Small Frame of Chen Style Taijiquan

by Jian Ge

The article originally published in "Shaolin Yu Taiji", 9/2002; translated from Chinese and edited by Jarek Szymanski J.Szymanski 2002-2004


Chen Style Taijiquan has its origins in Chenjiagou village in Wen County, Henan Province. It was created by Chen Wangting, ninth generation descendant of Chen clan at the end of Ming dynasty and beginning of Qing dynasty, on the basis of the old martial art that had been passed within the family. Chen Wangting perfected the art and created five sets of Taijiquan, five sets of fist boxing (Wu Tao Chui), Thirteen Postures (Shi San Shi) as well as Canon Boxing (Pao Chui) [1], weapons sets (spear, broadsword, straight sword, stick, maces, whip, etc) and especially unique methods of Pushing Hands (Tui Shou) and Sticky Spears (Zhan Qiang). In this way a very complete martial art system was created. In the process of evolution lasting over three hundreds years Yang, Wu (Jianquan), Wu (Yuxiang), Sun, Zhaobao and other styles have derived from Chen style Taijiquan.

Within the system of Chen style Taijiquan, "Small Frame" (Xiao Jia) is the most traditional practice method.

 

Chen Ziming, Chen Xin's disciple, demonstrates movements of Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan (1932)
INTRODUCTION TO "SMALL FRAME" OF CHEN STYLE TAIJIQUAN

The practice of Chen style Taijiquan emphasizes reducing the circles from large into small, and then from small into "no circles" - the peak of perfection in the art. Historically Chen style Taijiquan was not divided into "Large Frame" and "Small Frame"; however, as far as the practice method is concerned, the teacher, in order to help the student learn the rudiments of the art faster, would enlarge the movements of the routine, so that the student would start learning from large, external circles. After a period of period of practice, when the student already learnt to move in the circular, round way, large circles were gradually reduced to small ones, external circles to internal ones, forming spiral silk reeling strength (Chan Si Jin) transferred along the strength paths (Jin Lu) on the torso, arms and legs; in this way the high level of skill would be achieved - the circles would not be expressed outside. Along with the development of Taijiquan, these different methods of practice were called "Large Frame" and "Small Frame" ("Large Circles" and "Small Circles"). The practitioners of Large Frame also emphasize reducing the circles from large to small gradually, while in Small Frame practice the circles are first enlarged; the practice processes of Large Frame and Small Frame are basically very similar, and for this reason it is said that "Large Frame is not large, Small Frame is not small".

Large Frame of Chen style Taijiquan began to spread to the outside world because of later generations of Chen clan working as caravan escorts or doing business outside the village; especially when Chen Fake (17th generation descendant of Chen clan) and Chen Zhaopei (18th generation descendant of Chen clan) were officially invited to teach martial arts in Beijing and Nanjing, Large Frame had spread and became known by common people. Since Small Frame has been passed only within the clan and because of the very strict requirements concerning relations between teacher and students, it still remains almost unknown. However nowadays Chen style "Small Frame" exponents have already begun to teach the style to outsiders, but since they got off to a late start, the style has not spread very much.

Punch of Hitting Crotch (Zhi Dang Chui)
Punch of Draping Over Body (Pi Shen Chui) also called Punch of Protecting Body (Bi Shen Chui)
 

The contemporary representatives of Chen style "Small Frame" Taijiquan are: Chen Kezhong, Chen Boxiang (both 18th generation descendants of Chen clan), Chen Liqing, Chen Lixian, Chen Boxian (19th generation descendants of Chen clan), etc.

 

"Illustrated Explanation to Chen Family Taijiquan" (Chen Shi Taijiquan Tu Shuo) written by Chen Xin (16th generation descendant of Chen clan) and considered "Bible of Martial Arts" (Wulin Shengdian), describes movements which are practiced within "Small Frame" system. Chen Xin's own "Introduction" (Zi Xu) to "Illustrated Explanation" says:

"I am afraid of the passing of time and impatient to wait anymore; I'm also afraid that (the martial art) will divide into schools and branches and true knowledge will be lost. For this reason in my leisure time I do my outmost to explain and clarify deep secrets (of the art), describe it in great detail."

