Chen Style? Yang Style? What’s the Difference?

It is said that Zhang, San-Feng (fl. 12th century C.E.) created 13 original postures of T’aijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan), which were then linked together into a continuous flowing combination of movements that most people today associate with the martial art known as “Taiji.” There are several different styles of T’ai Chi that have been said to have emerged from him; these being based on and named after the people who were involved n the development of this martial art. 

The mot notable of these are Chen and Yang styles. These, as well, are the most relevant to Tama Martial Arts, as we offer classes in both systems. 

While similar in many ways, the systems of Chen and Yang family Taiji are very different in others. 

Origin Stories

Founded by Chen, Wang-Ting (1580–1660), a soldier and fighting aficionado, the Chen Village system began by his compiling of different movements in the mid 1500’s and passed them on to members of his village until the early 1800’s when the Chen style split into “New” (Xin Jia) and “Old” (Lao Jia) frame movements. Around this time, people outside of the Chen village began learning the style. It is suggested by Chen historians today that the Chen style of T’ai Chi did not originate from Zhang, San-Feng and the Wu Dang Temple original T’ai Chi, but was a later development from an existing local Kung-Fu style, which was practiced slowly and approached in a similar manner to the Taoist, Zhang, San-Feng style. The Chen Village has remained largely unconcerned with such academic discussions and prefers to transmit their local heritage as a unique system, borne of their Village and the influences that converged there. 

Yang Style was founded by Yang, Lu-Ch’an (1799–1872) in the 1800’s. Yang was believed to have taken a job as a servant for the Chen family solely to learn the art by watching; since at that time the Chen village did not teach their art to outsiders. Eventually, after being discovered, he was taught the Chen style by Chen Chang Xin who – in addition to learning the Chen village system – was taught by Jiang Fa who was in turn said to have been taught by Wang, Tsung Yueh; all supposedly composing a separate lineage to the Taoist Wu Dang Temple and Chang, San-Feng. Some historians theorize that this is why it was acceptable for Chan Chang Xin to teach him, since it was not the family style being taught, but a separate Taoist T’ai Chi Ch’uan from Jiang Fa. Following the mastery of this Yang, Lu-Chan became a martial arts teacher for the Manchu government, but also taught townspeople.

The old version of Yang style T’ai Chi is sometimes called the “Tsung Version” since it is said to have originated with Jiang Fa, whose teacher was Wang Tsung Yueh. This style of Yang T’ai Chi is also called “Large Frame,” since it employs deeper stances and bigger, more open movements than the “New Yang Style,” taught by Yang, Lu-Chan’s grandson Yang, Cheng-Fu (and further modified by Cheng, Man-Ch’ing). This style is our primary focus of Yang style study at TAMA Martial Arts.

Whatever the specifics of the histories and connections between these systems, one thing can be seen by anyone who has studied both: Yang style clearly follows the sequence of movements found in the Lao Jia Chen “first form” or Yi Lu. Move for move, the forms follow one another and can be used to elucidate applications and energies of each respective style. 

So what’s the difference?

The philosophy behind Chen style is that movements focusing on yielding should be soft, while movements counter-attacking should be explosive and fast. In this way, the Chen system expresses both yin and yang movements throughout the Lao Jia form. 

Yang style focuses on the same movements and sequences as Chen, but each movement is expressed in a very yin manner. Everything is soft, the speed is uniform throughout the form. To that end, the Yang style form is usually executed much slower, overall, than is the Chen Style. In general, the entire Chen form is run in approximately 13 minutes. The Yang system is tested at Tama Martial Arts at 5 minutes per each of the 6 sections of the long form. 

Which system is best for you? 

Try not to think of one system as better or worse than the other. Yang style has a very unique approach that helps develop softness, particularly if this system is being studied as a secondary art to a hard style. 

Chen Style is more overtly martial. The techniques are more obvious to experienced martial artists, just by looking at the movements of the Lao Jia form (Xin Jia is another store altogether). Chen style is characterized by silk reeling (chan si jin), alternating fast and slow motions, and bursts of power (fa jin).

One key difference, besides speeds of form execution, or the yin and yang soft and explosive nature of Chen versus the uniform softness of Yang style, is the focus on where one pivots from. In Chen Style there is less overt, outward movement for pivots. It is “smaller circle” in that regard, with pivoting coming from the Xia Dan Tien, much as the same is used as something of a vice grip in Qin na joint locks in the Chen system. The “Kwa” of the inner waist, the pelvis, the facia and “bands” … this is a concept that is so hard to put into English, but are conveyed so perfectly in the untranslatable term “Kwa.” Whereas Yang style focuses on the mechanics of the body in pivoting and shifting, Chen Style strives to focus on hard-to-see small circle movements, and coiling energy, as well as axial rotation of the “Tien Kann” Celestial Stem, connected to the Xia Dan Tien in the lower abdomen. 

If you are new to Taiji entirely, all of this might sound rather confusing. The short answer is: try out both classes and see which fits you best. For those who have already invested deeply in Yang style Taiji, you will likely find that Chen only deepens your understanding of Yang style, rather than detracting from it. 

Call (937) 254-7035 now to find out the best time for you to come in for classes in either system!

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