Introduction to Tai Chi Chuan

The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan

Yang Lu Chan (1799–1872) created what we today call the Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan. His son Yang Ban Hou (1837–1892) continued the style. Yang Ban Hou had a brother called Yang Jian Hou (1839–1917) who had a son called Yang Shao Hou (1862–1929) who also continued the family-style. Unfortunately, the younger brother of Yang Shao Hou decided to completely change the style. His name was Yang Cheng Fu (1883-1936). He created the New Yang Style of Tai Chi.

The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan is a practical martial art, the training is very demanding. It uses punches and kicks to the opponents anatomical weak points (temple, neck, throat, jaw, groin etc). The strikes are fast and explosive. The purpose of the art is to defeat the opponent so that they can not continue to attack you. The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan is a practical martial art that can be used for self-defence.

The New Yang Style of Tai Chi created by Yang Cheng Fu is the exact opposite. It has pushing and pulling of the opponent, to make them fall over. They are neither hurt nor defeated and are able to re-attack. There are no demanding movements. The New Yang Style of Tai Chi created by Yang Cheng Fu is a type of health-promoting dance that cannot be used for self-defence.

I only practice the Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan.

The Old Yang Style San Sau Fight Training

The San Sau is the most important part of the Old Yang Style Tai Chi system.

There is an A side and a B side that fit together. There are approximately 50 moves on each side. This fight sequence is practiced explosively fast with great force and power. Its applications are very practical and effective. All possible combinations of strikes are used: punches and palm strikes, shoulder strikes and elbow strikes, kicks and knees.

This is the main component of The Old Yang Style. It is how you use Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art.

San Sau literally means Free Hands. The implication is that after the pre-arranged fight sequence has been mastered then the moves can be in any order and it becomes spontaneous free fighting – San Sau (Free Hands).

Two of Paul’s students demonstrate the Old Yang Style Tai Chi Large San Sau Two Person Fighting Form

Paul Brecher and one of his students demonstrate The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Large San Sau Two Person Fighting Form

The Old Yang Style Pau Chui Cannon Fist Form

When we do not have a training partner, we can practice the A side followed by the B side in the air by ourselves, explosively fast with great force and power. This is called The Old Yang Style Pau Chui Cannon Fist Form.

This form developes the Jin (Internal Force) and Fa Jin (explosive expression of the Internal Force).

The Pau Chui Cannon Fist Form is the main form of the Old Yang Style Tai Chi system.

Here is a description of Yang Shao Hou (the grandson of Yang Lu Chan) demonstrating the Old Yang Style Pau Chui Cannon Fist Form.

The description is from the book, Yang Style Taijiquan published by Morning Glory Publishers in Beijing in 1988:

“Yang Shao Hou was swift and powerful in delivering his blows and, with eyes blazing like torches, a grim smile on his face and roaring and howling as he darted back and forth, he was held in awe by others. The technical features of his Tai Chi Chuan were: overcoming strong attacks with movements that appeared to be soft, adapting oneself to others movements and following up with quick attacks, using the motion of Sudden Connection Fa Jin to defeat the opponent with surprise attacks. The hand movements included, catching, striking and capturing, injuring the attackers’ muscles and harming his bone’s, attacking the opponent veins, using Continuous Fa Jin and Sudden Connection Fa Jin to strike the attacker down with lightning speed. His attacking movements were swift and ferocious and his facial expression was changeable and varied”.

Throughout his life this is the main form that Yang Shao Hou practiced – The Old Yang Style Pau Chui Cannon Fist Form.

Paul Brecher demonstrates the A side of the Old Yang Style Tai Chi Pao Chui Cannon Fist Form

The old yang style tai chi Long Form

The Old Yang Style Long Form takes the martial arts movements from the Pau Chui Cannon Fist Form and changes their order so they are no longer a two person fight sequence. 

This form as well as developing the the Jin (Internal Force) and Fa Jin (explosive expression of the Internal Force) also developes the Chi (healing energy). So we can fight disease and illness and heal our martial arts injuries. 

Paul Brecher demonstrates the Third Section of the Old Yang Style Tai Chi Long Form

The Yang Family were famous for their martial arts ability which came from their practice of the Large San Sau Two Person Fight Training and the Pau Chui Cannon Fist Form. 

