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Zhang Sanfeng, Wudang & Taiji



Tai Chi Les Den Haag en Delft

A legendary Taoist Mystic, Zhang Sanfeng is widely accepted to be the Founder of Wudang & Taiji.
Like Xinyi, Taiji is another distinctive style of Chinese martial science.
However, its fame overshadows that of Xinyi.
Taichi is very popular as a health exercise worldwide, yet the least understood as a martial science.
Either people do it to soft or too hard; few can really achieve an absolute balance of the yielding & the strong that is the ideal in Taiji.
The most important mistake is to forget Taiji is a martial science.
If you treat it simply as a leisurely activity, then Taiji will forever be just that.
If not, it may one day be the best life-protecting skill.

Zhang lived around the end of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1330-1367AD) to the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1400AD).
Legends say that he had learned wushu in the Shaolin Temple in his youth, but later left abruptly for some unknown reason.
Some storytellers say that he had learned Kungfu without the permission of the Abbot, and was thus forced to leave.
From then on he wandered the world as a vigilante, fighting the Mongol invaders whenever opportunity arises.

During this time he also met & learned the teachings of Taoism from many wandering priests.
He then practiced asceticism in Sichuan province, and later wandered to Mt Wudang, spanning Hubei, Shaanxi & parts of Henan.
During this time the people nicknamed him, "Dusty Zhang" as he never changes his robes, & always look dirty & untidy.

One day, he chanced upon a battle between a crane & a snake.
He observed that whenever the crane tried to peck the snake's head, its head would yield and its tail will strike the crane.
The crane would then go for the snake's tail, but the tail would yield & its head will bite the crane.
Finally the crane attacked the snake's body, only to be struck by both its head & tail.

Frustrated, the crane flew away.
After spending some days pondering on what he saw, he conceived a system of fighting based on his Taoist wisdom.

Wudang Taiji & Chen Family Taiji

This system would later be known as Taiji.
He then continued to stay on Mt Wudang as an ascetic for many years, until his supposed 'death' - his body simply vanished from the grave without a trace.
Months later he was seen wandering the lands around the mountain once more, & the ordinary folks all regarded him as an immortal.
Zhang is said to have passed his skills to the Taoist priests on Mt Wudang, who went on to create Wudang Wushu.
The most famous arts of Wudang includes its fencing, light-body, breathing arts & of course its unique Taiji.
Zhang also taught the populace around the Mountain in the course of his wanderings.
Chen Bu from Shanxi, the first patriarch of the Chen family was perhaps one such person.
He must've learned Taiji concepts around the late 1360s, but nobody can confirm from whom.


Chen Wangting, 9th generation grandmaster & official founder of Chen style Taiji.

The Chen family shifted to Henan province in 1374.
Chen Bu's 9th generation descendant Chen Wangting is to create Chen Family Taiji nearly 300 years later, around 1644, this time with official records.
In a similar lineage is Wang Zhongyue also from Shanxi; who went to Chen Village in Henan to exchange Taiji concepts with 14th generation master Chen Changxing (1771-1853).
Around 1790 Yang Luchan (1799-1872) the invincible Founder of Yang Family Taiji was also Chen Changxing's disciple for 6 years.
The other major styles like the Wu(2), Wu(3), Sun & many other minor styles are all derived from the Chen & the Yang Families.
Although there is no connection between Wudang, Taiji & Zhang Sanfeng in clear writing, we can still conclude that all have undeniable links with one another.


The Founder of Bagua= Dong Haichuan (1796-1880)

Baguazhang is the most unique of Chinese martial science, with an equally mysterious origin as well as founder.
Many of us know that the first person to officially teach Bagua is Dong Haichuan, but none of us know how he came to know such a special style.
Although Xingyi & Taiji techniques can both be found in Bagua, its footwork, parrying & training methods are one of a kind.

Thus we know Bagua existed long before Dong did.
The tablet on his tomb says he sought out a friend in Jiangwan (modern Anhui province) for instruction, after which his skills improved tremendously.
Not long after, he went to Beijing & suddenly became an eunuch in the Forbidden City; which is another great mystery.

Legend has it that on Mt Jiuhua (one of the 4 Sacred Mountains of Buddhism in China) in Anhui, he met a young Taoist novice practicing a Kung Fu style which he has never seen before.
This style utilizes the palms and the arms instead of just the elbows & the fists.
Curious, he sparred with the novice, only to be defeated in less than a few minutes.
Shocked, he asked to see his master.
The novice introduced him to his master, and Dong begged the old priest to teach him.
The old priest reluctantly agreed on the condition that Dong must never reveal anything about him to the outside world.

