CHEN FAMILY SMALL CIRCLE TAI JI QUAN
陈氏小圈太极拳

Lou xi ao bu. Photo  © K Williamsson
Chen Boxiang

Chen family small circle Tai Ji Quan 陈氏小圈太极拳

Some say that the old original Chen village Tai Ji Quan was like what today is called “small circle” Tai Ji Quan and that the now popular “old style” is actually a later creation after the son of Chen Changxing (1771-1853) named Chen Gengyun. What is called “old style” today by most people is called “big circle” in the Chen village. There has never been anything called old or new style until recently when the group after Chen Fake came out with what they call the “new style”. Some people lists teachers with generation numbering but unfortunately they often mix up Chen family genealogy and teachers of Chen family boxing and non-Chen family teachers.

(K.Williamsson ©)
Entering Chen village

Chen Gongzhao 陈公兆

Chen Gongzhao (1715- after 1795). He is the one mentioned as having saved an official from a raging bull, frightened by fire crackers, he is said to have struck the bull to the ground at the age of 80 in 1795. He had two sons that he taught, Chen Youheng and Chen Youben. Chen Youheng, the older brother died at an early age when he drowned at Dong Ting lake. Both sons learned their Tai Ji Quan from their father.

Chen Youben 陈有本

Chen Youben (1780-1858), was born in Chen village and had an older brother named Chen Youheng who died early leaving two identical twins with Chen Youben. The twins were Chen Zhongsheng (1809-1871) and Chen Jisheng (1809-1865). They also had a third brother named Chen Bosheng.

After the death of his older brother Youben closed himself up in the house and practiced hard. Chen Youben is said to have been the most skillful boxer in the village. It is mentioned in some articles, by Gu Liuxin and others,  that he took away the difficult moves from the original form but that the moves were left in the difficult way in the Tai Ji Quan form of Chen Changxing lineage. This is pure fabrication and far from the truth. Probably made up by some people from that lineage to push their own style. The moves in the small circle form are maybe in some respects even more demanding then the moves in the big circle form.

Chen Youben also taught, apart from the above mentioned two twins, the son of Chen Changxing named Chen Gengyun and fellow clansman Chen Qingping (1795-1868) from the Chen village. Chen Qingping taught in Zhaobao village where he had many students. Chen Gengyun is said to have spent years with Chen Youben to improve his skill as his skill was not considered good enough to take on protection of caravans. In order to have a quick development of Chen Gengyun's skill Chen Youben made changes in Chen Gengyun's already existing form.

Chen Zhongsheng 陈仲牲

Chen Zhongsheng (1809-1871) studied with his uncle as his father died early. All his skill came from Chen Youben. He was famous for wielding an iron spear weighing 30 "jin"  freely while practicing.

In the third year of the Emperor Xianfeng (1853) the Taiping army while heading north passed through Wen county where they stayed on the shores of Huang River at the Willow village (Liu Cun). There was an army officer with the nickname of  “Da Tou Wang” (the great leader King, or Big Head King) and with the family name of Yang. While they were roaming around they came to Chen village and a skirmish came about. The two brothers Chen Zhongsheng and Jisheng led the villagers in the fight with the band of “Da Tou Wang” where they cut his head off and the rest of the band ran towards Zhaobao village.

Among his students were his sons Chen Yao (1837-1916), Chen Yan (1847-1918)  and Chen Xin (1849-1929). The sons of his brother Chen Jisheng were also very skilled, Chen Miao (1834-1868) and Chen Sen (1843-1926).

Chen Xin 陈鑫

Chen Xin, styled Pinsan (1849-1929) claims in his book[i] that his ancestor Chen Bu , the first generation, brought this art with him when the Chen family moved from Da Huai Shu in Shanxi to Wen county in Henan. According to history Chen Bu followed the move of the people first to Henan, to Henei county (today’s Qinyang county ) Chen Bu Zhuang (today this village still exists, it belongs now to Wen county), but due to that the village was in a marsh area and was often flooded, they moved again to the east of Wen county city ten li to Changyang village on Qingfeng ridge. In the village there is a trench (ditch) “gou”  going from north to south. After the Chen members became numerous the name was changed to Chen family village “Chen Jia Gou”. Chen Xin  , styled Pinsan (1849-1929)

Chen Xin wrote in his preface to his book:

“in the 7th of Hongwu (1374)[ii] in the Ming period . The ancestor Bu when not studying (and tilling the fields), used the Yin Yang opening and closing movement of the whole body, teaching his children and grandchildren the method of digesting what had been eaten, based on the theory of Tai Ji, for this reason it was called Tai Ji Quan ”.

