All posts by Todd

The Chinese Calendar and the New Year

by Yan Gaofei and Todd Plager

On February 1st, celebrations for the Chinese New Year will be seen and enjoyed world wide. Each year on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, the LiChun Festival (Beginning of Spring Festival) is recognized and celebrated. However, historically, the festival began on February 4th. If this is the case, then why is the holiday currently recognized by the Chinese government on February 1st? It wasn’t always this way. As a matter of fact, it was quite different for thousands of years. If you had lived in China prior to the late Qing Dynasty, you would have celebrated the New Year on February 4th. Additionally, you may have heard that this holiday is the “Lunar New Year”, but in fact it is based upon the solar (sun) year.

For three thousand years, the Chinese calendar was a detailed and splendid tool to monitor the passage of time and seasons. It wasn’t one calendar, but actually two separate calendars that meshed seamlessly to guide people throughout the year. Traditionally, the length of a month was based upon the moon and the length of a year upon the sun. A lunar calendar along with a separate solar calendar provided accurate and intricate information that many used to guide their ships, plant their crops, and travel. Separating the calendars into the lunar and solar allowed for a more detailed understanding of how these two celestial bodies would interact and affect the Earth’s seasons and weather.

Today, most people identify the Chinese calendar as a “lunar” calendar, but now you know that it wasn’t always this way. So what changed – and when? Just after the Qing Dynasty came to an end (approx. CE 1912), a man named Yuan Shikai came to power. Shikai was an uneducated man, a very powerful warlord, and he claimed to be the emperor of a new dynasty. As such, he tried to reinstate a monarchy – but his attempt was short lived and he was deposed. However, during his rule, he decreed that the new year would hence forth be celebrated on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar (Spring) and would no longer take into account the differences between the lunar and solar calendars. The holiday would no longer start on the same day each year, typically February 4th, but would vary. As an example, the Chinese New Year in 2014 was on January 31st. And unfortunately, it has remained that way to this day.

This change represented a great loss of culture and science. The calendar’s solar component was removed and is now based purely upon the lunar system. The calendar lost the influence and meaning of a “year” – the time it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun one time. Thousands of years of Chinese experience and wisdom were abandoned and an understanding that could be traced back to the stone age was lost.

At one time, the Chinese people had very precise knowledge of the actual length of a year. This understanding existed a couple of hundred years before the advent of the Gregorian calendar that we currently use. In CE 1276, the Gaocheng astronomical observatory was constructed near Dengfeng in Henan province, China. It was an amazing a scientific feat which allowed for the measurement of the length of a year down to the second. The knowledge to do so was accumulated over a vast period of time. On one of his group trips to China, Sifu Yan took the group to visit this observatory which is now over 750 years old. You can find more information about the site here: Gaocheng Observatory

Chen Style Tai Chi Weapons – The Qiang

Chen Style Tai Chi Weapons – The Qiang or Spear

by Max Yan and James Cravens

Chen Style Tai Chi has many weapons that are a part of its curriculum. In the old large frame the weapons are practiced today because they play a role in focusing on part of the goal to create a Tai Chi Body.

The Chen Style Tai Chi Spear is also known as “Pear Flower Spear and White-Ape Staff”. This form is a mixture of applications of the spear and staff.

The early version of the Chen Style Tai Chi Spear form is called “Yang Family 24 Spear Form” or “Pear Flower Spear”. This Yang style is not the Yang Tai Chi Family, rather a woman who lived about 900 years ago who was famous for this 24 movement spear form. The name “pear flower” comes from the idea that the pear flower is many flowers and the braid on the spear when it is used well, will give the opponent an overwhelming feeling that the spear is coming from many places and directions and is difficult to defend against.

In the Ming Dynasty, General Qi Ji Guang gave highest credit to this spear technique system and wrote it down in his book “Ji Xiao Xin Shu” which was famous as a military training program. Chen Wang Ting, the founder of Chen Style Tai Chi was a General during the Ming Dynasty. He used the basic pattern of the 24 spear form, but applied the theory of Tai Chi to the spear movement. Therefore the Chen Style Tai Chi 24 Spear Form has the exact sequence and name to this form.

Today the Chen family has put the 24 spear movements with the staff movements to create the 72 movements of “Pear Flower Spear and White Ape Staff”.

The Spear is used to thrust straight ahead and the Staff is used more in hitting side to side or up and down. Just like other weapons in Chen Style Tai Chi, the spear contains sticky technique.

The Thirteen Techniques of the Spear are:

1. Thrusting (downward)

2. Parry left to right

3. Parry right to left

4. Upward parry

5. Striking side to side

6. Pointing downward strike

7. Pointing upward Strike

8. Striking downward

9. Push away

10. Blocking upward

11. Coiling (sticking) clockwise

12. Coiling (sticking) counter clockwise

13. Thrusting (forward)

Another action or technique that is constantly present in the spear movements is Circling.

