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Chen Wangting

Chen Wangting – Founder of Chen Style T'ai Chi Chuan

Chen Wangting (Traditional Chinese: 陈王庭; pinyin: Chénwángtíng, 1580–1660) was a Ming Dynasty general who created 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. Chen-style is the oldest and parent of the five family styles of T’ai Chi Chuan.

Chen Wangting, also named Qinting, was a ninth generation descendent of martial arts master Chen Bu (陳仆 Chén Pū; 陈卜 Chén Bo). Chen Bu had founded Chen Village (陳家溝 Chenjiagou) in Wen County, Huaiqing Prefecture, in northwestern Henan Province. Chen Village lies northeast of the Shaolin Temple (Shàolín Sì 少林寺) in neighboring Dengfeng County. Chen Village was renowned for its martial arts tradition and it was the origin of present day T’ai Chi Chuan. He was born towards the end of the Early Reign (1572–1582) of the Wanli Emperor (r. 1572–1620) of the Ming Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 明朝; pinyin: Míng Cháo; 1368–1644).

Chen Wangting's grandfather, Sigui, held the government rank of Dianshi (a position created by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 元朝; pinyin: Yuán Cháo; 1271–1368) and maintained by the Han Chinese Ming Dynasty. Dianshi officials were responsible for tax collection as well as police and jail tasks. Chen Wangting's father, Fumin, was a Zhengshilang (正士郎) official, a well-educated person nominated by imperial edict. Chen Wangting was the second of four sons by Fumin.

From boyhood, Chen Wangting was diligent and talented in both martial arts and literature. He practiced the former in the mornings and the latter in the evenings. He grew to be well versed in both martial arts and literature, renowned as a scholar acquainted with the classics of the Three Teachings as well as a master of hand-to-hand fighting and weapons, including Qinggong (輕功; Literal: Light Skill) in which practitioners climbed high walls and walked on roofs and Pao Chui or Cannon Fist (炮捶拳), a Shaolin style martial art passed down from the Ming Dynasty. He followed in the tradition of the Chen family, which was famed for several generations for its brand of Cannon Fist boxing called Pao-Chui Chen Family” (炮捶陳家族 Pào Chuí Chén Jiāzú). During his youth, he escorted merchant caravans in Henan and Shandong provinces and defeated hordes of bandits, who trembled with fear at the mention of his name. Chen Wangting had a reddish complexion and was solemn-faced with a long beard. He also rode a dark horse and wielded a halberd (a combined spear and battleaxe). His martial arts brothers nicknamed him "Second Master Guan" after Guan Yu, a hero from the novel "The Romance of Three Kingdoms." During the rule of Emperor Chongzhen (1627–1644) of the Ming Dynasty, Chen Wangting was promoted to county magistrate and placed in command of the Wen County garrison.

In some accounts, by the end of the Ming Dynasty, Chen Wangting was a Yangsheng (养生), or Xiucai (秀才), a military talent who passed the county level imperial examination. He undertook Wuju (武舉) examinations (imperial examinations at the provincial level for military officers) in Wen County. The examinations included archery skill. Chen Wangting was renowned for his skill at the "Phoenix seizes the nest" (Fènghuáng qiǎng cháo 鳳凰搶巢) technique in which successive arrows are shot into the red circle of a target so that the following arrow displaces and replaces the prior one. Chen Wangting at first outshone other test participants, but then shot and killed a bystander during the examination. To avoid prosecution for supposed murder, he fled the examination ground and journeyed to Dengfeng City. There he took refuge with Li Jiyu (李际遇), a Robin Hood type leader of a large peasant uprising against corruption by Ming Dynasty officials.

Following a severe famine caused by drought in Henan and Shaanxi provinces, farmers and miners began revolts in late 1639. Li Jiyu (?–1647) of Mogou Village in Dengfeng was one of the rebel leaders. In some histories, Li Jiyu is depicted as a coal miner. In others, he is a military academy graduate from Dengfeng who failed his military examinations and became a farmer. After offending a tax officer and being punished by the magistrate of Dengfeng, Li Jiyu incited a rebellion and established a fortress in Mount Song. Allying himself with other rebel forces, he attacked and looted local officials and rich landlords. He attacked as well the Shaolin Temple, which was a supporter of the Ming government and was a major landlord in the Mount Song region that had participated in the suppression of other peasant rebellions during past dynasties.

