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Chen Changxing

Chen Changxing

Chen Changxing – Breaking From Tradition

Chen Changxing, also called Ch'en Chang-hsing, (Traditional Chinese: 陈长兴; pinyin: Chén Zhǎngxìng; 1771–1853) was a 14th generation descendant of Chen Bu and 6th generation master of Chen family-style (陳家 Chén jiā; 陳氏 Chén shì; or 陳式 太極拳 Chén shì tàijí quán) T'ai Chi Chuan founded by Chen Wangting (Traditional Chinese: 陈王庭; pinyin: Chénwángtíng; 1580–1660). He was a mysterious yet influential martial artist and t'ai chi chuan teacher who broke with tradition.

Chen Changxing was a native of Chen Village (陳家溝 Chenjiagou)in the prefecture of Huaiqing (懷慶縣) in the province of Henan (河南溫县). He was called Yunting (云亭) by village locals. He was known as a man of determination and strong principles, stern and upright. He was nicknamed "Straight-jacket Chen" as such. It was also said that when he stood, he was centered and upright like a wooden signpost, so he was called "Mr. Ancestral Tablet" as well

While a young man, Chen Changxing provided escort duties for travelers and merchants to areas ridden with bandits, especially Shandong Province. The mountains of southern Shandong offered excellent hiding-places for bandits. His father, Chen Pingwang, and his uncles, Cheng Pingren and Chen Pingqi, were so noted for their skill with t'ai chi chuan that they were called the Three Heroes (三傑 Sān Jié).

Chen Changxing followed in the tradition of his father and uncles as teachers and took on many pupils. His most noteworthy student was Yang Luchan (1799–1871), an outsider to the Chen family and the founder of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan whom he taught in secret. Though known as a Quan (拳 "fist" or "boxing") teacher, his exact style is unknown. Some schools of thought suggest that Chen Changxing practiced a style that originated from the t'ai chi chuan master Jiang Fa (蒋法; 1574–1655), a close friend and contemporary of Chen Wanting.

Chen Changxing was also said to have reintroduced the Chinese internal martial arts of Nei Jia Quan or "Internal Family Fist" (內家全 Nèi jiā quán) into Chen T'ai Chi Chuan via teachings from Wang Zongyue (王宗岳), a famed 15th century student of the legendary Chang San-feng (張三丰, born 12th century) as well as Jiang Fa. Nei Jia Quan utilizes those practices that emphasize awareness of the spirit, mind, ch'i (氣; breath, or energy flow), and the use of relaxed leverage over brute force.

Chen Changxing was likely to have learned Shaolin Xiao Hongquan (Traditional Chinese: 小洪拳; pinyin: Xiǎo hóng quán; literal: Little Red Fist) in his youth like other Chen practitioners. Many of the principles and postures seen in Yang T'ai Chi Chuan, but not obvious in Chen T'ai Chi Chuan, are found in Xiao Hongquan. Xiao Hongquan is a preliminary boxing technique routine of Shaolin quan (少林拳 Shàolínquán) known as the "mother of eighteen." The concept and movements of t'ai chi chuan's Push Hands are also present in the Step Forward Push Palms postures in Xiao Hongquan as well as the Fair Lady Weaves Shuttles posture.

In an article called "Important Words on Martial Applications," Chen Changxing outlined a no-nonsense combat approach that balanced the physical and mental aspects necessary for success.

He wrote:

"To get the upper hand in fighting, look around and examine the shape of the ground. Hands must be fast, feet light. Examine the opponent's movements like a cat. Heart (mind) must be in order and clear … If the hands arrive and the body also arrives [at the same moment], then defeating the enemy is like smashing a weed."

Chen Changxing also emphasized the need to be aware of footwork and stepping strategies:

"Those wishing to advance the left must first enter right, those wishing to advance the right must first enter left; when taking a step, heel first touches the ground, ten toes should grasp the ground, steps should be steady, body should be serious and heavy…"

Chen Changxing stressed the building of leg power and the development of basic footwork strategies. In t'ai chi chuan classics, it is said that energy arises from the feet, is generated by the legs, and is controlled by the waist. For the body to be steady the root must be firm. Footwork and stance training form two of the fundamental building blocks of all t'ai chi chuan.