When people asked to learn their style, they taught them the Long Form, not the Large San Sau Two Person Fighting Training or the Pau Chui Cannon Fist Form. They did this to keep the real martial arts skills for themselves. 

The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Double Pushing Hands

The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi  ‘Pushing Hands’ is different from the New Yang Style of ‘Pushing Hands’ in many ways.

First, in the Old Yang Style, it is not called ‘Pushing Hands’ (Da Shou). It is actually called Hitting Hands (Tui Shou). We just call it ‘Pushing Hands’ because this has become the commonly used name in modern times.

In the New Yang Style of ‘Pushing Hands’ they try and push and pull each other hoping to get the other person to loose their balance and fall over or get pushed away.

In the Old Yang Style, as the following video shows, we use “Pushing Hands” to practice counter-strikes to Dim Mak points. We do not want the opponent to be pushed away. We want them to stay where they are and get hit by our fists and elbows.

Double Pushing Hands gives us the sensitivity and connectivity that we need to know the opponent without him knowing us. We develop the ability to not be where he is attacking whilst we attack him.

Paul Brecher and one of his students demonstrate the Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Double Pushing Hands

The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Short Staff Form

Paul Brecher demonstrates the Old Yang Style Tai Chi Short Staff Form

The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Short Staff San Sau Two Person Fighting Form

Paul Brecher and one of his students demonstrate the Old Yang Style Tai Chi Short Staff San Sau Two Person Fighting Form

The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Broadsword Form

Paul Brecher demonstrates the Old Yang Style Tai Chi Broadsword Form

The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Spear Form

Paul Brecher demonstrates the Old Yang Style Tai Chi Spear Form

The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Broadsword and Spear Forms

Paul Brecher demonstrates the Old Yang Style Tai Chi Broadsword and Spear Forms

A much more detailed explanation of The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan is contained within The Training Manual of The College of Chinese Martial Arts.

All of the above forms are practiced fast, using Fa Jin explosive strikes to the body’s anatomical weak points (Dim Mak). It is only the Long Form that is occasionally practiced a bit more slowly for the healing benefits this brings.

The explosive strikes that we use in the Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan are called Fa Jin which means an explosive use of the body’s internal power. The Fa Jin is generated by the hip rotation. The left-right-left and right-left-right rotation of the hips is the origin of Fa Jin.  Its importance is made clear in the Chinese Internal Martial Arts manuscripts:

A few quotes from Wang Tsung Yueh (13th century)


Mind commands, movement from hip rotation
Chi ripples through the body like a flag in the wind
To keep the Chi flowing and develop Jin
Rotate the hips like a wheel

A few quotes from Chang Nai Chou (1728-1783)


Shake the hips like a horizontal wheel
Rotate continuously Yin and Yang are expressed
Legs close together hips can rotate easily
Hip turn, hands move

A few quotes from the Yang Family Manuscripts

The chi spirals in the body like the coils of a snake
The hips, waist and belly are like a dragon twisting its body,
be like a swimming dragon
Raise one’s spirit and turn the hips continuously

From the Pa Kua Chang Classics


In training hips first
In fighting palms first

In the manuscripts, it is made clear that in Chinese Internal Martial Arts the power for the body movement and the martial applications of the hands comes from the rotation of the hips. 

The martial applications of the hands are a result of Fa Jin. The origin of Fa Jin is the rotation of the hips. This is the most important movement principle.

How to Strike in The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi

It is not just that we are striking in the Old Yang Style of Tai Chi, it is HOW we are striking. The movement is not just from the fist but from the whole body with the power for each and every strike originating in the hips and lower belly.

Paul Brecher demonstrates how to strike in the Old Yang Style of Tai Chi

Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872) originally came from Gwan Fu Town, near Yong Nian City. He travelled around China with a bag over his shoulder and a spear in his hand. Whenever he heard of a martial artist in the area he was passing through, he would challenge them. Often, he fought with several people at once but always won. With every blow he drew blood and he never lost a match.

The next video is when I visited Yang Lu Chan’s House, just outside the south gate of Gwan Fu Town. Inside the house, I got into conversation with 80-year old Mr Han Hui Ming who teaches Tai Chi in the courtyard of Yang Lu Chan’s house. Mr Han Hui Ming was a student of Li Wan Chang who was the student of Yang Ban Hou (1837–1892) who was Yang Lu Chan’s son.