In other accounts, the peasant uprising was suppressed by Chen Wangting, acting in his capacity of garrison commander of Wen County. Depending on the account Chen Wangting was a friend to Li Jiyu and/or a cousin of the Li family. Using his close relationship, Wangting entered the camp of Li Jiyu and persuaded him to end his rebellious activities. In some histories, Li Jiyu and his family were sentenced to death. In another, Li accepted an offer by the Ming government for a full pardon in 1643 in exchange for his aid in fighting Manchu invaders from the north. All defense efforts ultimately proved moot, though, as the invaders went on to establish the Manchu Qing Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 大清; pinyin: Dà qīng; Manchu: Daiqing gurun). The Qing Dynasty was founded in 1636 and ruled China from 1644 to 1912.

Having hailed from Mogou village by sacred Mount Song, home of the Shaolin Temple, Li Jiyu had learned the Shaolinquan (少林拳; literal: Shaolin fist) style of Mogou village (磨沟), Shaolin Xiyuanpai (西院; literal: Western Courtyard), which originated from the Western abbey of the Shaolin Temple. Mogou village's Shaolin Xiyuanpai was then separated from the Shaolin Temple for over 100 years (now approximately 500 years). He falsely befriended the Shaolin monks, offering them substantial supplies in order to learn the Yonghuatang, aka. Nanyuan (南院; literal: Southern Courtyard) wugong (武功; literal: warrior skills) of the Shaolin Temple's Southern abbey.

Concerned that the Shaolin monks would side with the ruling dynasty, as they did on past occasions to suppress other peasant rebellions like Wang Xianzhi's (王仙芝) rebellion during the Tang Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 唐朝; pinyin: Táng Cháo; 618–690, 705–907) and the Red Turbans (also the Red Scarves) during the Yuan Dynasty, Li Jiyu planned a massacre of the Shaolin monks in the early 1640's. When the monks were in prayer, he asked them to gather in their hall to celebrate his birthday. Li Jiyu and his men swept down on the monks on horseback, entering their hall and slaying over 200 of their number. This led to the Shaolin Temple being abandoned for several decades. During this time, the existing Shaolin martial arts styles were spread to nearby villages, like Ruan village (阮村) Nanyuan.

In addition to Mogou Xiyuanpai and Shaolin Nanyuanpai wugong, Li Jiyu also learned the teachings of Master Ji Jike, aka. Ji Longfeng (姬際可; (1602–1683), a native of Shanxi Province who had visited the Shaolin Temple. Ji Jike taught what was at the time called Xinyi at the Shaolin Temple. His teachings included the Full-arm Boxing (Tōngbìquán 通臂拳) and Six Harmony Spear methods (Liùhéqiāng 六合枪) of Priest Dong Cheng (董成), a 16th century Taoist and Buddhist practitioner who had learned Shaolinquan from students of Bai Yufeng (白玉峰), the famed restorer of Shaolin martial arts in the early 1500's. Combining his Shaolin Hongquan, Paoquan and Taizu Changquan with long arm gibbon movements of Yuanhouquan (Ape-monkey Boxing), Dong Cheng created his early Tongbiquan, known in the present as Southern Courtyard Stitching-hands Long-arm Boxing (Nányuàn Rènshǒu Tōngbìquán 南院纫手通臂拳). Ji Jike learned the Dong Cheng's Tongbiquan teachings at the Taoist Qianzai Temple (Qiānzǎi Sì 千載寺) in Bo'ai, Henan Province when he journeyed on horseback from Shanxi Province to the Shaolin Temple at the age of 20. Ji Jike's teachings also included a newly formed "rooster style" based on a cockfight he had observed during his travels.

Li Jiyu's dealings with Ji Jike and his students led to the creation of Xingyiquan/Xinyi Liuhequan. At the Shaolin Temple, Li Jiyu combined the new Xinyi elements with the Shaolin Nanyuanpai and Mogou Xiyuanpai styles to create a new style called Changhuxinyimen (长护心意门; literal: Eternal heart protection gateway), meaning "Constant Protection of the Xinyi (mind & intent) Sect."

When Chen Wangting suppressed Li Jiyu's rebellion, he was given the chance to inspect Shaolin manuals and include their principles into what became Chen family-style T'ai Chi Chuan . It was also said that Chen Wangting studied with Li Jiyu in Yonghuatang, learning "xuzhuang" (empty stake) and other skills of Xinyiba (心意把).

