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Origins of Yang Family Taijiquan

By Gu Liuxin from the book Yang Style Taijiquan published by Hai Fung Publishing Co, Rms, 901-3 Wing on House, 71 Des Voeux Road, Central, 9/Fl., Hong Kong

Yang Fukui (1799-1872), better known as Yang Luchan, was born in Yongnian County in north Chinas Hebei Province. Because of poverty, he had to leave his home village at the age of 10 for Chengjiagou in Wenxian County in Chinas Henan Province to make a living. He served as an attendant in the Chen family there and learnt the “Lao Jia” (Old Frame) style of Taijiquan as well as Tui Shou (push hands) and combat with weapons from the famous Chinese boxing maser Chen Changing (1771-1853). After 30 years of industrial study and practise, he returned to Yongnian. Before his departure for his home village, Chen Changing told him that since he had become a skilful Wushu master, he would not have to worry about food and clothing for the rest of his life.

When Yang Luchan returned to Yongnian County, he put up at the Tai He Tang drugstore, which was run by the Chen family of Chenjiagou. The house belonged to the Wu’s, and their three brothers, Wu Cheng-qing, Wu Heqing and Wu Ruqing who were all enthusiasts of the folk martial art.

They admired Yang Luchans superb skill and learnt Wushu from him. The local people of Yongnian County held Yang Luchan in high esteem and practised his Taijiquan as “cotton boxing”, “soft boxing” or”solvent boxing” for its wonderful effects in overcoming the strong and beating the adversary without injuring him and for its flexible attacking and defending tactics.

At that time, Wu Ruqing was a councillor in the Sichuan office of the judicial department of the imperial court. He recommended Yang Luchan to teach Taijiquan in the ancient capital city of Peking (Beijing) where many nobles and kinsmen of the Qing Dynasty learnt Wushu from him.

The house of Prince Duan, one of the royal families in the capital, had employed a large number of boxing masters and wrestlers, and some of them were anxious to have a trial of strength with Yang Luchan, but he invariably declined their challenges politely. One day a famous boxing master of high prestige insisted on competing with him to see who was stronger. The boxer suggested that they sit on two chairs and put their right fists against each other. Yang Luchan had no choice but to agree. Shortly after the contest began, that boxing master started to sweat all over and his chair creaked as if it was going to fall apart. But Yang Luchan looked composed and serene as ever. Then he got up and said in a gentle tone to the onlookers: “The master’s skill is indeed superb. Only his chair in not as firmly made as mine.”

The man was so moved by his modesty that he never failed to praise Yang’s exemplary conduct and unmatched Wushu skill. Later on, whenever anyone wanted to try his prowess with Yang Luchan, he would throw the challenger to the ground without injuring him. In this way, Yang Luchan gained great fame and high prestige and was nicknamed “Yang the Invincible.” He was later appointed a Wushu officer in the Qing court with the rank higher than a seventh grade official. When he paid a visit to Chenjiagou to see his old friends, he was warmly welcome.

At that time there was a Wushu master named liu who had taught thousands of students, one day he challenged Yang Banhou (1837-1892), who was one of yang Luchan’s sons, to a contest. Yang Banhou, who was then in his prime of youth and a bit bellicose by nature, accepted the challenge without hesitation. During the contest which attracted hundreds of people. Yang Banhou sent his opponent reeling to the ground several meters away with a stunning blow of his palm. Since then, Yang Banhou was also called “Yang the Invincible”.

The number of people wishing to learn Wushu began to increase. To meet popular needs, Yang Luchan gradually deleted from the series of movements such difficult actions as jumps and leaps, explosion of strength and vigorous foot stamping. After revisions by his third son Yang Jianhou (1839-1917), this series of movements came to be known as “Zhong Jia” (medium frame). Later it was again revised by Yang Cheng Fu (1883-1936), the third son of Yang Jianhou, which finally developed into the present “Da Jia” (big frame) style because of its extended and natural posture, slow and even movements. It was different from his uncle Yang Banhous style which was known under the name “Xiao Jia) (small frame). Yang Chengfu’s style is now the most popular Yang school of Taijiquan in China.

The Yang school of Taijiquan was born out of the Chen school of Taijiquan which is known as “Lao Jia” (old frame). The movements are relaxed, even and graceful like the drifting clouds and flowing stream, quite unlike the Chen style which alternates slow with quick movements, and vigorous with restrained and controlled actions. The performance of the Yang style of Taijiquan is terse and simple and always follows a circular path, just like “reeling of raw silk from a cocoon.” The movements are naturally combined with breathing which should be deep and should “sink to the Dan Tian” (a point in the lower belly slightly below the navel). Here again is quite different from the Chen style which combines “sink deep breath to the Dan Tian” with “breath circulation in the lower belly”. Good for the health and known for its curative effects, the Yang school of Taijiquan which is easy to learn has caught the fancy of an increasing number of people, and that is why it is more popular than the Chen school.

The magnificent skill of three generations of the Yang family won them great renowned throughout the capital. What was noteworthy was the fact that they unstintingly passed on there skills to many young people, which is perhaps one of the reasons why there are so many followers of the Yang school of Taijiquan today. In 1928, yang Chengfu was invited to teach Taijiquan successively in Nanjing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Hankou. Thus the Yang school of Taijiquan spread throughout the country.

Noted for its extended and natural postures, well-knit gentle and steady movements, the yang style of Taijiquan combines vigour with gentleness, with its actions following a circular path. Each and every form or movement contains the technique of countering and overpowering the adversary.

The Yang school of Taijiquan has three “frame” forms- high, medium and low. The learner may determine the amount of exercise in accordance with his or her age, physical conditions and specific requirements (such as keeping fit, preventing and curing diseases, physical training and recreation and competition).

Because the movements are extended and natural, gentle and lissom, graceful and unique in style, as well as simple and easy to learn, the Yang school of Taijiquan has won the favour of a large number of Wushu enthusiasts.

Yang Chengfu was one of the founders of this school and was a great Wushu master of his time. Whenever he practised Taijiquan, he strictly followed the routines and was never lax in his movements. This is evident from the illustrations in his book. The movements of his entire body embody the quintessence of Taijiquan exercises.

Yang Chengfu once said: “Taijiquan is an art with strength concealed in the gentle movements, like an ‘iron hand in a velvet glove’ or a needle concealed in cotton” He cautioned learners to always keep to the roundness and relaxation in their movements which, he said, must be gentle, natural, flexible and smooth as well as synchronized with ones mind. Actually, this is a summing-up of his own experience and attainment.

Yang Cheng Fu had three sons who became Taijiquan masters in their own right Yang Zhenming (Yang Sau Chung), Yang Zhenji and Yang Zhenduo.

Yang Zhenming was born in 1911 and (died in 1956) began the study of Taijiquan at the age of 8, after learning Taijiquan, Taiji Broadsword, Taiji Sword and Taiji Spear. He became his father’s assistant instructor at the age of 14 and worked under his father’s guidance for many years. He travelled extensively with his father to many parts of China including Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong Provinces. After his fathers death he remained in Guangzhou (Canton) where he taught for many year before finally settling in Hong Kong.