Histories of the Chuen Fa Styles
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Hsing-I (Xing I), Ba Gua Zhang (Pa Kua Chang), and Tai Ji Chuen (T'ai Chi Ch'uan / Tai Ji Quan)  are all considered internal (nei-chia) styles. In this aspect they all show a Daoist bias as opposed to a Buddhist bias. They all work on similar principles, however the intent is very different in each style. Historically they are difficult to trace very far back. Research into the history of Martial Arts reveal that fighting and weapons skills were recorded in the time of Huang-ti circa 2696 BCE.

Hsing-I Chuen (Xing I) is also known as Hsing-i Ch’uan (the Form of Mind Fist), aka Hsing-I Lu-ho Ch’uan (the Form of Mind Six-combinations Fist), aka I Ch’uan (Mind Fist). The names imply the harmonious merger of thought and action. The method has also been known as Ta Ch’eng Ch’uan (Great Achievement Fist).

Traditionally the method is attributed to Yueh Fei a general of the Northern Sung Dynasty which existed between 960 to 1127 CE. There is little evidence to credit this claim.

The person recorded to have first taught Hsing-I is Chi Lung-feng. He said that he learned Hsing-I from a Daoist sometime between 1637 and 1661 CE. Chi Lung-feng taught two students Ts’ao Chi-Wu and Ma Hsueh-li  who respectively went on to found the Shansi-Hopei and Honan schools of Hsing-I.

Many styles of Martial Arts claim an ancestry that stretches back to Ta Mo, the legendary monk who brought Buddhism, and especially Chan (Zen) Buddhism from India.  Shaolin Five Animal styles claim such an ancestry. The Chinese are notorious for ascribing a lineage to a legendary figure to create a provenance and ancestry. Any such claims must be considered as pure myth and cannot be trusted.

In Tai Ji Chuen circles many people make a claim that Chang San Feng originated the style. He was a legendary Daoist of the Sung Dynasty (13th Century CE). There are others that claim that Tai Ji Chuen originated in the Wu Dang Temple. Again such claims must be considered as an attempt to create a legitimacy that really did not exist.

A precise history of Tai Ji Chuen (T'ai Chi Ch'uan / Tai Ji Quan) starts with the Chen family village in Hunan. Chen Chang Shen was teaching what is called Chen Style Tai Ji Chuen to his family, and possibly selected outsiders. Yang Lu-Chan is credited with studying with the Chen family. However in family styles very often teaching was restricted to relatives and people with the same family name. Yang was not being shown the secrets. There is a mythic story of his having to spy on the secret lessons being given to Chen family members. When he was selected for the indoor students to fight, he was able to defeat them, and became an indoor student. Eventually Yang Lu-chan left and went to Beijing. There he became famous for his Tai Ji Chuen and spear skills. He had three sons who he taught along with other students. The oldest son died young, however the other two sons, Yang Pan Huo (1837-1890 CE) and Yang Chien Hou (1842-1916 CE). These two taught many people. Among them was Wu Chun Yu who taught his own son Wu Chien Chun.  Wu Chien Chun founded Wu Style Tai Ji Chuen. Yang Chien Hou taught his third son Yang Chen Fu (1883-1935 CE) who formed the distinct characteristics of Yang Style Tai Ji Chuen. Yang Chen Fu was the great popularizer of Tai Ji Chuen (T'ai Chi Ch'uan / Tai Ji Quan).

The origin of Ba Gua Zhang (Pa Kua Chang) is unknown, although there are references to Deer Boxing. The earliest record of Ba Gua Zhang is in 1796 CE when a fighter in Shantung named Wang Hsiang taught it to a certain Feng Ke-shan. In 1810 Feng met Niu Liang-chuen who also taught him aspects of the method.

However it is Dong Hai Chuen (Tung Hai-ch’uan) who lived from 1798 to 1879 CE and made the style famous. About the time of the T’ai Ping Rebellion (1850- 1864 CE) Dong Hai Chuen is said to have been involved in the revolt against the Manchu government. He escaped and fled to Beijing. He became an official in the imperial court. However he did not get along with the other officials and was transferred to the household of Prince Su where he worked as a servant. Once at a crowded banquet Dong served tea to the guests by scaling the wall and crossing the roof to the kitchen and back. Prince Su noticed this and recognized that there must be some great skill at work. He ordered Dong to demonstrate. Dong is said to have impressed the guests with his demonstration of Ba Gua Zhang. The chief of the royal guards Sha Hui-tsu, was a Moslem boxer and challenged him. Dong is said to have soundly defeated him.