I showed Mr Han Hui Ming my Old Yang Style Tai Chi Long Form. I did the movements with fa jin. Mr Han Hui Ming said that his teacher Li Wan Chang used to do fa jin the same way he had seen me do it. He said:

Yang Ban Hou did fa jin as well but that when Yang Cheng Fu (1883–1936) started teaching the form, he taught it without fa jin, so most people now do the Yang Style slowly”.

He then very kindly agreed to demonstrate his form. It was amazing to watch. He was 80 years old and still doing the most vigorous movements: inside crescent kicks, punch to the ground and leaping up into  the flying front kick.

In China, it is a popular custom to exchange business cards. On Mr Han’s card, as well as his name and address, it states his occupation….Fighter !

Paul Brecher in Yang Lu Chan’s House in 2005

It may sound extreme to us today that the Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan involved fa jin explosive strikes to the dim mak anatomical weak points of the opponent. But in the violent times that Yang Lu Chan (1799–1872) lived, it was necessary.

After his many triumphs all across China, Yang Lu Chan arrived in the capital, Peking (Beijing). Here, he was challenged by the country’s top fighters. 

On one occasion, a champion fighter said to him: “Your style looks too soft to defeat anyone”. Yang Lu Chan replied “Men are not made of wood or iron, they can all be defeated.” When they fought, Yang attacked instantly with the overwhelming force of fa jin (explosive strikes) and dim mak (hitting the anatomical weak spots on the human body). He knocked the challenger unconscious with such severity that he dropped straight down where he stood and hit the ground hard as if he had fallen from a great height.

Yang Lu Chan was challenged to full contact combat by many other top level fighters, bodyguards, soldiers and military martial arts trainers. In these fights full power was used in the punches and kicks, these where bloody and violent confrontations. Yang Lu Chan won every fight. His reputation was so great that he was in high demand as a martial arts instructor, and he became known as ‘Yang the Invincible’.

To really understand why the martial art of Yang Lu Chan was so aggressive and violent, we need to look at his life in its historical context. In 1839, there was the Opium War against Britain, and in 1860, the European troops attacked Peking and the Emperor fled the city. In 1852, the Nien Rebellion raged on for many years, and Yang Lu Chan’s descendants were also affected by the Boxer Rebellion of 1898.

The greatest event that caused the most upheaval and violence began when Yang Lu Chan was 50 years old. A man called Hong Xiuquan had just finished spending ten years assembling his massive ‘Taiping Heavenly Army of God’. Hong was convinced that he was the brother of Jesus and wanted to create a Christian state in China that he would call the New Jerusalem.

He seized control of Nanjing city on the banks of the Yangzi river and used this as his base to fight the Imperial army of China. For 15 years, China was ripped apart by this civil war. 20 million people were killed in this conflict. So, when Yang Lu Chan was 65 years old, he would have seen a lot of bloodshed and violence. In a time of such great suffering and turmoil, it is understandable that he would have created such a violent and brutal system that would enable him to survive. 

Yang Lu Chan trained his students with full contact and he insisted on incredibly high standards. On one occasion, Yang Ban Hou defeated a renowned wrestler. But his father would give him no praise. Yang Lu Chan shook his head in a dismissive and disappointed way and drew Yang Ban Hou’s attention to a small tear in his sleeve caused by the wrestler. He said: “The wrestler should not have been able to even grab you, you must train harder”.

When Yang Ban Hou grew older, he also trained his students with full contact. This realism in the training to achieve fighting ability resulted in blood, brusing and bone fractures. Yang Shao Hou was one of the very few students who could endure this brutal type of training.

When I was last in China in 2005, Mr Yang Zong Jie who was the editor of Yong Nian Tai Chi Magazine, took me to visit many interesting places and people. I asked him about the history of tai chi. He said:

There is the outer school known as Wai Jia centred around Shaolin Song Shan and the inner school known as Nei Jia originating in Wudang. The Nei Jia lineage is, Zhang San Feng – Wang Tsung Yueh – Jiang Fa and then Chen Chan Sing who taught Yang Lu Chan (1799–1872) who taught in Beijing from 1850 to 1860. He said that 70 years later Yang Lu Chan’s descendants taught and then it became popular at this time. Yang Shao Hu’s style of Tai Chi was very explosive and known as Quick Form later his younger brother Yang Cheng Fu (1883–1936) created a softer version.”