In the whole book there is no mention about the division of Chen style Taijiquan into Large Frame and Small Frame. This proves that the style recorded in "Illustrated Explanation to Chen Family Taijiquan" should be the closest to the original art created by Chen Wangting.

In spite of her advanced age, Chen Liqing still actively teaches in Xi'an

 
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF "SMALL FRAME" OF CHEN STYLE TAIJIQUAN
  1. Body Method (Shen Fa): "The body should not leap up and sway carelessly, rather low than high, move on one level". During practice of the routines the body should not move now low now high, and carelessly sway to the left or right; the Intent (Yi) should sink down, the center of gravity should be kept low and basically on one level (apart from movements like "Shake Foot and Stretch Down" - Bai Jiao Xia Cha; Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg - Jin Ji Du Li; The Dragon on the Ground - Pu Di Long, etc.)

  2. Hand Techniques (Shou Fa) - "Both hands should not (carelessly) turn over, there should be closing power between them, Qi penetrates slightly insides of the fingers; when moving hands upwards do not cross eyebrows, move them downwards by relaxing; (when) turning (i.e. moving the hands) inwards (i.e. in front of the body) thumb can go as far as the central line, when moving (the hands) outwards do not extend them too far, sink the tip of the elbow; do not extend it too far (Tan) do not keep it too close (Jia), contract the ribs, the skin on the ribs and hand should touch each other (Shu Lei Xiang Mao Fu Xiang Ai)"[2]. Both hands close (He), (i.e. are turned towards each other), they should not completely face each other but rather at a certain angle - this is called "Four Six, Yin and Yang"; palm is shaped like a tile, thumb and little finger close (He, i.e. move towards each other), the Intent (Yi) is on the thumb, forefinger and middle finger; the center line of the body determines range of motion for each hand, each hand controls half of the body; in its movements upwards the hand should not go higher than the level of eyebrows, when moving downwards one should focus on relaxation; when the hand moves outwards, do not extend it too far (Tan); when the hand returns, do not keep it too close to the body (Jia), leave some extra space, follow exactly the principles.

  3. Footwork (Bu Fa) - "Never place the feet in the shape of character Ba (eight - which is similar to roman letter "V" written upside down - i.e. with toes pointing obliquely outwards) and Ding (similar to the letter "T" i.e. when there is right angle between both feet), always remember to close (i.e. move towards each other) tips of both feet; more weight of the body is on inner side of the feet, big and second toes lead (the foot); twist on heels, big step is as long as one leg, short step is as long as one vertical foot". Because of the requirement to open hips and round the crotch, both feet should be kept parallel to each other, and never placed with toes pointing outwards (in the shape of letters "V" or "T"), otherwise the hip joint will not fold and crotch will loose its curve (and will take shape of "V" letter - so-called "sharp crotch" - and hence the requirement of rounding the crotch will not be met); when moving from hips down using "contrary coiling" (Ni Chan), the strength vector should drop on the inner side of the foot, onto big and second toes; when taking a step, one should not extend it too far (Tan) - one should be able to take a step and draw the leg back freely, in big step the distance between feet should not be longer than length of the leg, in small step - not shorter than length of the foot.

  1. "Rather advance than retreat, (move) lower (part of the body) first before the upper (one)". The center of gravity would rather advance than retreat; when shifting the weight lower body moves before the upper body [3].

  2. Eyes Method (Yan Fa) - "Spirit (Shen) escorts front hand, the head should not sway". The Intent (Shen Yi) should be on front hand, however eyes should not be fixed on the front hand, the head should not sway following hands movement.