Chen Changxing was unafraid to break with tradition, which earned for him a reputation of being irreverent and a maverick. The teachings passed down from Chen Wanting consisted of five boxing routines that Chen Changxing reorganized into what is called today the Old Frame First Routine (老架一路 Lǎo jià Yīlù) and Second Routine (老架二路 Lǎo jià Èrlù), also known as Pao Chui or Cannon Fist (炮捶拳).

Critics claim that some of Chen Wangting's unique art was lost. Chen Xiaoxing, current Chen grand master and principal of the Chen Village (Chenjiagou) T'ai Chi Chuan School, disputes this: "The synthesis of the five routines was not a matter of losing the old forms but of putting the five together, absorbing the essence of each. The First Routine and the Cannon Fist contain the same essence as the original routines, preserving many of the movements and all of the movement principles" (Chen Xiaoxing, CTGB Interview November 2004 Chenjiagou Training Camp 2004).

Controversy notwithstanding, the two routines made up the foundation forms from which following generations of Chen Village stylists developed their technique to the present. The reorganization of Chen Wanting's forms by Chen Changxing represented the greatest development in the evolution of Chen T'ai Chi Chuan. Today Chen T'ai Chi Chuan empty-hand forms are made up of two main versions (frames): Old Frame (老架 Lǎo jià) and New Frame (新架 Xīn jià). The Old Frame has been passed down relatively unaltered since Chen Changxing's time, while 17th generation master Ch'en Fa-k'e (Traditional Chinese; 陳發科; pinyin: Chénfākē; 1887–1957) developed the New Frame.

Chen Changxing's second break from tradition was to teach Chen T'ai Chi Chuan to Yang Luchan. At the time, the importance of the clan was paramount in Chinese society. The secrecy of the rural patriarchal family clans was a primary reason why many family martial arts systems developed their own traits and style. The main importance was placed in the family, setting the different systems apart and preserving them across generations. Outsiders were excluded as a matter of course.

Chen T'ai Chi Chuan was a closely guarded secret of the Chen family for over four hundred and twenty odd years, but many forms were noted as being lost during Chen Changxing's time. Additionally, the next generation of the Chen family was resting on the family's laurels and not training with sufficient dedication. Fearing the end and loss of the Chen art to the world, Chen Changxing broke the long family tradition of secrecy and taught the Chen art to Yang Luchan. Yang had journeyed over 600 li (300 kilometers) from Yongnian County (永年), Guanping Prefecture (關萍), Hebei Province (河北) in Northern China to the Chen Village to study the Chen masters' renowned art despite the longstanding tradition of secrecy. Yang first began his studies with Chen Changxing in 1820.

One night, he [Yang] was awakened by the sounds of "Hen" (哼) and "Ha" (哈) in the distance. He got up and traced the sound to an old building. Peeking through the broken wall, he saw his master Chen, Chang-xing teaching the techniques of grasp, control, and emitting jin in coordination with the sounds "Hen" and "Ha." He was amazed by the techniques and from that time on, unknown to master Chen, he continued to watch this secret practice session every night. He would then return to his room to ponder and study. Because of this, his martial ability advanced rapidly. One day, Chen ordered him to spar with the other disciples. To his surprise, none of the other students could defeat him. Chen realized that Yang had great potential and after that taught him the secrets sincerely.

Chen Changxing & Yang Luchan

Chen Changxing Teaching Yang Luchan

Chen Changxing taught Yang in secret for the next eighteen years. When Yang had mastered the Chen art, Chen Changxing granted him permission to go to Beijing and teach his own students and thereby spread the Chen art throughout the world. Yang went on to found Yang family-style T'ai Chi Chuan (Traditional Chinese: 楊氏太极拳; pinyin: Yángshì tàijíquán) and the Yang School (楊派 Yáng pài), which gave rise to the other family T'ai Chi Chuan styles of Wu (Hao), Wu, and Sun. The Yang style, mirrors the Chen style of Chen Changxing's time to a high degree in appearance and posture names, but differs from current Chen style forms.

Men and women students can learn the martial applications as well as enjoy the health benefits of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan in martial arts classes held by the Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple.

 

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