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Wu Tu-Nan


Regarding Song Shu-Ming

Song Shu-ming 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 fabricated story by Wu Tunan is much later than 1911. Xu Yusheng's book from 1921 doesn't really say that much about Song Shuming. Xu basically says that he practiced with Song and benefited from it. He doesn't give any personal information about his age or occupation. He also just says about Song: 善太極拳術 - He is good in the art of Taijiquan. He doesn't say where he learned it. He also says that he contributed 發明 - His own inventions! Wu Tunan apparently liked the alleged Song Yuan-qiao lineage story and built his story around it.

But Wu Tunan fabricated only part of the story, in that his version (actually that of Ma Youqing, published AFTER Wu Tunan passed away) explains that he (WTN) received a copy of the Song family manual from a personal friend BEFORE anybody else even knew Song Shuming existed. This has been proven forged since at the time of this alleged discovery Wu Tunan, who added 17 years to his actual age, was only a kid.

Wu Tu-Nan's Interview With Chen Xin And His Meeting With Chen Fa Ke

Wu Tu-Nan visited the Chen Villiage in 1917. There were few educated people in the villiage at the time and he was directed to meet Chen Xin, this was before Chen Xin's book was published. Chen Xin was very frank in his interview with Wu Tu-Nan and gave him an account of how Taijiquan came to the Chen Villiage*. He said that both Taijiquan and the indigenous Chen family Pao Chui was practiced in the villiage but that Taijiquan came down from Jiang Fa. He also introduced Wu to Du Yu-Wan who practiced Taijiquan and who said his art came down from Jiang Fa who was of the Wudang lineage, Du's subsequent book on Taijiquan in 1935 confirms this view and the authenticity and accuracy of Wu Tu-Nan's interview material.

Chen Xin had told Wu that he was writing a book on Taijiquan. Wu then asked Chen Xin whether he practiced Taijiquan. Chen Xin replied that his father had let his older brother learn martial arts but had made him get an education instead so he did not know any martial arts. Wu then asked how he was going to write a book on martial arts if he did not practice martial arts. Chen replied that Taijiquan is based on the Book of Changes and that he felt that as long as an art conformed to the Book of Changes it was Taijiquan. So he intended to use the boxing postures of Pao Chui and relate them to the Book of Changes and that his purpose of the book was to show how the Book of Changes was related even to martial arts, it was not his intention of writing a martial arts manual.

With this background information, Wu Tu-Nan had asked Chen Fa-Ke during a meeting around 1950 whether his art was Taijiquan, given that the definition of Taijiquan was that is was based on the 13 postures. Chen Fa-Ke had replied that his art was not based on the 13 postures and so was not Taijiquan. The meeting was cordial and it was not confrontational.

Northern Wu Account

Within Northern Wu group this is the account of what happened:

In the early 50's, at a Taiji symposium attended by well-known masters, Wu Tunan made this comment at the beginning of the meeting: “this is a Taiji conference, so should Chen Style and Wuxing Chui people participate?”

Wuxing Chui is Taiji Wuxing Chui. Today it is formally recognized as one of the Six Families of Taiji. The founder Li Rundong was a highly talented student of Yang Luchan. He got so famous that Yang Banhou became jealous. Banhou always thought of Taiji Quan as his family's treasure, as it was his father who came to the capital and fought with the best, establishing Taiji's national fame. When he met up with Li Rudong, it was a supposedly friendly “comparison of skill”. But the way Banhou fought, you'd think he was really trying to hurt Li Rundong. Sensing this, Li took no chances and became purely defensive. He was not as good as Banhou, but good enough that fighting that way Banhou cannot defeat him either. Afterwards, Li pointed to Yang, “I know what's in your heart. You don't need to worry, I won't teach Taiji. It's all yours.” But later a friend talked him out of it “who cares what Banhou thinks, you know so many things - Taiji, Bagua, Xingyi, Baji, Shaolin… Just teach them all together call it something else”. Because they teach so many things and were deliberately vague about being Taiji themselves, lots of people did not consider them a pure Taiji Style.

As for Chen Style, when Chen Fake came to Beijing, everyone was very curious. People were greatly impressed by his gongfu, but at the same time they were all very surprised by how different it is from the Taiji that everyone in Beijing is doing (that's true even today right).

Even though change and development is natural (and desirable in many cases), in the conservative Chinese culture, whenever you have these differences, people would argue 'it's you who changed, not me, I'm still the original.“ So it's not surprising that in Beijing, a lot of people thought Chen village people changed, that they themselves are the pure ones. They point to the fact that, because of overall economic devastation suffered by that region between Chen Changxing and Chen Fake times, martial art practice in Chen village deteriorated so much that by Chen Fake time, he was one of handful Taiji masters left in the village.

