This page discusses the origin of Chen style from the perspective of Chen Style. It is not intended to be a historically accurate picture of the formation of Tai Chi, however it may be. Please see Origin Theories for more information.
Chen Tai Chi was essentially created out of the martial arts experience of General Chen Wang-Ting (1600-1680). It seems to have been created and taught to the public (the people around G. Chen, the people of Chen Village) out of response to the invasion of the Ming Dynasty by the Qings (the Mongols). It is thus somewhat unlikely that he invented a completely new martial art skill class per-se and instead taught existing arts under a new name or system in order to fight the Qings. In any case it appears that certain types of Kung Fu were revealed, or at least specialized and refined, in Chen Style for the first time.
The art was not passed down in any exact format from generation to generation. Instead, the basic skills and method of training was changed in order to fit the times and the people who learned it. Thus, at different points in time different forms or styles appear to emerge. However, it is important to understand that we are discussing the same basic art. This art is loosely classified as “Chen Style” because it follows the traditions of the Chen Family and that the Chen Family was responsible for holding this lineage.
Chen Qing-Ping learned from Chen Xi-Lu and Chen You-Ben and was responsible for teaching Chen He-Yang as well as many other people, including people in neighboring villages. He is thus linked to the creation of a multitude of minor styles such as the Wu/Hao Style of Wu Yu-Xiang, the Hulei Style of Li Jing-Yan, and of course the Zhaobao Style of Taijiquan via his teacher Zhang Yan.
For a talk on the history of pre-modern (1800's and early 1900's) please see Pre-Modern Chen Style, translated from a Zhu Tian-Cai lecture. Notable players in pre-modern Chen style and the modern developments will include Chen Bu, Chen Wang-Ting, Chen Bu-Fu, Chen You-Ben, Chen Zhang-Xing and Chen Qing-Ping – at least, these are the names that seem to come up most often. Especially check out our new entry on Chen Bu-Fu.
Notable differences in Chen Style (besides the visually obvious)
In Chen style, the notion of Thirteen Postures is somewhat different than in Yang-derived styles. In Chen style the 13 postures are given as three groups of four techniques, plus a final technique. The names of these techniques is very difficult to translate. Unfortunately you may just have to memorize the Chinese. Here is a approximate translation to help with the memorizing process.
How to neutralize and shadow your opponent
How to press home an advantage
More dynamic techniques
Final bit of advice!