Chen Xin never stated who created the art though[iii]. In this case we are not sure if the meaning of Tai Ji Quan as mentioned with Chen Bu is actually boxing or if it is to be seen in some other way. In some cases it could refer to a form of gymnastic exercises more than to the boxing art with hand forms and weapons. What is meant here is difficult to say.

I will not discuss the story of Chen Wangting (1600-1680) and if he created the Tai Ji Quan or not. Originally this was not an idea put forward by the Chen family and certainly not by Chen Xin. Chen Xin has a part about Chen Wangting saying something like “when busy I am tilling the fields, when bored I make boxing” but not referring to Tai Ji Quan. The first time we see Chen Wangting referred to as the creator of Tai Ji Quan is in articles by Tang Hao. This idea was also put forth by Gu Liuxin in his books and also by later authors on the Chen style of Tai Ji Quan.

Chen Xin taught Chen Kezhong (1908 -1966) . Chen Kezhong was given the “Sansan liu quanpu” to keep.  


Chen Ziming (? -1951)

Chen Xin also taught Chen Ziming (?-1951), Chen Chunyuan[iv] (1877-1949 also studied with is father Chen Sen),  Chen Jinao (1899-1971), Chen Xingsan(1880-1942) and Chen Kedi (1905-1984) and others.[v]

Chen Kezhong 陈克忠

Chen Kezhong (1908-1966) taught according to the old way, the way that he was taught by Chen Xin. In some articles there has been writings by the misinformed that Chen Kezhong should be the student of Chen Chunyuan[vi]. The family descendants of Chen Kezhong as well as his students states that he was indeed a student of Chen Xin[vii] for over ten years and nobody else.

Between 1932  and 1936 he was employed together with Chen Xingsan by the county school to teach Tai Ji Quan. After that he was employed to Jiaozuo to teach. Around 1940 he went to Xi’an but never lightly taught anyone. After 1949 he returned to the Chen village working the fields and teaching students.

He is said to be the person actually saving the style from becoming extinct by teaching a lot of people in the village. Among those who are representative are Chen Boxian (1920-1989), Chen Boxiang, Chen Qinglin.

Chen Boxiang 陈伯祥

(K.Williamsson ©)

Student of Chen Kezhong and a representative of the small circle style at different levels as well as “da shou” and various weapons. Never ever deviating from the traditional way when teaching. In other words, a strict and demanding teacher loved by his students.  

(Chen boxiang with students from Lianyungang and author.)

Some photos of teacher Chen Boxiang taken while visiting me at my home in Shanghai.  

Teacher Chen Boxiang while visiting me in Shanghai. Photo  © K WilliamssonLan cha yi. Photo  © K Williamsson

Chu shou. Photo  © K Williamsson Lou xi ao bu. Photo  © K Williamsson

Liu feng si bi. Photo  © K WilliamssonYan shou hong chui. Photo  © K Williamsson

(K.Williamsson ©)

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[i] Chen Xin , “Chen shi Tai Ji Quan tu shuo” (1933).
[ii] Chen Xiaowang , “Shi chuan Chen shi Tai Ji Quan ”(1985) p.1 states that it was in 1372
[iii] Chen Shaodong , p.7 in no.12 Wu Lin (1992) states that Chen Bu created Tai Ji Quan . Chen Shaodong is one of the editors of Chen Xin’s book and 1992 he was 93 years old.
[iv] Chen Chunyuan taught Chen Honglie who taught Chen Liqing (female) and Chen Lixian.
[v] Chen shi tai ji quan xie hui zong by Chen Zhenglei (1992)
[vi] This stated by some websites and also in the book by Chen Liqing.
[vii] Chen Kezhong stated as student of Chen Xin. See Chen shi tai ji quan xie hui zong by Chen Zhenglei (1992) and Chen shi tai ji quan zhi volume 1 (1996).