"History of a Rare T'ai-Chi Form: San Shou" - By Harvey Kurland, M.Sc., MFS, CSCS.
Kurland M.Sc., MFS, ETT, CSCS 2003
Chief T'ai-Chi Ch'uan Instructor University of California Riverside
Unlike what most think of as a tai chi form, i.e. the slow movements practiced a putative trance like state, the San Shou form is played with or without a partner and practiced both fast and slow.
One of the older forms of Yang Style T'ai-chi ch'uan is called the San Shou roughly translated as the "Fighting form", "Dividing Hands", "Separating Hands" form. Most USA teachers can trace their from back to the Great Grandmaster Hsiung Yang-ho. Hsiung had only a few students one student was Grandmaster Tchoung Ta-tchen another was Grandmaster Liang Tsung-tsai. The t'ai-chi San Shou Form is choreographed and each person knows what the other is to do. This is a traditional training method in many systems of Kung-fu. By practicing this form, the t'ai-chi ch'uan comes to life as students discover the marital art applications. It is also a fun set to practice and is more energetic than the slow form, so it is a higher intensity exercise. It is first taught as a solo form. Then it is done with a partner. At first is should be practiced slowly so that the subtleties can be practiced. Later it is performed fast. After you learn this form, you will understand the t'ai-chi ch'uan at a deeper level and how the techniques are really used.
Grandmaster Tchoung studied with the famous Hsiung Yang-ho (1886-1984) in
What is now called "Orthodox Yang Style" is the later form of Yang Shao-hou's younger brother, the famous Yang Cheng-fu. Yang Cheng-fu modified the form so it was easier to practice and popularized it for the intelligencia as an exercise. This is one of the more important steps that took t'ai chi ch'uan out of the realm of just martial artists and tough guys and into the modern era of health promotion and seniors exercising in the park to benefit their health. According to some historians, after moving south to Shanghai, Yang Cheng-fu took out the fast kicks, fast strikes, as well as the more complicated waist turns to make the exercise art easier to learn. The movements were made smooth and kept at a slow, even, consistent speed. This change took place around 1928 after his move south.
There is considerable debate over what is the true Orthodox Yang style and there is an inter-family debate over the true history. In the world of t'ai chi, revisionist history is commonplace. It is what people want to believe rather than what is true that becomes important to many of those promoting their schools. After time, beliefs become history.
Yang Shao-hou, was the oldest son of Yang Chien-hou (1843-1917) and was Yang Cheng-fu's older brother. Yang Shao-hou and Yang Pan-hou followers teach what is often called "Old Yang Style" or the versions before the 1930's modifications of Yang Cheng-fu. Because his manner was similar to his Uncle, it is thought that Yang Shao-hou learned a lot from Yang Pan-hou. They used smaller circles and more upright posture. Yang Shao-hou's method was said to be brutal and due to injuries many student dropped out so he had few students. He had a more upright posture, faster stepping, and fast strikes. Not a gentle teacher, he often would hit his students. The ones that survived their training were considered significant martial artists.
In contrast his younger brother Yang Cheng-fu had a calmer manner, like his father, and made the art easier to learn for the masses and not as brutal so he had many more students. But at the same time he was able to toss opponents with great subtlety and knock out students in training. So, what most people consider as Orthodox Yang Style comes from Yang Shao-hou's younger brother Yang Cheng-fu. Some experts consider it a simplified method? Again there is much debate about this. Good Yang Cheng-fu stylists demonstrate powerful techniques similar to other forms of t'ai-chi and some have included the San Shou form in their curriculum.
The senior students of Yang Shao-hou, even those with the highest level of skill, who did not become disciples of Cheng-fu were written out of the Yang family lineage after the death of Yang Shao-hou and for that reason are not as well known. Some historians claim that Yang Cheng-fu did not have the martial skill of some of some of Yang Shao-hou's students. And some experts believe that what is called the Orthodox Yang Form is a watered down form. There is no way to know and as much of the history of t'ai chi ch'uan is just speculation, fairy tales, and the official history is revised liberally depending on who is telling the stories.