Chen Wangting & Jiang Fa

Chen Wangting & Jiang Fa

The conflicting accounts of Chen Wangting's time with Li Jiyu's rebellion all mention Jiang Fa (蒋法; 1574–1655). In the accounts that say Chen Wangting fled to Li Jiyu's army after accidentally killing a bystander during his military examinations, Chen Wangting met Jiang Fa, an officer of Li Jiyu's, and became friends with him. When the rebellion ended, Jiang Fa sought refuge in Chen Village, where he disguised himself as a household servant of Chen Wangting's. To fool outsiders, the locals called him "Jiang Bashi" (巴士). Some say "Bashi" was the name in older times for both seasonal and long-term workers. Others say it is literally "hold posture," which can mean "boxer." Chen Wangting and Jiang Fa were viewed in public as master and servant, but they were actually close friends, exchanging martial arts techniques, teaching children, and farming.

In the histories that say Chen Wangting opposed Li Jiyu's rebellion, Chen Wangting one day chased a bandit three times around the Imperial Mountain-fort by the Shaolin Temple, but could not capture him. Later, Chen Wangting learned that his quarry was Jiang Fa, who "could catch a hare at a hundred paces and excelled at boxing." Jiang Fa eventually became Chen Wangting's retainer.

In yet another story, Jiang Fa journeyed through Chen Village on his way to visit his mother in Hunan province. There he was confronted by Chen Wangting. After a short fight, Chen Wangting asked to be his student to learn his teachings.

Jiang Fa was said to have been a student of Wang Zongyue (王宗岳), who was a famed disciple in the middle 15th Century of the legendary Chang San-feng, and a master of an early form of t'ai chi from the Taoist Jing-Tai Temple (Jǐngtài Sì 景泰寺) in Bao-ji County in Shaanxi Province in Northwest China. Jiang Fa's teachings contributed to what become known as Chen family-style T'ai Chi Chuan .

In Yang family T'ai Chi lineage, Jiang Fa is viewed as the intermediary between Wang Zongyue and Chen Changxing (陳長興 , 1771–1853), teacher of Yang Luchan (杨露禅, 1799–1872) who founded Yang family-style T'ai Chi Chuan .

When Jiang Fa passed away, since he was not part of the Chen family, he was buried beyond the old Chen clan cemetery at a secluded point called Xiao Wu Chakou (小吳茶口 "Crossing of Five Little Roads") northwest of Chen Village on the way to Zhangqiang Town in Kangping County, Lianoing Province, a coastal region in Northeast China (also known as Manchuria). A number of very old graves were sited there, littered among eight poplar trees. Due to its low-lying geography, the area was called Yanghaiwa (楊海窪 "Sea Depression Among Poplars"). It was given a wide birth by the Chen Village locals who believed that ghosts, goblins, demons, monsters, and the like would appear thereabouts and harm passersby. Since Jiang Fa was a skillful martial arts master and upright person, it was considered that he could tame the restless and wandering souls gathered there. From then onwards, the Yanghaiwa area became quiet and peaceful.

Other accounts of Chen Wangting say that in 1644, the last year of the Ming Dynasty, he was appointed Commander of the Garrison Force of Wenxian county. In addition to Manchu military invasions in the north, the Ming Dynasty was beset by internal rebellions in central China that contributed to its downfall. Chen Wangting led military campaigns against rebel peasant forces led by Li Zicheng (李自成) in Shandong Province in East China, the eastern coastal area of China. Li Zicheng, nicknamed the "Dashing King", overthrew the Ming Dynasty in 1644 and ruled over northern China for but a year as the emperor of the ephemeral Shun Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 順朝; pinyin: Shùn Cháo; 1644–1649) before his death in battle. The Shun Dynasty existed during the Ming–Qing transition in Chinese history.

With the fall of the Ming Dynasty, Chen Wangting's career came to end and his life was endangered as a commander of Ming troops and a Ming government official. He fled for his life to Chen Village, where his family hid him from Qing authorities for many years.

During this time of hiding and seclusion, Chen Wangting studied and reflected upon his years of combat experience and learning. He combined his many influences with one another, including the 32 Canon Fist postures created by Qi Jiguang (戚繼光; 1528–1588), a famous earlier Ming general and outstanding strategist in Chinese military history. Qi Jiguang was acclaimed for his defense of the southeastern coast of China against marauding Japanese wokou pirates in the 16th century and the reinforcement of the Great Wall of China against Mongol raiders in Northern China, who sought to restore the Yuan Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 元朝; pinyin: Yuán Cháo; 1271–1368).

