Once upon a time

The modern history of taijiquan begins around 1850, in Chen Village, Henan Province, China. Henan is bound by mountains in the west and the ocean to the east, a fertile plain stamped by flood, drought and the passage of marching armies. An indentured servant who goes by the name of Lucky Yang arrives in Chen Village. There he finds the men practicing a distinctive martial art that will be called taijiquan. It is most unlikely he is given much formal instruction, if any, but he has a gift and he picks it up by observation and practice.

After he completes his servitude, fate leads Yang to the royal palace in Beijing where he becomes a tutor to, among others, the young prince and a handful of Qing dynasty gentry who find themselves disempowered and disenfranchised by, on the one hand, the authoritarian and corrupt Manchu regime and, on the other, the long arm of European, gunboat diplomacy. The circumstances are just right for a homegrown fighting art that emphasizes autonomy and self control. As the old China is dying, taijiquan establishes itself, passing through Yang Lu Chuan, as he is now known, and settles into five distinct family styles.

The ancient history of taijiquan is open to speculation but, that the movements are disguised under their fighting application is testament to the sublimely radical nature of the art. This marriage of ancient shamanic animal movements from the east and sacred dance from the west, meeting somewhere along the Silk Road, embodied in some renegade monk or shaman, carries the seed of personal transformation. On the run from the authorities and aware of the tectonic changes taking place in the world where the sacred arts cannot be practiced openly, he conceals it under an effective fighting application, and tucks it away in an anonymous village on the flood planes of Henan, to be found by one Lucky Yang and eventually exported to the west, where adepts continue to strip away the martial veneer in search of the therapeutic roots of the movements.

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