  3. Strength Method (Jin Fa) - "Crotch shall open and be round, should not twist (Niu) or sway to the left and right horizontally (Shuan)". Bottom should relax and spread out to both sides, so that hips "wrap" (as if trying to embrace a big ball with legs), hip joint is kept tucked in (hips are folded), opening (Kai) at the rear and closing (He) at the front, so that the crotch becomes round; crotch plays the role of an axis of legs and waist, and during rotation transfers the "Silk Reeling Strength" (Chan Si Jin), also called "Spiral Strength" (Luo Xuan Jin), which "coils" starting from toes along shin, thigh to Hui Yin Point, from the body (Ming Men Point), shoulder, upper arm, radius, ulna and coils to the tips of the fingers; when Yin and Yang transfer (i.e. the center of gravity is shifted from one leg to the other), the hips draw a rear, low arc; hips are like a tray, remember never to twist or sway them to the left and right horizontally (along straight line); both hips should draw figure "" and strength should not break, coiling (Chan) should circulate in the shape of "~" (Bei Si Kou); strength should be full, without excess or deficiency.[4]

Chen Xin (1849-1929), student of Chen Zhongshen and author of famous "Illustrated Explanation to Chen family Taijiquan"

  1. Many vertical circles, few horizontal circles - the reason to move along vertical circles is to transmit the strength (which raises from feet) from bottom upwards, all when relaxed (Song), sunk (Chen) and shifting (the weight) in circular way (Yuan Zhuan). Besides, it is easier to maintain stability when moving along vertical circles. For this reason Small Frame in movement uses mainly vertical or almost vertical circles.

  2. Many full circles, few arcs - the reason for using full circles is to make strength paths (Jin Lu) complete, to reduce unnecessary, repeated "Storing of Strength" (Xu Jin), to achieve continuity of neutralizing (Hua) and striking (Da), and launch an attack with speed.[5]

TRACING THE SOURCES OF "SMALL FRAME" OF CHEN STYLE TAIJIQUAN

Before Chen Youben - 14th generation descendant of Chen clan and 6th generation inheritor of Chen style Taijiquan - there was only one method of Taijiquan practice transmitted, and there was no division into Large and Small Frames. Chen Youben was key personage who played epoch-making role in dividing Chen style Taijiquan into Large and Small Frames.

According to the records in "Genealogy of Chen Family" (Chen Shi Jia Cheng), Chen Gongzhao, Chen Youben's father "achieved pure and precise (Taijiquan) skill, and trained many students with deep understanding (of Taijiquan)" (in Chenjiagou there is a story about Chen Gongzhao competing in strength with a mad cow); Chen Youben and Chen Youheng, his blood brother, "were both Xiang Sheng (students of the ancient local school) and learnt Taijiquan, especially (Chen) Youben, who received "the dragon's pearl" (i.e. true transmission of Taijiquan), and trained his sons and brother's sons in the art (of Taijiquan), had a modest carriage, always as if (his skill) was inferior (to others), at that time most of people who excelled in Taijiquan were his disciples. (...) (Chen) Youben's disciples - Chen Qingping, Chen Youlun, Chen Fengzhang, Chen Sande, Chen Tingdong had certain achievements, Chen Gengyun also called him (Chen Youben) a teacher.

Chen Peishan, second son of Chen Lixian, lives in Japan and teaches Xiao Jia outside of China

(Chen) Qingping passed (Taijiquan) to He Zhaoyuan, Zhang Kai, Zhang Gaoshan of Zhaobao town. (Chen) Youlun passed (Taijiquan) to Li Jingyan, Zhang Dahong".

From the above record it can be seen that both Chen Gongzhao and his son, Chen Youben, were martial artists of great attainments and had many famous disciples; Chen Youben evidently received true transmission of Taijiquan from his father. Moreover Small Frame already existed before Chen Youben.

Small Frame combines hardness with softness, there is more softness and less hardness in the First Set (Yi Lu), more hardness and less softness in the Second Set (Er Lu). Furthermore since Small Frame has a very complete theoretical system and strict, step-by-step method of practice, people in Chenjiagou praise it as "Gongfu Frame" (Gongfu Jia) or "Special Frame" (Kan Jia Quan; Kan Jia literally means "look after the house"). It is not that - as some books say - "Chen Youben, 14th generation descendant of Chen clan, made some changes to the original routines, gradually abandoning some more difficult and vigorous movements, and created New Frame (Xin Jia), also called Small Frame, as extended as Old Frame (Lao Jia)"[6].