This weapon is powerful, deceptive, and unpredictable like thunder, lightening and the Dragon. It is known as the “King of Weapons”.

It is hard to practice this weapon. In China they say, “100 days to practice Broadsword but 1000 days to practice the Spear”. One must be careful of the movement of the hand, eye sight, body movement, stance and step. With a Tai Chi body, one can move so that spear and staff technique can be applied in one weapon. The application of spear and staff can alternate instantly because of the Tai Chi body movement. This ability makes the Chen style Tai Chi Spear form unique form other spear forms.

Chen Style Tai Chi Weapons – The Dao

Chen Style Tai Chi Weapons – The Dao or Single Edged Broad Sword

by Max Yan and James Cravens

Chen Style Tai Chi has many weapons that are a part of its curriculum. In the old large frame the weapons are practiced today because they play a role in focusing on part of the goal to create a Tai Chi Body.

Chen Style Tai Chi Single Broad Sword (Dan Dao) is one type of short weapon form among the routines of Chen Style Tai Chi. There are only 13 movements in the old form which indicates the reason the form is named “13 Broad Sword Movements”. In 1930-1938, a famous 18th generation Chen Style master, Chen Zhao Pi, taught in Nan Jing (the southern capital of China). At this time he added nine more movements to the form which is now the way the people in Chen village practice the Broad Sword.

Chen Style Tai Chi Single Broad Sword Form is very short and efficient. The application of every movement is very realistic. Truly the Broad Sword form demonstrates how Chen Style Tai Chi uses a combination of soft and hard, slow and fast, jumping, leaping, relaxing, active, shaking, stickiness, following, silk reeling, and making the opponent empty his force. The form looks like a fierce tiger. The force looks powerful and is described “like splitting a mountain”. This short weapon can also reach a deceptively long distance.

The Thirteen Techniques of Broadsword:

1. Gun – deflect by turning left

2. Bi – deflect by turning right

3. Zha – thrust

4. Lan – parrying with back side of Broadsword

5. Pi – cleave – vertical plan

6. Kan – cutting – horizontal plane

7. Liao – circular deflection with point upward

8. Jie – block (using edge)

9. Chan – circular twisting

10. Dou – shaking (Fa Jing)

11. Jia – lift up opponents weapon overhead

12. Mo – level or oblique upward slicing cut

13. Tiao – upward flicking with top two inches

When you practice the Single Broadsword, it is important that you coordinate well the hand, eye sight, the body and the footwork. When one part moves every part moves. In every movement one should make sure that the waist is the axis. As you practice, the force should move continuously without a hesitation or break. The technique should be clean and the design and applications should be obvious or clear. The body and movement should fulfill the basic requirements of Chen Style Tai Chi. When practicing one should learn to coil the Broadsword very close around the head, back and waist. The cutting movement should be big and strong (different from jian).

An old saying in Chinese Martial Art was that “Single Broadsword depends on the other hand, and Double Broadsword depends on footwork”. One should pay much attention to the empty hand or minor hand and how it should coordinate with the sword movement. Sometimes the left hand palm will support (on back of the Broadsword) and follow the technique and movement of the sword when it moves upward (jia) or side to side (gun). Sometimes the left hand is used for clearing, blocking etc. Thirdly, the left or empty hand is used for counterbalancing. The palm should harmonize with the body movement.

This entire exercise must be based on the empty hand form. When moving, the power should be able to be sent to the end of our body. When coming down or moving back, the energy will go back to the Dantian or the center of the body. When you are familiar with the form, the body can push the Broadsword or the Broadsword can lead the body.

Dan Dao – Single Edged Broadsword Form

1. Beginning

2. Protect Heart

3. Green Dragon From Water

4. Wind Whips The Flower

5. White Clouds Above Our Head

6. Black Tiger Searching the Mountain

7. Shu Qin Carrying a Sword on His Back

8. Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg

9. Rolling Away from the Wind

10. Cut White Snake Body

11. Three Rings Around the Sun

12. Move the Clouds and See the Sun

13. Beat Grass to Find Snake Left

14. Beat Grass to Find Snake Right

15. Green Dragon From Water

16. Wind Whips The Flower

17. Wild Goose Opens Wings

18. Ye Cha Searching the Ocean

19. Left Turning the Body To Cut

20. Right Turning the Body to Cut

21. White Snake Sticks Out Tongue

22. Holding the Moon

23. Finishing

View a Printable Version of the Form Here

Chen Style Tai Chi Weapons – The Jian

Chen Style Tai Chi Weapons – The Jian or Double Edged Sword

by Max Yan and James Cravens

Chen Style Tai Chi has many weapons that are a part of its curriculum. In the old large frame the weapons are practiced today because they play a role in focusing on part of the goal to create a Tai Chi Body. For example, the Two Edged Sword, although a difficult weapon to master, is placed early in the curriculum to help in the development of loosening the shoulders and hips.

