The Wu style of taijiquan originated with Quan You (1834-1902), who was a captain in the Manchurian army of the Qing dynasty. Quan You was a palace body guard, assigned to protect members of the royal family. Quan You learned taijiquan from Yang Luchan, who was employed by the Manchurian army as a martial arts teacher.
It was Yang Luchan who brought taijiquan to the Capital city of Beijing from Chenjiaguo, the Chen family village in Henan province, where the art had been held by the Chen clan since at least the mid 1600’s. Many of Yang’s students were high- ranking officials in the army or members of the royal family. Of Yang’s students at that time there were three Manchurians who received the essence of Yang’s teachings. Wan Chun reached high levels in the use of hard internal energy. Ling Shan was noted for his skill in the use of soft energy. Quan You was able to combine these skills and gain mastery of neutralizing or transformational energy. Because Quan You was only a low ranking official, his name was not inscribed on Yang Luchan’s tombstone as one of Yang’s students. Instead, he was recorded as a student of Yang Banhou (1837-1892), one of Yang Luchan’s sons.
Wu Jianquan and the southern school
Quan You had three primary disciples: His son Wu Jianquan (1870-1942), Wang Maozhai (1862-1940), and Guo Fen (aka Song Ting, Guo Songting). Wu Jianquan maintained a close relationship with the Yang family in Beijing and trained extensively with Yang Luchan’s grandson Yang Chengfu (1883-1936). Wu Jianquan revised the art he had inherited from his father to some degree, due in part to his close association with the Yang family.
In 1928 Wu Jianquan moved to Shanghai in south China, where in 1932 he founded the Shanghai Jianquan Taijiquan Association for the purpose of popularizing Wu style Taijiquan. Wu Jianquan’s efforts were very successful, and Wu style taijiquan soon became the most popular style in Shanghai. Because Shanghai was an open seaport, Wu style taijiquan soon spread to Hong Kong and to other areas, eventually arriving in Hawaii and Canada. Wu Jianquan’s daughter Wu Yinghua, son-in-law Ma Yueliang and their students have continued Wu Jianquan’s traditional teachings in Shanghai.
The Hong Kong school
Wu Jianquan’s two sons Wu Gongyi and Wu Gonzhao established another branch of Wu style taijiquan in Hong Kong which led to the spread of the system throughout the Pacific rim, with schools in Macau, The Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and eventually Canada.
The northern, or Beijing lineage
As stated above, Wang Maozhai was one of the three main disciples of Quan You, the founder of Wu style taijiquan. It is said that Wang Maozhai, who was already a highly skilled martial artist, pursued Quan You for three years in an effort to learn taijiquan. During this time, he reportedly was taught only one posture – jin ji du li, “golden pheasant stands on one leg”. Impressed by his sincerity and perseverance, Quan You taught him the complete Wu taijiquan system. After twenty years practice, Wang Maozhai achieved high skill in the art.
Wang Maozhai’s primary disciple was Yang Yuting (1887-1982), who was a well respected and active teacher in Beijing for many years. He held the vice-chairmanship of the Beijing Martial Arts Association at the time of his death at age 95. Yang Yuting is noted for his emphasis on the standardization of postures and for his popularity as a teacher who passed his art to many students in Beijing, including Wang Peisheng, Li Jingwu and Li Bingci.
In his book Wu Style Taijiquan (Zhaohua Publishing House, Beijing, 1983) Wang Peisheng presents the 37 posture abridged form of taijiquan which he developed in the early 1950’s. He has had many students in Beijing, including Leng Xinfu, Liu Changjiang, Lu Sheng Li and Zhu Xilin, all of whom are the author’s teachers.
Quan You, the originator of Wu style taijiquan, had a disciple named Guo Fen, who reached a high level of skill. Little is known about him other than he passed his art to Dong Yicheng, who in turn taught Liu Chanjiang, the author’s main teacher. Liu Changjiang feels that Dong Yicheng possessed superior understanding of the esoteric, internal aspects of taijiquan. Neither Guo Fen nor Dong Yicheng are well known or famous teachers, but their genealogical closeness to Quan You is significant.
While Wu Jianquan was spreading his version of his father’s art in south China, Wang Maozhai and others continued Quan You’s tradition in Beijing. Because Wu Jianquan modified the posture sequence, and to some extent the individual postures themselves, it may be fairly stated that the southern Wu school is that of Wu Jianquan, while the northern school is that of Quan You, Wu Jian Quan’s father. Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Wu style taijiquan in Beijing was not subject to outside influence, and so a degree of consistency was maintained in transmitting the art from teacher to student. This uniformity was vigorously encouraged by one of the style’s foremost exponents, Yang Yuting, who was actively teaching for about 40 years. Consequently practitioners of Beijing Wu style taijiquan today execute the postures very much as Yang Yuting did, at least from the standpoint of outward appearance.
Training comprises the following components:
83 posture taijiquan
64 posture taiji jian (straight sword)
13 posture taiji dao (saber)
Tui shou (push hands)
Da lu (moving step push hands)