Since Chen Changxing was escorting caravans away from home all the year round, Chen Gengyun (Chen Changxing's son and 15th generation descendant of Chen clan), in order to work together with the father, asked Chen Youben, his uncle, to teach him. In order to help Chen Gengyun achieve skill in the shortest possible time, Chen Youben, while preserving the quintessence of the First Set (in) Thirteen Postures (Tou Tao Shi San Shi), put emphasis on "Power Explosions" (Bao Fa Li), enlarged the movements, and coached Chen Gengyun for over a year. Chen Youben and Chen Gengyun through discussions and thorough studies created a certain type of frame; since then, in order to differ it from First Set (in) Thirteen Postures (Tou Tao Shi San Shi), people began to call them "Small Circles" and "Large Circles". Chen Gengyun passed this frame to his family members; it was also taught to Chen Fake - his grandson - who in 1928 was invited to Beijing to teach martial arts, and made this frame known to the public. Later generations began to refer to this frame as "Large Frame" (Da Jia), while to traditional system as "Small Frame" (Xiao Jia).

Chen Zhongshen (1809-1891) became famous fighting against Taiping rebels in 19th century

 
DISPUTES CONCERNING "ILLUSTRATED EXPLANATION TO CHEN FAMILY TAIJIQUAN"

Why "Illustrated Explanation" [7] describes 64 postures, and not 74? This is because Chen Xin while writing "Illustrated Explanation" "avoided the trivial and dwelled on the important", chose only essential postures and described them, so not the complete routine is recorded in the book. For example Preparing Form (Yu Bei Shi), Closing Form (Shou Shi) and some linking or transitional movements were not recorded. Although some of them were explained, but were not listed as separate postures ("Book Of Changes" - Yi Jing - includes 64 hexagrams, so it is possible that the number of postures in Chen Xin's book was influenced by the number of hexagrams in Yi Jing).

Why is the book so obscure and hard to understand? This is because "Illustrated Explanation" is not a textbook for beginners. It provides guidance to those practitioners who already reached certain level of skill and of understanding the theory and are looking for higher attainment. Moreover taking into consideration the specific ways classical compositions are written, lack of periods and commas, using local dialect and slang in some passages, it all makes the text very difficult to fully understand by a beginner or a person without at least basic understanding of classical Chinese. Furthermore since the meaning of some characters in "Illustrated Explanation" differs from that of modern Chinese, in the process of learning one should combine experience coming from practice to understand the essence of the book.

Some crucial parts are simply omitted. For example in some places the book only describes the goal of practice, but does not explain the method and process how to achieve this goal. Perhaps because of conservative thinking at Chen Xin's time, influence of the traditional idea of "giving you the medicine, but not telling you how it is made"; maybe because of limitation of words in conveying his ideas, some things that can be passed only through direct teaching could not be explained in the book.

"Illustrated Explanation to Chen Family Taijiquan" (published in 1931) has at its end Du Yuanhua's "Du Yuwan Account of Rhymed Formula Received by Jiang Fa from his Teacher of Shanxi"; this "Rhymed Formula" (Ge Jue) became an important argument for the standpoint that "Wang Zongyue taught Jiang Fa, Jiang Fa taught Chen Changxing or Chen Qingping", and drawing the inference that Chen Xin actually admitted that Chen style Taijiquan was transmitted by Jiang Fa. However no matter whether this "Rhymed Formula" is real or fake and how the phrases are incoherent, it is enough to check that there is a phrase "Revised and Emended by Du Yuanhua (Yuwan) from Qinyang" in the the appendix (i.e. "The List of Editors who Revised and Emended 'Illustrated Explanation to Chen Family Taijiquan'") at the end of the book. From this it can be known that the "Rhymed Formula" was added by Du Yuanhua many years after Chen Xin's death. This act of Du - who used somebody else's work to advocate own ideas - should not be adopted and indeed has been very misleading. Jiang Fa and Chen Changxing were living in the same epoch - 17th century; Wang Zongyue (his biography can be found in the introduction to Wang Zongyue's "Yin Fu Spear Manual" written by unknown author [8]) and Chen Gongzhao were living in the same epoch as well - 18th century; Jiang Fa was living about one hundred years before Wang Zongyue, hence so-called "Wang Zongyue taught Jiang Fa" is obviously a mistake, "Jiang Fa taught Chen Changxing or Chen Qingping" is even more without foundation in facts.

