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 family name was Yang, the Chinese put the surname before the first name).
His surname Yang is not the same word as YIN/YANG.
However Tai Chi is the name of the YIN-YANG diagram and Chuan means fist.
So a literal translation of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan would be Mr Yang’s YIN-YANG Fist.
The idea that is actually being communicated is Mr Yang’s Martial Arts System that is based on the philosophical principle of dynamic movement expressed through the YIN/YANG symbol.
The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan is a complete martial arts system as can be seen from the Syllabus:
Long Form – a long sequence of martial arts movements to learn the basics. (This form is for healing as well as fighting)
Small San Sau Two Person Fighting Form – combat applications.
Pau Chui Cannon Fist Form – an advanced powerful deadly fighting form.
Large San Sau Two Person Fighting Form – a fight sequence to learn how to use the moves in combat.
Double Pushing Hands – advanced powerful deadly combat applications in two person training.
Da Lu – More applications plus different type of footwork.
Free Fighting (Response, Intercept and Direct attack) – spontaneous free fighting !
Staff Form – the principles of how to fight with a staff.
Broadsword Form – the principles of how to fight with a broadsword.
Spear Form – the principles of how to fight with a spear.
All of the above forms are practiced fast for fighting using explosive strikes (Fa Jin) to the bodies anatomical weak points (Dim Mak). It is only the Long Form that is sometimes practiced slowly for the healing benefits this brings.
It is inevitable that many people today who think that Tai Chi Chuan is just the Long Form practiced slowly cannot understand how it could be relevant for fighting/self-defense/self-protection.
Clearly it is the rest of the system practiced explosively fast for fighting that makes it an effective martial art.
Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872), originally came from Gwan Fu Town near Yong Nian City and traveled around China with a bag over his shoulder and a spear in his hand. When ever 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. It is said that with every blow he drew blood and whenever he fought he took a life.
This first movie is when I visited Yang Lu Chan’s House which is just outside the south gate of Gwan Fu Town. Inside the house I got into conversation with eighty 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 and that Yang Ban Hou did fa jin as well but that after Yang Cheng Fu (1883–1936) started teaching the form without fa jin most people now did the Yang Style slowly.
He went on to say that the fa jin of the Yang Family Style was still practised by people who trained in the Wu Yue Xiang Style of Tai Chi because Wu Yue Xiang was a student of Yang Lu Chan.
He then very kindly agreed to demonstrate this form, it was amazing to watch, he was eighty years old and still doing the most vigourous movements, inside crescent kicks and rushing forward and dropping down in to the movement called punch to the ground and then leaping up into the double jumping flying front kicks.
In China it is a popular custom to exchange business cards, on Mr Han’s as well as his name and address it states his occupation….Fighter !
Paul Brecher in Yang Lu Chans 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 troubled times that Yang Lu Chan (1799–1872) lived it was necessary. Martial artist worked as bodyguards for individuals and as protectors for the delivery of valuable goods for merchants and money for government tax collectors. Work was dependent on ones reputation as an unbeaten fighter and martial artists lived in a world of violence were no mercy was expected and non given. If a caravan was ambushed and robbed everyone would be killed that way there would be no witnesses. So when martial artists where hired to defend these caravans they would be fighting to the death.
After his many triumphs all across China Yang Lu Chan arrived in the capitol, Peking (Beijing). Here he was challenged by the countries top fighters, on one occasion a champion fighter said to him, “Your style looks to 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) and 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 defeated all those who challenged him and his reputation was so great that he was in great demand as a martial arts instructor and he became known as ‘Yang of No Equal’.
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. He lived in a time of discord and anarchy when many people carried knives and other weapons because they feared for their lives every day. In 1839 there was the Opium War against Britain and in 1860 the European troops attacked Peking (Beijing) and the Emperor fled the city. And the Nien Rebellion of 1852 raged on for many years and Yang Lu Chan’s descendants were affected by the Boxer Rebellion of 1898.
The greatest event that caused the most upheaval and violence began when Yang Lu Chan was fifty 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 fifteen years China was ripped apart by this civil war, twenty million people were killed in this conflict. So when Yang Lu Chan was sixty five years old he would have seen a lot of bloodshed and violence. In this time of such great suffering and turmoil it is understandable that he would have created a system that would enable him to survive. That he had many lethal and extreme methods to call upon would be a necessary in a country gripped by so much warfare.
