Tai-Zu Quan History


After the fall of the Tang dynasty, China descended into a period of disunity. The Tang dynasty (618 - 907) was prosperous and controlled more territory than ever before. As is common in Chinese history the latter years of the once great Tang Empire was filled with corruption and inner turmoil. The loss of centralized control gave rise to an abundance of leaders eager to seize power, the end product of which was numerous kingdoms and many short-lived reigns. The founder of the Song dynasty was Zhao Kuang-Yin (927 - 976), who ruled as Emperor Tai Tzu (Great Ancestor) from 960 -  976. Zhao Kuang-Yin was born near Luo-Yang, the eldest of three brothers. His father Zhao Hong-Yin (899 - 956) had chosen a military career, and was a battalion commander under the Later Tang Dynasty, his grandfather, Zhao Jing (872 -933) was a third generation civil servant, who served in He-Bei Province.
Like his father, Zhao Kuang-Yin preferred a military life and at a young age showed great aptitude for horse riding and archery. During the Later Jin Dynasty (936 - 946), Zhao Kuang-Yin travelled extensively seeking out martial arts masters and learning their knowledge. After studying ‘Bei Shao-Lin Lohan Quan’ (Northern Shao-Lin Arhat Fist), ‘Hou Quan’ (Monkey Boxing), and several long hand methods, he met the Taoist master Chen Tuan (871 - 989), also known as Chen Xi-Yi. Chen Tuan taught Zhao Kuang-Yin the ‘Taiji Chih’ (Ruler) method, which he later passed on to other family members and is still practiced to this day.
Zhao Kuang-Yin had excellent martial skills and was given a post with Guo Wei commander-in-chief of the Later Han Dynasty. In 950, Zhao Kuang-Yin helped Guo Wei in a coup against the Later Han Dynasty resulting in Guo Wei becoming Emperor and proclaiming the Later Zhou Dynasty. After the incident, Zhao Kuang-Yin was promoted to be a commander of the palace guard. In 954, under the reign of Emperor Shi-Zong (Cai Rong - Guo Wei’s nephew), both Zhao Kuang-Yin and his father Zhao Hong-Yin were commanders of the Imperial bodyguards. After fighting many battles the last Emperor of the Later Zhou Dynasty, Shi-Zong, died in 960, leaving a 7-year-old boy to take the throne...At the time China was still divided, and the dynasty could not afford to have a child emperor. Zhao Kuang-Yin was a respected military general who had served the dynasty loyally. He was well aware that a unified and sustainable dynasty was needed to end the turmoil and suffering in China, and more importantly, he had the support to do so.
Zhao Kuang-Yin seized the opportunity, and in 960 established the Song dynasty with its capital at Kai-Feng. Emperor Zhao Kuang-Yin is said to have united China peacefully, but this is not entirely true. Although he may have spared the people of Kaifeng from the sword, the Sung army was shrewd in tactics and had military superiority over its neighbours. Zhao Kuang-Yin immediately implemented strategies that ensured his dynasty would not be short-lived, and would serve to unify China once more.
Firstly, he requested that all older military generals retire from service, eliminating the chances of further military coups, and breaking the power struggle within the military. Then a national army was established, directly controlled by the Emperor Zhao Kuang-Yin who planned the unification of China, first south then north for two years, training and preparing his army, devising tactics and developing more sophisticated weaponry. The Song army began to specialize in siege warfare, the Emperor would offer a kingdom a chance to pledge allegiance to the Song, and when they refused the Song army would lay siege to their capital until they surrendered. During this period Zhao Kuang-Yin began to teach armed and unarmed combat drills to his soldiers and formulated 32 techniques from his own knowledge of the martial arts. These techniques became known as the ‘San-Shi-Er Shi Tai Tzu Chang Quan’ (32 postures of Great Ancestors Long Fist). Zhao Kuang-Yin expanded upon the 32 techniques and taught them to the Imperial Guards of the Song Royal Court. The style became known as Hong Quan (Red Fist) or Hong Jia Quan (Red Clan Boxing); later generations of the Imperial Guards created additional forms and named the art in Zhao Kuang-Yin’s honour, ‘Tai Tzu Hong Quan’ (Great Ancestor Red Boxing).