Note from the author (Jian Ge):

This article was written under warmhearted guidance from Ms. Chen Peiju.

Chen Peiju is the 20th generation of Chen clan and 12th generation inheritor of Chen style Taijiquan. Since childhood she has been learning the family art of Chen style Taijiquan from Chen Lixian (her father), and Chen Liqing (her aunt). She graduated from Wushu Department of Beijing Physical Education Institute, and now workd in Wushu Administration Center of Henan Province. She is the first Taijiquan practitioner in Chen clan who received higher education in the field of martial arts. Chen Peiju was three years in a row a champion in Chen style Taijiquan category during All-China Taijiquan and Taiji Sword competitions

End of the Article

Chen Peishan demonstrates movements of Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan
Punch of Covering Hand (Yan Shou Chui) Punch of Draping Over Body (Pi Shen Chui) Punch of Protecting Heart (Hu Xin Chui)
 
SOME NOTES FROM THE TRANSLATOR

[1] The number of routines practiced within Small Frame system is not really clear. Ms. Chen Peiju said that before Taijiquan was created by Cheng Wangting, Chen clan practiced Long Fist Boxing in 108 Postures (Yi Bai Ling Ba Shi Chang Quan) that they brought from Shanxi. Chen Wangting created five routines of Taijiquan. Nowadays mainly First Set and Second Set are practiced. This is also "official" version that can be found in books on Small Frame (including recently published - one by Chen Liqing - famous Chen style Taijiquan expert living in Xi'an - and one by Fan Chunlei - Chen Liqing's grand-disciple from Hangzhou). However other sources - including articles in Chinese martial arts magazines - indicate that apart from Yi Lu and Er Lu other Taijiquan routines have been preserved within Small Frame system. I had a chance to talk to disciples of Mr. Chen Boxiang (Chen Kezhong's disciple) from Pingdingshan as well as Mr. Shi Lei (Chen Kedi's disciple) from Kaifeng and they all confirmed other routines are also in Xiao Jia's curriculum.[Back to the article]

[2] This sentence as well as all other in quotations in this part of the article come from "Essentials of Taijiquan Practice" (Taijiquan Lianxi Gaiyao) written by Chen Boxian (student of Chen Kezhong). The sentence "contract the ribs, the skin on the ribs and hand should touch each other" (Shu Lei Xiang Mao Fu Xiang Ai) means that when the hand moves towards the body, its forearm should be kept close to the ribs so that there is a feeling of contact between the skin of the torso and the arm. However at the same time the hand should not be moved too close to the body (Jia). As Ms. Chen Peiju explains "during the movement the arms should not leave the ribs; the elbows should move close to the body; right arm moves on the right side of the body's central line, left hand - on its left side".[Back to the article]

[3] As Ms. Chen Peiju explains "Small Frame basically never withdraws power back (Hui Jin) unlike Large Frame (where movement changes direction to the opposite one couple of times before one moves to the next posture); in Small Frame the end of one movement is at the same time the beginning of the next one; the end of "explosion" (Bao Fa) of the preceding movement is at the same time "Storing of Strength" (Xu Jin) of the next one; this is one of the difficulties in learning Small Frame".[Back to the article]

