Chen style Taijiquan Practical Method
The terms “Chen family Taijiquan” and “Chen style Taijiquan” are sometimes used synonymously. To be precise, “Chen family Taijiquan” refers to the original style that was practiced within the Chen family. As Hong Junsheng directly learned from Chen Fake, his style is Chen family Taijiquan. When students learn from him, their style is Chen style Taijiquan as there is no more family affiliation with the next generation.
Please note: The translation for 太极拳 (simplified) or 太極拳 (traditional) in pinyin is “tàijíquán”, or, in Wade–Giles “t’ai chi ch’üan” (often unfortunately shortened to Tai Chi.)
Chen style Taijiquan
The original source of Taijiquan is not historically verifiable until around the 1600s when the people of the Chen Village, (Chenjiagou, Henan Province) established a unique martial arts system. How the Chen family came to develop their unique style is not clear due to a lack of documentation from the formative period.
Learning of the style was strictly limited to Chen family members. There was one exception with Yang Luchan (1799-1872), who studied under Grand-master Chen Changxing (1771-1853). Yang Luchan developed the Yang style, promising never to reveal the Chen style to anyone.
What is known is that all four modern orthodox family styles of Taiji (Yang, Wu, Hao, Sun) without fail trace their teachings directly to the Chen classical taijiquan texts, and to concepts developed at the Chen family village in the early 19th century.
Grand-master Chen Fake 陳發科 (1887-1957)
Chen Fake was the 17th generation lineage holder (standards-bearer) of the Chen family Taijiquan. He was the great-grandson of the famous Grand-master Chen Changxing (teacher of Yang Luchan). His grandfather, Chen Genyun, and his father Chen Yangxi, were also well known masters.
Chen Fake moved to Beijing in 1928, and was the first Chen family standards-bearer to break tradition by teaching the Chen family Taijiquan to non-Chen family members. It is a well kept and often forgotten secret that Chen Fake, the ‘Wearer of robes’ (standards-bearer or “best skilled teacher”) of the Chen family village, never returned or taught at the Chen village after 1928. Read in this what you may, his teaching legacy spreads throughout China and the rest of the world through the efforts of his disciples and students.
Some of Chen Fakes disciples are (to name a few) Hong Junsheng (premier disciple) (1906-1996), Chen Zhaokui (Chen Fake’s nephew) (1928-1981), Lei Muni, Li Jingwu, Xu Rusheng, Gu Liuxin, Tian Xiuchen, Feng Zhiqiang and Li Jianhua.
Grand-master Hong Junsheng (1907-1996)
Hong Junsheng was the premier disciple of Chen Fake. Hong studied with Chen Fake on a daily basis for 14 years, with periods where Chen Fake lived in the house of Hong, and vice versa.
In 1956, Hong traveled to Beijing for the purpose of confirming his Taijiquan findings with Chen Fake. For 6 months, Chen Fake and Hong Junsheng analysed the moves of the forms, the counter moves, the (push hands) applications, and the whether these movements complied with the classic Chen Taijiquan texts. Chen Fake acknowledged that he made excess movements in his forms because that was the way he was taught by his father, yet, when doing push hands, would reduce/limit these large movements to achieve the required alignment, resulting in highly efficient ‘repelling powers’ (to name one). The analysis by the Master-Disciple duo resulted in the creation of a unique Chen family style movement set that still produces push hands champions to this day.
In terms of stripping down the Chen family style form movements to correspond more closely to the required movements for the practical application of push hands, Chen Fake stated: “this form is very practical, it is a Practical Method”. By practicing the form in this manner, it enables the student to eliminated “inefficient” moves. The form does not look “Rounded”, “Smooth”, “Flowing”, “Flowery”, “Pretty”, “Meditative” or “Calming”. In fact, when you learn this style, being more mechanical helps you towards learning the required movement. I could almost say the mechanical nature of the Practical Method is the antithesis of the Yang style, with its slow, flowing, meditative movements (I say ‘almost’, because the Yang style has movement characteristics that are long forgotten (unknown?) by 99.9% of students that makes it highly effective as well, please see comments by Master Chen Zhonghua on the Sydney workshop 2010 video).
Every teacher knows that the best teaching is personalised. Depending on the abilities and understanding, Chen Fake changed how he taught his disciples, enabling them to include the skills they have learned in other places. For example, Feng Zhiqiang, who learned from Chen Fake in the 1950’s knew Tong Bei and Xingyi. He incorporated Tong Bei and Xinyi elements in his Chen style and developed the Chen style Xinyi Hun Yuan Taijiquan. A form that many view as “Open”, “Flowing”, etc (yet again, the unknown by many who think it is a form for their grandparents in the park. Please see demonstrations of penetrating Hun Yuan ‘fist’ by Master Chen Zhonghua at Sydney 2010 Workshop)
Hong on the other hand practiced, practiced and practiced. His eloquence with theory and words is one of the things missing in a lot of style. For example, his explanation of “No indentation, No protrusion”. Simple, yet these are what create excess movement and wastage of energy, resulting from incorrect joint movement that prevent movement towards the correct line. For students, the profundity of this statement takes a while to understand properly. And yes, the simple instruction of “Hand out” and “Elbow In” is where it all starts.
Grand-master Hong Junsheng truly is the secret and forgotten Chen style Taijiquan master of the 20th century. The Practical Method epitomises the Dragon in martial arts, where movement and movement structure is emphasised, as opposed to force and strength, represented by the Tiger. (In fact, Hong talked about strong muscles as knots that tie you up, disabling the ability for elongated vertical movement) Hong’s teaching is hands-on and this ensured the authentic transmission of the art. Hong never failed to test his students, and practiced push hands up until the day he passed away. As a result of Hong’s students winning all the push hands competitions, there are more than 30,000 Chen style Taijiquan Practical Method practitioners in China.
Hong Junsheng wrote several books – ‘Theory and practice’ of the four main Taiji styles and, “Chen style Taijiquan Practical Method”. The English version of the ‘Practical Method’, translated by Chen Zhonghua can purchased on www.practicalmethod.com
Master Chen Zhonghua (1961- )
Chen style 19th Generation Master, International-Standard Bearer of the Chen style Taijiquan Practical Method. Disciple of Grand-master Hong Junsheng (Practical Method) and Grand-master Feng Zhiqiang (Chen style Xinyi Hun Yuan Taijiquan or Hun Yuan).
Born and raised in China (Shandong province). Studied at the Foreign Languages department of Shandong University (Jinan), and “discovered” GM Hong Junsheng at “Black Tiger springs”. Chen Zhonghua studied daily from 1979 to 1985 and became a disciple of Hong in 1986.
Master Chen resides in Edmonton, Canada, and maintains yearly visits to Shandong to teach and spread the development and research of the Practical Method.
Master Chen facilitates trips to China that include Full-time Taiji training at the training facility of the Daqingshan Mountain Resort, near Qingdao (Shandong). More than 100 non-Chinese students successfully completed 3 months of Full-Time training at the modern facility.