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Ch'ang Shih Tai Chi Ch'uan

Since the death of the Grand Master Ch'ang Tun Sheng, his style of Tai Chi Ch'uan, introduced in this country in the mid-1980's, has grown at a huge rate.

grandmaster I am happy to say that my textbook entitled "Ch'ang Shih Tai Chi Ch'uan" has been in great demand in the US as well as overseas. As a follower and adopted son of the late GrandMaster Ch'ang, I felt it was my job to help promote his wonderful adaptation of Tai Chi Ch'uan. After all, Master Ch'ang's reputation is well known within the inner circles of Chung Kuo kuo shu (Chinese national martial arts).

There are many styles and systems of martial arts practiced in China. Hundreds of these styles have been noted in the records of the Shao-lin Temple. I have read that there may be as many as 300 to 400 styles and systems. I would venture to say this number may be much higher.

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When you to begin to examine and research each style you will find numerous variations, because the arts are passed on from person to person. Each of us is different, and we each have different approaches to movement. This is only human, and the way it should be. In reality, each of us emerges from training with a different approach from that of our predecessors, and this has been going on since the very first martial arts movements were taught.

There will never be another Ch'ang Tung Shung, no matter how much we study his styles. He was a unique individual, but then so are you. However, it makes sense to look at those who processed unbeatable fighting strategies.

The first thing people ask when they hear about legendary masters and their fighting exploits is, "what style did he practice?" Thus, style becomes famous in the history of Shao-lin. But is it the style, or the person in the style? I am sure you see the answer. It is, of course, the person, not the style that counts.

Master Ch'ang only picked what was good for him, what worked for him, and what suited his fighting nature. He was born in northern China, where the Shuai Chiao concepts were popular. His natural physical attributes also suited his style. He was a big man, well built, and had weight behind him. His greatest attribute was his ability to change from one posture to another flawlessly and without hesitation. He was well versed in techniques that were quick, effective and uncomplicated.

He was very self-disciplined. Once his mind was made up about something, nothing could change it. His confidence in his own abilities was never shaken. He had a strong resolve, and a calmness about him, yet he had the Eye of Tiger: a watchful eye, always ready to move quickly and powerfully. These qualities and strategies were what made his style of Tai Chi Ch'uan unique.

Differences in Style

Many people have asked me over the years what makes his style of Tai Chi better than other styles of Tai Chi. In fact, Master Ch'ang's version is not much different from the standard Yang style of Tai Chi Ch'uan. I learned Master Ch'ang's style rather quickly because I had practiced the Yang Style long before I met Master Ch'ang Tung Sheng. I learned the so-called original Yang style from my teacher, Kwang Yung Chang, who was a disciple of Yang Cheng-fu, so I had much exposure to the Yang style movements and concepts. When Master Ch'ang Tung Sheng taught me his style I found many of the movements were the same as the Yang style, with a few differences.

The most obvious difference is the deletion of the "snake creeps down" posture, which is well known in the original Yang Style. Master Ch'ang Tung Sheng felt that this posture was too easily countered in actual combat, and that it put you in a vulnerable position for quick counter-attack. There are a few other changes in the form, but no glaring differences.

The major differences are on the higher levels of Tai Chi study and practice - in the actual fighting applications. This is where the mind of Ch'ang Tung Sheng shines brilliantly. His approach to the actual uses of the movements is what separates his style from the others.

Since he was an undefeated champion in both National Chinese Competition and in real life encounters, it is worth looking into his fighting strategies. This is why I changed from the Yang style to the Ch'ang style - not because I thought the form was better, but because I liked how the form was translated for practical use.

There is an old saying, "The people you pick in life will be the people you emanate." Pick the best and you will be more like the best.

I once asked my students, "If you had two fighters standing in front of you, each with many years of experience, and one man was named John Smith, and the other was named Rocky Marciano, who would you ask for insights into fighting strategies?" I think the answer is obvious. Well, this is the reason why I consider Master Ch'ang's insights so valuable. We may never totally replicate Master Ch'ang's approach, but we can learn insights that will help develop our own fighting approach.

No disrespect, but I don't wish to be like Master Ch'ang. I wish to be the best me. There is an old saying, "The people you pick in life will be the people you emanate." Pick the best and you will be more like the best. I think those who know would agree: in Chinese martial arts history, Ch'ang was among the best. I feel Master Ch'ang was a master who cleared away the complexity of kung fu movement and returned it to its former practicality, economy of motion, power, simplicity and directness.

In Master Ch'ang's youth he witnessed many styles of martial arts. He felt Tai Chi was well worth learning, but he also wanted a style that suited his approach. He found it in the style of Li Ching-lin. He modified it to his liking and added it to his arsenal of knowledge. In return he taught Master Li Shuai Chiao. They exchanged their knowledge, thus making each better in their respective skills. It was many years before his style was introduced in the United States, but many of us in the Ch'ang circle have helped spread the teachings of this great master.

Now there are many schools which practice the Ch'ang style of Tai Chi Ch'uan. Those who pick Ch'ang style for the health benefits find this style as good as any other. After all, Tai Chi practice remains Tai Chi practice no matter what style you favor. Those who pick the Ch'ang style for its approach to usage find it an interesting style beacause of its many Shuai Chiao applications. Of course, not every move is a throw, but then again Shuai Chiao has many interesting ways to strike and lock up an opponent as well.

Traditional Styles

There are five traditional styles of Tai Chi that are most recognized: Yang Style, Chen Style, Wu Style, Sun Style, and Her Style. But in reality, there are many variations of these five styles. When I started learning I never realized just how many variations of the styles there were until I began looking for the so-called original style. The more I researched, the more confused I became, since each style claimed deep roots in the original versions. I can tell you from experience that although there are many styles, most are very much the same. All you need to do is look around and find the style that suits your artistic temperament.

Some practitioners enjoy the Chen style for its display of yang movement (hard movement). Others enjoy the Sun style for its variety of movements derived from Pa Kua and Hsing-Yi. Whatever your reason, you will always do better with a style that sparks your mind. My reason for choosing the Ch'ang style is that it contains some of the very old concepts of fighting. Shuai Chiao is indeed a very old form of martial arts, some say it is the forerunner of all the Asian martial arts.

In short, all styles draw from the old styles to make new styles. It seems to me that the old styles had it all in the first place.

My interest always drew me toward traditional styles. My approach to learning was to stay as close to the fundamental root styles as possible. Many of the styles you see today are mixtures of old traditional styles. Take the Mantis style kung fu. It has a few moves from the mantis, then it is filled with about seventeen different Shao-lin techniques from the old styles to compliment the mantis moves.

In short, all styles draw from the old styles to make new styles. It seems to me that the old styles had it all in the first place, so this is where I put my attention in training and research.

However, my approach to learning is my approach. I am not here to tell others how to approach their training. As I often tell my students, there are many kinds of cars on the road, but they all use different parts to run. As long as the car works, it serve its purpose. Pick your own car and put your own parts into it - not my parts - or your car will not work. If the Ch'ang style fits your needs and interests then it's for you, the parts will fit.

I had the good fortune to live with Master Ch'ang, to speak with him on a personal level, and witness his movements. His Tai Chi was very natural and flowing, but it was not a regimented set of moves done for beauty, like some styles. You could see the combat usage very clearly when Master Ch'ang moved. All his moves could be easily translated into applications just by the way he executed them.

Many styles, especially those released by the Chinese government as Tai Chi routines, are merely for show. They are very Wu Shu-ish in nature, meaning they are refined to display the beauty of the movement, rather than to show practical martial applications, which tends not to be pretty looking. But then, the Chinese government does not advocate the martial arts for its defensive capabilities anymore. It downplays these elements. All you need to do is look at the Masters of Chinese fighting. The styles that made them famous are rarely, if ever, evaluated in terms of beauty, but rather for their effectiveness in combat.

Ch'ang Shih Tai Chi reminds me of what Tai Chi might have looked liked at its conception: simply flowing and in accordance with the natural movement of the human body. Nothing is over-emphasized or under-emphasized. There is just the right balance of movement to make this style and it applications very practical, conforming with the forces of yin and yang.

I am not writing this article to persuade people to pick the Ch'ang Style over another. As I've said, all the styles have something good to offer. Personal taste should dictate which style you pick. Some people choose a style simply because it is popular, others pick a style based on the master who created it, while others pick a style that they feel will compliment what they are looking for, or believe in. It is always best to pick what you like, then you will work hard at developing your style to its fullest potentials.

Internal and External

Over the years I have received many inquires about the Ch'ang style, and I hope this small article will help clarify just what the essence of Ch'ang Shih Tai Chi Ch'uan is. There are basically two schools of learning in the martial arts: the external and the internal. Shao-lin is considered the wai kung, or hard school, and Tai Chi is the considered the nei kung, or soft school. But, the truth is that both are the same. The external school is more difficult as it utilizes hard physical movement and this can require a great deal of physical energy. The Tai Chi, on the other hand, uses very little physical energy and is best suited for those who are older or have physical problems.

Tai Chi, when it comes to combat, uses softness to dilute a powerful force, but it attacks with hardness.