The single straight two edged sword (dan jian), of Chen style Tai Chi, is one type of short weapon from among the routines of Tai Chi. Over the past few hundred years, it has been widely disseminated among the villagers of Chenjiagou and is one of the oldest weapons sets of Chen Style Tai Chi. There are altogether 49 movements in the single straight double edged sword routine. The set of movements is logically arranged, tightly knit, and makes clear use of the different sword techniques such as: ci (level or upward thrust), pi (cleave), liao (circular deflection with point upward), gua (hang up), dian (flick the wrist to strike downward with the tip), mo (level or oblique upward slicing cut), tuo (push up), jia (lift up opponent’s weapon overhead), sao (horizontal circular slicing), jie (block), zha (downward thrust), tui (push), and hua (circular neutralizing striking patterns).

The Tai Chi sword also combines the natural and poised body dynamics of Chen style bare-handed boxing and its nimble yet stable footwork. Suddenly hard then suddenly soft, its technique hidden and then suddenly manifest. The sword makes use of “zhan nian lian sui” or sticking to the opponent like a shadow. The posture changes according to the sudden and changeable positioning methods of “teng shan zhe kong” which include leaping ahead, suddenly shifting aside, countering swiftly, and leaving the opponent striking at nothing.

The sword truly embodies Chen style Tai Chi principles of using the movements of the body to move the sword. Movements flow continuously one into the other without stopping, using circular and enveloping tactics, storing and releasing energy in turn, blending both the hard and the supple, with fast movements alternating with slow movements. The Chen style sword practitioner sticks with the opponent without losing contact, never failing to take advantage of an opening, and uses deceptive actions to lure the opponent. The changes are unpredictable, contracting and stretching, coming and going, with a method of energetically striking with hard energy.

When practicing the Chen style sword, it is necessary that you do so on the basis of practicing the bare-handed forms well; then you will be able to proceed with using your thoughts to guide your internal energy (yi yi dao qi), using your internal energy to drive the movements of your body (yi qi cui shen), sending our energy to the tip of the sword (jing guan jiqn xiao), with your whole body acting together in unison (zhou shen yi zhi), and your movements naturally turning like a rolling ball (yuan zhuan zi ran).

There is a saying in martial arts: “the broadsword is like a fierce tiger, the straight-edged sword is like a swimming dragon”. Therefore, when you practice with the sword it is the same as practicing bare-handed boxing; your movements are like moving clouds or a flowing stream – continuous without stopping, turning freely in a bold and vigorous way , issuing energy like a lion tossing his mane, with a myriad of rapid changes. When you practice the sword really well, not only can you bring about the result of strengthening your body, but you can bring about a completely relaxed and happy state of mind, and realize the benefits of achieving beauty in this art. The famous Taiji master, Chen Zhao-Pi (18th generation) composed the following verse to express this:

“Zha (downward or sideways thrust), dian (point with a downward flick), mo (oblique upward cut), pi (cleave), ci (level or upward forward thrust), draw into spirals and lead the attacker’s energy harmlessly (uses a spiralling action to disarm the opponent).”

“Tiao (split from bottom to top) and li (split from top to bottom) is the proper way; tui tuo (push away and lift up) is the orthodox method.”

“There are ways to advance while leading the attacker in; the horizontal and vertical movements of the sword a flash of steel.”

“Contracting like a hedgehog; releasing energy as if reaching to the end of a rainbow.”

“A myriad sun rays radiate brilliantly; the glorious radiance is marvelously boundless.”

“After long practice with the Tai Chi sword; when your skill is perfected, you will achieve an enlightenment of your own.”

Why is Wuji So Important for Improving Health

Why is Wuji So Important for Improving Health?

by Max Yan and Jude Smallwood

In Chinese philosophy, the meaning of Wuji is absolute quiet, void of any movement, thought or activity, and complete nothingness. Wuji is the quiet before the very beginning or after the very end. Taiji comes from Wuji and returns to Wuji and is represented by the center circle within the large circle of the Taiji symbol. The exercise discussed in this article is based on this philosophy.

The immediate result of Wuji is the reduction of tension, even deep unconscious body tension, which usually goes, undetected. Often we are unaware of these “background” tensions but by the time we discover their unhealthy effect on us, it is too late. By then, they have contributed to minor discomforts like headaches, indigestion, high blood pressure and other ailments common in our high stress society. When these deep tensions continue unchecked, they eventually can result in serious illness, disease or injury.

