By Tina Chunna Zhang and Frank Allen
Here is the original, rarely seen Tai Ji Quan developed by Yang Lu Chan's best Imperial Palace Guard student, Quan You, over 150 years ago. While other styles branched off into sport, health, and meditation, Quan You's disciples preserved the traditional ways. This book covers the principles, characteristics, and essentials of the Wu method, along with its famous masters. The entire classical form is illustrated step-by-step, and includes weapons skills.
Excerpt: Chapter 2 Northern Wu Style Tai Ji Quan
Characteristics of Northern Wu Style Tai Ji Quan
Perhaps the most significant aspect that distinguishes the Wu style of Tai Ji Quan is its emphasis on the application of an internal approach to developing power. It emphasizes correct movements of Qi through the deeper internal systems inside the human body (spine, internal organs, spaces within the joints, etc) to create correct and efficient physical movements and body alignments. It is the most rigorously defined style of Tai Ji Quan that is perfect for those who require absolute precision in every movement and enjoy the challenges such training brings as well as tasting the traditions of Tai Ji Quan.
Traditional Chinese medicine theory is the root of Tai Ji Quan. Especially the Northern Wu Style Tai Ji Quan which contains the soft, fluid and gentle movements to cultivate and generate Qi in the body, to balance or release the accumulated tension or blockage in the muscles, tendons and inner organs of the body, and enhance the functioning of the network of one’s health system. Generally, when “Qi” or energy guided by the “Yi” or mind helps the flow of blood circulation to properly go through the meridian channels of the entire body, physical health is achieved, and, the “Li” or power can then be developed by constant practice.
Movements in the Wu style of Tai Chi Chuan are relatively small and compact, emphasizing the manipulating of connective tissue in opening and closing the joints rather than employing the expansive postures which characterize the Yang school. This resulted in 324 segments of 83 postures with extreme detail in terms of direction, intent, breathing, and a list of other internal principles.
This concentration on inner movement of this style helps to encourage an internal rather than external focus. Learning its very finely detailed movements that easily produce internal energy and strengthening the postures with a higher degree of difficulty, is how the Wu style of Tai Ji Quan is studied as an internal art even in the initial stages of training.
The postures in Wu Style Tai Ji Quan are recognizable by some of their special appearances. The extensive opening of the space between the thumb and index finger and the usage of this “Tiger’s Mouth”, Hu Kou, is a excellent way to open one’s palm and relax all the fingers. This opening of the tiger’s mouth is also an important technique in Martial applications for blocking, hooking, and grasping in Wu Style Tai Ji Quan.
The Ox Plow Stance is a straight back yet slanting spinal alignment which is a trademark of Wu Style Tai Ji Quan. This posture allows practitioners to have a fully expanded spine and skeletal joints and transfer a maximum amount of short range power to their hands without loosing their central alignment which is still straight from the head to foot.
Wu style Tai Ji Quan’s special softness of its movements, comfortable expanded postures, unique footwork, upright when slanting spinal alignment (Ox Plow Stance), perfectly connected transitions between each postures, neutralization skills and effective martial combat has gained the art a lot of enthusiasts from around the world. It is interesting to note that many Wu Style Tai Ji Quan practitioners have lived to a very advanced age.
History of Northern Wu Style Tai Ji Quan
Northern Wu style Tai Ji Quan history is a part of the history of Tai Ji Quan that originated with members of Chen family. The Chens lived in Chen Family Village, Chenjiagou for generations in Henna Province. Chen Wang Ting invented this boxing style with softness, circularity, and internal force. They kept their boxing within the family until the time of Chen Chang Xing (1771-1853), who accepted Yang Lu Chan as a student. The Chen family kept a low profile and practiced inside of the village until Chen Fa Ke began to teach in Beijing in 1928.
Yang Lu Chan (1799-1827) was from Yongnian County, in Hebei Province. He went to Chen Village in search of livelihood. He learned Chen Style Tai Ji Quan from Chen Chang Xing. After his returning to his home town, Yang passed the art on and was eventually appointed martial arts instructor to the imperial banner battalion, in the capitol. He revised the original Chen family form, making it gentler in order to be able teaches it to more people and founded the Yang Style Tai Ji Quan.
Northern China gave birth to many styles of martial arts, most notably the internal martial arts of Tai Ji Quan, Ba Gua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan. These arts were invented and developed in North China. Many martial artists were trained, gathered, challenged, and exchanged skills in the northern part of China. Especially in Beijing, where the royal family hired the most famous martial artists to guard and train the officials in the palace.
When Yang Lu Chan taught Tai Ji Quan in Beijing, Wang Chung, Ling Shan, and Quan You were his tree top students. Wan Chung has the hardest Fa Li, Ling Shan threw people the farthest, and Quan You had the best neutralizing skill. Later on Quan You developed his own Tai Ji Quan style, called Wu Style Tai Ji Quan.
In the Wu Style Tai Ji Quan lineage, we respect Quan You as the first generation. In the second generation were, Quan You's son Wu Jian Quan and Quan You’s senior disciple Wang Maozhai who led the art to two separated locations and created the southern and northern groups of Wu Style Tai Ji Quan.
Northern Wu Style Master Wang Mao Zhai was a very famous fighter and considered the best in Beijing at the time. He became famous on the strength of his fighting skill and was widely respected within the community but totally unknown to the outside world until mayor Yuan Liang became his student. When Yang Cheng Fu opened the door to the public, he became the most prolific Tai Ji Quan teacher in history and led the way for other public instructors of the art. He, Chen Fa Ke, Wu Jian quan and Wang Mao Zhai were the leading public teachers of their time.
The founder, Wu Quan You
Great grandmaster Wu Chuan You (1834-1902) was the founder of Wu Style Tai Ji Quan and was born in Da Xing County, Beijing. He was a Manchurian and a member of the Imperial Guard in Beijing. He learned Tai Ji Quan from the founder of Yang Style, Master Yang Lu-Chan. Chuan You‘s area of specialization was neutralization. He also studied with Yang Lu Chan’s son, Yang Ban Hou. Through decades of training, he becomes a very well-known master who had the true skills of Yang family Tai Ji Quan. Based on the principles of Tai Ji Quan, he founded his own style of the art – The Wu Style.
There are no images of Quan You but a picture of the imperial guards shows what he must have looked like as one these guards in the nineteen century or late Qing Dynasty. Quan You was one of the very best martial artists of his time. He had the characteristics of softness in appearance and strength on the inside and he loved to help people in their time of need. Legendary stories that have been passed down from earlier generations tell us that Quan You had both high skills of martial ability and the virtue true of martial art. He was a generous man with moral concepts melded into his skills. He never used his strength against weak people, but instead always showed his kindness to others. Quan You is known to have punished those who were evil and had done injustice to others and was known as a brave man who was always ready to help the needy.
One day, Quan You walked to the farmer’s market where he saw a soldier take food from a vender and then not want to pay the merchant. When the vender asked the soldier to pay him, the soldier started to beat the small man. Quan You came to stop the soldier, but the soldier thought Quan You looked too gentle to know how to fight, so he threw a punch and followed with a kick to Quan You. The soldier suddenly found he himself was like a praying mantis trying to knock down a tree and he fell down to the ground without Quan You having moved a inch. Quan You told the soldier that one never should use his martial skills to mistreat innocent people.
In Quan You’s time martial artists often challenged each other with or without a notice. Among these men due to its softness the Wu Style was often mistaken as a weak martial art. One day afternoon, Quan You was reading in his room when he was informed that an unknown guest had come to him. Quan You came to the courtyard to greet the man. The guest lowered his body as if to bow to Quan You, and Quan You returned the salute, but at that moment, the guest was suddenly up in the air, falling backward and landing outside the guest room’s door. All the people in the room were shocked by this surprise exit, but the truth was that the guest had used a martial technique known as “the steel fist” to attack Quan You’s belly when he was pretending a bow to Quan You. Quan You had in turn used the Tai Ji Quan skills of neutralizing and redirecting power from the guest to efficiently combine defense and offense.
Quan You had three primary disciples: His son Wu Jian Quan ( 1870-1942 ), Wang Mao Zhai ( 1862-1940 ) and Guo-Fen