Tai Ji Quan

Tracing the Origin of Wu/Cheng Taiji

Styles inevitable shift and transform as they pass from one teacher to another. Sometimes these transformations are deliberate, and other times they are the result of the teacher's innate movement preferences. With that in mind, it is interesting to consider the list of teachers that this style has passed through in reaching me.

Cheng's Taiji

The teacher responsible for initially bringing Wu/Cheng Taiji Quan or, as it was known then Wudang Taiji Quan, to the UK was Ian Cameron (b. 1944). As mentioned here, I studied with Ian from 1992 to 2008, becoming men ren 門人, and learning the complete traditional syllabus. Ian studied with Cheng Tin Hung in Hong Kong in the 1970s, learning the complete system before returning to the UK to start his own classes. Dan Docherty (b. 1954) also studied with Cheng Tin Hung in Hong Kong, and has also done a great deal to popularize this style in the West.

Cheng TinhungCheng Tin Hung 鄭天熊 (1930-2005) - on the left - learnt his Taiji indirectly, or directly, from the Wu 吳 family. His first teacher was his uncle, Cheng Wing Kwong 鄭榮光, who was a student of the second generation master of the Wu style, Wu Chien Chuan 吳鑑泉 (1870-1942).

Some sources (for example [6], but not [4]) also list a martial artist by the name of Qi Min Xuan 齊敏軒 as a teacher of Cheng. However, there seems to be no independent information about this individual, so it is hard to verify his true role in the development of this style of Taiji. One disinterested source that I have read suggests that Cheng Tin Hung studied directly with Wu Tai Kwei 吳大揆 (1923-1972), the grandson of Wu Chien Chuan, where he learnt his acknowledged fighting skills [1]. Cheng's skills as a fighter were sufficient to earn him the nickname "Tai Chi Body Guard" in the Hong Kong Taiji community.

The Wu, Yang and Chen Families

The Wu family style itself comes originally from the Yang family, who taught martial arts to the Imperial Guard around the end of the nineteenth century. Wu Chuan Yau 吳全佑 (1834-1902), an officer in the guard, was the founder of the Wu style and father of Wu Chien Chuan. He studied with Yang Ban Hou 楊班侯 (1837-1890) and also, on some accounts, with his father and founder of the Yang style, Yang Lu Chan 楊露禪 (1799-1872).

Yang LuchanYang (shown on the right) originally called his martial art Cotton Fist (Mian Quan 棉拳) and it was not until teaching for the Imperial Guard that it was given the name Taiji Quan 太極拳 by an interested scholar. Yang, in turn, had learnt his martial art from Chen Chang Hsing 陈长兴 (1771-185) of the Chen 陈 family. The Chen family trace their martial arts back to the late 16th century, but its historical origins before that are unclear.

There is a distinct stylistic resemblance between the Yang style and the Wu style, but the differences between the Yang style and what the Chen family currently teach is much more pronounced. As a result, exactly what Yang was taught by Chen Chang Hsing is an open question. Regardless, Yang emerged with an effective fighting art, that brought him to a prominent position in a very competitive domain.