To standardize or not to standardize (traditional Taijiquan)?
By David Chen, 2004.

There are five major family styles of traditional Taijiquan (Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun and Woo), each has developed and evolved into various of personalized versions through generations; and Cheng Man-ching style as one of many Yang style variations is considered as the wide-spread influences around the world---except in China.

It was in the early 60’s, while Chinese officials tried to promo this national treasure and heritage to the global communities, but always drew controversies and complains from those five Taiji family lineage holders, and that was the motivation for the government to create 24, 42, and 88 postures as an all-citizen exercise so that everyone would follow the standardized guidelines precisely and clearly.

Nowadays, China sees the traditional Taijiquan as a culture heritage to be passed down within civilians; the government’s main interest is to promote the standardized contemporary Taijiquan at Olympic Games in Beijing 2008.

Last year I had a chance to observe the first Yang style Taijiquan fifth generation lineage holder summit in Shanghai. Mr. Lo (San Francisco), Mr. Hsu (Taipei), and Katy Cheng (Huston) were the representatives of Cheng Man-ching lineage among other 16 lineage holders from the Mainland China.

Most of the local elders have heard of the name of Cheng Man-ching but have not seen his version of the style. In one morning during the summit, while grandmasters scattered around the courtyard doing their own routines, few of them started to petition Mr. Lo to demonstrate the form, and soon all the lineage holders started to gather around him. Mr. Lo modestly did the first section of the routine in front of amazed crowd. (I was told that after Cheng Man-ching style has been popularized around the world for 40 years, this was the first time to be displayed in China.)

During the three-day summit, there were two main topics on Yang style---
How to promote Yang style under government's "Wushu style Taijiquan," and
how to standardize the Yang form based on Yang Cheng-fu's photographs.
The discussion was very open and different opinions were fully respected, however, they could not reach to a satisfied agreement to the topics so they’ve decided to do it again on September, 2004.

There were two summaries at the conference:
----The traditional Yang style routine was very long (there were 86 moves, 108 moves and 120 moves from different periods), it was good for individual training but not efficient for popularizing the art. One of the suggestions was to standardize a shorter version, but no response from the participants, because they're all holding on their own modified versions.

----Yang Cheng-fu's pictures were great for reference, but he did not leave us transitional moves. Almost all the fourth generations did the form slight differently but claimed authentic and genuine, even Yang Cheng-fu's three sons presented it with personal interpretations.

One elder at the summit said for everyone: "All the fourth generations (of Yang Style) have devoted their sweat and blood to achieve their highest knowledge and skills, we as the fifth generation lineage holders have no competency nor authority to modify or change what our teachers have passed down to us."

Another elder said to me after the meeting: "You can standardize an automobile production line, but you can not standardize people's driving habits. You can unify a language but can not unify people's writing styles."

I thought that was very inspiring.

I believe that traditional Taijiquan has been evolving through many generations; we should not be the end of evolution but be a part of it.

David Chen

** To view pictures of the summit please visit my album at: