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The Chen family style (????? or ?? ???) is the oldest and parent form of the five main tai chi chuan styles. It is third in terms of world-wide popularity compared to the other main taijiquan styles. Chen style is characterized by its lower stances, more explicit Silk reeling (chan si jin) and bursts of power (fa jin).
Today tai chi chuan is typically practised for a number of widely varying reasons: health, external/internal martial art skills, aesthetics, meditation, athletic/competition sport (sometimes called “wushu tai chi”). Therefore a teacher’s system, practise and choice of tai chi chuan routines usually emphasises one of these characteristics. The five traditional family styles tend to retain the original martial applicability of tai chi teaching methods. Some argue that Chen style schools succeed in this to a greater degree.
The origin and nature of tai chi is not historically verifiable at all until around the 1600s when the Chen clan of Chenjiagou (Chen Village, ???), Henan province, China appear identified as possessing a unique martial arts system. How the Chen family came to practise their unique style is not clear due to lack of documentation from the formative period and irreconcilable views on the matter abound. What is known is that the other four modern orthodox family styles of tai chi chuan are traced to the teachings in the Chen family village in the early 19th century.
According to interviews with Chen clan family members (Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Zhu Tiancai) there was a family art which Chen Bu (the founder of Chen Jiagou) brought with him. The family had brought this martial art from Shanxi when the clan was forced to leave. While there are few written sources, this history should not be dismissed too quickly because Shanxi is also the traditional origin of Bagua Zhang and Xingyi Chuan, which share some of the bio-mechanical foundations with Tai Chi Chuan.
Sourced histories center around Chen Wangting (1600-1680), who codified pre-existing Chen training practice into a corpus of seven routines.This include five routines of tai chi chuan (?????), 108 form Long Fist (???????)and Cannon Fist(????). Wangting is said[who?] to have incorporated theories from a classic text by General Qi Jiguang ???, Jixiaoxinshu ???? (new book of techniques from different schools.) and Huang Di Nei Jing ???? «????» (Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Chinese Medicine), which described martial arts from 16 different styles..
According to Chen Zhenglei, citing works from oral tradition, it was in Chen Wangting’s time that Jiang Fa (Jian Bashi) was captured by Chen Wangting. Jian Fa was a skilled martial artist in his own right. The two became very close friends and their exchange of ideas was fruitful. A portrait of Chen Wangting, with Jiang Fa behind him is often reproduced.
Some legends assert that a disciple of Zhang Sanfeng named Wang Zongyue (???) taught Chen family the martial art later to be known as taijiquan.
Other legends speak of Jiang Fa (?? Jiang Fa). Reputedly a monk from Wudang mountain who came to Chen village, he is said to have radically transformed the Chen family art for the better when he taught Chen Changxing (1771-1853) internal fighting practices. However there are significant difficulties with this explanation: it is no longer clear if their relationship was that of teacher/student or even who taught whom. It should also be noted that Chen Chang-Xing produced a comprehensive encyclopedia of the art form as he knew it. If there were a Jiang Fa around then, some written record should have survived, but there isn’t and it contradicts the current oral history of Jiang Fa being a contemporary of Chen Wangting.
Historically documented from the 1600s, the Chen family were originally from Shanxi, Hong Dong (????). First generation, Chen Pu (??), shifted from Shanxi to Wen County, Henan Province (????). Originally known as Chang Yang Cun (???) or Sunshine village, the village grew to include a large number of Chen descendants. Because of the three deep ravines (Gou) beside the village it became to be known as Chen Jia Gou (???) or Chen Family Village. Chen village has since been a center of tai chi learning. Ninth generation Chen Wangting (???) is credited as performing the first formal codification of Chen family martial art practice.
Perhaps the best known Chen family teacher was 14th generation Chen Changxing (??? Chén Chángxing, Ch’en Chang-hsing, 1771-1853). He further synthesized Chen Wangting’s open fist training corpus into two routines that came to be known as “old frame” (??) (lao jia). Chen Changxing, contrary to Chen family tradition, also took the first recorded non-family member as a disciple, Yang Luchan (1820), who went on to develop his own family tradition (Yang style tai chi chuan). Tai chi proved very popular and the other three traditional styles of tai chi chuan further sprang from Yang family tradition, some of these styles also borrowing from the Chen family “Small Frame” tradition (see immediately below). Chen family teaching remained hidden and was not taught publically until 1928.
Chen Youben (???), of the 14th Chen generation, is credited with starting a mainstream Chen training tradition that differed from that created by Chen Changxing. It was originally know as xinjia (??) (New Form) as opposed to Chen Changxing’s lao jia. It gradually became to be known as xiao jia (??) or small form.