[4] As Ms. Chen Peiju explains that "in Small Frame one moves the body center along curves - there should not be any kind of horizontal, straight line, swaying movement. The idea of "Opening the Rear and Closing the Front" (Hou Kai Qian He) is also very important, whole body should "open at the rear and close at the front". For example: if we stand in Horse Riding Stance (Ma Bu) with hands in front of the body in embracing gesture, vertically - from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet the body should form a vertical sphere; horizontally - the crotch, waist and chest - each of them has a vertical sphere as well; taken all-together the body forms a three-dimensional sphere. Actually all joints, all key links in power transmission from the bottom upwards, are small spheres. When crotch opens, it creates a circular supportive force, so-called "Crotch Strength" (Dang Jin). Waist is above crotch - it is responsible for changing the direction of this strength - that's why we say that "waist is the absolute ruler" (Yi Yao Wei Zhuzhai). In all martial arts power comes from the bottom and is transferred upwards, and through the waist transferred to the back, shoulder, elbow, hand which is the point the force acts. The value of force changes in legs, the direction of force - in waist, the point the force acts - in various parts of the body."[Back to the article]

 
Chen Peiju demonstrates movements of Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan
Tying a Coat (Lan Za Yi) Single Whip (Dan Bian) Chopping Posture (Pi Jiazi)
 
[5] Here Ms. Chen Peiju made a remark that performing a Small Frame routine from the beginning till the end of the set should give an impression of a ball rolling forward (Gun Qiu). Although there are movements back and forth as well as folding (Zhe Die), but they are all on the outside - Internal Strength (Nei Jin) is all the time coiling. One does not fold (repeat) the movement several times before completing a posture. This is the main outside difference between Small Frame and Large Frame - Small Frame "rolls" continuously forward, while Large Frame repeats some circles several times before proceeding to the next movement. [Back to the article]

[6] This claim originally comes from Tang Hao's writings. Tang Hao was taken to Chenjiagou in January 1932 by Chen Ziming, Chen Xin's disciple. It was Tang Hao who published the results of his research in Chen Ziming's book "The Art of Chen Family Taijiquan Transmitted Through Generations" (Chen Shi Shi Chuan Taijiquan Shu) published in 1932 and - apart form the above statement - used the terms of "Old Frame" (Lao Jia) and "New Frame" (Xin Jia). Ms. Chen Peiju says that "Small Frame practitioners support the idea of Chen style existing in two Frames - Large and Small, but reject the division into Old Frame (Lao Jia) and New Frame (Xin Jia). Also Chen Zhaokui's son, Chen Yu, is against this way of dividing the style". On the other hand not only Tang Hao, but Chen Ziming as well used the names "Old Frame" and "New Frame" in his book.[Back to the article]

The claim that Small Frame was created by "gradually abandoning some more difficult and vigorous movements" should be reconsidered in the light of some very difficult movements still existing in Small Frame routines, including the most characteristic "Kicking with Both Heels" (Shuang Deng Gen) which does not appear in Large Frame sets.

[7] To read excerpts from Chen Xin's "Illustrated Explanation to Chen Family Taijiquan" click here. [Back to the article]

[8] Actually "The Introduction to Yin Fu Spear Manual" mentions only "Mr. Wang from Shanxi" (Shanyou Wang Xiansheng). Tang Hao bought an old manuscript in Beiping (today's Beijing) in 1930. It contained the above mentioned "Yin Fu Spear Manual" and Taijiquan Boxing Manual (which later appeared to be of Yang style tradition). Tang - using unconvincing arguments - drew a conclusion that the author of the spear manual - "Mr. Wang from Shanxi" - was Wang Zongyue, and "The Introduction to Yin Fu Spear Manual" described the life of Wang Zongyue. In this way Tang Hao placed Wang Zongyue at the end of 18th century. However many researchers (including Wu Wenhan, often quoted by D.Wile in his books) disagree with Tang's conclusions.[Back to the article]

 
Chen Ziming demonstrating movements of Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan
Punch of Covering Hand (Yan Shou Chui) Brush the Knee and Twist Step on Both Sides (Lou Xi Ao Bu) White Goose Dries Wings in Sun (Bai E Liang Chi) Yellow Dragon Stirs Water (Huang Long Jiao Shui)
 
