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Wang Zongyue

Suggested appearance of Wang Zongyue

Wang Zongyue – T'ai Chi Chuan Legend

Wang Zongyue (Traditional Chinese: 王宗岳; pinyin: Wángzōngyuè) was a fabled t'ai chi chuan master. He is often considered to be the principal and most famous student of Grand Master Chang San-Feng (張三丰), a long-lived 13th century Shaolin monk/Taoist sage/alchemist ascribed with founding neijia (internal martial arts) as a whole and t'ai chi chuan especially.

Zongyue came from Shan-You (山右) in Tai-Gu County, central Shanxi Province (太谷縣, 山西省) in North China. Depending on the source, he was born during either the 13th or 15th century. He was said to have learned an early form of t'ai chi chuan in the Taoist Jing-Tai Temple (Jǐngtài Sì 景泰寺) at Bao-ji County (寶雞縣) in western Shanxi Province.

Zhang San-Feng

Self Portrait of Chang San-Feng

Chang San-feng lived in the Wudang Mountains (Wǔdāng Shān 武當山) in Hubei Province (湖北省) in Central China about 600 years ago after leaving the Shaolin Temple (Shàolín Sì 少林寺). He served the local people as a priest, healer, diviner, and sage. He taught meditation, alchemy, medicine, and qigong (Traditional Chinese: 氣功; qìgōng; "Life Energy Cultivation"). He was said to have learned about immortality from the Taoist mystic Huo Lung (火龍; Fire Dragon), which let him live scores of additional years and continue his benevolent pursuits and studies.

Though a monk master of the Shaolin Five Animals style (Traditional Chinese: 五形; pinyin: wǔ xíng; literal: "Five Forms"), Chang San-Feng sought to develop a method of fighting that was less reliant on physical strength. He envisioned a style that was soft and natural, a style in accord with Taoist founder Laozi's (老子) (6th or 4th century BC) theory of "action without action." Applied to fighting, it led to the defeat of opponents through effortless action.

As the legends go, Chang San-Feng came across a snake and a crane fighting each other one day. He was captivated by their ability to yield so that neither could overcome the other. From this inspiration he blended the Three Teachings of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism to develop a new style of fighting that was characterized by softness and yielding, which he called the "Thirteen Postures" (Shísān Shì 十三勢).

As envisioned by Chang San-Feng and Wang Zongyue, "Postures" (shi) referred not to static "postures" or "positions" but rather fluid physical "movements" of the body and the inner circulation of qi or ch'i (氣 "life force" or "energy flow") within the body.

Knowledge of the "Thirteen Postures" was taught at first only within Taoist monasteries. When it was passed down to Wang Zongyue about 200 years later, he began teaching the knowledge to people outside the Taoist community.

Two of Zongyue's students are said to be Chen Wangting (陈王庭) (1580–1660) and Jiang Fa (蒋法) (1574–1655). Chen Wangting 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 (溫縣, 懷慶縣), in northwestern Henan Province (河南省). Chen Village lies northeast of the Shaolin Temple in neighboring Dengfeng County (登封縣). Jiang Fa came to live in Chen Village, where his teachings contributed to what came to be known as Chen family-style T'ai Chi Chuan, the oldest of the five traditional schools of t'ai chi chuan.

Zongyue is credited with writing the book T'ai Chi Chuan Theories, which is the cornerstone for every school of t'ai chi chuan. The book includes numerous t'ai chi proverbs. Examples include:

"Four ounces deflect one thousand pounds."
"A feather cannot be added; nor can a fly alight."
"My opponent cannot detect my moves, but I can anticipate his."
"Without constant diligent practice there can be no sudden understanding."
"What is called, 'being off by a hair's breadth is to miss by a thousand li*.' Those who study must do it in detail."

*Chinese unit of distance equal to one-third of a mile (0.5 km)

In the mid 19th century, a copy of the book was found by chance by Wu Chen Qing (武澄清) in the back room of a salt store. Some accounts say the store was in Wu Yan County, Henan Provice (武岩縣, 河南省). Other accounts say the book was found in a salt store in Beijing. Chen Qing was the older brother of Wu Yuxian (武禹襄) (1812–1880), who founded what became known as Wu (Hao)-style T'ai Chi Chuan. The book was shared with Yang Luchan (楊露禪) (1799–1872), the founder of Yang-style T'ai Chi Chuan.

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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