Missing Links

There are a number of major styles in Tai Chi Chuan with Chen, Yang and Wu being the most prominent. This isn’t to say that one style is better or worse than another style, it’s simply a case of style bringing out or highlighting different aspects of the parent style.

This is most easily seen in the Yang and Wu family styles. Not the Beijing approved forms but the proper family styles. Yang and Wu both have a forward inclination although the Wu inclination is generally much more pronounced. Some varieties of the Yang style are perfectly upright but this is a modern misinterpretation of the texts. The Yang and Wu forms are very similar in pattern with the Yang form generally having a touch more content and a few more subtle moves whereas the Wu form tends to be a bit more direct in application.

Wu Quanyou learnt the Yang form from Yang Banhou alongside Yang’s own children. When Wu Quanyou taught he would have been teaching the Yang style. It was Wu Quanyou’s son, Wu Jianquan, who is credited with creating the Wu style. Thing is Wu Jianquan would have learnt and been teaching Yang style. It is possible to watch a Yang style form and a Wu style form and almost exactly match the sequence even if the moves look different. Thing is, this new Wu style wouldn’t have just sprung into existence. It would have been an evolution of the existing style that was being taught, the Yang style, and that is why there is so much in common.

Simply by looking at the forms alone it is possible to make a direct connection between the Yang and Wu styles. Things get a lot more interesting when we get to see the transition forms. I call these the “missing links” after Human evolution. With the Yang and Wu styles we have two endpoints the “missing link” forms connect these two forms together and here is a brilliant example.

This particular form is clearly being performed Yang style but the sequence is Wu and I find that really quite fascinating.

Everybody does the form in a slightly different way and over time these variances can become sufficiently different to be called a new style. The forms containing these variances are what I think of as “missing link” forms. People generally practise the major styles and these transition forms get lost along the way. Given that the Yang and Wu families studied and taught together in the early days and the Wu style was only recognised as a distinct style much later on I’m reasonably happy with the idea of a Wu form being perform in a Yang style and I think it’s brilliant that this form has survived to this day. It’s a genuine treasure.

What bothers me is that we can’t see something similar for the Chen to Yang transition. I have issues with the whole Yang Lu Chan Chen village thing but the fact I can’t see any common ground between the Chen and Yang forms bothers me. Granted, there are some names in common and some positions look vaguely similar ( Single Whip ) but I, personally, find it incredibly hard to relate Chen and Yang. I see a lot of commonality across most other styles but Chen to Yang… I just don’t see it.

If Yang Lu Chan took something from Chen Village and taught his sons and students the same form that he leant I would expect some of their students to hold onto the transition forms that should exist between the Chen style and Yang style. The Yang fast forms that exist don’t look like Chen style tai chi to me and they’re probably the oldest Yang forms around. If they don’t look like the Chen styles then that means, to my mind, there’s a transition form or two out there or the original Chen stuff didn’t look like it does now. It would be nice to know which one is right. Although with the retro-fit of Chen village into tai chi lore I’m not sure we’ll ever really know for sure.