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Chen Yan-Lin



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Copying the Yang Family Manual

There is a story commonly told that Chen Yanlin borrowed a certain manuscript from a member of the Yang family and was allowed access to it for but a single night, and that he sneakily had seven scribes waiting at home to copy out the whole of it that night, enabling him to return it the next day and still have the text at home for him to continue to study as much as he pleased. Although this tale sounds like urban legend, it is nevertheless perfectly possible.

Assuming for the moment it is true, the book he borrowed was probably not the entire volume of material that makes up the Taiji Compiled, for even with seven scribes working all night, such a scenario seems somewhat implausible. Chen is said to have annoyed the Yang family by publishing material meant to be kept secret, and so the special manuscript Chen borrowed was most likely some copy of Explaining Taiji Principles, a document not fully shared with the public until 1985, but which Chen liberally quotes from in Parts One, Two, and Six of his 1943 manual.

Yang Chengfu’s 1931 manual contains fifteen sections from Explaining Taiji Principles, but the two passages Chen uses above were not among them and had never before been published. Considering that these particular passages are offering instructional hints in how to kill people, instead of the Yangs merely feeling their secret writings were being treated disrespectfully, their main consideration might have been some worry that Chen’s sharing of such information with just anybody was perhaps a little irresponsible.

Born in 1906, Master Chen Kung—a. k.a., Yearning K. Chen and Chen Yen-lin—passed away in Shanghai, China, in 1980. His book T'ai Chi Ch'uan Sword, Saber, Staff, and Dispersing-Hands Combined (T'ai Chi Ch'uan Tao Chien Kan San Shou Ho Lun) revolutionized many aspects of T'ai Chi practice and theory, especially those concerning his discourses on Intrinsic Energy (]in), Sensing-Hands (T'ui-Shou), Greater Rolling-Back (Ta-Lu), and Dispersing-Hands (San-Shou). His explanations of intrinsic energies (jin) had never before appeared in any previous T'ai Chi related book, which really made him and his work an enigma. In 1978, Master Jou Tsung-hwa met with him in Shanghai and reported that Chen started practicing T'ai Chi at age four and was a doctor of Chinese medicine.

Around 1930, Chen Kung, a rich merchant and student of Yang Cheng-fu, asked to borrow the family transcripts for just one evening so that he might read them to enhance his practice. Chen had been a loyal and dedicated student, so Yang Cheng-fu consented, knowing full well that in one night it would be difficult for even a fast reader to finish the book. What Yang Cheng-fu didn't know was that Chen had hired seven transcribers to work through the night to copy the entire work. After his disappearance (around 1932) he changed professions from merchant to doctor of Chinese medicine. During that same year portions of the manuscript started appearing in various journals, which infuriated the Yang family.

Later, in 1943, Chen's entire copied notes appeared in book form and enjoyed rapid sales throughout China. This further infuriated the Yang family, who then released their own book claiming that Chen's publication was a forgery and that their new, smaller work was the genuine material. Chen, in typical Chinese style, claimed his book contained his own theories and that he only used the Yang family name for authenticity. This was Chinese politics at its best.

Master Liang told me this story. He had heard it through his teacher Cheng Man-ch'ing, who heard it from his teacher, Yang Cheng-fu. With this kind of oral testimony I was never sure about the details. However, Master Jou Tsung-hwa said that Chen Kung confirmed the story when they met in 1978, and now Donald Chen, Chen Kung's grandson, has confirmed it as well.

Before anyone accuses Chen of any wrong-doing, it is clear that the T'ai Chi world owes him a great debt, whatever the ethics or politics that were involved. The Yang family teachings might well have remained hidden or become lost; likewise, the Yang family might never have published the various works of their own. An even greater result was that many masters, for whatever reasons, began publishing their works as well. Chen's courage created a chain reaction of teachers going public with their knowledge.

There is no question that Chen's hand played a role in the formation of the book, but it is doubtful that he could have composed the work entirely on his own. Likewise, it is even less probable that Yang Cheng-fu was the original author. It is more likely that the bulk of the material, especially the section on intrinsic energies, was compiled by a disciple of Yang Lu-chan, the founder of Yang style and grandfather to Yang Cheng-fu. This disciple was Wu Ho-ching, who is also suspected of creating the Tai Chi Ch'uan treatises in conjunction with Yang Lu-chan. For the sake of acceptance he attributed those treatises to the Ming dynasty immortal, Chang San-feng. (See T'ai Chi According to the I Ching by Stuart Alve Olson for a more detailed history of T'ai Chi Ch'uan).

In 1947, Chen Kung's, T'ai Chi Ch'uan: Its Effects and Practical Applications, appeared from Willow Pattern Press in Shanghai, China. The book lists Yearning K. Chen as the author and Kuo Shui-chang as the translator. The interesting thing about this book is that it doesn't appear to be wholly derived from the original 1943 Chinese version of Chen Kung's work used with this present translation. The chapters on physics, psychology, and morality included in the English edition make it completely distinct from the text I used for this work. The solo form instructions and practical application explanations are similar to the 1943 Chinese text, but the two are not identical by any means, and it did not include the discourses on qigong, sensing-hands, or intrinsic energies as presented here.

Creation of the Two-Man fighting form

I also understand that the Two man fighting set was not created by Yang Family. Fu zhong Wen said that it was a pre-conceived form and not really true to fighting. The two man fight set as I understand was copied by a student 4th generation Chen Yanlin who was a student of Tian Zhou Lin. He asked Yang Chen fu if he could borrow a Yang family's manual of techniques. He got to borrow it for one night and Chen Yanling had many scribes copy all the techniques in one night. Later Chen Yanlin he strung them together in a two person set which the understanding it would train the 13 energies, stepping, distance, countering, general attack and defense, as it comes to be a bridge towards pure “san shou” or free fighting.Matthew Stampe

taiji/chen_yan-lin.txt · Last modified: 2019/02/11 07:51 by serena