Qi Juang was renowned for his defensive maneuvers. His tactics involved simulating weakness and retreating before an enemy. After leading them far inland and lulling them into a false sense of superiority, his forces overwhelmed the enemy in a sudden and decisive counterattack.

Between 1559 and 1561, General Qi wrote his classic text on strategy and martial arts, titled Ji Xiao Xin Shu (New Book of Effective Techniques 紀效新書). His comprehensive manual discussed both weapon and barehanded combat in detail. The most widely quoted chapter is the "Canon of Boxing" (Quán Jīng 全精) in which General Qi laid out 32 postures that formed an effective and powerful repertoire assimilating the principles of sixteen different martial arts styles existing at the time of its writing.

These 32 postures and General Qi's defensive movement strategies and tactics also brought Chen Wangting much success in battle. Chen Wangting internalized the essential principles of Qi Jiguang and added the new concepts of hiding firmness in softness and using different movements to overcome the unpredictable and changing moves of an opponent, elevating external fighting skills to a higher level. Power is generated from within, said Chen Wangting, with the use of "internal energy to become outward strength." This theory is realized in Chen's "Song of the Cannon Boxing": "Actions are varied and executed in a way that is completely unpredictable to the opponent, and I rely on twining movements and numerous hand-touching actions." "Hand-touching" refers to the close contact of the arms to develop sensitivity to react quickly—"nobody knows me, while I alone know everybody." Development of this theory was key in Chen family-style T'ai Chi Chuan .

Chen Wangting codified existing Chen training practice into a body of seven routines. This included five routines of T’ai Chi Chuan (太極拳五路), 108 form Long Fist (一百零八勢長拳, and a more demanding routine called Canon Fist (炮捶一路). The movement of style created by Chen Wangting featured a smooth and graceful twisting or "twining" quality akin to the twisting and spiraling movements of the silkworm larva as it wrapped itself in its cocoon, which came to be called silk reeling (chán sī jīng 纏絲精). He also created the first push hands (tuīshǒu 推手) exercises to let his students practice "adhering" to each other’s movements to increase their awareness of their partners' intentions (yi 意). Traditionally, the techniques of kicking ( 踢 ), striking (dǎ 打), tumbling (diē 跌), throwing (shuāi 摔), and seizing ( 拿) had developed independently and were practiced separately. Chen Wangting included all these techniques into push hands practice and created a method in which the practical movements and techniques were practiced and improved upon in a safe and controlled exercise. He applied this principle to the practice of long weapons or "sticking spears." Two people with spears in contact use circular movements to train body movements, leg techniques, and offensive and defensive maneuvers in an effective and safe way to elevate their skill.

Additionally, Chen Wangting combined different elements of Chinese philosophy into martial arts training pioneered what is now called Neijia, the Internal martial arts (內家; nèi jiā; literal: "internal family"), which focused on spiritual, mental, and chi-related (氣; "life force") aspects as opposed to an "external" approached that focused on physical aspects. He added the principles of Yin-Yang theory (阴阳; lit. "dark-bright", "negative-positive"; the universal principle of complementary opposites), the techniques of Daoyin (導引; literal: "guide and pull"; leading and guiding energy), Tui na (推拿; literal: "push and grasp"; expelling and drawing energy), the Chinese medical theory of energy (qìgōng 气功) and Chinese medical theory of the meridians (jīngluò 经络). These theories are found in Classical Chinese Medicine and studied in texts like the Huang Di Nei Jing (《黃帝內經》; "Yellow Emperor's Canon of Chinese Medicine").

Chen Wangting's teachings were passed from family member to family member for the next several generations. As each member gained his teachings, the theory, technique, and application became more refined. Many people learned of his teachings and came to Chen Village to seek instruction. At first the Chen family did not share their knowledge with outsiders, but eventually did so to spread their teachings. This led to the development of the other traditional T'ai Chi Chuan styles of Yang, Wu (Hao), Wu, and Sun.

Chen Wangting

In the second half of a poem written shortly before his passing, Chen Wangting reflected:

"Sighing for past years when I was strong and sharp. Sweeping away dangerous obstacles without fear! All the favors bestowed on me by the emperor are in vain. Now old and fragile, I am left only with the book of Huang Ting* for company. In moments of listlessness I study martial arts. In times of activity I cultivate the land. In leisure I teach disciples and descendants so that they may be worthy members of society."

* (Huang Ting Jing 黄庭经), a Chinese Taoist meditation text.

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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