After staying for a couple of years he left Mt Jiuhua with new Bagua concepts - a much stronger fighter.
While he is an eunuch in the Palace, his profound martial skills were noticed by many, one of whom is Prince Su.

The Prince hired him as his personal security chief.
During his years in this post, he built up an invincible reputation, defeating many jealous rivals from the court who wanted him dead.
Dong later retired & started teaching a new style called Baguazhang in Beijing.
During that period many famous wushu masters (like Xingyi Master Guo Yunshen) came to visit him, some to challenge, others to discuss & exchange concepts.
Of course, after these episodes Dong's reputation was made even greater, & his fame eventually spread across the whole of Northern China.



Adam Hsu practicing Wu Tan (Yin Style) Baguazhang

Dong had 8 prominent disciples, the foremost being Cheng Tinghua.
These 2 are to later divide the Bagua lineage into the Cheng Style, the most influential of all Bagua Styles.
There're other clans who claim to have lineage separate from Dong, but nobody knows how much truth there is in their claims.
What we can say, is that Anhui is the most probable birthplace of Baguazhang.



Wang Lang, Tanglang & the Shaolin Temple

Legend has it that Tanglang (Mantis) quan was founded by Wang Lang, a native of Shandong province, Jimo county.
Some believe he lived during the early Northern Song (960-1127AD) Dynasty, but that is not acceptable, because that would give Tanglang quan a 1000-year-old history, longer than even Xinyi.
Given the complexity & varitey of Tanglang we know today, it is more likely that Wang, if he really existed, lived at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty like Ji Longfeng did.

For a style to exist a 1000 years or more, one of the most important factors is simplicity, followed by obscurity.
A style as famous & complex as Tanglang"the essense of 18 styles" would have greatly fallen away after the passage of one millenium.
Shaolin traditions was able to survive for 1500 years because it had little fixed styles, but instead kept changing and mingling with the world around it.
This is simple Taoist wisdom.



The arm & foot sweep, one of Tanglang's representative techniques that combines both attack & defense

The legends of Wang Lang are many, but most say that he was already quite well versed in martial science before he went to the Shaolin Temple.
He left Shandong due to problems with the Qing government.
Some say his family was massacred, & a wandering Shaolin monk rescued him.
In any case he stayed at the Temple to study Shaolin Kung Fu, exchanging concepts with many like him staying in the Temple, experts from a total of 17 styles.
He became very good, and nobody was able to defeat him except the chief monk.
He was disturbed by this & wandered to a nearby forest to contemplate on his loss.
Sitting by a tree, he suddenly heard noises made by insects from the branch above him.
Looking up, he saw that a praying mantis was attacking and devouring a larger cicada.

He was impressed & took the mantis back to the Temple, keeping it as a pet & studying its movements.
He felt that while the attacking techniques of the mantis may be strong, its leg movement would be inadequate for humans.
So he incorporated ape-like footwork & experiences with 17 other styles, he started to create a combined fighting style - Tanglang.
Weeks later, he challenged the chief monk again & defeated him this time round.
The chief monk was shocked but also full of admiration, so he asked Wang Lang to share his knowledge with the monks & the other visitors.

He continued staying in the Temple until the Abbot advised him one day to wander the world to further develop his new style.
He did so, but had never met his match.
So in his old age he returned to Shandong & went into a hermitage in Mt Lao, passing his time by teaching Tanglang to people who sought him out till his death.
Thus, Tanglang grew deep roots in the martial traditions of Shandong province.

While the Shaolin Historical Records do write of a gathering of 18 masters of individual styles converging in Shaolin at the beginning of the Northern Song Dynasty, it does not mention of Wang Lang or his Mantis style as some claim they do.
Nor do they appear in the beginning of the Qing Dynasty as said in the legends.
If Wang Lang was so influential in the Temple at any time, there is sure to be objects of remembrance, like that of Xinyi's Founder - Ji Longfeng's painting which used to hang in the Temple before WW2.

Even today, Shaolin monks do not practice Tanglang forms, as much as they should if Wang Lang really trained & taught there centuries ago.
Much evidence suggests that the name 'Tanglang' did not exist before the Qing Dynasty, & was almost exclusively centered in Shandong until this century.
The same can be said of its Founder Wang Lang.
Even so, it cannot be denied that Tanglang do have an unexplainable connection with Shaolin; there just aren't any clear records that can verify this.

A common Founder like Wang Lang among the many styles of Tanglang again seems unacceptable, but we'll just have to take it for granted until someone can really explain the clear origins of the relationship between Man & Mantis in Shandong.

author :chinese martial science

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