There is an interesting story which describes the emergence of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan. Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872) sold all his property and worked as a servant in Chen Chang Xing’s family in order to “steal” Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan by learning it in secret. He was so successful that not only did no one notice him, but he also attained a high standard.
One day a kungfu expert came to challenge the master, Chen Chang Xing. His son and best disciple took the challenge but was badly defeated. The challenger asked to meet the master. Chen’s students told him that the master was away. But the challenger was determined to meet the master; he put up in a local hotel and came back every three days to seek him. This went on for a few months. The Chen family was desperate; there was no way, it seemed, that they could overcome this embarrassing situation.
One day, the challenger came and said as usual, “I would like to meet Sifu Chen Chang Xing, and request him to teach me some fighting techniques.” This was the conventional way of saying, “I am here for a friendly challenge.”
“I’m sorry, sifu, our master has not returned from his trip,” one of the senior students said. “Then, I’ll come again in three days’ time.” But before the challenger walked away as usual, a servant came forward and to everybody’s surprise said:
“Sir, I have also practised some Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan. I am not very good at it and would be honoured if you would kindly teach me.” This was a polite, conventional way of saying, “I accept your friendly challenge.” The servant, of course, was Yang Lu Chan.
They were even more surprised when Yang Lu Chan, using genuine Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, defeated the challenger. But defeating a challenger was one thing; upholding the Chen family discipline was another. “Stealing” a secret martial art was an extremely grave offence, punishable by death. So Yang Lu Chan knelt before the master, in front of all his students who had gathered in the family hall to see him disciplined. After prostrating thrice and offering tea to the master, Yang Lu Chan solemnly said: “Sir, I have committed a grave offence in stealing your secret martial art. I know the consequences, and am ready to accept your punishment.”
The atmosphere was tense. Would the master impose the death sentence? Everyone was grateful to Yang Lu Chan for defeating the challenger, but the master had to set an example by upholding discipline. What would he do now?
Chen Chang Xing sipped his tea thoughtfully. Then he said, “What offence? What punishment? It is an offence only if an outsider steals our art. But you are not an outsider. By accepting your tea and drinking it, I have accepted you as my disciple. We are proud of you as a new member of the Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, for you have saved us from shame and will bring honour to us.”
It is unlikely that this story is true, but Yang Lu Chan did bring much honour to Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan. Before settling down in Beijing to teach Tai Chi Chuan, he travelled the country challenging other kungfu masters in friendly matches, and he always won. He was nicknamed “Yang the Ever Victorious”. He was the first outsider to break the tradition of restricting Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan to Chen family members only, one generation before Chen Qing Ping taught it to outsiders at Zhao Bao.
From The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan
by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit