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Taijiquan Gets Its Name

When Yang Lu Chan first taught the art in Yung Nien, his art was referred to as 'Mien Quan' or (Cotton Fist) or 'Hua Quan' (Neutralising Fist), it was not yet called Taijiquan. Whilst teaching at the Imperial Court, Yang met many challenges, some friendly some not. But he invariably won and in so convincingly using his soft techniques that he gained a great reputation.

Many who frequented the imperial households would come to view his matches. At one such gatherings at which Yang had won against several reputable opponents. The scholar Ong Tong He was present and was so impressed by the way Yang moved and executed his techniques and felt that his movements and techniques expressed the physical manifestation of the principles of Taiji (the philosophy) wrote for him a matching verse:

'Hands Holding Taiji shakes the whole world,
a chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heros.

Thereafter, his art was referred to as Taijiquan and the styles that sprang from his teaching and by association with him was called Taijiquan.

Combat Or Health

Many have said that Yang Lu Chan softened the form to suit the unfit members of the imperial court, making the art easier and less effective, focusing on health aspects because guns were making martial arts obsolete. There is no proof beyond hearsay for this conjecture. Before Yang Lu Chan entered the imperial court, his boxing was already so soft and neutralising that it attained the name `mien quan' and we have record of a bout where Yang's skill was questioned because his form was so soft, a bout which he won7.

Being in the Imperial Court as a martial arts instructor, it was imperative to turn out students of high attainment. It was literally a matter of life and death since with withholding anything from the Royal family was considered treason. Rather than causing the Yang art to be diluted, it probably added alot more in terms of content due to the opportunity to meet and compare skills with other highly skilled martial artist in the imperial court at that time8.

The Old Yang Form

This is the form that was taught by Yang Lu Chan when he began teaching in Yung Nien. It is also the form taught by Yang Ban Hou and Yang Jian Hou initially. This form still exists today, as do several other older sets which were subsequently dropped because they added nothing to the content of the art, their essences having been incorporated into the large frame. These other sets are the Yang 13 Pao Chui set and the Lift Legs form. Though the latter could have come down to us as the Taiji Long Boxing Form.

Yang Lu Chan and his sons taught the small frame in the Imperial Court and taught the large frame outside it. The Small Frame is not an inferior set but a variation of the large frame to allow combat and practice to be performed in the long sleeved, long skirted imperial robes worn by members of the imperial court. This small frame comes down to us today primarily from Yang Ban Hou's student Quan Yu9 and his son Wu Jian Quan.

The Old Yang Form was also called the `Six Routines' and the '13 Postures'. Six Routines because the long form was broken into six seperate routines and practiced as such until the skill attainment and endurance of the students reached a point that they could link all six together into one long routine and practice it as a whole. The Old Yang Form differs only on details with the standardised Yang Form of Yang Cheng Fu. One needs to note that Yang Cheng Fu himself did not standardise the form. Its just that he spread the form so widely that his method of doing the form became the accepted standard.

The Old Yang Form retains the 'strength explosions' (Fa-Jing) and jumping kicks (one only). We know that the sequence of the Old Yang Form and the standardised Yang Form is almost the same. From the old manual of Wu Yu Xiang also records a very similar sequence.

It is interesting to note that in this old manual the name `Grasp Sparrow's Tail' is used. This points to the fact that the name `Grasp Sparrow's Tail' was in use during the early days when Yang Lu Chan first started teaching in Yung Nien. In a later compilation by Li I Yu, the name of the posture is changed to `Lazily Arranging Clothes' which would indicate a post-Chen Qing Ping date (Wu Yu Xiang travelled to seek out Chen Chang Xin but stayed instead in Zhao Bao Villiage to learn from Chen Ching Ping).

We also note that in the initial handwritten manual (1867) by Li I Yu, in his `Brief Introduction To Taijiquan' he writes that the founder of Taijiquan was Chang San Feng. But in a later handwritten manual (1881), he amends his Introduction to say that the founder is unknown. This could also reflect a confusion of sources in after the death of Wu Yu Xiang and Yang Lu Chan.

 

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