I personally think both sides changed: on the Beijing side, removing the changes in speed and height and the vigorous jumps and stumps in the main form is actually a very important improvement in training method. Sudden changes in speed requires acceleration and deceleration, that makes it hard for beginners to be calm, relaxed, smooth, and even - 4 of the basic 8 requirements of forms practice. Smoothing and evening out the movements throughout the entire form made it a lot easier for students to experience and develop the type of relaxation (basic for all other skills in Taiji) required. It also made the form a lot harder at the same time. Taiji Quan's old name is Chang Quan: meaning the hundreds of the movements in the form are supposed to performed as if they are just a single very long movement. Now you have to keep everything exactly the same for 50 minutes, there's no where to hide any breaks or gaps.

Back to topic: we can see from historical evidences that for whatever reasons, maybe this altitude about who changed what is a major one, that Chen Fake did not have a huge group in Beijing. Of the six families, Sun, Wu (Wu Yuxiang in Yongnian), and Li families have always been the much smaller groups. And we all know because of conservatism in teaching, Yang family descendants did not have a huge following until Yang Chengfu went to Shanghai. So for a very long time Wu style was by far the largest group in Taiji, with thousands of students. This was the group Wu Tunan was originally part of.

Since at this point the vast majority of Taiji practitioners are of Yang Luchan lineage in northern China, we can say Wu Tunan was expressing, right or wrong, the majority opinion regarding Chen style at the time. As Yuen-Ming has pointed out, here he is again just “following the strongest wind”. Because genuine belief based on technical assessment aside, this debate is heavily influenced by the overall conservative mindset (changed = wrong) and the weight of majority.

The logic of the majority went something like this: Yang Luchan, being invincible, obviously did Taiji Quan right. His teacher Chen Changxing is course right. Because of Yang Luchan, Taiji is thriving here: he only got here recently, and the descendant families are strong, the lineage unbroken, with ranks of masters growing at a healthy pace with each generation. Furthermore, all of us, this many people, incredibly, all do it basically one way. And with you looking so different from us (we didn't change anything, therefore we = Yang Luchan), what is more likely to be true - all of us somehow changed Yang Luchan (who is original and cannot be wrong)'s teachings the same way, or Chen Jiagou, where the practice of Taiji Quan is on decline, with fewer and fewer masters in each generation since Chen Changxing's time, changed what Chen Changxing taught? You are at most our distant relative now… Furthermore, this is the capitol, where the best and brightest gather. We are teachers of kings, the most elite troops, … We had the best jobs in martial art. Everyone want to be here, to have what we have. The validity of our skills are tested everyday by masters from Xing Yi, Ba Gua, Tongbei, Baji, Shaolin, Tantui, Cannon Fist, Shuai Jiao… We're amongst the key participants (most famous fighters) during the golden age of martial art. How wrong can we be…

Chen Fake was from the countryside, he was a very honest, humble, and taciturn man, not one to get into arguments and troubles. Upon hearing the comment, Chen Fake got up, said to Gao Ruizhou “if people say we're not Taiji, then we should leave.” This is when Master Wang Peisheng intervened. He had studied with Master Chen Fake and always addressed him as teacher. In addition, Gao Ruizhou was his blood brother. So he's very familiar with Li Style as well. Master Wang ended the “who is doing real taiji” debate before it can began, and invited Master Chen Fake to sit down. Master Wang was the lead disciple (future leader) of the Northern Wu group, which, until the revival of Chen style in the 90's, was the largest of Taiji groups, at least in Beijing. So Wu Tunan had no choice but to let the matter drop, not that kicking Chen Fake out of meeting was really that important to him anyway.

Again, things change. Someone in China told me Chen Style is the most popular Taiji group today, maybe half of all practitioners. So not knowing the history, today this question can sound incredible.

There's a Chinese expression “don't dismiss a person based on just one thing he said, and don't dismiss something based on who said it”. In the case of Wu Tunan, that's very hard to do, as he mixes the truth and untruth so well. In his writing he made it sound like he challenges Chen Fake and Gao Ruizhou, and they dare not fight with him and conceded his point. He even said “go check the meeting minutes”. It's true that the meeting notes contains an entry for his objection. But all the details in WTN's version of events are wrong. Like Yuen-Ming said, his age is important because it disproves his claims about beating Song Shuming, etc. At one point he even came out with a Taiji manual saying it differs from the Song family Taiji Quan manual by one word. So his was also the most ancient/original version. The funny thing is, later on we found out Song Shuming's Manual was actually a collection of essay he gave to Xu Yusheng to edit, furthermore, the preface, which also appears in WTN's book, was written by Xu. So things like that makes one hesitant to believe anything WTN said. It's very frustrating. The early masters didn't write down much about history, etc, and the one person who wrote a lot, who is in the position to know, we cannot trust.

taiji/wu_tu-nan.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/23 12:25 by serena