The origins and history of Tai Chi Chuan have been a subject of debate and mythology for centuries. It is widely believed that Tai Chi was born in the Wudang Mountains, where Chang Sanfeng, a 13th-century Taoist master, created it toward the end of his life. However, the true roots of Tai Chi lie in the Chen Village or Chen Jia Gou (Chenjiagou), a few hours' drive from the Shaolin Temple. Chen Wangting (1600–1680) is credited with developing and codifying Tai Chi, which became known as the Chen style.
Exploring the Legacy of Chen Village and Tai Chi
The Chen style of Tai Chi is the oldest and the ancestor of all other family styles. Chen Tai Chi emphasizes explosive power and spiral force or supple whole-body twining/coiling movements. The stances are low, and the forms still have their martial arts applications intact. One of the most distinctive characteristics of Chen-style Tai Chi is silk-reeling power or spiraling power. Silk-reeling exercise (chan si gong) is an essential standalone training method for developing body awareness, coordination, unity in movement, strength, and internal energy. Chen-style Tai Chi also includes power emission, known as fajin, which involves body alignment, momentum, timing, and increased qi (energy) circulation.
The history of Tai Chi is intricately linked with the Chen family, and the Chen Village has become a pilgrimage site for Tai Chi enthusiasts. While Tai Chi has gained popularity for its health benefits, the practice of Chen Tai Chi is still deeply rooted in martial arts. In fact, Chen Wangting developed Tai Chi as a family art with the intention of passing it on to his descendants. For generations, the art flourished within the Chen family, and eventually, Chen style Tai Chi branched off to other styles, such as Yang and Wu styles.
Chen Tai Chi has also been kept a secret in the Chen Village for many years. Teachers did not want to reveal its secrets to outsiders, nor did they want to waste their time teaching individuals they felt incapable of comprehending or appreciating the art or maintaining the self-discipline to practice. In the Chen Village, Tai Chi was only taught to daughters-in-law, not daughters. This gender bias was rooted in the belief that daughters would eventually marry outside the family and take their knowledge of the Chen family form with them.
Understanding the Distinction and Significance of Chen Style Tai Chi
Today, the Chen family members who have dedicated their lives to the preservation and promotion of Chen Tai Chi include Chen Xiaowang and his brother Chen Xiaoxing and Chen Zenglei, the grandson of Chen Fake, who established Chen style in Beijing. Chen Village remains a must-visit location for Tai Chi enthusiasts, and the main school and other Chen teachers, such as Chen Bing's school, offer opportunities to join the practice.
In conclusion, the history and significance of Chen Tai Chi cannot be understated. As the ancestor of all other family styles, Chen Tai Chi embodies the essence of Tai Chi and is deeply rooted in martial arts. Its practice offers physical and mental benefits that enhance the quality of life. Moreover, exploring the history of Tai Chi and Chen Village offers a glimpse into ancient Chinese culture and wisdom, allowing us to discover universal truths through the practice of this art.