OTHER NOTES FROM THE TRANSLATOR

1.Transmission of Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan (brief):

Chen Wangting (1st Generation of Chen style Taijiquan) Chen Suole (2nd) Chen Zhengru (3rd) Chen Jie (4th) Chen Gongzhao (5th) Chen Youben (6th) Chen Youlun, Chen Qingping, Chen Zhongshen, Chen Jishen (all 7th)

Chen Youlun (7th) Li Jingyan ("Sudden Thunder Frame" - Hulei Jia)

Chen Qingping (7th, 1795-1868) He Zhaoyuan (Zhaobao Taijiquan), Wu Yuxiang (Wu Style Taijiquan)

Chen Zhongshen (7th, 1809-1891) Chen Xin (8th, 1849-1929) Chen Chunyuan, Chen Ziming (all 9th)

Chen Chunyuan (9th) Chen Honglie, Chen Kedi, Chen Kezhong (all 10th)

Chen Honglie (10th) Chen Liqing (11th, 1919-), Chen Lixian (11th, 1922-1983)

Chen Kezhong (10th, 1908-1960) Chen Boxiang, Chen Boxian (all 11th)

Chen Kedi (10th) Shi Lei

Chen Lixian (11th, 1922-1983) Chen Peilin, Chen Peishan, Chen Peiju (all 12th)

2.In its historical part the article suggests that Chen Youben modified the original Chen style Taijiquan and taught it to Chen Changxing's son, Chen Gengyun to improve his skill before Gengyun left the village to work in caravan escorting business. That modified version was later called Large Frame (Da Jia) to make distinction between it and the original Chen style, which people started to refer to as Small Frame (Xiao Jia). This would suggest that Chen Changxing also practiced Small Frame, and that it was probably the style that Yang Luchan learnt from him.

 

3.Chen Ziming in his "The Art of Chen Family Taijiquan Transmitted Through Generations" published in 1932 in the short biography of Chen Qingping writes: "Chen Qingping (was) a disciple of Chen Youben and Zhang Yan (...)". Since Zhang Yan is considered a 6th generation descendant of Zhaobao Taijiquan, this would suggest that Taijiquan was practiced in Zhaobao before Chen Qingping began to teach there. Other records (saying that Ren Changchun - Du Yuanhua's teacher - was a student of Chen Zhongshen, who in turn was Chen Youben's student) also confirm very close relation between Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan and Zhaobao Taijiquan.

There is also a discrepancy between Chen Xin and Chen Ziming concerning Li Jingyan, who created "Sudden Thunder Frame" (Hulei Jia). Chen Xin says that Li Jingyan learnt from Chen Youlun and Chen Zhongshen, while Chen Ziming - that Chen Qingping was Li Jingyan's teacher. It is generally agreed that Li Jingyan learnt first in Chenjiagou, and then in Zhaobao from Chen Qingping.

Chen Liqing and late Chen Lixian practicing Tui Shou

 

4.Very interesting chapter related to history of Chen style Taijiquan can be found in Wu Wenhan's book "The Complete Book of the Essence and Applications of Wu (Yuxiang) style Taijiquan". There are two official (i.e. government) documents related to the defense of Huaiqing County (where Chenjiagou is located) against Taiping rebelion army in 1853. One is called "Veritable Record of Taiping Army Attacking Huaiqing County" (Taiping Jun Gong Huaiqing Fu Shilu), and was written by Tian Guilin, who was responsible for "defending the western town" in Huaiqing. The other is called "Daily Records of Huaiqing Defense" (Shou Huai Rizhi) and was written by Ye Zhiji (teacher from government school in Huaiqing). Neither Tian nor Ye were Taijiquan practitioners, both were government officials, and hence their accounts can be considered objective descriptions of the events at that time.