What we can determine is that the CTCCA system comes from the Older Brother, Yang Shou-hou through two masters, Hsiung Yang-ho and Tian Zhao-lin. Tian Zhao-lin was a very famous t'ai chi master who taught in Hangzhou. He is claimed by some to be a student of Yang Shou-hou and Yang Chein-hou.. But some historians, such as Dai Peisu, also claim Yang Chien-hou as Tian's main teacher and claim that Tian was inherited as a student of Yang Shou-hou after his father's death. Less authoritative sourses claim Tian Zhao-lin to have studied with Yang Pan-hou and Yang Cheng-fu as well.. The Chinese Tai Chi Chuan Association and Northwest T'ai-Chi Ch'uan Association t'ai chi Long "Slow" form comes from the Tian Zhao-lin lineage and their San Shou form comes from Hsiung Yang-ho. The two forms bring balance to each other. A third form called the Guang Ping Yang Style form is also taught by some instructors. This form shows little resemblance to either of the other forms and comes directly from Yang Pan-hou, Yang Shao-hou's Uncle and taught by Kuo Lien Ying.
Hsiung was a well known martial artist and fighter on Taiwan. He was very selective in whom he taught and if he did not like you, he wouldn't teach you. Many teachers were rejected from attending his classes. Hsiung was one tough master.
Hsiung taught the San Shou form, what we call "Sections 7 & 8" to a few students including Tchoung Ta-tchen and Liang Tung-tsai. They in turn taught it to other students, many of them already masters, in Taiwan and North America. Many of the people doing this form in North America can be traced directly back to them and from them to Hsiung. There are several versions of the form taught today, as several of the masters and their students made their own changes to the form.
Tchoung Ta-tchen taught the San Shou form to his senior students, and thousands of students in Taiwan, Africa, Canada and the United States of America. See Certified instructors for a list of instructors in Canada and the USA. American teachers, Harvey Kurland in Southern California and Andy Dale in Seattle, learned the form directly from Tchoung and they have taught many American students the form.
The San Shou form is studied as a solo form and as a two-person set. Andy Dale, who also learned the form from Tchoung Ta-tchen, speculates the San Shou form may be an off shoot of the Pao Chui form of Ch'en style, as it has many similar movements.
Tchoung's system is based on the premise that "The form is the alphabet; Pushing hands and San Shou is learning to read and write. The ability to read and write is what makes the alphabet useful." In order to understand the t'ai-chi ch'uan basic form, one needs to study pushing hands and San Shou. He feels that it is important to understand the t'ai-chi ch'uan applications in order to really teach it correctly. Learning the san shou form is one way to learn the art at a deeper level. Hsiung Yang-ho passed down an important training method to us.
This article Based on the Hsiung Yang-ho Article, Copyright Kurland 1988.
For more History go to the NWTCCA SITE or CTCCA SITE www.dotaichi.com
About the Author: Sifu Harvey Kurland, M.Sc.,MFS, ETT, CSCS, is Certified as Sifu to teach T'ai-chi ch'uan by the Chinese Tai Chi Chuan Association. He teaches Slow Old Yang Style Symmetrical Form, San Shou, and Guang Ping Style T'ai-Chi. He studied under several well respected Grandmasters including Tchoung Ta-tchen, Kuo Lien Ying, Liang Tsung-tsai and Raymond Chung. Kurland is a 5th generation Yang Stylist. Kurland is also an Exercise Physiologist and Health Educator with Certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). Kurland teaches for the University of California Riverside and Loma Linda University Drayson Center. www.dotaichi.com
Sifu Harvey Kurland, M.Sc.,MFS, ETT, CSCS, is Certified as Sifu to teach
T'ai-chi ch'uan by the Chinese T'ai-Chi Ch'uan Association. He studied under
several well respected Grandmasters including Tchoung Ta-tchen, Kuo Lien Ying,
Liang Tsung-tsai and Raymond Chung, as well as others.
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