However, you can not separate the internal from the external. In the hard styles you use the physical, but it is tempered by the internal softness. Tai Chi, when it comes to combat, is the exact opposite. It uses softness to dilute a powerful force, but it attacks with hardness. Tai Chi for defense is not some magical art as some would have you believe. It is a martial art, first and foremost, created by martial artists. Only later was more emphasis placed on Tai Chi's healing properties than on the applications of Tai Chi for defense.

There are many old stories that explain the growth of Tai Chi in China. Some say that when the masters spread the Tai Chi to the general public it was only shown as a health exercise. Because the health aspects were emphasized, the moves became much softer, and less emphasis was placed on the martial applications. But those who knew, knew quite well that Tai Chi movements were, in fact, powerful defensive moves against a personal attack.

The principle of Tai Chi is basically very simple to understand: never fight force with force. Instead, empty the force and, once that force has been weakened and unbalanced, apply your power. It's that simple. But as simple as this is, it is not easy to master. Staying in a relaxed state is difficult when confronted with power. Although this may be easy to understand , it does not make it easy to acheive. It's like saying, "I want to be a millionaire." This is also easy to understand, but it requires a great deal of work to make it happen. How much effort one puts towards that goal will determine its outcome. Tai Chi accomplishments are no different. Hard work and hard practice, combined with a deep understanding and appreciation of the theories of Tai Chi, are what lead to success. One without the other is only half accomplished.

Wu Wen Her Yi

There is a common saying in Chinese, "Wu Wen Her Yi." "Wen" means civil or literary and suggests something to do with the mind. "Wu" suggests something to do with the physical. This is why you see this character in the term "Wu Shu" The character "Shu " means art, skill, methods, tactics. Therefore, the term "Wu Shu" implies the "physical arts."


"Wu Wen" suggests one who has developed the physical abilities as well as the intellectual abilities. The Chinese character for "Her" translates as "combined" and the last character "Yi" translates as "one."

So, when someone says that a person has developed "Wu Wen Her Yi," it is a great compliment. It means the person has combined physical abilities with intellectual abilities. It means that the person is fully developed and has a good command of his/her physical capabilities, but has also developed the mind which controls and nurtures his/her skills. Some of us only care about the "Wu" and others only look at the "Wen," but either case is wrong.

We must combine our skills. If we carry this theme over to our Tai Chi practice it means we must fully explore the potentials of Tai Chi in all of its physical uses, and we must also make an in-depth study of Tai Chi philosophy. In this way we to can utilize our Tai Chi knowledge as it was intended. Master Ch'ang is the perfect example of "Wu Wen Her Yi." He never favored one over the other. He said on many occasions, if I may paraphrase, "The study of martial arts is fifty percent hard work and fifty percent thinking."

Master Ch'ang often indicated to me that Tai Chi is not magical. It's hard work, which, when practiced by someone who has mastered it, appears to be magic. Getting there requires long hours of practice, research, and continued attention to fine details. I hope by now that you can see that the Ch'ang style is not magical. Outwardly it looks like most other styles of Tai Chi. It is in the mind, "Wen," where the differences in the Ch'ang style lie. As humans we all physically move somewhat the same, but in our minds we are worlds apart. Understanding those differences is the key to everything.

Study Hard

Finally, no matter what style you pick, study it hard, and never stop trying to make your Tai Chi better. Never think you are so good that you have reached the top of your class. You can always improve your skills and your understanding. The concepts hidden within the Tai Chi theories are very deep and mysterious and require years to digest and appreciate. The deeper you look, the more will be revealed to you. Don't just practice your form. Live its principles. Endeavor to understand more of these two great forces that control the universe, yin and yang. Most important, enjoy your Tai Chi and practice it daily, without excuse. If you do this slowly, more doors are opened to you. There is no end to doorways when it comes to learning. We can not grasp today what will be learned tomorrow, each day's inquiries are the keys to the next door.

Most of all, be persistent in your endeavors to know more, understand more, control more. These are the keys to master-hood. These are the keys to enlightenment. Also, remember you can and will digress in training if you don't fully immerse yourself in study and practice. The rewards are great for those who persist, and nil for those who fall by the way-side. Don't waste your life with useless endeavors that have no lasting effect.

If you decide to learn Tai Chi, do it in full earnest, and be open minded so you may learn all you can. Ch'ang Shih Tai Chi is now written into American history, and I am honored and privileged to have played a small part in spreading it to the American people. In conclusion, I leave you with these words concerning the study of Tai Chi Ch'uan as a way of life: Until you try it yourself, live it, savor its content, all my words will remain empty. But once you taste from the cup of Tai Chi knowledge, then my words will become profound.

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