Chen Taijiquan

History, philosophy and tai ji principles

Throughout China, first thing in the morning, you can see people of all ages out in the parks exercising, dancing and performing the long slow moving routines of Tai Chi. It can be practiced with the aim of promoting health and longevity but is also a powerful internal martial art.

Chen-style Taijiquan (tai chi chuan is the Cantonese spelling) is the traditional style of internal martial art from which most modern tai ji forms (like the Yang style) originate. Chen Wanting was a famous general and martial artist of the Ming period (17th Century). He created Chen style Taijiquan by combining ideas of qi gong and martial arts, with Traditional Chinese Medicine meridian theory and the Daoist philosophy of yin yang. He took the idea of circular, spiralling movements seen everywhere throughout nature and within our bodies, to create a series of linked flowing movements, known as ‘forms’ or routines, based on martial arts movements, that when practiced regularly help generate and free the movement of energy and circulation of fluids around the body, benefitting strength, coordination, health and well-being.

Chen Wanting, the founder of the Chen style Taijiquan in the central place of honour in the Chen family Temple, Chenjiagou.

Chen taijiquan’s characteristics include circular and twining, fast and slow, hard and soft movements, jumps, rebounds, and explosive energy releases (fajin). All movements contain martial applications and techniques within them, but when practiced in a natural, very slow and relaxed way they can also help improve health and well being. This style as a fighting art was kept secret in China until the beginning of the 20th century. Now it continues to be taught throughout China and around the world by the famous 19th generation lineage holder Chen Xiaowang, the Chen family and many disciples, such as Liu Quanjun of Tai Ji Circle.

Chen Taijiquan Principles
• increases energy (qi), has energy gathering and energy releasing techniques (fajing)
• By coordination of the body, breath and mind, one can learn to relax tensions and stiffness
• Body movements are generated from energy moving out from the central core (dantian) of the body and returning back to the centre

Chen Taijiquan Practice contains
• Exercises to loosen and warm up the body joints and muscles
• Meditation qi gong in standing practice, Zhan Zhuang, for energy conservation and circulation, relaxation, balancing the body
• Silk Reeling exercises Chansi Gong, with stationary and stepping movements, the essential foundation practice to improve posture and movement principles in longer routines
• Moving routines or forms, bare hand and weapon routines, can be practiced relaxed and slow, or faster in low stance to build strength and stamina. Starting from simple forms such as the 9 Step or 19 Step routines created by Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang for beginners, to the advanced practices of the Xinjia routines and weapons practice
• Pushing hands Tui Shou and martial applications (practiced working with a partner)
• Two-Partner Duan Wei Forms from beginners to advanced levels

Shifu Liu leading a free tai chi session down on the Southbank in London.

Key Requirements
• Be very relaxed, quiet, calm and natural
• Coordinate the mind, energy and movement with the breath
• Keep the head and body straight, posture aligned, balanced and centred and
• Distinguish between emptiness (yin) and fullness (yang) when transferring body weight when stepping

See video link of Chen family Taijiquan in action!

Qi: energy, life force, Qi Gong: ‘breathing’ exercises for good health
Dantian: one of 3 energy centres in Chinese medicine theory, it is the most important for tai ji practice, and is located below the navel
Fajin: energy releases from the dantian out to the fist (punch), legs (kicks) or other parts of the body (shoulder/elbow)
Yin Yang: interdependent opposites in a constant mode of change, eg. heavy or light, open or close.

Recommended reading

Information on Chen Taijiquan was taken from numerous sources including:

Chen Family Taijiquan Pictorial
By Grand Master Chen Xiao Wang (out of print)

Chen Syle Taijiquan – The Source of Taiji Boxing
by Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim and David Gaffney
published by North Atlantic Books

Chen Style Taijiquan, Sword and Broadsword
by Chen Zhenglei

Tai Chi for Health
by Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei and Master Liming Yue
published by Chen Style Tai Chi Centre in Manchester

Chen: Living Taijiquan in the Classical Style
by Master Jan Silberstorff
Published by Singing Dragon, London and Philadelphia