Mr Yang Zong Jie said “Today, the Yang Chen Fu style was the most popular, and the least popular was the Yang Shao Hu style.” He said “Yang Shao Hu had grandsons who are alive today and in their thirties, but they do not practice Tai Chi.”

I asked him about hitting the acupuncture points (dim mak) when attacking an opponent. He said: “Of course, every Chinese martial art has its own version of acupuncture point striking, including Yang Style Tai Chi.”

Mr Yang Zong Jie introduced me to Mr Zhao Xian Ping and explained that he was the most senior instructor in Yong Nian City. He had with him his top students who were warming up and training with swords and spears.

This next video is from that meeting in Yong Nian.

Paul Brecher in Yong Nian City in 2005

Zhao Xian Ping, his fellow instructors and his students had all been incredibly friendly and hospitable. They were all unbelievably tough people, very solid but also able to flow like water.

Next, we went to a nearby town called Handan, where Mr Yang Zong Jie took us to meet Yang Zheng Guo, the son of Yang Cheng Fu (1883–1936).

We were warmly welcomed in by Yang Zheng Guo into his front room. He offered us tea and invited us to sit down.

There was a large bookcase against the main wall. On the top shelf was a large picture of his father Yang Chen Fu, then a picture of his uncle Yang Shao Hu and then a larger picture of his great grandfather Yang Lu Chan. There was also a picture of his grandfather Yang Jiang Hu. On the next shelf down was a photograph of his mother and a separate photograph of the whole family showing him together with his father Yang Cheng Fu.

I asked 78-year old Yang Zheng Guo about his family’s history. He said:

There were never any photographs taken of Yang Lu Chan and that the picture of him is actually a reconstruction based on the picture of Yang Shao Hu.

Yang Zheng Guo continued that “Yang Chen Fu only studied Middle Frame with their father Yang Jiang Hu but Yang Shao Hu studied Small Frame with his uncle Yang Ban Hou. He said that small frame was very fast and explosive. And that between 1920 and 1929 Yang Shao Hou went to teach martial arts in Nanjing and Hangzhou.

Yang Shao Hu died aged 67 in Wuxi and was buried in 1930. In 1937, Yang Chen Fu and Yang Shao Hu’s bodies were taken back to the family grave yard near Gwan Fu Town in Yong Nian Province.

After leaving Mr Yang Zheng Guo, we took our guide Mr Yang Zong Jie, the editor of the Yong Nian Tai Chi magazine, out to a Dong Bei Northern Chinese sort of Mongolian-style restaurant to thank him for all his help.

We were all sitting around this table eating a feast of delicious meat dumplings in garlic sauce, chilli pork belly, fried noodles with coriander, peanuts with Sichuan pepper and white radish hot pot with pork when Mr Yang Zong Jie notices a man walk past our table and calls out to him.

It turns out to be Mr Wang Chang Xing who is 71 years old and a very famous Tai Chi practitioner in northern China. His teacher was Bai Gong Xian who was a student of Yang Ban Hou.

Mr Wang Chang Xing came over and joined us at our table, and I asked him about his teacher. He said:

My teacher Bai Gong Xian used to fa jin and so did Yang Ban Hou. Also, Yang Shao Hou trained with Yang Ban Hou.

I have an article from Wudang Magazine written by Xin Xilan and Gu Ziyuan from the year 2000 with some historical information that I thought I would include here.

In the article it says:

Yang Lu Chan taught Fast Form, when training, there is fast and there is slow, there is fa jin, there is jumping and leaping, there is hard and soft, pauses and transitions are mutually interspersed, fast and slow are mutually together, front and back are mutually connected. The whole frame is performed in 6 to 8 minutes. Yang Lu Chan got Tai Chi Chuan from Chen Chang Xing, he designed the Tai Chi Chuan skill frame according to his own experience. Yang Lu Chan taught his skill frame to his sons, Yang Ban Hou and Yang Jian Hou and to Yang Jian Hou’s son, Yang Shao Hou and each practised this Fast Form.