The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan was a martial arts system that focused on hitting, striking, punching and kicking and of course with the weapons striking, stabbing and slashing. So why is it today that the majority of people think that Tai Chi Chuan is a health promoting exercise which if it does have any applications are all about pulling and pushing so as to get your opponent to fall over without getting hurt? The reason for this is that one of the modern practitioners of Tai Chi called Yang Cheng Fu (1883–1936) simplified and changed the whole system and taught it mainly for health. He replaced speed and stiking with slowness and pushing. So today we have a very very strange situation where people think that Tai Chi Chuan is for health by moving slowly and pushing people over. To get an idea of how very very odd this is imagine if modern western boxing was done very very slowly and the extensions of the arms were explained as ways of unbalancing and pulling and pushing your opponent till they fell over and that it was a peaceful art in which you did not want to hurt the opponent !!!
Yang Lu Chan was exceptionally harsh when he taught his sons, both his first son Yang Ban Hou (1837–1892) and his second son Yang Jian Hou (1839–1917) tried to run away on many occasions but were always caught and brought back.
Yang Lu Chan insisted on incredibly high standards, on one occasion when Yang Ban Hou was attacked by a renowned wrestler and defeated him, his father would give him no praise. Yang Ban Hou described how as the wrestler attacked he had leaped forwards with an explosive fa jin movement and unleashed a deadly series of dim mak strikes on the opponent, defeating him in an instant. 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 should not have been able to even grab you, you must train harder, he said.
When Yang Ban Hou grew older he also trained his students with brutal force often beating them severely and occasionally breaking their bones. These extreme training methods and his insistence on heavy contact and realism in the training to achieve fighting ability resulted in him having very, very few students.
An incident is recorded about Yang Ban Hou which clearly conveys his ruthless and powerful martial ability and why he was so widely respected.
Yang Ban Hou was walking with his son when they were attacked by a martial artist of a different style, Yang Ban Hou counter attacked with a furious combination of fa jin dim mak attacks to the opponents neck and throat. The opponent dropped dead on the spot. Yang Ban Hou carried on walking with his son and in an even manner as if nothing had happened he just said, ‘The last sound he made was like a swallow singing.’
Yang Jian Hou (1839–1917) had three sons, Shao Yuang, who died at an early age, his second son Yang Shao Hou (1862 – 1930) who kept the family style and taught it as it was originally intended, as a martial art. And last of all Yang Cheng Fu (1883–1936) the third son who only taught a very simplified version of the style for health. Yang Shao Hu (1862-1930) learnt not only from his father Yang Jian Hou but also from his uncle Yang Ban Hou (1837–1892) and of course up until the age of ten with his grandfather Yang Lu Chan.
Here is a description of how Yang Shao Hu performed The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan from the book, Yang Style Taijiquan published by Morning Glory Publishers in Beijing in 1988.
“Yang Shao Hu 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 this kind of 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 bones, attacking the opponents acupuncture points and controlling his arteries and 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.”
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 were alive today and in their thirties but they did 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.
Mr Zhao Xian Ping learnt from Zhai Wen Zhang who was a student of Yang Zhao Ling who was the son of Yang Feng Hou who was the older brother of Yang Ban Hou who was the son of Yang Lu Chan.
Mr Zhao Xian Ping also learnt from Zhai Wen Zhang who learnt from Han Xing Xian who learnt from Hao Wei Zhen who learnt from Li Yi Yu who learnt from Wu Yu Xiang who was a student of both Yang Lu Chan and Chen Ching Ping.
This next movie 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 and they were all unbelievably tough people, very very solid but also able to flow like water.
Next we went to a nearby town called Handan, were 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 in to his front room, he offered us tea and invited us to sit down.
There was a large book case against the main wall and 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 and then 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 (1883–1936).
I asked seventy eight years old Yang Zheng Guo about his families history, he said:
“There was 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 (1862-1930) studied Small Frame with his uncle Yang Ban Hou (1837–1892). Between 1920 and 1929 Yang Shao Hou went to teach martial arts in Nanjing and Hangzhou.”
“Yang Shao Hu died aged 68 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.