Chinese Medicine teaches that tension (stress) will block the continuous smooth flow of chi. Because chi is the “leader” of the blood, poor chi circulation will negatively influence the blood circulation causing the body to grow improperly. Without the nourishment provided by a strong chi/blood movement, our body becomes “dry” and stiff, unable to optimize organic performance. Good chi and blood flow enable the body’s systems to be “fluid” and soft in order to be successfully functional. Without good chi/blood circulation the total body, its organs, and its systems (nervous, circulatory, digestive, etc.), falls out of natural harmony resulting in sickness, weakness, systemic breakdowns, stress related illnesses and disorders. Chi flow stimulates blood flow and together they are vital for a good interchange of the internal energy necessary for good health.

When you develop the ability to relax completely and go into a deep “quiet,” in time, you will reduce and eventually reverse the damage produced by pressure and emotional or physical strain. Initially it may appear that nothing has changed outwardly but, in fact, much has changed internally. After practicing Wuji, many people discover that their face and hands become warm and red, and the flesh (as in the hands) appears more “puffy” and softer to the touch than usual. These traits are evidence of good chi circulation.

Today, we are more aware of how unhealthy emotions, like anger, worry, fear, sadness and insecurity affect our physical well-being. Modern medicine emphasizes that stress and tension are the largest contributing factors for the alarming increase in heart disease, nervous disorders, weakness, mental failure, and general health breakdowns. The greatest killer in this country is stress and related illnesses or conditions.

According to the theory of Chinese Medicine, each emotion is directly related to a specific bodily function or organ, and that “quietness” or harmony helps the kidneys to heighten the hormonal system. It considers the kidney the most important organ of the body and directly connected to the hormone system. When the mind is quiet and relaxed, the kidneys become stronger and more stable, and stimulate hormone production. Due to this increased hormonal surge, more energy/chi is manufactured. Then all bodily systems and organic material like bones, organs and skin in turn feast on the chi and blood. If the kidney is denied quiet and stillness, energy decreases producing ill side effects like loss of strength. As a result, each organ and system, like the “domino effect” is adversely affected one after the other.

The “Domino Effect” of Stress On Our Health

Step 1 – Mind is out of harmony

Step 2 – Kidneys become weak

Step 3 – Hormone production decreases

Step 4 – Less energy/chi manufactured

Step 5 – Entire organic body receives insufficient nourishment from chi & blood

Step 6 – We weaken and become sick

The Best Natural Way to Improve Health

Step 1 – Mind is quiet and in harmony

Step 2 – Kidneys become stronger

Step 3 – Hormone production increases

Step 4 – More energy/chi is manufactured

Step 5 – The entire organic body feasts on the chi & blood

Step 6 – We become stronger from the inside to the outside

Popular and professional opinions unanimously agree that a nutritious diet, proper exercise, fresh air and correct sleeping habits are necessary to preserve good health. Physical exercises like body building, and aerobics can draw chi to specific areas and also increase circulation. However, this represents a short term solution for long term health. This concept is better explained by the analogy of the ordinary battery.

When the battery’s circuit is properly connected and the voltage is increased, the tester bulb brightens. However, if the battery is not recharged or changed to a stronger one (see steps: The Best Natural Way to Improve Health), the bulb stays lit for a shorter period of time because the battery will be drained of power more quickly. Likewise, you can generate chi with exercise but if you do not include these steps, you are attempting to “light the bulb” without improving your battery. Based on this theory even people who make absolutely no effort to maintain a long healthy life and are just “easy going” can actually out live the proverbial health fanatic. This is because the efforts of these health conscious people start after step five (5) and although they will burn their bulb brighter, it will burn for a shorter time with the same battery. An easy going person will burn his bulb at a consistently lower voltage for a longer period with the same battery (longer life).

Everyday we witness the many situations in which harmony plays a critical role in maintaining good health. We often hear of a person, who, in spite of making all the right choices to maintain good health, unexpectedly suffers a severe injury or crippling disease, or even dies prematurely. And yet, we observe the opposite where people survive to an old age even though they have abused their body or had physical habits, which would normally guarantee disease or even an early death. But somehow they live a long time with little or no suffering despite their poor living. Why? It is simple. Quite often the latter, for one reason or another, was able to give minimal attention to their stress and emotional challenges. Therefore, without realizing it, they were able to reduce or eliminate their worry and anxiety tremendously benefiting mental and physical health. People who can relax do not “empower” their daily tensions and are better able to nourish their “internal” body and physically resist the potential bad effects from such negative pressure. They automatically enjoy better health.

An old Chinese saying, “kind people have a long life”, has very sound physiological reasoning. By understanding the important role peace and quiet has on our health, we can see why people in harmony (kind people) have a long life. They obviously and perhaps unknowingly, took good care of their peace of mind and were able to “let go” of internal obstructions. They experienced “quiet.”

