YANG STYLE TAI CHI HISTORY
by Dimitri Mougdis
The history of the Yang Style spans 200 years, dating back to the early 19th century. It was devised by Yang, Lu Cheng in Chen Village, a town in central China. Of Yang, Lu Cheng’s descendants, the best known is Yang, Chen Fu; born in 1883 in Beijing. As well as passing on his knowledge to his sons - Yang, Cheng Fu trusted it to certain of his students. Among them was Tsau Li Shu, the teacher of one of my two main teachers, Ning Fang, who stayed with me at my home in Florida and who encouraged me to found the Internal Arts Institute. Born in 1924, Ning Fang became the first president of the Taoist Society of China in 1958, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of Qigong and Tai Chi, both of which he has been studying since ~1950. The following is a generational guideline of the Yang Style’s historical progress through the last two centuries based on his research. It is an honor to be so respected by Ning Fang because his standards are the highest. He firmly believes that in order to become a senior student, much less a teacher, one has to train daily and be able to discharge power (Fajing) smoothly and effortlessly from an upright position in any direction and from every body part. He values only teachers whose skin is as soft as cotton, but that houses steel within, and whose arms are extremely heavy. I mention these qualities because no matter where you seek instruction, they are marks of a good teacher.
The pinyin system was developed in the early 1950's to translate Chinese characters into English words. At that time "Yang" was adopted as the appropriate pinyin translation spelling. Prior to this time, the common translation to English was spelled "Yeung".
Typically, after ~30 years of diligent training, it would appropriate for a teacher to give the title of "Master" to their student of 30 years. "Sifu" is translated as "Father teacher". To facilitate the easy communication of the teacher / student relationship. The teacher of a master is referred to as Grand master, the teacher of the Grand master is referred to as Great Grand master; similar to Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, etc.
Yang, Lu Sim (1799-1872)
Yang, Lu Cheng perfected the Yang Style in China over the course of 30 years before leaving the provinces for Beijing. Enroute he defeated all who would accept his challenge. His victories were accomplished with grace and in a manner that would not cause injury to his opponents, even the famous boxing masters he subdued. This earned him the nickname, “Yang the invincible.” Hearing of his prowess, the emperor invited him to the Forbidden Palace, where he defeated the ruler’s best fighters. Consequently, he was hired as the emperor’s body guard.
Yang, Lu Cheng taught his sons:
Yang, Kin Hou (1839-1917) and
Yang, Ban Hou (1837-1890)
Yang, Lu Cheng taught his sons his martial methods and both became Yang Style teachers. Yang, Ban Hou - the older of the two, followed closely in his father’s footsteps and also became a martial art instructor at the Forbidden Palace. He had an aggressive, bellicose manner, which intimidated his students and kept their numbers to a minimum. He died fighting against an alliance of Western powers in a nationalistic uprising at the turn of the century known as the Boxer Rebellion. His older brother - Yang, Kin Hou, also a Palace instructor, was more good natured, had an abundance of students and died of natural causes.
Yang, Kin Hou's two sons:
Yang, Shao Hou (1862-1930) and Yang, Cheng Fu (1883-1936).
As did his father - Yang, Kin Hou sired two sons: Yang, Shao Hou (1862-1930) and Yang, Cheng Fu (1883-1936). Both sons possessed Tai Chi Chaun skills equal to their forbears’ and they dominated all their opponents. The former inherited his uncle’s belligerent personality. A description by a family member proclaimed, “The spirit from his eyes would shoot out in all directions, flashing like lightning. Combined with a sneer, a sinister laugh and his cries of ‘Heng!’ and ‘Ha!’, his imposing manner was quite threatening.” His guidance was so brutal that students commonly sustained injuries at his hands. Yang family members passed their knowledge on to their progeny and to others, who in turn taught the Yang Style to their students.
But no family member was as responsible as Yang, Kin Hou’s second son; Yang, Cheng Fu, for the dissemination of the Yang style. Blessed with abundant people skills - Yang, Cheng Fu had thousands of students in his 30-plus-year career. He traveled throughout China teaching virtually all those who wanted to learn, thus breaking the tradition of keeping the Yang Style’s closely guarded brand of training available to only family members and chosen disciples. He did not, however, reveal the entire system to the general public, restricting knowledge of the complete transmission to a select few, including his four sons, one of whom - Yang, Sau Chung, he considered the most highly skilled of all his students. It was because of Yang, Cheng Fu’s interaction with so many people that the curative potential of Tai Chi came to the fore. So many of his students who were ailing experienced recovery due to their practice of the art that Tai Chi’s health-giving effects gained widespread respect. It is for these reasons that Yang, Cheng Fu - who is reputed to have remained undefeated until his death in 1936, is considered the sifu (master/teacher) most responsible for popularizing Tai Chi in the modern era.
Yang, Sau Chung (1910-1985)
Yang, Cheng Fu’s first son - Yang, Sau Chung (1910-1985), began his Tai Chi career under his father’s watchful eye in 1918 at the age of eight. With additional training from his uncle - Yang, Shao Hou; Yang, Sau Chung developed exceptional skills, and by age 14 he was teaching in his father’s school.