Tai Tzu Hong Quan was taught throughout the Northern Song Dynasty to the Imperial guards who in turn taught their families and established militias to protect the communities and fight any invaders to their lands. After the defeat of the Northern Song Dynasty, the remnants of the Song royal court fled south. Many soldiers fled into the neighbouring provinces of Shan-Tung, Shan-Xi, and He-Bei, while some simply went back to their villages and their families teaching what they had learnt along the way. The Tai Tzu Hong Quan influenced many other styles and can be seen in many different systems today. Zhao Kuang-Yin was a brilliant general, a shrewd negotiator and a wise administrator. He commissioned encyclopaedias, books for prosperity, chose councillors based on merit and skill rather than pedigree. Zhao Kuang-Yin was also responsible for revitalizing commerce, the economy and creating the third golden age in Chinese history.
The population began to enjoy more scholarly pursuits such as literature, poetry and calligraphy. The more traditional pursuits such as archery, horsemanship, swordsmanship, and pugilism started to loose interest amongst the population.
Zhao Kuang-Yin became worried that this lack of interest could put China at risk if invaded and began to promote martial arts associations all over the country.
The Shao-Lin Temple in He-Nan Province also saw the need for the promotion of pugilism and began collecting manuscripts and manuals, later inviting many masters to share their knowledge. On the advice of one of his generals, Zhao Kuang-Yin donated some manuals, with one containing the ‘32 Tai Tzu Chang Quan’  techniques to the Shaolin Temple abbot, who set up a small group of monks to study the manuals. Tai Tzu Chang Chuan became part of the Shaolin Temple curriculum and has been passed down from generation to generation by the monks to this day.
After Zhao Kuang-Yin’s death in 976, his younger brother Zhao Guang-Yi (939 - 997) succeeded him as the 2nd Emperor of the Song Dynasty, and was succeeded by Zhao Heng (968 - 1022), Zhao Zhen (1010 - 1063), Zhao Zong-Shi (1032 - 1067), Zhao Xu (1048 - 1085), Zhao Ji (1082 - 1135), and Zhao Huan (1100 - 1161). In 1126, while the country was being faced with an invasion from the Jurchen tribes, Zhao Ji (Emperor Hui-Zong) abdicated and his son Zhao Huan (Emperor Qin-Zong) came to the throne. In 1127 the Jurchens attacked the capital Kaifeng and captured Zhao Ji and Zhao Huan, putting an end to the Northern Song dynasty.

Zhao Ji’s ninth son Zhao Gou (1107 - 1187), also known as the ‘Prince of Kang’ and ‘Marshall of Hebei Province’, resisted the attack and fled south with the remnants of the Song royal court which numbered around 400,000 and established his capital at Lin-An (present day Hang-Zhou City, Zhe-Jiang Province). Many Hakka (Ke-jia) patriots who numbered in there thousands loyal to the Song court followed Zhao Gou to Lin-An swearing an oath to get back their homeland from the invading Jurchens. Some historians refer to this event in history as the beginning of the ‘Third Hakka migration’. Zhao Gou crowned himself Emperor Gao-Zong in 1127, and began to build the new Southern Song Dynasty with the training of his army paramount because of the ongoing attacks by the Jurchen forces.
Due to the immense size of the Southern Song army there were many different styles taught to the soldiers by different generals, who were usually martial arts experts. One such general was General Yue Fei, a Hakka who assembled and trained his troops which became known as the ‘Northern Expedition Army’.
Zhao Gou abdicated in 1162 and was succeeded by Zhao Shen (1127 - 1194), then came Zhao Dun (1147 - 1200), Zhao Kuo (1168 - 1224), Zhao Yun (1205 - 1264), Zhao Qi (1240 - 1274), Zhao Xian (1271 - 1323), Zhao Shi (1268 - 1278), and finally Zhao Bing (1271 - 1279). In 1234, the Mongols defeated the Jurchens and then turned their sights on the Southern Song court.  By 1268 the Mongol army began to conquer the south and make its way towards the Southern Song Capital. The Song court and the Hakka patriots fled further south to Fu-Zhou, and Quan-Zhou, in Fu-Jian Province until in 1278 when the Mongols were catching up with them they fled to Ya-Shan, Xin-Hui County, a coastal region in Guang-Dong Province.
In 1279, the Mongols finally caught up with the Southern Song Court trapping them by the sea. Looking at his options Lu Xiu-Fu, a minister for the Song court, picked up the young Emperor Zhao Bing and said, “We, the Emperor and his minister, will not be humiliated by foreigner”, And with that statement Lu Xiu-Fu jumped off a cliff into the sea with the young emperor on his back drowning them both. This was the end of the Southern Song Dynasty and the beginning of the Mongol led Yuan Dynasty (1279 - 1368).
To understand traditional martial arts it is important to know a little of the history and culture of China. It provides a context, and a background as to why and how certain styles developed. This forms a rich tapestry that encompasses culture, customs, art, language, the land, and its people.
The Chinese psyche or make-up is largely based on Confusion ethics, so family and community form a strong bond in eastern societies. Although politically China was ruled centrally, its society was micro-managed. Family formed the innermost circle, and ancestral worship allowed long family lines that could be traced back many generations. The clan system formed a larger network that was more expansive and linked many families together. Clans are often linked through relationship, marriages and proximity. Ties between family and clans become interwoven with village loyalties. Rural and village communities were largely self-ruled, with most disputes settled by the village elders. Families, clans, and villages formed cells, a protective and defensive structure, practical alliance for mutual aide, for assistance and defence against disasters, but also fostered a stronger and safer community. These ties and networks within society were the seedbeds of violence and rebellion.

