An Introduction to Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan

Chen Style Tai Chi is amazingly beautiful to do and to watch when performed well.

It is divided up into the Big Frame (Da Jia)and the Small Frame (Xiao Jia).

The Da Jia is much more common and is itself divided into two branches: the Old Frame (Lao Jia) or orginal style and the New Frame (Xin Jia) created by Chen Fake.

Chen Lao Jia and Xin Jia each consist of the First Way (Yi Lu) form which is more restrained and the Second Way (Er Lu) or Cannon form which is dramatically explosive.

There are many modern short forms derived from these root forms such as Chen Xiao Wang's 19 and 38 and Chen Zhen Lei's 18.

Chen 56, a difficult and demanding style was created from Chen Lao Jia and Chen Xin Jia and is often used in high level competitions in China.

There are also many weapon Tai Chi forms.

Chen Style Xinyi Hunyuan from Feng Zhi Qiang is growing more common now, a blend of Xin Jia, Xinyi and Hunyuan Qi Gong, it is valued for its health aspects, although is a complete martial art still.

Chen Xiao Jia, or the small circle form of Chen taichi, might have died out in the 1960's but it survived through three Chen family teachers and is now being taught more widely, with lineages in Chenjiagou, Kaifeng and Xian. Each have developed in different ways, but the essentials are the same.

Chen Style Tai Chi Naming Confusions

The naming of the Chen Frames is misleading as is clarified in the Chinese poem, "the big form is not big, the small form not small".

In practice the essential difference between the big frame and small frame is the learning journey.

The big frame initially emphasizes outer movements, larger circles and a physically demanding lower stance to facilitate sinking. It progresses to greater subtlety using extensive Chan Si Jing exercises (Silk Reeling), Nei Gong (internal energy work) and Zhan Zhuang (standing qi gong / meditation), along with form practice.

The small frame emphasizes subtle movement of the abdominal dantian from the beginning with the body moving in a circular way in connection with it. The circles are naturally small most of the time, but can also be large as the body relaxes more deeply. Xiaojia also starts with a middle to high stance and encourages natural sinking with a little mind guidance like Yang. There is little requirement for additional silk reeling or other techniques as the form itself is sufficient.

In the end they are not different, the big frame circles like the small frame finding their natural size corresponding to the practitioner's body. Both move fully from the dantian and eventually sink naturally without using muscles or the mind. High level practitioner's bodies will also discover new circles of their own hence the appearance of Chen Fake's Xinjia.

Originally there was only Chen Style Taichi

There is some debate as to which style of Chen family taichi is the older. What is definate is that there are many more practitioners of Da Jia than Xiao Jia.

Superficially, Chen Da Jia looks harder to learn than Chen Xiao Jia for the Western student, simply because of the low stance that is generally required for Da Jia. The Chen family are from a hard working strong agricultural class though and their bodies would not have had difficulty with this, especially given that they traditionally learn from childhood, the age of five even.

Chen Xiao Jia requires much more internal control and ability to sink ones Qi before it has any value as a martial art, therefore it seems more likely that both forms were in existence together in the family in the past and were not differentiated as seperate styles.

Whether a student spent more time with outer movement, large circles and low physically aided sinking or went quickly to inner movement will have depended on the qualities of the student and their immediate need. Many of the Chen family had to work as bodyguards, so they needed practical martial skills as quickly as possible to earn money. What became known as Da Jia probably provided a quicker path to achieve this and so naturally would have been more widespread in the family.

The division into Chen Da Jia and Chen Xiao Jia probably happened naturally over time rather than intentionally.

Yang Lu Chan's original Yang style contained Xiao Jia and Da jia versions, Xiao Jia being kept close to his family and Da Jia being taught more widely, so it seems reasonable that the Chen style he learnt from Chen Chang Xing also involved both Xiao Jia and Da Jia versions.

Yang Ban Hou, Yang Lu Chan's son and Wu Yu-hsiang the founder of Wu(Hao) style both returned to Chen Xiao Jia for additional training so this points towards Chen Xiao Jia as the more highly regarded martial teaching of the Chen family at the time.

What this doesn't imply is any kind of implicit superiority of either Chen Xiao Jia or Chen Lao Jia / Xin Jia (Da Jia) in the present day.

As the poem says, big is not big, small is not small and all that matters is the quality of the practitioner's taichi. Once the styles were split off from each other, high level practitioners appeared practising both styles and so they would naturally have both continued to evolve, Chen Fake standing out in modern history to exemplify this.

An Introduction to the Chen Style Tai Chi Lineage

Tai Chi has a concept of lineage. The progressive line of master teachers, with each learning from the previous generation masters.

Chen Wang Ting (1600-1680), [9th Generation] founded Chen Tai Chi in the 1600's. Previous to this the Chen family practiced hard Kungfu. For many generations it was kept private within the Chen family. Even so over time the lineage has branched out and so there are many lines now.

Two significant teachers after Chen Wang Ting were Chen Chang Xing and Chen You Ben, probably brothers.

