once sneered at him while he was practicing and Ban Hou warded him off with the end of the rod, throwing him up to the rooftop. The terrified man fell to his knees pleading for mercy and Ban Hou assisted him down from the roof with his iron rod. This was the source of much amusement to spectators who witnessed the incident.
A fire once started on the south side of Yong Nian and was burning fiercely, threatening to spread towards a large area of dried reeds, which were stacked for storage. The prevailing wind picked up and the situation seemed hopeless. Lu Chan and Ban Hou happened to pass by carrying rods. They immediately made their way through the crowd and headed for the fire. Using the tips of their rods to flick the bales of dried reeds into the river, they helped prevent the fire from spreading.
Yang Lu Chan's other son, Jian Hou alias Jing Pu, possessed well-developed Wu Shu skills and was particularly agile in his form. He possessed a profound knowledge of Tai Chi Dao (Sabre), Jian (Sword) and Qiang (Spear). His eye-body coordination was superb and his movement was very fast.
He was once among a crowd of spectators in a Beijing theatre, watching an actor perform with his sword. The actor suddenly lost control of the weapon and it flew out of his hands in Jian Hou's direction. So quick was Jian Hou's reaction that he not only managed to ward off the sword, but caused it to be flung back onto the stage.
Ban Hou has a son named Shao Pung alias Ling Shao. He took up Wu Shu from Master Chen Shu Foong. Shao Pung and his cousin Cheng Fu taught Wu Shu at Shanghai, Zhejiang and Guangxi.
Jian Hou had 3 sons. The eldest was name Shao Shang alias Shao Hou, the second was Shao Yuang, who died at an early age and the third was named Shao Ching alias Cheng Fu. When Cheng Fu grew up, he became Yong Nian's foremost Tai Chi Master and was affectionately known as Master Yang. Shao Hou had one child, a son named Zen Sen. Cheng Fu had 4 sons: Cheng Ming, Cheng Ji, Cheng Do and Cheng Gua. The elder two sons, Cheng Ming and Cheng Ji were considered to be better skilled of his progeny, in Yang's Tai Chi Chuan.
Cheng Fu's eldest brother, Shao Hou was high-spirited and energetic, but rather short-tempered. He was renowned for his skill at Tui Shou (Push Hands). His movements were fast and he was always eager to retaliate.
On one occasion in Beijing's Shen Wu Place, two burly men attacked a frail person. Shao Hou witnessed the attack and became extremely infuriated. He barged in and within seconds hurled the bullies a great distance away.
From a tender age, Cheng Fu was taught Wu Shu by his father. He became very dedicated to his art and as he matured, his expertise increased greatly. As a result of his profound knowledge and understanding of his art, he was aware of the benefits from its practice. An intelligent, talented man, Cheng Fu possessed enormous stamina and energy. In time, he became the Yang Family's leading Master of Tai Chi Chuan and is reputed to have been one of the foremost Martial Artists of the 20th century.
He was once requested by a Mr. Lieu to travel to the town of Wu Han. At the time of this arrival, Wu Shan (a Wu Shu society in the town), was staging a sword competition. A well-known fencing Master requested Cheng Fu to compete with him. Cheng Fu humbly declined. However, the fencing Master persisted with his challenge and upon his third request, Cheng Fu conceded, saying, "Only if I was to compete with you using a bamboo sword, so as not to cause grievous bodily harm."
In the course of the competition, the fencing Master lunged at Cheng Fu with his sword. Cheng Fu managed to ward the attack off with his bamboo sword and struck his opponent on the wrist, fracturing his wrist. The fencing Master dropped his sword immediately, but Cheng Fu deeply regretted the pain that he had caused the opponent.
He was a kind man with a well-intentioned nature and those who knew him felt that he had inherited all his father's attributes. Cheng Fu's Tai Chi can best be described as a "needle embedded in cotton". His movements were always in harmony, while each move remained distinctive, strong and definitive. This well-defined, unexaggerated yet harmonious technique of Cheng Fu appealed to many students. He had many students and tuti (disciples), some of whom came from or subsequently acquired prominent positions in society. Among them are:
Chen Wei Ming
Chen Yua Po Yuen Yua Chuan
Wu Wei Chuan
Tue Ei Sher
Tung Ching Lieng
Ji Tun Leing
Chen Man Ching
Dong Lin Chei
Nen Tsung Min
Wuang Tsu Dong
Fu Zhong Wen