The Spin is On - Distortions of the Origin of Tai Chi Chuan
August 24, 2011
After my post a week ago on the origin of Taijiquan, I was directed to the work of a Wudang tai chi teacher named Dan Docherty. He apparently did "research" for a book about Tai Chi history and he puts forth the idea that the Chen family invented their history in the early 20th Century.
I looked up Mr. Docherty and found an interview online. I was surprised he came out viciously against Chen taiji. Here's part of the interview:
What about Chen style Tai Chi?
Oh yes, this amazing Taoist martial art with techniques such as 'Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounding Mortar'! basically it's Shaolin Boxing with a bit of Tai Chi thrown in. I've written on this elsewhere. In brief, some members of the Chen Clan of Henan Province wanted to cash in on Tai Chi's popularity so they invented a false genealogy and put forward their mish-mash of Chen Family Pao Chui and Tai Chi as the original Tai Chi. China's leading Tai Chi historian Wu Tu-nan exploded this myth in 'A Research into Tai Chi Chuan' (written in Chinese and published in 1986) which describes his visit to the Chen family village in 1917.
"Leading Tai Chi historian" Wu Tu-nan? I had never heard of him, so I did a Google search and found this link. Turns out Wu Tu-nan was a student of Wu and Yang styles of Tai Chi, and so how objective do you think he was about the origin of Tai Chi? Wu Tu-nan was supposedly a master when he was in his 20's.
Wu Tu-nan was born in Beijing, and was undoubtedly a big name in that pond when Chen Fake moved to Beijing in 1928 and began teaching Chen Taiji.
Here's my theory. There were a lot of kung-fu teachers in Beijing at the time, and Chen Taiji was not well known. Knowing martial artists as I do, I chuckle at the thought of the back-stabbing and bad-mouthing that must have been common, even though many masters of different styles would practice together and sample each other's arts.
In the book, "Fu Zhen Song's Dragon Bagua Zhang," Lin Chao Zhen writes that when Fu Zhen Song was young, his village, Ma Pe, hired Chen Yan Xi, a top-level instructor from the Chen family, to teach the village men Taijiquan. Chen Yan Xi was already the eighth generation inheritor of the Chen Taiji system, which was already well known as a fighting art.
Yang Lu-chan was a servant of the Chen family. He learned Taiji from them. After leaving Chen Village, he moved to Beijing and created Yang Tai Chi. This is a well known fact.
Lin Chao Zhen writes that the Chen family practiced martial arts as far back as the 1300s, but it was mostly based on Shaolin boxing. Chen Wang Ting, a retired warrior who was born in 1580, developed the art further after his military career, infusing it with concepts of a balanced yin-yang theory, movements that he tied to qi theory (he was not a scientist, however), and unique silk-reeling motions with relaxed movements followed by explosive power.
Eight generations later, Chen Yan Xi was the standard-bearer for the family art. He was also Chen Fake's father.
When Chen Fake took Chen family Taiji to Beijing in 1928, I can only imagine the stir he caused among the mostly Yang style Tai Chi folks. He taught Xinjia in Beijing, the "New Frame" of Chen style that involves smooth, relaxed movement, spiralling, and powerful fa-jing. Perhaps he took students away from some of Wu Tu-nan's friends.
The Dan Docherty interview and his obviously biased "historian" wouldn't have caused a blog post, but a friend met a Yang instructor recently who was repeating the same spin -- that the Chen family did not create Taiji and they made up their lineage.
As we all know from listening to politics, it doesn't matter if something is false. All you have to do is repeat it often enough, and there are people who will believe it. Hence the claims that President Obama was born in Kenya (which at one point this past year was believed by 18% of Americans).
So now, the Big Spin in "soft" Tai Chi circles is the same claim that Dan Docherty makes.
What a shame.