Chen Chang Xing's official students were Yang Lu Chan, Chen Gengyun, Chen Hua Mei, Chen Hua Gui

Chen Gengyun's family line included Chen Fake and Chen Zhao Pei and forms what is now considered the mainstream of Chen Style Da Jia Taichi, headed by Chen Xiao Wang within the family. His younger brother Chen Xiao Xing teaches in Chen Jia Gou.

Chen Hua Mei and Chen Hua Gui created a lineage that is now headed by Chen Zhao Sen., and this is also Da Jia, although slightly different to the Chen Zhao Pei line.

Yang Lu Chan went on to found Yang Style Taichi.

Chen You Ben's lineage are considered to be practitioners of Chen Xiao Jia.

So at this stage there is a division in the Chen Family Taichi into Chen Da Jia and Chen Xiao Jia creating two main lineages.

The Large Frame (Da Jia) Lineage

Within the Da Jia Lineage, Chen Fake (1887-1957) [17th Generation], was a practioner who became famous in China and lived in Beijing where he taught many students inside and outside the Chen family.

He created the New Frame of Chen taichi which again split the Chen into two, Old Frame (Lao Jia) and New Frame (Xin Jia), although many of the Chen family members still train in both styles.

Chen Fake's main students were Feng Zhi Qiang, Chen Zhao Xu, Chen Zhao Pei (1928-1981)[18th], Chen Zhao Kui and Hong Junsheng along with several others.

Chen Fake's sons, Chen Zhao Xu and Chen Zhao Kui taught Chen Xin Jia with an emphasis on strong releases of power.

Chen Zhao Pei continued teaching Chen Lao Jia within the Chen family and so after this time the main students practiced both styles. These included Chen Xiao Wang, Wang Xi An, Zhu Tian Cai and Chen Zheng Lei among others.

Chen Xiao Wang and his peers have worked hard spreading the Chen Tai Chi around the World and so its popularity has increased dramatically in recent years.

Chen Xiao Xing, Chen Xiao Wang's brother, his son Chen Zi Qiang and Chen Bing, Chen Xiao Wang's nephew all teach in Chenjiagou as does Chen Zhao Sen from the Hua Mei lineage.

Feng Zhi Qiang created his own lineage of taichi, Chen Style Xinyin Hunyuan which is usually softer than Chen family taichi. Ou Hai Bing is a high level disciple living near Changsha, Hunan. The main school is in Beijing.

Some of the other students of Chen Fake have evolved in ways which are also softer than the Chen family norm and so over time this has created the rich diversity that is Chen Style Da Jia today.

The Small Frame (Xiao Jia) Lineage

Chen You Ben appears to be the person who headed what came to be known as Xiao Jia. He had many disciples among whom were Chen Qingping and Chen Zhongsheng.

Chen Qingping (1795-1868) went on to teach Wu Yuxiang who also learnt with Yang Luchan and formed a line which included Hao Weizhen and became known as the Wu (Hao) style of Taichi. Sun Lutang learnt with Hao Weizhen along with other high teachers from taichi, Xinyi and Bagua and formed Sun Style Taichi. The Yiquan founder learnt with Sun Lutang, so this is a very impressive line of martial art masters.

Chen Zhongsheng (1809-1891) had many disciples, the most famous being Chen Xin (1849-1929), who wrote a famous book on Chen Style Taichi

Chen Xin's disciples appear to have formed the main Xiaojia line and included Chen Ziming, Chen Kezhong (1908-1960), Chen Kedi and Chen Chunyuan.

Chen Kezhong's disciples include Chen Boxiang, Chen Boxian and Chen Zhijing. I met Chen Zhijing in Chenjiagou and he said his main student was now teaching in Chen Xiao Xing's school but it is possible to learn with him still.

Chen Chunyuan's line continued in Xian with Chen Liqing (-2008) and Chen Lixian (1922-1983). Chen Lixian's son Chen Peishan now lives and teaches in Japan. Other family members are Chen Peilin and Chen Peiju.

Chen Kedi lived in Kaifeng with his main disciple being Shi Lei. There is an established Chen Xiao Jia community there.

The Xiao Jia lineage is not as common as Da Jia but is being taught internationally now and so it is possible to learn from good teachers and especially so if you can travel to Chenjiagou, Xian or Kaifeng.

Note : The Da Jia and Xiao Jia lineages are accurate to the best of my knowledge but there may be errors. It is also likely that I've missed significant teachers and lines, which hopefully will be added at a later date as I become aware of the omissions.



The China Taichi Guide : Chen Style Taichi Introduction. Chen Style Tai Chi is rapidly growing in popularity in the West now as it combines the attractions of big circular movements, jumps & fahjing punches with the relaxed, 'empty mind' movement of Tai Chi.

Anthony Fidler 2011 - The China Tai Chi Guide - A Guide to finding the right Tai Chi Teacher and School for you in China. Yang Style Tai Chi, Chen Style Tai Chi, Wu, Sun and other Internal Martial Arts are all discussed along with the Locations where Quality Tai Chi can be found in China.