So 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 “You must be sung (no unnecessary tension) to fa jin. 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 (1799-1872) taught his skill frame to his sons, Yang Ban Hou (1837–1892) and Yang Jian Hou (1839–1917) and to Yang Jian Hou’s son, Yang Shao Hou (1862–1930) and each practised this Fast Form.”
“Yang Cheng Fu (1883–1936) 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”.
So what I teach 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 (1799-1872), his son Yang Ban Hou (1837–1892) and his grandson, Yang Shao Hou (1862-1930) as an effective martial arts fighting system. It is not the same as the simplified New Yang Style of Tai Chi created and promoted as a slow motion health system by Yang Cheng Fu (1883–1936).
The final ultimate defining proof that Tai Chi Chuan was created to be a fast effective martial arts fighting system is simply to read the Yang Family Manuscripts. The full version of these documents where only recently translated (1996). To understand the Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan in the words of the Yang Family themselves you can read The Yang Family Manuscripts
The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Long Form
The first thing one learns is The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Long Form, it contains all of the principles of the system, it is like a tree trunk and all the other forms and training methods are like branches that come from it. Beginners practice slowly to learn correct movement, balance and coordination and to get the body to learn the moves. After that almost everything is fast and furious with explosive movements of great power. How exactly should this form be practiced ? Well according to the historical information of Xin Xilan and Gu Ziyuan – “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”.
Paul Brecher demonstrates The Third Section of The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Long Form
The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Pao Chui Cannon Fist Form
The next thing one learns is The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Pao Chui Cannon Fist Form. It contains all of the movements from the Long Form but they are done from a higher fighting stance and every move is a practical powerful fa jin explosive strike to a dim mak point. This form breaks into two halves which becomes the Large San Sau Two Person Fighting 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 Large San Sau Two Person Fighting Form
Next in the syllabus is The Large San Sau (Free Hands) Two Person Fighting Form, this prearranged fight sequence has an A and B side which fit together and enables the practitioners to get used to the close quarters ferocity and pressure of real combat. All possible combinations of strikes are used, punches and palm strikes, kicks and foot stomps, elbows, knees and shoulders. It also teaches the very important principle of attacking the attacker as he attacks you but getting your strike to hit him first.
Paul Brecher and one of his students demonstrate The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Large San Sau Two Person Fighting Form
Two of Paul Brecher’s students demonstrate The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Large San Sau Two Person Fighting Form
The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Double Pushing Hands
The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Double Pushing Hands is different from the New Yang Style of Pushing Hands in many ways. The first is that it is not actually called Pushing Hands (Da Shou) it is actually called Hitting Hands (Tui Shou). We just call it Pushing Hands because this has become the common used name in modern times. Also if you look at 99% of all Pushing Hands today they are pushing and pulling each other and trying to make each other fall over. This is an idea created by Yang Cheng Fu and is nothing to do with martial arts. Martial Arts is training for fighting. Combat involves hitting not pulling and pushing, no one is ever going to attack you in the street by slowly grabbing your wrist and carefully trying to get you to fall over by making you loose your balance. What is going to happen in real life is that a person is going to try and punch you in the face and you have to be able to intercept that and counter attack. So in the Old Yang Style as the following movie shows we practice fa jin counter strikes to dim mak points. This is relevant martial arts training. Double Pushing Hands gives us the sensitivity and connectivity that we need to know the opponent without him knowing us and 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 Weapons
All the weapons forms and training methods like the empty hand forms and training methods contain fa jin explosive strikes and dim mak acupuncture point strikes.
The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Short Staff Form
The Old Yang Style has a Short Staff Form to learn the principles of how to use a Short Staff.
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
The Old Yang Style has a Short Staff San Sau Two Person Fight Form to learn the applications of the Short Staff.
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
The Old Yang Style has a Broadsword Form to learn the principles of how to use a Broadsword.
Paul Brecher demonstrates The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Broadsword Form
The Old Yang Style Tai Chi Spear Form
The Old Yang Style has a Spear Form to learn the principles of how to use a Spear.
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
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 lower belly. This is the bodies center of gravity and the location of our reserve of chi energy.
Paul Brecher demonstrates how to strike in The Old Yang Style of Tai Chi
A much more detailed explanation of Yang Lu Chan Old Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan is contained within The Training Manual of The College of Chinese Martial Arts
Find out more about Paul’s Martial Arts Classes.