At the start of each class, we pay our respects to the masters of our taijiquan tradition who have passed away. Here is a brief description of some of these remarkable people so that you know something about them when you take part in the simple ritual.
Chen Wangting (1600 - 1680) is widely considered to be the originator of Chen-style taijiquan. A soldier during the turbulent period at the end of the Ming and the beginning of the Qing dynasties, he would have had practical battlefield experience to draw upon, but combined this with ancient breathing techniques and medical theory to formulate seven routines of what would later come to be known as taijiquan.
These were later synthesized into the two routines of Lao Jia (Old Frame) Chen taijiquan that we practise today by Chen Changxing (1771 - 1853). He went by the nickname of "Mr Ancestral Tablet" because of his perfectly upright posture. His other claim to fame is that he taught Yang Luchan (1799 - 1871) who went on to develop his own version of taijiquan and which subsequently transformed into the soft, open Yang style which is popularly practised today.
Up until this point, the Chen style was a closely guarded secret - as were most family and village martial traditions; in an essentially medieval society such as China, the survival of one's family and neighbours depended on maintaining fighting skills which had the edge over any likely opponent. However, Yang Luchan went to Beijing to teach, to be followed in 1928 by Chen Zhaopi and later Chen Fake. These last two masters brought awareness of Chen-style taijiquan to a wider audience. Chen Fake developed his own version of the family style, making it somewhat more elaborate, a style which has been called Xin Jia (New Frame), while Chen Zhaopi returned to the Chen family village when it became clear that the style was dying out in its place of origin.
Chen Zhaopi endured much during the Cultural Revolution, being harshly persecuted, as were many who tried to maintain any sort of traditional activity, but many of the leading figures of today trained with him, frequently in secret during those appalling years. Chen Fake's son, Chen Zhaokui, took up where Chen Zhaopi left off upon his death in 1972 and since the 1980s his students have taken Chen family taijiquan onto the world stage.
Thus, at the start of each class, we pay tribute to these extraordinary individuals, as well as all the others who have, down the centuries, sustained this fine tradition and have helped to make it available to us.
Andrew Howard is a Chen-style Tai Chi Instructor teaching in West Dorset, UK.