Yang Lu-ch’an’s family was a poor farming worker class from Hebei Province, Guangping Prefecture, Yongnian County. As a child, Yang liked martial arts and studied Changquan, (Red Shaolin Fist or Long Fist) gaining a certain level of skill, that made for him a good basement.
Yang would follow his father in planting the fields and, as a teenager, held temporary jobs. One period of temporary work was spent doing odd jobs at the Tai He Tang Chinese pharmacy located in the west part of Yongnian City, opened by Chen De Hu of the Chen Village in Henan Province, Huaiqing Prefecture, Wenxian County. Once Yang witnessed one of the partners of the pharmacy utilizing a style of martial art that he had never before seen. The man subdue a group of would-be thieves. Yang was shocked noticing how easily it was done, without applying any visible force. Yang was highly impressed, and searched for chance to get to Chen Village and study this martial art style. However the Chen family keeps their style in secret, only family members were allowed to study. Yang was persistent, and finally, he succeeded and met his own teacher—the 14th generation of the Chen Family, Chen Chang-Xing.
There is an interesting story which describes the emergence of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan. Yang Lu Chan sold all his property and worked as a servant in Chen Chang Xing’s family in order to study 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
After emerging from Chenjiagou, Yang became famous for never losing a match and never seriously injuring his opponents. Having refined his martial skill to an extremely high level, Yang Lu-ch’an came to be known as Yang Wudi (楊無敵, Yang the Invincible). In time, many legends sprang up around Yang’s martial prowess. These legends would serve to inform various biographical books and movies. Though not independently verifiable, several noteworthy episodes are worth mentioning to illustrate the Yang Wudi character:
- The House of Prince Duan, one of the royal families in the capital, employed a large number of boxing masters and wrestlers—some of which were anxious to have a trial of strength with Yang Lu-ch’an. Yang typically declined their challenges. One day, a famous boxing master of high prestige insisted on competing with Yang to see who was the stronger. The boxer suggested that they sit on two chairs and pit their right fists against each other. Yang Luchan had no choice but to agree. Shortly after the contest began, Duan’s boxing master started to sweat all over and his chair creaked as if it were going to fall apart; Yang however looked as composed and serene as ever. Finally rising, Yang gently commented to the onlookers: “The Master’s skill is indeed superb, only his chair is not as firmly made as mine.” The other master was so moved by Yang’s modesty that he never failed to praise his exemplary conduct and unmatched martial skill.
- Once while fishing at a lake, two other martial artists hoped to push Yang in the water and ruin his reputation. Yang, sensing the attacker’s intention, arched his chest, rounded his back, and executed the High Pat on Horse technique. As his back arched and head bowed, the two attackers were bounced into the water simultaneously. He then said to them that he would be easy on them today; but if they were on the ground, he would have punished them more severely. The two attackers quickly swam away.
- In Beijing, a rich man called Chang heard of Yang’s great skills and invited him to demonstrate his art. When Yang arrived, Chang thought little of his ability due to his small build—Yang simply did not “look” like a boxer. Yang was served a very simple dinner. Yang Lu-ch’an continued to behave like an honoured guest, despite his host’s thoughts. Chang later questioned if Yang’s Taijiquan, being so soft, could actually be used to defeat people. Given that he invited Yang on the basis of his reputation as a great fighter, this question was a veiled insult. Yang replied that there were only three kinds of people he could not defeat: men of brass, men of iron and men of wood. Chang invited out his best bodyguard, Liu, to test Yang’s skill. Liu entered aggressively and attacked Yang. Yang, employing only a simple yielding technique, threw Liu across the yard. Chang was very impressed and immediately ordered a banquet to be prepared for Yang