The 'Southern' School of Tai Chi

The 'Southern' School of Tai Chi was a very early branch of Tai Chi which had an interesting history, but which entirely disappeared.

It came about when two prominent students of the early Tai Chi teacher Wang Chung-yueh, Chiang Fa and Chen Chou- t'ung, quarreled. The latter formed his own school, the so-called 'Southern' School of Tai Chi while Chiang Fa continued with the 'Northern' School of Tai Chi.

It is unfortunate that this style of Tai Chi is no longer extant since all other forms derive from Chiang Fa. It would interesting to be able to contrast the approaches of Chiang Fa and Chen Chou-t'ung and thus see more clearly the form of Wang Chung-yueh.

Southern Tai Chi Genealogy

Dr. William C. C. Lee writes:

The nan-p'ai or Southern School was started by Chen Chou-t'ung, which had a colourful but short lived history. His prized student was Chang Sung-chi. His biography says:

Chang Sung-chi was a person of exceedingly retiring disposition usually attributed to a scholar. He was very diffident and his appearance was so retiring that his body scarcely seemed to carry the weight of his clothes. Whenever any person pressed him as to the secrets of his art of boxing, he would humbly beg to be excused, and take immediate leave.
At that time, the reputation for boxing of the Shao-lin priests was well- known throughout the empire. This tradition dates back to the time of Bodhidharma, 520-535 A.D.

Within the Shao-lin monastery there were approximately 70 priests who, after hearing the fame of Chang Sung-chi, proceeded to Ningpo in order to gain acquaintance with him Chang Sung-chi hid himself away from them until some younger friends who he knew persuaded him to receive these visitors. He found the priests practicing on the upper-level of a wine shop, and upon seeing them gave an inadvertent laugh. The priests immediately asked him for a bout.

Chang Sung-chi glanced at his opponents, folded his arms and sat on the floor. While everyone was puzzled of this action, one of them came up behind him and proceeded to kick him. However, before contact was made Chang Sung-chi slightly inclined his body and sent the priest flying out the window so that the latter was nearly killed.

This Southern School was passed on to several other persons of which another was Wang Cheng-nan.

In the Nan-lei Chi there is an essay on Wang Cheng-nan:

Wang Cheng-nan's real name was Wang Lai-hsien. In his youth he was most interested in boxing and devoted much of his time to this interest ... until his fame for boxing was widely spread.

On one occasion, a master boxer, upon lecturing about the arts and skills of self defense, was interrupted by a student who relayed the great feats of Wang Cheng-nan. Upon hearing this, the master questioned the validity of feats of which he had heard. Wang Cheng-nan humbly denied that he was capable of these feats and termed them exaggerations. The master boxer pressed the issue and asked for a bout, which he promptly declined. The master boxer, his ego inflated and thinking that Wang Cheng-nan was afraid of him repeatedly pressed him

When there was no other alternative, Wang Cheng-nan was forced to accept. With the first strike from the master boxer, Wang Cheng-nan felled him. Very courteously Wang Cheng-nan helped the master-boxer to his feet. He immediately tried to strike him but was again put off his feet. By this time blood gushed from his nose and realizing the superiority of his opponent, he prostrated himself and begged for an apology.

The last person of the Southern School was Kan Feng-chih of the Ching Period (1644-1912). In the Ching pai lei chao there is an episode about him:

During the reigns of the emperors Yung-cheng and Chien-lung (1723-1796), of all the masters of boxing the most notable and famous was Kan Feng-chih of Nanking. He was a man of remarkable strength and was able to accomplish fantastic feats. He was well-versed in both the Nei-chia, or esoteric school and the Wia-chia or exoteric schools of boxing.

One day while strolling in the country-side, he saw two bulls fighting and blocking his path, whereupon he separated them by tossing each bull into a separate field.

Like many popular legends surrounding this person it is quite difficult to be considered factual. One needs only to stroll into a Chinese book-store to find voluminous amounts of popular stories surrounding him After Kan Feng-chih, the Southern School was terminated.

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