With movements as light as those of a cat and as smooth as flowing water, the Yang-style taijiquan, characterized by its lissomeness and elegance, is known among the old and the young throughout China. Blending firmness with softness, it is a graceful and easy-to-learn salubrious exercise which attracts a large following of both sexes and different ages. This style of taijiquan originated in Yongnian county in the southern part of Hebei Province in north China.
The Yang-style taijiquan -- one of the five most popular styles of taijiquan -- was founded by Yang Luchan over 200 years ago. A wushu lover, Yang Luchan practised hongquan when he was a kid. Later he left home for Chenjiagou in Wenxian County of Henan Province where he worked as a servant and learned the martial art from Chen Changxing. He mastered the techniques and became quite at home with the routines after years of careful observation and arduous practice. Shortly after he returned home, he went to Beijing to teach the art. He was so proficient that he was nicknamed "Yang the Invincible." Drawing on his rich experience in teaching, he made changes to the routines to suit those whose main object in learning taijiquan was to keep fit. That was how the Yang-style taijiquan came into being.
This style was later revised by Yang Luchan's two sons, Yang Jianhou and Yang Banhou, who together created the 108-form taijiquan and the xiaojia (small frame) for offence and defence, in addition to changing their father's laojia (old frame) into zhongjia (medium frame). When it came to the third generation, the style underwent even greater changes. Yang Chengfu -- Jianhou's third son -- realized that the health-keeping value of taijiquan was what more and more people really treasured, so he introduced more changes to the "medium frame' and developed it into dajia (big frame) which he gradually perfected to become the present 108-form Yang-style taijiquan. He travelled to Nanjing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Hankou to popularize his newly-arranged routine in the southern parts of the country. In addition, he summed up his experience acquired during the years of teaching and wrote the Manual on the Application of Taijiquan.
The fourth generation of the Yang-style taijiquan was represented by Yang Chengfu's two sons, Yang Zhenji and Yang Zhenduo.
Yang Zhenji started to learn the art at six under the tutelage of his father. He was very strict with himself and would not stop practising until he had got a movement right. Thanks to his assiduity, his movements were true to type and, as some experts commented, were exactly like those of his father. He was particularly good at tuishou (push-hand), an exercise which, based on the theory of "overcoming the hard with the soft," requires both strength and skill.
Yang Zhenji started teaching the art in Guangzhou, Beijing, Tianjin and Shijiazhuang from 1948. He came to Handan near Yongnian County in 1966 to popularize the Yang-style taijiquan around his hometown area. Over the years he had given instructions to pupils in 22 classes held under his sponsorship, and some 20,000 people in Handan alone had been trained under his personal guidance. Warm, sincere and patient, he always tried his best to explain how to correctly execute the movements to his pupils and shared his knowledge with them without any reservation.
Yang Zhenji is currently a member of the Standing Committee of the Handan Municipal People's Political Consultative Conference and president of the Handan Wushu Association. Now over 60, he is still healthy and strong, thanks to his perseverance in practising taijiquan.
Yang Zhenduo, Zhenji's younger brother, is also a renowned master of the Yang-style taijiquan. He is now vice-president of the Taiyuan Wushu Association and a coach working under the Taiyuan Physical Culture and Sports Commission in Shanxi Province.
Other members of the Yang family have also contributed to the development and popularization of taijiquan, Yang Shouzhong, Zhenji's elder brother, had taught the Yang-style taijiquan in Guangzhou and Shanghai before he settled in Hongkong in 1949, where he set up a wushu society to teach the art, and he had many disciples in Southeast Asia. He added new explanations to the books written by his father and reprinted them, thus helping spread the art to many parts of the world. Yang Shouzhong died in 1986, and his three daughters are now carrying on his work in Hongkong.
Consisting of high, medium and low "frames" (frame is the literal translation of the Chinese character jia, meaning position or stance), the Yang-style taijiquan is suitable for people of different ages and different health conditions. It is a good exercise for health-building and for self-defence, and is highly acclaimed by the people throughout the world.
"The Yang-style taijiquan is a legacy of our family and a precious gem of our nation's culture," said Yang Zhenji. "I teach it for the purpose of promoting the people's health and for the development and popularization of wushu among the people of all countries."