Wuji really is a simple exercise and you just have to follow the steps listed:

1. Stand naturally with the feet placed apart to the width of the shoulders. Place your hands to your side with the palms facing inwardly.

2. Close your eyes and smile a little. The tongue should naturally touch the roof of the mouth. Make certain that your body is straight with minimal or no muscle tension.

3. Imagine “taking a shower inside your body”; meaning that warm water at the top of the head would slowly trickle down while cleansing the whole body and exit from the bottom of the feet. Repeat this mental exercise three times.

4. Gently focus your mind on the lower abdomen (dan tian) but do not force the attention. Visualize a calm, peaceful place like the middle of the ocean, top of a mountain or deep in the forest. Keep your focus there as long as you can.

5. Finish with the Wuji closing exercise.

6. Walk around for one or two minutes.

This exercise is a wonderful exercise! The goal is reach a state of nothingness, calmness encountered only when you completely relax and release all tension and internal stress. The correct Wuji standing posture can be learned easily and with minimal daily exercise, it will soon benefit you mentally and physically. Good Wuji does not require a strict scheduling or special timing. You can start with three or five minutes at a time and do it as often as you can gradually increasing your practice time at your own pace. There is no rush to excel; the main objective is “quiet”.

Successful meditation can help you gain tranquility but some styles of meditation do not really produce serenity as intended. They can consist of a series of complicated movements, imagination activity, visualization exercises, breath control techniques, and various other aversions. Most people need to relax deeply but are unable to and so they tend to pursue these meditations and exercises to help them. However, it is possible to be misled by a technique, which will defeat the main purpose – the attainment of peace and quiet.

Chinese Medicine has taught for thousands of years that, for all intents and purposes, proper exercise and nutrition are good but the most significant factor in good health is to first have peace and quiet, internal harmony. This is the key point emphasized by Chen Xin, 16th generation Chen Family in his great works, Illustration of Chen Style Tai chi:

“The mind is the director and control center of the body; the kidney is the source of life (the building and rejuvenating energy of the body). We must clear our mind of all desires and distractions in order to build, protect and maintain a well-developed foundation. When our foundation or “root” (mind and kidney) is stable and strong, our body is also stable and strong like a well-rooted tree, which produces flourishing leaves and healthy limbs. With a strong foundation, our body will perform well at anything we choose. This is the most important principal.”

“No matter how many theories and concepts are practiced, there is none more important than clearing our minds of all distractions in order to build a good foundation. A good foundation increases Original Chi and is the source of our body’s life force. As your body becomes stronger, your practice will develop much better than someone who doesn’t understand and apply this primary principal.”

When your mind is calm, you will experience conscious and unconscious changes. As you “let go”, you release muscle tension and distractions like pain and mental “chatter”. You then begin to enjoy the benefits of Wuji. Try it. See how deep into this quiet state you can go and what sensations you can experience.

Eight Piece Brocade



Follow along with the Eight Piece Brocade Here.

These ancient Chinese exercises are one of the oldest classic exercise forms and can be traced back over one thousand years. Anyone practicing these exercises will easily see the stretching and strengthening benefits. What isn’t obvious is how these exercises affect Chi flow in the body. They are specifically designed to open Chi pathways and promote good health. Eight Piece Brocade remains one of the major training programs in the Shaolin Temple, China. Young monks start their training with these particular exercises. The exercises are so important that the Shaolin Temple built statues to help people remember them.

Notes on 8 Piece Brocade:

1. Holding Heaven:

a. arms at sides – palms come up through center
c. up over head – look up -press palms to sky
d. finger tips face each other
e. separate hands out sides and down
f. feet should width apart – inhale up – exhale down

2. Shooting a Bow:

a. horse stance – hands in front of sternum – loose fists
c. look to left – extend left arm – draw back right
d. inhale – open chest
f. exhale as hands come back to center

3. Raising One Arm

a. heels together
b. slowly inhale – turn to right – sit in left leg
c. hands crossed in front of sternum
d. raise left arm – palm up to sky – rotate clockwise
e. lower left arm – palm down to ground rotate counter clockwise
f. exhale return to center

4. Looking Backward

a. heels together
b. slowly inhale – turn to left – sit in right
c. look back over left shoulder – keep body straight
d. return to center – exhale

5. Rotate the Body

a. horse stance – hands on hips
b. rotate torso to right
c. rotate torso back – head back as well
d. complete rotation to left – then front – looking down

6. Bending the Torso

a. shoulder width stance – hands at sides
b. bring hands up through center over head
c. bend backwards – inhaling slowly
d. bend forwards at hips – relax – exhale
e. straighten torso – repeat

7. Holding the Fist

a. horse stance – fists at waist
b. right fist slow straight punch – inhale slowly – maximum tension
c. draw back fist – exhale slowly

8. Standing on the Toes

a. feet together – breath normally
b. rise up on balls of feet
c. drop all weight back on to heels
d. do only seven repetitions

What is General Guan Reading?


by Max Yan and Todd Plager

General Guan

In homes, offices and traditional Gong Fu schools across China, people display General Guan’s picture or statue. General Guan is usually shown seated and holding a scroll. Do you know what he is reading?

