Chang Sanfeng (1247--?) first studied at Shao-Lin, the buddhism temple and the source of nearly all the Chinese Kong-Fu, for about 10 years, then he traveled all over China, learned from Taoism and then settled in Wudang Mountain. He is a great master and recluse in Chinese history, as respected as the founder of all inner martial art, which is called Wudang Chuan. Wudang and Shao-Lin are the two major Kongfu styles in China, one is called inner Kongfu, another outer. He initiated Tai-Chi at his late years (but it is said he lived for 130 years). After he created Tai-Chi, it is not publicly taught, but as an esoteric technique. This was passed for several generations, and there was talent people in every generation, known or unknown by the public.
The Wu Family style of Tai Chi originates with Wu Quan-yu, a student of both Yang Lu-chan, the founder of the Yang Style of Tai Chi, and his son, Yang Pan-hou. He was Manchurian by race and worked as a bodyguard in the Imperial Court in Beijing. Because of his skill in it and his renown, he did much to popularize Tai Chi Chuan
It is said that the smaller movements and more restricted style of the Wu Form (in comparison with the YangStyle) has its origin in the elaborate and restrictive clothes of the Imperial Court. In order to be able to practice combat in this apparel the movements of the original Yang Stylehad to be modified somewhat.
For many years there was no differentiation between the Yang and Wu Styles. There was close contact between the two families and, for instance Wu Jian- quan and Yang Cheng-Fu would practice Push-hands together.
Quan-yu taught the style to a number of students, including his son Wu Jian-quan. He, in turn passed his teaching on to his son Wu Kong-yi and students Ma Jiang-bao and Cheng Wing-kwong from whom many of today's Wu Style students descend. Currently the Wu Style of Tai Chi is second in popularity only to the Yang
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, in order to integrate into the predominant Han population, Quan Yu adopted a Han surname Wu for his family. Thus in some references he is referred to simply as Quan Yu and some refer to him as Wu Quan Yu. The Manchus were not well regarded by the Han people because they were the foreign ruling race which had conquered the Han ruled Ming Dynasty. The move to integrate into the Han race was important during that period of time when hatred against the ruling non-Han races was a very real thing.
The style was not taught publicly until Xu Yu Sheng, Yang Jian Hou's disciple established his association in Beijing and invited Wu Jian Quan to teach there. Quan Yu taught his son martial arts from a young age and Wu Jian Quan grew up an accomplished martial artist skilled in more than just Taijiquan.
Wu Jian Quan was born into a martial arts family. His father had earned his living as a bodyguard in the Imperial Court. This meant that his father was a professional martial artist whose skills were his means of livelyhood. So martial arts was very much the `family trade'. His father had trained under the great Yang Lu Chan, founder of the Yang style, and also under Yang Ban Hou, Yang Lu Chan's son. The form practiced by Quan Yu was the Yang style Small Frame but way back then, the division into the major styles had not yet taken place and the art was simply known as the small frame of Yang Lu Chan.
Wu Jian Quan achieved a very high level of skill in the art of Taijiquan and was also an accomplished archer and equestrian. He also practiced with members of the Yang family and maintained a close relationship with them. He and Yang Cheng Fu would practice Push Hands together and Wu Jian Quan used to call him `Third Uncle' because in terms of lineage generations, Yang Cheng Fu was his senior by one generation. In fact, before the Wu Jian Quan style became considered as an independent style, there was no differentiation between the two families. This close association and non-distinction between these two great Taiji styles can be seen by Wu Jian Quan's sending his son, Wu Kong Yi, to study under Yang Shao Hou.
The Wu Jian Quan Transmission Becomes An Independent Style
There is an interesting story on how the Yang Small Frame practiced by the Wu family became an independent style. The relationship between both families was a close one and it was never the intention for the two families to form independent styles of Taijiquan. This division occured when both Wu Jian Quan, Yang Cheng Fu and Yang Shao Hou were teaching in Chen Wei Ming's Zhi Rou Association in Shanghai.
The Secretary General of the association at the time, who was also a government official, was Chu Ming Yi. Chu initially studied under Yang Cheng Fu. During some Push Hands demonstrations which he did with Yang Cheng Fu, he had expected Yang to give him `face' because of his position as Secretary General and to allow him to appear skillful during the demonstration. Yang, however, regarded people by skill and not status and unceremoniously bounced him out repeatedly a great distance.
Feeling insulted by this incident, he changed from studying from Yang Cheng Fu to studying under Wu Jian Quan. Because of this he promoted Wu Jian Quan and his Taijiquan vigourously whilst not promoting Yang Cheng Fu so much. This resulted in the public regarding Wu Jian Quan's form and Yang Cheng Fu's form as independent styles of Taijiquan. Despite this, the relationship between both families remained close.
Wu Jian Quan's Early Form
When Wu Jian Quan first began to teach in Beijing, he taught the Yang Small Frame as handed down by his father, Quan Yu. This form is almost identical to the form handed down by Wang Mao Zhai and can be regarded as the old Wu Jian Quan form.
Not many people, however, learnt this form and there are few records of it. The form itself is still quite similar to Wu Jian Quan's later form and besides minor variations, it remains essentially the same. There are still those who practice this form so it is not extinct and provides a valuable insight into the early teachings of Wu Jian Quan.
Wu Jian Quan's Later Style
Wu Jian Quan continued to refine his skills and to modify his form. He removed some of the more vigorous movements and made it slow and even in tempo. This also facilitated the easy learning and transmission of the art. He taught this form exclusively in his travels and finally based himself in Shanghai where his family still resides.
Wu Jian Quan's influence, popularity and the large following he amassed established his form as the standard one for the Wu family. Today it is still the most practiced version of Wu Jian Quan Taijiquan and it is the one that all variations are measured against. We are fortunate that photographs were taken of Wu Jian Quan's form and we can see his high attainment in the art. A film was shot of him performing Taijiquan in Shanghai but the film has since been lost through the turmoil of the ensuing years in China.
Variations to the Wu Jian Quan style began with Wu Kong Yi who taught a form that was slightly different from that of his father. This is attributed by some to be because of his training with Yang Shao Hou but we have no verification for that.