During the Southern Song period there were many generals who were experts in the martial arts, each taught their troops their own particular style. Some of these styles were techniques strung together to make a sequence of movements in order to exercise the troops more thoroughly. Eventually these sequences became forms and new styles were created from them.
Although the Tai Tzu Chang Chuan of the Northern Song Dynasty was still practiced by many of the soldiers, a new art began to emerge from the ranks of the military due to the influence of the ‘Ke-Jia’ (Hakka) people. The new art was taught to the Zhao family imperial bodyguards and eventually became known as ‘Nan Tai Tzu Quan’ (Southern Great Ancestors Fist), in honor of the Southern Song Dynasty. After the defeat of the Southern Song, many loyalists escaped and scattered across China, some fled back to their families and villages, some became bodyguards escorting people or valuables to make a living.
The difference between the Nan Tai Tzu Quan of one province to another was usually according to the culture or customs of that area. Shan-Tung Taizuquan, He-Bei Taizuquan, etc, etc, all have their own influence thus differentiating themselves from one another. In Fu-Jian Taizuquan the influence of the Ke-Jia people is prevalent due to the many Ke-Jia settling in Fujian Province during that time.
After the Southern Song collapse the Ke-Jia people fled to Fu-Jian and Guang-Dong Provinces and some even further a field. Many taught in villages for local militias and thus created village styles of the art. It is these village styles that have the most diverse systems of Nan Tai Tzu Quan. When the arts were taught in the village’s whole families would learn and in turn pass it on to their next generation of family members creating a genealogy and lineage within the art. After a few generations these styles became easily distinguishable from village to village due to the influence or knowledge of each family.
Relatives of the Royal Zhao family fled and went into hiding; some changed their names while others joined Buddhist temples for a safer monastic life, taking with them their arts and customs. While some Zhao family members still practiced the Northern Tai Tzu Chang Quan, other family members combined the monkey style of Zhao Kuang-Yin and the Nan Tai Tzu Quan and developed the ‘Nan Tai Tzu Hou Quan’ (Great Ancestors Southern Monkey Fist). After several generations the Nan Tai Tzu Hou Quan art evolved into several branches each with its own unique essence, one such branch became known as ‘Fu-Jian Hou Quan’ (Fu-Jian Monkey Fist). 

If one was to research the many different branches of Southern Great Ancestors Fist, one would find that there are over 100 forms in total throughout the different branches, such is the diversity of ‘Nan Tai Tzu Quan’. Today most southern branches are simply known as Taizuquan, and its northern cousin as, Tai Tzu Chang Quan. Within the Provinces of Fu-Jian and Guang-Dong the Taizuquan was very popular and laid the foundation to many other arts, while in other styles there are forms named Tai Tzu Chang Quan in honour of Zhao Kuang-Yin and his influence on the martial arts.

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