The book he is reading is called, “Spring and Autumn” and was written by Confucius. The title, “Spring and Autumn” would probably be better translated into english as, “Year After Year.” The book tells of the history of China from the years, circ. 70O BC to circ, 50O BC, It is an accurate record of how the politicians, noblemen and royalty fought with each other for wealth and holdings. It also tells of the treatment of the commoner under the rule of these people. Confucius recounts the acts of trickery, abandonment and pain that befell the common person at the hands of the leaders and politicians along with the downfall of those leaders.

Confucius wanted his people and future generations to remember their past and to provide a way to learn from it. Confucius is quoted as saying, “Because of this book, some people understand me and some people hate me.” By reading this book, people could understand the Confucian way of living a good life and raising a family. Also, leaders could gain insight on how to rule a country. His truthful depiction of China’s history also generated negative feelings from some people who would prefer the past to remain silent. “Spring and Autumn” is not only considered a history book, but a book of philosophy as well.

It is said that General Guan became a great leader by reading “Spring and Autumn” again and again. In addition to being considered a brave general, General Guan came to symbolize the virtues of fearlessness, loyalty, fairness, and selflessness. This is why his picture or statue is displayed all over China. Traditional Chinese believe that not living according to these tenants would bring misfortune into their lives. Some even believe that displaying a picture or statue of General Guan will ward off misfortune. Unfortunately, people now worship General Guan without knowing how he became the leader he was. Today, people expect that merely owning the statue or picture of General Guan will bring them good fortune without living by the same tenets that he did. General Guan’s statue and picture should serve as reminders of who he was and what he stood for ethically.

General Guan’s weapon became known as, “Spring and Autumn Broad Sword” because of his association with this book. Chen style tai chi includes a form for this weapon, the “Spring and Autumn Broad Sword.” The first movement is called “General Guan holding broad sword going up Ba Bridge” (Ba Bridge is a very famous old bridge in the old capital of China, called Xian). This form is an excellent weapons form. The techniques are very clear, the movements are practical and the form is cleverly thought out. It is a good form for improving internal power and developing dantien rotation. This was the favored weapon of the founder of Tai Chi, Chen Wang Ting.

Chen Style Taijiquan – History and Variants

Chen Style Taijiquan

by Arthur Rosenfeld

This article first appeared in Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine September 2007

Chen style Taijiquan is considered to be the senior branch of the five main Taijiquan family styles and the third in terms of popularity. Compared to the other main Taijiquan styles Chen style is known for its lower stances, so-called silk reeling technique, and bursts of power known as fajin. While there are many hundreds of schools teaching Taijiquan around the world, the five family styles are said to go the farthest in emphasizing the martial art style of teaching that has long defined Taijiquan.


The Chen family was originally from Hong Tong County, Shanxi Province. The village was known as Chang Yang Chun or Sunshine Village. Later, because of the number of Chen family inhabitants and because of the three deep ravines (Gou) besides the village, the village came to be known as Chen Jia Gou or Chen Family Gorge.

Some people claim the system was founded by first generation Chen family member, Chen Pu, who migrated from Shanxi to Wen County, Henan Province.  While no definite records exist, Chen Pu may well have been a martial artist, as the beginning of the Ming dynasty was a chaotic period in Chinese history and martial skills were critical for survival.  Interestingly, the next three generations of the family produced only one son so the line was nearly extinguished during that period.

The latest documented discovery is that the system as we know it today began with ninth-generation Chen Wangting (1600-1680).  In those days it was the custom to convey information in poetry.  While Wanting’s style had no name, it was put forth in a poem he titled “Long and Short Song.”

In creating the art he drew from a number of sources including Jixiaoxinshu (New Book Of Effective Techniques,) a military classic penned by General Qi Jiguang. But what is most significant about Wangting‘s contribution is his incorporation of Taoist philosophy into his martial system, drawing from Huang Ting Jing (Classic of the Yellow Court), a Taoist book of high-level spiritual training often confused with Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic) the foundation volume of Chinese medical theory.

Recent evidence credits the Li family, Wangting’s mother’s side, with the Taoist influence. There was a mythical figure, Wang Zhong Yue, author of the classic Taijiquan Lun.  We now know that Wang was a schoolteacher hired by the Li family. Interestingly the Li family also has their own martial art called Wuji system. Wuji is the word for the Taoist concept of emptiness, the state of the universe, pregnant with infinite possibility, before it organized into the harmonious interplay of opposing forces known as taijiWangting’s training partner was Jiang Fa, a rebel who hid with the Chen family after fleeing a government crackdown on Song Mountain.

