Yang style Tai Chi history



The origins of Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) are often in dispute. One piece of folklore traces the art to an immortal Taoist named Zhang Sanfeng who was said to have lived in around 1200.

Other claims state that the art was developed by the Chen family or in the Zhao Bao village.

In my view it is likely that the Chen family had a kind of boxing and then from other sources the art we now call Taijiquan emerged.

This pre-Taiji method of Quan Fa was taught by Wang Zong Yue.

Wang’s student Zhang Song Xi taught a master named Chen Wang Ting and subsequently affected the martial arts taught at the Chen village.


Yang style Taijiquan emerged as Yang Lu Chan (Yang Lu-ch’an 楊露禪, aka Yang Fu-k’ui 楊福魁, 1799–1872) studied under Chen Chang Xin.

Yang Lu-ch’an’s family was a poor farmer from Hebei Province, Guangping Prefecture, Yongnian County and he also did odd jobs at the Tai He Tang Chinese pharmacy located in the west part of Yongnian City.

The significance of this is was that it was run by Chen De Hu of the Chen Village in Henan Province, Huaiqing Prefecture, Wenxian County, who agree to teach Yang some Kung Fu.

Chen later referred Yang to the Chen Village to seek out his own teacher—the 14th generation (according to the family) of the Chen Family, Ch’en Chang-hsing.

One story has Yang saving face for the Chen family by fighting off a thug and being made an honourary member of the family so he was not an outsider.

Yang was then given permission by his teacher to go to Beijing and teach his own students, including Wu Yu-hsiang and his brothers, who were officials in the Imperial Qing dynasty bureaucracy.

In 1850, Yang was hired by the Imperial family to teach his boxing art to them and several of their élite Manchu Imperial Guards Brigade units in Beijing’s Forbidden City.

Among this group was Yang’s best known non-family student, Wu Ch’uan-yu. This was the beginning of the spread of Taijiquan from the family art of a small village in central China to an art of repute.

When Yang Lu-ch’an first taught in Yung Nien, his art was referred to as Mien Quan (Cotton Fist) he gained the nickname “Yang the Invincible.”

A scholar named Ong Tong He likened his boxing to Yin and Yang (Taiji 太極, the philosophy).

Ong wrote for him:

“Hands Holding Taiji shakes the whole world, a chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heroes.”

This was the beginning of the art being called Taijiquan.


The art began to take shape as we know it today with Yang’s grandson Yang Chengfu (杨澄甫) younger brother of Yang Shao-hou (楊少侯) .

He was among the first teachers to offer Taijiquan instruction to the general public at the Beijing Physical Culture Research Institute from 1914 until 1928.

In 1930 Li Yu Lin, a practitioner of Sun style (see issue 3) became dean of studies at Shandog Provincial Martial Arts School, established by Li Jing Lin. The former general Li Jing Lin became the Yang style teacher of Li Yu Lin.

After war with the Japanese in 1939, Li Lu Lin set about teaching Taijiquan in the northeastern provinces.

Li Yu Lin’s sons were medical doctor Li Tianchi and Li Tianji his successor in Taijiquan.

Today Li Tianchi’s son Li Deyin is a renowned Taiji master and his daughter Hui also teaches the art.

From the Li family came the popularity of the ‘Beijing standardised’ Taiji forms like the 24 form, 88 form and 42 step and so on.

Today there are different family branches of the Yang style family tree, each boasting its own headmaster.

Yang Shou-chung (aka Yeung Sau Chung, Yang Zhen-Ming, 1910–1985) was from the fourth generation of the Yang family. He was the oldest son of Yang Chengfu by his first marriage, and started learning his family-style when he was eight years old under the strict supervision of his father.

In 1949, he escaped from the Chinese communists to Hong Kong. He had three daughters—Tai Yee, Ma Lee, and Yee Li—and all continue to teach in Hong Kong. Over the years he had taught many people, but he accepted only three people as his disciples:

  • Master Ip Tai Tak (Yip Tai Tak, 1929–2004) in Hong Kong, who died during the spring of 2004.
  • Master Chu Gin Soon, in Boston, US.
  • Master Chu King Hung (born 1945) in the United Kingdom

Sifu Steve Rowe trained with her in Hong Kong in the year 2000.

Steve Rowe in Hong Kong
Steve Rowe in Hong Kong

Sifu Rowe wrote:

Every training session with Ma Lee begins with the “family exercises” working methodically through the body with loosening, stretching chi kung style movements preparing the body internally for the form. With each visit these are altered to suit your progress. In all my years in the Martial Arts I had never come across anything so simple and powerful as these exercises, to look at they appear to be nothing, yet when taught properly they effect powerful changes within the body. Put together they teach the “essentials” of Yang Family Tai Chi.

You may have read the classics of Tai Chi and of the essential points, you may have understood them academically, you may have read others interpretations of them and even thought that you understood them physically.. With the family vaults open, your mind will be blown away. No more secrets, just hard work and study, no short cuts, just methodical programming of mind and body understanding the essential points in a way that cannot be read but needs personal interpretation.

My first days training made my visit worth while, we covered Grasp Sparrows Tail in a way that gave me enough work to last until my next visit, the teaching related to the changes in the exercises that meant that I must have grasped the teachings from the previous visits. So the rest of the week was a bonus including the pushing and wall work with her.

Ma Lee arranged our visits to the home of Ip Tai Tak, her father’s first disciple for an introduction and to arrange a permanent training schedule whenever we visit to learn his speciality of pushing and fighting applications.

When we arrived Master Ip had one of his longest serving students who also trained with Ma Lee’s father present and proceeded to demonstrate application and grappling to the agony of those present! At 71 years of age the power of his grip is still stunning! He also got out his personal notebooks and allowed us to copy private information and diagrams from them



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