Yang Cheng Fu who was Jian Hou’s youngest son changed the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Form according to his own body type and nature, this was called the New Frame or Big Form. When Cheng Fu was born, his grandfather Yang Lu Chan had already been dead 11 years“.

The original skill frame of Yang Lu Chan was called the Old Form, Small Form, or Quick Form. Yang Shao Hou, only practised Small Form, or Quick Form until the time he died. He never practised Yang Cheng Fu’s New or Big Form. Yang Shao Hou mainly studied with his uncle Yang Ban Hou. When Yang Ban Hou died Yang Cheng Fu was 9 years old. When Cheng Fu was 34, his father Yang Jian Hou died. Therefore, Yang Cheng Fu mainly studied with his father and his training was different than Yang Shao Hou’s“.

Conclusion

What I practice is called the Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan to indicate that it is practiced, taught and applied in the same way that it was used by Yang Lu Chan, his son Yang Ban Hou and his grandson, Yang Shao Hou as an effective martial arts self-defence system. It is not the same as the simplified New Yang Style of Tai Chi, a slow-motion dance for health created by Yang Shao Hou’s younger brother, Yang Cheng Fu.

Yang Cheng Fu…

The Yang family had, over the generations, through their hard training and aggressive fighting created a feared reputation.

Yang Cheng Fu used this reputation to get students. However, he was not trained in the fighting aspects of the style or if he ever was he did not teach them.

Yang Cheng Fu made up his own version. He turned the martial art into a healing art. He changed every aspect:

He removed all the techniques that demanded a high level of flexibility and acrobatic competence.

He changed the striking and hitting into pushing and pulling.

Yang Chen Fu even changed what was meant by the word Fa jin. It was originally a way of rotating the hips out and back, to cause the fist to be thrown out and back, so the punch was hard and fast. With a type of impact shock power, that could break bones and knock out the opponent.

Instead Yang Chen Fu encouraged the belief that Fa jin meant to extend your back leg to get a powerful push with your hands so that the opponent would lose their balance and fall over!

Yang Chen Fu changed the short, small circle, compact, effective, fast, explosive, martial arts moves into slow, big, long, vague, chi kung, healing dance moves.

Yang Chen Fu changed the upright, short, fast moving stances, (that could use the hip rotation to generate power for the punches) into long, low impractical stances that emphasised shifting the weight from leg to leg.

Yang Chen Fu changed the famous devastating, closed fist explosive punches that were aimed at the opponents anatomical weak points (Dim Mak) into open hand slow motion pushing to try and get the opponent to fall over.

Yang Cheng Fu taught his simplified chi kung dance version of his self created New Yang Style. He did not teach The Old Yang Style martial arts system.

Yang Cheng Fu claimed to be teaching a martial art that would work for self-defence, but he was not. He was teaching a chi kung dance for healing.

And today there are many teachers of Tai Chi who teach the same way as Yang Cheng Fu. They say that it is a martial art that would work for self-defence, but it would not.

Does it matter?

Yes, it does matter, because if a person was really attacked and believed that they could use the New Yang Style Tai Chi dance movements to defend themselves they would fail. It would be like trying to use Ballet for self-defence!

Yang Shao Hou…

I think about Yang Shao Hou, he was the last member of the Yang family to have been taught the family style in the old way. Years of full contact training that would often result in bruising, cuts, blood and bone fractures. (To get an idea think of Bare Knuckle Boxing). He was the last of the great Yang family fighters. He wanted to pass on the true Martial Art he had learnt from his uncle and grandfather, but there were only a very few who could endure the hard training.

So, towards the end of his hard life, he had no income and only a few students.

He sees his younger brother (Yang Chen Fu) getting rich teaching chi kung dance moves to anyone and everyone but selling it as a martial art. Yang Shao Hu helped make the Yang Family fighting reputation, but he sees that it is his younger brother who is making a fortune from it.

At the age of 67, Yang Shao Hu, impoverished, destitute and depressed, cut his wrists and committed suicide.

Here is The Official Death Notice of Yang Shao Hou in 1930. In the last paragraph it says:

‘The Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) techniques taught by the rest of the Yang family are watered down. Only Yang Shao Hou is considered authentic, he brought light to the martial art, but it is only glorious once, and with his death what is left is obsolete. All can only sigh after the death of Yang Shao Hou.’

Shao Hu Tai Chi Death Notice