In the generations since, the Chen village has since produced many Taijiquan experts. Perhaps their best-known-if not the best-was fourteenth-generation Chen Changxing (1771-1853). Chen Changxing taught Yang Luchan for a period of eighteen years during the early nineteenth century. Yang went on to become famous for developing Yang style Taijiquan, from which sprang a number of modern variants, including Wu style.

Chen style has been recognized as one of the prominent styles of martial art in China in recent decades, due mostly to the efforts of 17th generation Chen family member Chen Fake (1887-1957) who taught for many years in Beijing, and was regarded as an extraordinary and undefeated fighter. Today, Chen Fake’s direct students teach in Beijing, Xi’an, and Shandong Province, but not inside the Chen village. Chen Taijiquan inside the village now derives from Chen Zhao Pi, who was not a direct student of Chen Fake. Chen Zhao Pi’s lineage includes modern exponents Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei and others.


(Lao) Da Jia – (Old) Large frame and Xiao Jia (Small frame)

The name “old frame” or “old style” arises from the fact that this form or sequence of movements is sometimes regarded as being older in origin than Xiao Jia. This view is especially predominant in Western sources, however no literature of Chen style before 1932 mentions anything about new, old, big or small styles. It is more useful to think of the descriptive names small and large as pertaining to training methods, lineage, and social dimensions, rather than differences between forms.

In Da Jia, the student begins with large movements and progressively refines the form as a whole. In the early days, Da Jia proponents tended to be farmers, bodyguards, and martial arts instructors-fit, strong individuals who made a living from their art or needed it for practical reasons. These early practitioners did not have time to polish their skills for pleasure; refinement came through application and repetition.  Da Jia practitioners lived on the south side of the Chen village. As a training method, Da Jia was practiced by Chen Changxing, and Chen Fake.

Many people misunderstand the term Xiao Jia to mean small movement.  In fact, the movements of today’s Xiao Jia are not small at all.  The word xiao refers to detail, not size.  In Xiao Jia training,, minute attention is paid to each movement as it is learned. Early Xiao Jia practitioners were scholars, businessmen, family chiefs, landlords, and government officials from the north side of the Chen village. Being individuals of means, they had more leisure time to perfect each move as it was learned. Because Xiao Jia emphasizes detail at the beginning, it is more challenging at the outset, and therefore not as popular as Da Jia.  However, historically, Xiao Jia also produced many famous masters.  In the Qing dynasty, the government predominantly gave titles to Chen family Xiao Jia masters.  Famous exponents include Chen Qingping, a wealthy merchant and teacher of Wu Yuxiang, founder of Wu Taijiquan, (which later led to Sun style) and Chen Xin, author of the classic Illustrated Chen TaijiquanChen Xin’s descendents are Chen Ke Zhong and contemporary master Chen Bo Xiang, who resides in the family village.

Xin Jia, or New Frame

Rather than a different standard form, the term Xin Jia refers to any of a number of form variants created by specific teachers. Chen Zhao Kui’s Xin Jia, for example, emphasizes forearm turning. Of course in the face of deeper understanding the significance of such emphasis vanishes because any part of the body can be moved according to silk-reeling principles. Silk-reeling refers to a particular concept of three-dimensional movement, given its evocative name after the elusive process of turning the thread of the silk worm into fabric. It is important to note that today the Chinese government’s Chen style Taijiquan competition form is based on Chen Zhao Kui’s version of Xin Jia.


Chen Fake’s student Feng Zhiqiang created Chen Style Xin Yi Hun Yuan Taijiquan based on Lao Da Jia with an influence from Shanxi Xingyi.

In Shangdong Province another group practices Chen style combat taijiquan, based on Chen Fake’s fighting movements.

Chen Qingping lived in Zhao Bao town and his students there developed a style today referred to as Zhao Bao, a Xiao Jia derivitive.

After 1980, many masters began to create their own shortened version of Chen Taijiquan.

Non-form Training

Before teaching the forms, the instructor may have the students do stance training such as standing-post (standing meditation) and various qigong sequences and silk reeling exercises. These are done to condition and strengthen the body for the correct frame and alignment before moving to the more complicated movements that comprise the forms. Other methods of training for Chen style use training aids including: Taijiquan ball, Taijiquan ruler, and pole/spear shaking exercises.

In addition to the solo exercises listed above, there are partner exercises originally known as ga shou (touching hands).  Nowadays less accurately called “pushing hands,” these drills are designed to help students maintain the correct body structure when faced with resistance. There are also a few rolling-arm patterns–now known as moving-step push hands-that students learn before they move on to the free-style exercises that are a prelude to free sparring.

