Song Shuming lived in Beijing during the early years of the 20th Century. He practiced an ancient Daoist martial art said to have been passed down through his family from one of his ancestors called Song Yuanqiao , who was a disciple of Xu Xuanping during the Tang Dynasty. Song Shuming was an enigma in the Beijing martial arts world at that time, and reputed to have considerable martial ability, making him a formidable opponent.
It is said that the martial art he practiced was somewhat similar to Yang style Taijiquan, but had not been passed down via Chen Changxing. This made his style quite unique and also gives credibility to the stories that suggest modern Taijiquan has evolved from a very ancient Daoist martial arts system.
Song Shuming was a very creative man, who invented a fabulous taiji lineage and practiced a variant of the Yang Chengfu style mixed with Wu Jianquan style elements, as can be seen in his own book. Wu Tunan and Xu Yusheng apparently liked the made up story and wanted to ride Song's coattails and be part of his “ancient” transmisson. Unfortunately Wu Tunan decided to smear his late teacher, Wu Jianquan's good name, by making him part of their story. Wu Jianquan learned from his father only and exchanged knowledge with his collegues Sun Lutang, Yang Chenfu, Yang Shaohou and others. Song Shuming's and Wu tunan's motives are very transparent and their story about a more than thousand year old daoist taiji lineage, that incidentally looks like a Yang Chengfu/Wu Jianquan hybrid form is pretty laughable.
The existence of Song Shuming, who was not the secretary to Yuan Shikai but only one of many blue collars in the president palace, is corroborated by various sources. All of the seven masters who went to meet him spoke highly of him and all of them were experienced teachers in their own right, so it appears close to impossible that Song's Taijiquan could have come from the Yang and none of them did notice the trick.
Song Shuming did not teach any of them, whom he met only briefly, and only gave them a few informal tips. Later Song retired to Baoding where he passed away.
Song Shuming was a famous Taiji Quan master who was in Beijing during the early part of Twentieth Century. Almost everything about him, his lineage and his own personal life, were shrouded in mystery. He claimed he was the descendent of Song Yuanqiao, and that his Taiji Quan came from that family lineage. There was no evidence back then or today that supports those claims.
Experts have compared Song’s Taiji Quan, in terms of principle and practice, to the system taught by the Yang family at the time, and found them to be very similar. But if it did come from the Yang lineage, people within the Beijing martial art circle would have known about it. Taiji Quan was introduced to Beijing not that long ago, and everyone studied from the same few masters, all traceable to Yang Luchan. Therefore if Song did learn it from the Yang family, he would not have been able to hide that fact. On the other hand, if Song learned Taiji Quan outside of Beijing, who was his teacher is still a big question if we do not admit his family lineage. In any case, although people doubt his claims, today we cannot find any hint or suggestion about where his Taiji Quan really come from.
Even less is known about his personal life outside of his martial art activity. Today no one knows much about his life before he came to Beijing, and no one knows what was to become of him when he disappeared from the Beijing sometimes in the 1920’s. As the saying goes, “no one knows his origin, no one knows his end”. Today, all we can know for sure about Song is that he taught Taiji Quan in Beijing from 1910’s to the 1920’s, and that he brought us some important Taiji Quan classics.
Outside of the oral stories, there is only one writing record of Song Shuming at that time. It comes from one of the famous Taiji Quan masters of the time Xu Yusheng. In his book “Taiji Quan Shi Tu Jie”, published in 1921, Song Shuming appears in the Taiji Quan lineage as follows:
“There was person named Song Shuming, who told people that he is a descendent of Song Yuan-qiao. He was a long time advisor of Xiangcheng. Proficient in his understanding of Yi Jing, he was very good in Taiji Quan. He made some genuinely original contributions to the art. As a good friend of mine, he stayed with me often. I received many genuine benefits in my training from him. Other teachers from my martial arts school such as Ji Zi-xiu, Wu Jian-quan, Liu En-shou, The oldest of the five styles, it came from [[Han Gong-yue of Liang Dynasty roughly 1,600 years ago. No one knows if he learned it from someone else or he created it himself. Of his students, Cheng Ling-xi was famous. Cheng lived in Xiouning County of Hui Zhou. For meritorious service in battle, he was reward the governorship of a Jun (consists of five counties). After Cheng Lingxi, there were no famous people in this style until Cheng Bi. Cheng Bi was a high-level official during the Song Dynasty, around 1140 AD. It was he who gave it the new name of Xiao Jiu Tian, instead of just Taiji Quan, and wrote some articles about its principles.
Xu Xuan-ping was a hermit who lived in Chengyang Mountain during Tang Dynisty around 1,400 years ago. He was described as tall, with long flowing beard and hair. He was said to be able to run as fast as a horse. Everyday he came down from the mountains with firewood to exchange for alcohol in the town below. Li Bai, one of the most famous poets in Chinese history, wanted to meet Xu, but was never able to find him.