This is how Dong came to be known as a practitioner of Ba Gua Zhang and started teaching.

There is another legendary story, regarding Dong Hai Chuen. After becoming famous he was challenged by Kuo Yun-shen known as “Divine Crushing Hand” a practitioner of Hsing-I. They fought for two days with no conclusion. On the third day Dong took the offensive and thoroughly defeated Kuo.  They were so impressed with each other that they became lifelong friends. They created a pact wherein all their students trained in both styles. To this day Ba Gua Zhang and Hsing-I are coupled and complementary.

Dong is said to have worked as a caravan guard and collected a vast quantity of forms and styles. He insisted that anyone who studied Ba Gua Zhang be proficient in some other style first.  Ba Gua Zhang is said to have reached the general public after 1900 CE. Dragon Style Ba Gua Zhang comes from one of Dong’s students Cheng Ting-hua. Yin Fu is the other famous student of Dong Hai Chuen. He studied with Dong many years and taught the 8 animal method of Ba Gua Zhang.

Wing Chun traces its roots to the Shaolin Temple. When it was burned during the reign of Yung-Cheng (1723- 1736 CE) the legendary five elders were among those who escaped. These were Gee Sin, Pak Mei, Fung To Tak, Miu Hin, and the nun Ng Mui. Gee Sin’s students were the source of Hung Gar Kung Fu. Pak Mei originated Pak Mei Kung Fu. Ng Mui is credited with founding White Crane Kung Fu.

It is said that Ng Mui devised a new system of martial arts that emphasized defeating an opponent through method rather than strength.

Yim Yee was living with his daughter Yim Wing Chun in the town near the Temple at Tai Leung mountain where Ng Mui had taken residence. Ng Mui would shop in the marketplace and is said to have struck up an acquaintance with Yim Yee and his daughter. There she learned that Wing Chun was being coerced into marrying the local bully named Wong. As the story goes Ng Mui took pity on Wing Chun and trained her in the fighting arts teaching her the new system. In time Wing Chun was able to challenge Wong and defeat him, and in that way prevented the forced marriage. Later Yim Wing Chun is said to have married Leung Bok Chau. He learned of her skills and named the system after her.

In the stories it is said that the Butterfly knives came from Mui Tsui Fa daughter of Mui Hin.

Here the story takes an odd twist. Leung Bok Chau is said to have taught Leung Lan Kwai who then taught an actor on a Red Junk Opera troupe, named Wong Wah Bo. Gee Sin had taken a position as a cook on one of these Red Junks and had taught one of the crewmen, a poler, named Leung Yee Tai the Shaolin martial art. Included was the use of a long staff. Leung Yee Tai and Wong Wah Bo ended up on the same Red Junk and exchanged training. Leung Yee Tai is said to have taught to Leung Jan of Fatshan.

Leung Jan taught his sons, Leung Bik and Leung Chun, and a few outside students, including one nicknamed “Wah the Wooden Man” for his ability to break the arms of the wooden dummy. Chan Wah Shen had a money-changing stall next door. “Wah the money changer” wanted to study martial arts with Leung Jan but for some reason did not approach him. “Wah the money changer” somehow convinced “Wah the Wooden Man” to give him lessons and spied on Leung Jan’s lessons and learned in that way. He eventually worked up the courage to approach Leung Jan but was politely rebuffed. One day when elder son Leung Chun was alone in the shop, Chan Wah Shen approached him. For some reason Leung Chun discovered the spying and decided to test Chan Wah Shen’s skills. In the process “Wah the money changer” caused Leung Chun to fall and break Leung Jan’s chair. They attempted to hide the fact, however Leung Jan discovered the broken chair, and after an investigation into the facts, Chan Wah Shen was eventually made a student of Leung Jan. Leung Jan took on a number of students, the last among them was Yip Man. Chan Wah Shen was over seventy and Yip Man was only thirteen. After Chan Wah Shen died Yip Man continued to study with his older brothers in the system. Yip Man left Fatshan when the communists took over China in 1949 CE and went to Hong Kong where he taught the generation that spread Wing Chun Kung Fu around the world.  

There are other styles of Wing Chun, each with different variations of forms, weapons, and histories. These styles remained relatively unknown until China was opened to the West in the 1980's CE.