Weapons Forms

Authentic, original Chen Taijiquan is limited to the unique weapons forms listed below, all of which are derived from battlefield combat.

  • Jian (Straight Sword) form
  • Dan Dao (Thirteen-Posture Broadsword single broadsword) form
  • Qiang (spear) form
  • Da Gan (Long Pole, an advanced version of the spear form) form
  • Guan Dao (Halberd) form
  • Langya Bang (Wolf-tooth mace) form
  • Shuang Dao (Double Broadsword) form
  • Shuang Jian (Two-section pole) form
  • Double metal club form
  • Zhan Jian (sticking sword – two person) form
  • Zhan Qiang (sticking spear – two-person) form


The Jian – Double Edged Straight Sword

Original Chen Family Tai Chi

The Jian – Double Edged Tai Chi Sword Form

1. Tai Chi Sword Beginning Posture

2. Face the Sun

3. Immortal Pointing the Way

4. Green Dragon Flies Out of Water

5. Protecting the Knee

6. Closing the Gate

7. Green Dragon Flies Out of Water

8. Turn Body and Chop with Sword

9. Green Dragon Turns Its Body

10. Diagonal Flying

11. Open Wings and Bow Head

12. Beat Grass to Find Snake

13. Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg

14. Immortal Pointing the Way

15. Cover and Pull Back

16. Twisted Roots of Ancient Tree

17. Hungry Tiger Pounces on Prey

18. Green Dragon Swings Its Tail

19. Backward Arm Circling

20. Wild Horse Leaping Ravine

21. White Snake Spits Out

22. Black Dragon Swings Tail

23. Zhong Kui Holds the Sword

24. Luohan Subduing Dragon

25. Black Bear Turns Backward

26. Swallow Pecks the Mud

27. White Snake Spits Out

28. Diagonal Flying

29. Hawk and Bear Compete with Intelligence

30. Swallow Pecks the Mud

31. Pluck Star and Return It

32. Scoop Moon from Under Sea

33. Immortal Pointing the Way

34. Phoenix Dips Its Head

35. Swallow Pecks the Mud

36. White Snake Spits Out

37. Diagonal Flying

38. Push Away 1000 lbs Left

39. Push Away 1000 lbs Right

40. Swallow Pecks the Mud

41. White Ape Offering Fruit

42. Falling Flowers

43. Jab Upward then Downward

44. Diagonal Flying

45. Nezha Searching the Sea

46. Boa Turns Itself Around

47. Weituo Presents a Pounder

48. Millstone Turning Sword

49. Tai Chi Sword Returning to Origin

View a printable version here.

Important Accupoints in Tai Chi

This Chart Show the Accupoints that are Important in Tai Chi and Wuji Posture.

Tai Chi Acupoints

Acupoints Related to Chen Taiji and Wuji

Practicing Wuji meditation is as important in your training as is Taiji movement. Wuji meditation gives you a chance to feel body alignment and it allows Qi to accumulate in your Dantien. The Wuji alignment that you will come to feel in your meditation is the same alignment that we look for in our Taiji movement.

Bai Hui also known as the Crown Point

Feel as though you are suspended or hanging from this point. If your eyes were open they would be gazing out at a distant horizon. Close your eyes during meditation and touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth.

Jian Jing also known as the Shoulder Well

Take care to relax the shoulder downwards. You can become aware of obvious tension by raising your shoulders to your ears and letting them drop.

Zhong Fu also known as the Middle Mansion

This is the soft area just inside the shoulder area. Take care not to stick the chest out nor to collapse. Find balance in relaxing the chest and releasing tension from the upper body.

Qi Men also known as the Cyclic Door

This area will often store tension if you breath up into your rib cage. Try breathing down into your belly, letting the abdomen expand and contract. Relax the rib cage downwards and in towards the spine.

Zhang Men also known as the Bright Door

Keep this area soft. Along with the Zhang Men you will release tension out of the torso by breathing down into the belly.

Qi Chong also known as the Qi Pouring

Feel into the pelvis and let it relax downwards as if you were taking a seat on a small stool directly beneath you. Do not tuck the pelvis, simply let it find balance between tipping forward or tucking backwards. As you relax down to this point you may become aware that the small of your back, the Ming Men area, has flattened out.

Feng Shi also known as the Wind Market

Touch this spot with the middle finger of each hand while you practice Wuji mediation. Open the entire hand keeping it soft.

Wei Zhong also known as the Popliteal Center

Bend your knees slightly. Take care to maintain an arch shape between the legs. Do not turn the knees out, rather find balance between collapse and tension.

Yong Quan also known as the Bubbling Well

Center your body weight over this point. You may find it easier to center your weight front to back and then shift to a point just behind the ball of the foot.

View a printable version of the chart here.