It is a well-known fact that in the year A.D. 960, the first emperor of the Sung dynasty, Chao Kuang Yin (also called Tai Tzu) founded a system of personal health and combat exercises called Tai Tzu Chang Chuan. This system covered all aspects of Tai Chi, Hsing-I, and Ba Gua (sometimes referred to as Pa Kua), the original internal systems of Northern China as well as many other systems. There have been many styles and systems that have come about as a result of the Emperor Chao Kuang Yin and his infamous system of martial arts. The question is, does that original system still exist today in its entirety? And if so where is it now?
Chao Kuang-yin, founder and ruler of the Sung Dynasty from 960-976 A.D. reunited war torn China following the division of the Five Dynasties. He also brought an end to the militarism, which characterized China during that era.
Chao came from a northeastern military family, the kind that had dominated politics since the late ninth century. Large of stature and an able warrior, he rose to become commander of the Palace Corps of the Chou Dynasty in 959, the last of the Five Dynasties under the Emperor Shih-Tsung, whose death the following year left a seven-year-old child on the throne. During this episode and an invasion from the north, General Chao had been sent north to repel the Khitan. It is said that the army officers after a few days out came to the thirty-two year old Chao Kuang-yin who was asleep in his tent. Awakening him at dawn by sword point they insisted he wear the yellow silk robe, a symbol of imperial authority, and lead the army to take possession of the capital.
After the Emperor came reluctantly to power and having achieved this great victory, he called together his army chiefs and hosted a grand banquet. When everyone had drunk plenty and was in a festive mood the Emperor told them, “I do not sleep peacefully at night.” The generals all inquired why and the answer came that if any one of the generals had been forced by sword point to don the imperial robe unwillingly and overthrow the Chou Dynasty, how would they feel? The generals proceeded to protest commenting that they were not talented enough. When all was said and done, the Emperor talked of life and happiness, and said: “If you, my officers will renounce your military authority and retire to the provinces and choose the finest of lands to pass the rest of your days, living your lives in peace and happiness. Wouldn't this be far more desirable than the peril of war? So that there be no suspicions, we will ally our families with marriages and thus ruler and subject will be linked in friendship and amity.” The following day the army commanders turned in their resignations, reporting (imaginary) illnesses and withdrew to the country districts. Once there, the Emperor gave them magnificent gifts and appointed them to high official positions.
Like all Chinese imperial regimes, the Sung government was absolute in principle and hierarchical in organization. It differed from the previous governments in achieving a new degree of centralization and of civilian control over the military. Comparing this to the earlier and later governments it provided an open forum for discussion and criticism.
Unfortunately the retirement of the generals led to the down fall of the Northern Sung dynasty and was forced into Southern China only. As time passed the Mongol armies grew and eventually the Southern Sung was overthrown. This started the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty in the year 1279 A.D. which were the first of the northern barbarians to rule over all of China.
Chao Kuang Yin, having a keen interest in the martial arts, is credited in Chinese history with collecting and documenting all available manuscripts on the subject, including those from the Shaolin Temple. This was done in order to save these documents from the invading Khitan. It is said he stored these manuscripts in his library in a tower behind the Shaolin Temple. When the temple was destroyed, most of the records were lost. Fortunately, the emperor passed on his knowledge of Tai Tzu Chang Chuan, and today we see the fruits of his labor in Chinese parks and martial arts schools all over the world.
The Emperor studied all of these documents and created his own complete system, which encompassed health and self defense; he called his art Tai Tzu Chang Chuan, which means Great Ancestor's Long Fist. The name Tai Tzu refers specifically to the first founding emperor of a dynasty and this system was later known as the Emperor's Long Fist. This system is so uniquely composed that it covers all aspects of Tai Chi, Hsing Yi, and Ba Gua, (as well as others) which are the original internal systems of Northern China. Tai Tzu is the root from which most northern styles originated and since the southern styles originated from the north, the southern styles of martial arts stem from Tai Tzu Chang Chuan as well.
Tai Tzu was perfected soon after it was founded and journals in the year 984 A.D. documented the style's effectiveness. This system was further refined by the Chao family over time, making note of the eight original movements derived from Tai Tzu — peng, ni, zhi, ahn, chai, nieh, cho and kao and the five elements — wood, fire earth metal, and water which composed the thirteen kinetic movements.
In 1247 Chang San Feng created a system from movements influenced by the Tai Tzu system although later others tried to say that he learned it in a dream or from a magpie and a snake fighting. Both of these are used frequently. Later General Chen Wang Ting utilized the extensive information available on Tai Tzu Chang Chuan to create Chen style Tai Chi in 1618. In 1799, Yang Lew Shen created the Yang style from the Chen style and passed this art on to Yang Cheng Fu, who was famous for his Tai Chi prowess. This brings us to Chao Yuh Feng, the 35th-generation descendant and inheritor of the system. As well as being a friend of Yang Cheng Fu's, he had been entrusted with maintaining the integrity of the 1,000-year-old system.