When China became a communist country in 1949, the government, under Mao Tse-tung, set about the destruction of past traditions and practices. Along with religion and ancient philosophies, these included Qigong, martial arts and martial artists. Tsau, Li Shu was beaten so badly that he suffered brain damage; his student - Ning, Fang, was sent to a prison camp in the Gobi desert. He credits Tai Chi and Qigong for his being able to endure the harsh conditions and hard labor for 10 years. When the government finally abandoned its attempts to eviscerate China’s cultural history and permitted a martial arts revival, it resulted in less rigorous versions of the art than had previously existed—ones more accessible to the masses and often little more than calisthenics.
Yang, Cheng Fu’s second son, despite never having become proficient in the art, was named overseer of the Yang Style.
His older brother -Yang, Sau Chung, escaped Mao’s purge by fleeing to Hong Kong, where he continued to cultivate and pass on the bona fide training developed by his father, thus preserving the Yang Style in a pure fashion. His teaching was strict and uncompromising despite his reserved nature and low-key approach.
Chu, Gin Soon (1932-2019);
Pictured with Mrs. Yang and Yang, Sau Chung
Yang, Sau Chung designated three of his students as his disciples: Ip,Tai Tak; Chu, Gin Soon; and Hung, Chi King. The first remained in Hong Kong, the third emigrated to Europe, and the second - Chu, Gin Soon eventually settled in the US, where, in 1969, he establish the Gin Soon Tai Chi Club in Boston, Mass. Chu, Gin Soon's first teacher in Hong Kong was Lai Hok Soon, a student of Yang, Cheng Fu’s. Lai Hok Soon died in 1969, and Chu, Gin Soon took over his school. But he also continued as a student under Yang, Sau Chung; who he met when Lai Hok Soon was dying in 1964. Recognizing Yang, Sau Chung’s superior skill level; Chu, Gin Soon turned over the school to senior students and devoted himself to studying with Yang, Sau Chung; who in due course entrusted him with exporting and introducing the teaching of classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan to North America. Through his teaching at the Gin Soon Tai Chi Club and his extensive traveling, he has passed on the principals of the art to thousands of students, a small handful of whom have demonstrated the necessary tenacity, perseverance, resolution, and diligence through the years to receive the full transmission of the Yang Style.
Fang, Ning (1932-)
Another esteemed Fifth Generation teacher in the Yang lineage is Professor Fang, Ning (1932-), a direct heir of Yang, Cheng Fu’s transmissions via his studies with Yang, Cheng Fu’s disciple Tsau Li Shu. Fang, Ning attended St. John’s University, a historically prestigious Anglican school in Shanghai that is often referred to as “The Harvard of China.” He graduated in 1947 with degrees in political science and economics. Fang, Ning; who currently lives in mainland China, has been studying and researching Yang Style Tai Chi since ~1950, but he is also a Qigong expert, and has been placing increasing emphasis on Qigong and incorporating it into his teaching since meeting Grandmaster Ou, Wen Wei in 1990. Ou, Wen Wei is the architect of Pangu Shengong, a deceptively straightforward program for generating and storing an abundance of qi. Fang, Ning, espousal of Pangu Shengong, coupled with its simplicity and effectiveness has been instrumental in its inclusion in Sixth Generation Yang Style Tai Chi syllabi.
Vincent Chu (1960-), Dimitri Mougdis (1965-)
As with most categories of high-level achievement, mastering arts such as Tai Chi and Qigong depends on the amount of time and effort one devotes to them. And investment of the former is obviously affected by the age at which one begins. Gin Soon Chu’s son, Vincent Chu began learning Tai Chi from his father as a child, and by the time he was a young teenager, he was assisting Gin Soon Chu at his school in Boston. Devotion to Tai Chi and Qigong from such an early age has been instrumental in his profound grasp of the principals of each. Inspired by his father’s wisdom and expertise, Vincent journeyed to Asia to train with another of Yang, Sau Chung’s disciples - Ip Tai Tak, as well as with Yang, Sau Chung himself. He also studied with Ning Fang and Qigong master Ou, Wen Wei. In addition to teaching, Vincent Chu has been a prolific chronicler of Tai Chi and Qigong, publishing hundreds of articles on the subjects. His analysis spans the needs of students from beginners to experts and he tackles both the most practical and mystical aspects of these arts. Vincent Chu has taught all over the world and he presides as leader of the Sixth Generation of Classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan and as head teacher at the Gin Soon Tai Chi Federation based in Boston, Mass.
Dimitri K. Mougdis (1965-) was introduced to Tai Chi not by a family member but by chance as a teenager in Boston. Having immigrated with his family from Greece when he was 14, he was drawn to Gin Soon Chu’s school out of curiosity. It was a case of love at first sight. What he experienced almost immediately at the school unleashed a deep-seated natural affinity and ability. He remained at the school, devoting most of his waking hours to honing his innate aptitude for releasing the inner power that makes Tai Chi such a profound martial art. In 1998 he moved to South Florida. Two years later he was introduced to Ning Fang by Vincent Chu and continued his studies under the expert guidance of this Tai Chi and Qigong master. His superior skill prompted both Vincent and Ning Fang—with the approval of Gin Soon Chu—to encourage Dimitri to open a Sixth Generation Yang Family Tai Chi school. Thus, the Internal Arts Institute in Stuart, Fla. came into being. Dimitri remains true to the Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan tradition, refining his skills through daily study and training, and exuding a sincere desire to instill health and well being in others. Dimitri has also studied with Master Ou, Wen Wei who has granted him the opportunity to teach the simple-yet-powerful Pangu Shengong Qigong method. With the retirement of Gin Soon Chu and Ning Fang, Dimitri continues to learn from Vincent Chu and Ou, Wen Wei.