According to the documents once Taiping army crossed Yellow River and attacked Huaiqing County, local militia was defeated and dispersed, while government troops escaped. Of all the villages only Chenjiagou resisted. In his "Veritable Record" under 29th day of 5th month Tian Guilin wrote:

"The head of the thieves (i.e. Taiping rebels) called Big Headed Ram (Da Tou Yang) invaded Chenjiagou. This thief was extremely brave and strong, he was able to carry two big canons under his arms and swiftly attack the town. The battles destroying whole town were conducted under the command of this thief. Fortunately Chen Zhongshen and Chen Jishen, two brothers from Chenjiagou, were very skilled in using spears and long poles, they used long poles to pull Big Headed Ram down from the horse, and then they cut his head off. (...) The thieves got very angry, and their whole group went to Zhaobao Jie (...) burning everything, then to Henei and villages around Baofeng, and there were no soldiers to come for rescue (of these areas), fortunately Chen Zhongshen and others managed to escape."

According to the documents, only inhabitants of Chenjiagou took active part in the fights against Taiping rebels. This would suggest that other villages had less people practicing martial arts than Chenjiagou. Those taking part in battles were mainly disciples of Chen Youben and Chen Zhongshen, as well as militia (Xiang Yong) from Chenjiagou; only very few disciples of Chen Changxing took part in fights. This would indirectly indicate that Chen Youben's branch was then more popular than that of Chen Changxing.

5.Ms. Chen Peiju said in Chenjiagou there was no restriction to pass the art to men only and not women; there was no tradition to choose so-called "Gate Keeper" (Zhang Men Ren), and no tradition to pass the complete art from a master to a single disciple only (Dan Chuan). However the students were divided into indoor and outdoor disciples, those who began to learn earlier and those who started later, etc. The art of Taijiquan has been very treasured and students had to follow strict rules and meet certain requirements.

6.For a long time home-made VCDs featuring Fan Chunlei (Chen Liqing's grand-disciple) as well as Chen Boxiang and his disciple Chen Ruihua have been the only material documenting Small Frame, all in unofficial, restricted distribution in Mainland China. Additionally Chen Peishan has produced a video tape which is on sale abroad in both Japanese and English language versions. Recently however a very complete video material presenting Xiao Jia has been released in China on both VCDs and DVDs (the latter with English subtitles). The routines - including rare Long Fist Boxing in 108 Postures - are demonstrated by Chen Yongfu, disciple of Chen Liqing. You can purchase both VCDs and DVDs through this web site - click on the links below to learn more:

7.Books on Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan (all in Chinese):

  • Chen Xin (Chen Pinsan): "Illustrated Explanation to Chen Family Taijiquan" (Chen Shi Taijiquan Tushuo), 1933 (reprinted several times, last reprint Shanghai 2000)

  • Chen Ziming: "The Art of Chen Family Taijiquan Transmitted Through Generations" (Chen Shi Shichuan Taijiquan), 1932

  • Fan Chunlei: "Famous Chinese Taiji Boxing - Detailed Explanation of Chen Family Taijiquan" (Zhongguo Taiji Ming Quan - Chen Shi Taijiquan Xiangjie), 1990. The revised and more complete version of this book (explanations to the Second Set have been added) was published in 2001 under the title "Famous Chinese Taiji Boxing - Small Frame of Chen Family Taijiquan" (Zhongguo Taiji Ming Quan - Chen Shi Xiaojia Taijiquan) with Fan Chunlei as the author and Chen Liqing as advisor

  • Shi Lei: "Chen Style Taijiquan - Chen Xin's Boxing Frame" (Chen Shi Taijiquan - Chen Xin Quan Jia), 1999 (restricted publication for internal circulation only)

  • Chen Liqing: "Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan" (Chen Shi Taijiquan Xiao Jia), 2001


I would like to express deep gratitude to Ms. Chen Peiju for answering all my questions concerning the article as well as providing many interesting details about the practice and theory of Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan. I would also like to thank Dietmar Stubenbaum (Die Pagode) for his help in contacting Ms. Chen as well as for sharing his insights concerning this rare branch of Chen style Taijiquan.



End of "Small Frame of Chen Style Taijiquan" J.Szymanski 2004

 

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