Xu’s Taiji Quan had another name, San Shi Qi, or Thirty Seven Postures, since it consisted of thirty seven postures. Movements in today’s Taiji Quan bear striking resemblance to this style. When people studied this style, they would practice each posture individually, and then they would combine the movements together into forms freely; it may be long, short, or never-ending. For this reason people called it Chang Quan - long fist. Xu wrote several famous poems on Taiji Quan principle.
It is said that after another nine hundred years, Song Yuan-qiao became famous for this form. And that his distant descendent Song Shuming brought this style to Beijing in the 1910’s. There is an article titled “Description of Song Style Taiji Quan Lineage and Branch” by Song Yuanxiao and brought to us by Song Shuming, that listed the names of all postures within Song Style Taiji Quan as well as some lineage information.
Li Daozhi was a Taoist priest in Nanyan Temple of Wudang Mountain during the Tang Dynisty. His style was known as Xian Tian Quan, Xian Tian meaning back to nature. Later on it was passed onto the Yu family, who lived in the Jing County of Ningguo Fu. Several of the Yu family members, such as Yu Qinghui, Yu Yicheng, and Yu Lianzhou, became famous for this style. Li wrote a poem about its high-level principles called Shou Mi Ge, or Song of Secrete Transmission. In it he described the relationship between Dao, qigong, and martial arts.
Hu Jingzhi lived in Yangzhou during Tang Dynasty. His style was known as Hou Tian Fa, which means the training methodology for going back to nature. Within this style, there are sixteen elbow striking techniques. All of them are very useful for real fighting. Of his students Song Zhongshu was famous. In later generations, Yin Liheng was very famous.
Zhang Sanfeng’s Taiji Quan is known as Shi San Shi, or Thirteen Postures. It is said that this style was separate to two main branches, one is called northern style and the other is called southern style. In the southern style, during several hundred years in different generations, Zhang Songxi, Wang Zhengnan, Huang Baijia, and Gan Fengchi etc, were very famous. But today this style is lost4. In the northern style, Chen Zhoutong, Wang Zongyue, Jiang Fa, Chen Changxing, and Yang Luchan etc. were famous5. All Taiji Quan as practiced today come from this style. So today when people say Taiji Quan, most of the time they meant the northern style of Zhang Sanfeng’s Taiji Quan. The popular descendents of this style today are Chen style, Yang style, Wu (Quan Yu) style, Wu (Wu Yuxiang) style, and Sun style.
Except for the Zhang Sanfeng style, the other four original styles of Taiji Quan are almost extinct. (Only a handful of old masters may know something about them.)
1. According to legend, Song Yuanqiao was a famous Taiji Quan master who inherited Xu Xunping’s Thirty-seven Postures Taiji Quan about five hundred years ago.
2. Xu Yusheng was a famous martial art educator. He learned Taiji Quan from Yang Jianhou. In 1911, he set up a martial arts school, the first of which that adopted the modern approach to education, and invited famous masters to teach their respective styles. Yang Shouhou, Yang Chenfu, and Wu Jianquan taught Taiji Quan in his school. It was in his school that Taiji Quan was first taught to the public. **
3. Xiangcheng is a special name of Yuan Shikai, the president of China at the time. Xiancheng is the name of Yuan’s hometown, so people often referred to him as Yuan Xiangcheng or just Xiancheng. This is a popular traditional custom.
4. Today many people believe that actually the southern style of Taiji Quan is Nei Jia Quan – Internal Fist. It has no any relationship with Taiji Quan.
5. Some people doubt this traditional version of northern style Taiji Quan lineage. They believe Taiji Quan was invited by Chen family in Chenjia Gou Village of Wen County in Heinan province around middle of seventeenth centenary.
*Taijiquan was first taught to the public in Tianjin in 1910 at the 'Tianjin Zhonghua Wushi Hui”. Xu Yusheng's school came second and was partially modelled on the Tianjin school
Song Shuming (宋书铭, ~1840-1925) originally from Baoding, Hebei Province. It was proclaimed that he learnt the boxing method from Sun Yuanqiao (宋远桥) whom traced a lineage that goes back to the Tang Dynasty. The legend claims that the founder of the style was Xu Xuanping (許宣平) whom is said to have been a hermit that resided on Chengyang Mountain in the Tang Dynasty. Xu practiced a type of Taiji style called “Sanshiqi, 三世七” or (Tiangong Quan, 天功拳). Xu was described as tall man with long hair and a long beard. There are also stories that suggest Xu Xuanping had studied at Nanyan Gong with Daoist Master Li Daozi on Wudang Mountain. Li Daozi was thought to have practiced a method known as “Xian Tian Quan, Pre-heaven Boxing” and in another lineage of these non rudimentary Taijiquan there is the Yu Family descendants such as Yu Liandan in the Ming Dynasty also claim this line.