Origins and source material

In ancient China, word-of-mouth was the main method

used to pass on cultural heritage and traditions.  This

was certainly true of the of the martial arts, and until

the eighteenth century the secrets of Tai Chi Chuan

were closely guarded and only shared between

members of the same family.

Because of the oral tradition and secrecy, the true

origin of the art is uncertain and this has given rise to

many myths about its creation.  The most famous of

these is that of a Taoist sage named Chang San Feng,

who was said to have lived around the time of the Sung Dynasty (960-1278).

Chang San Feng (or Zhang Sanfeng) had relinquished his official role in Government and become a wandering hermit in search of enlightenment, when one day he was disturbed in his meditation by a commotion.  He got up and discovered a crane and a snake fighting, but curiously neither creature was gaining the upper hand, each using softness and circular motions to counter the other’s attack.  

Fascinated, he began to develop a system of movements based on what he had seen, incorporating them into his daily routine.  Before long, Chang San Feng had integrated his knowledge of Taoist meditation and breathing into the movements and adapted the martial aspects to form a new type of exercise system that had never been seen before.  It is this holistic system of exercise that is now known as Tai Chi Chuan.

Although Wikipedia and Chen stylists claim that the one of the first verifiable practitioners of Tai Chi Chuan was the founder of their style, (Chen Wang Ting 1580-1660), there is no documentary evidence to back this up.  In fact, there is no record of the art of Chen village being referred to as Tai Chi Chuan until Yang Lu Chan, the art’s most well-known practitioner, adapted the art of the Chen family in the 19th Century. The first known documents of the classical Tai Chi canon emerged in 1852 not via the Chen family but via Wu Yu-Hsiang, who was a student of both Yang Lu Chan and Chen Ching Ping (from the same family as Chen Chang Hsing, Yang Lu Chan’s teacher). To many, Chen style is a different art altogether due to significant and irreconcilable differences in principles, philosophy and methods/techniques, which become particularly stark when comparing Ching Ping’s Tai Chi descendents (Zhaobao ‘Tai Chi’ lineage) and those of Yang Lu Chan (Classical Yang Style). Modern Zhaobao, at least, appears much closer to Shaolin Kung Fu than Tai Chi Chuan.  

Yu-Hsiang and his family claimed to have discovered the ‘original’ writings on Tai Chi Chuan (known collectively as the ‘Tai Chi Classics’) in a salt shop in Yung Nien, said to be authored by a certain Wang Tsung-Yieh (or Wang Zongyue).

However, there is no record of Wang having ever existed and given that Yu-Hsiang was the only source of this information, it is highly likely that they were written by himself, partly based on the oral transmissions of his teachers (Lu Chan and Ching Ping) and his own insights.  However, that is not the end of the story, since there is an undeniable similarity between Yu-Hsiang’s profoundly succinct, insightful and memorable classics and Chang Nai Chou’s rambling yet significantly more detailed writings, which represent the earliest documented synthesis of martial arts, medicine and meditative/spiritual practice in China.  It is likely that Yu-Hsiang, given his connections and level of scholarship, came into contact with Chang Nai Chou’s writings and that they played a significant role in the shaping of the Tai Chi Classics.

Chang Nai Chou (born between 1710 and 1720) predates Lu Chan (b. 1799) and Ching Ping and was from a neighbouring province. He remains one of the most distinguished internal martial artists to have actually authored his own texts, and his writings have been translated in Douglas Wile’s excellent book, ‘Tai Chi’s Ancestors’. Nai Chou appears to demonstrate a more rounded, comprehensive grasp of energy dynamics and how to express them within the body than the Yang Style progenitors.

The content of Gu Dang Tai Chi Chuan is closer to the essence of Tai Chi and its predecessors conveyed in the classical teachings referred to above than it is to the modern day Yang, Chen, Wu or Sun styles and their interpretations of the classics. However, my Tai Chi is not strictly ‘classical’; it represents a new interpretation and evolution of these teachings, containing both points of difference and agreement.     

My connection to these teachings is through the direct lineage from Yang Lu Chan through successive lineage holders to John Ding (Ding Te Chean) who was my teacher for exactly 6 years. This close connection to ‘the source’ gave me the keys to understanding internal power and ultimately to be in a position to share my hard-won knowledge and insight.  I do this in the sincere hope that others can experience the joy of discovery, the great feelings, lasting satisfaction and fascination that this kind of training has catalysed in me.

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Gu Dang Tai Chi Chuan

London & SE England

t:  07812 469133