Last year, I met Master Chen Chon 陈冲 in Chen Village 陈家溝, Henan, China. He demonstrated Small Frame Routine Two for me. It was eye opening to see that Chen Style Small Frame Tai Chi (Taiji) in many ways is similar to Chen Style Old Frame.
The general knowledge about a frame of a Tai Chi form relies on how spread-out the arm and leg movements are. The size of a frame refers to the parameters created by a form. A large frame normally consists of movements with expansive arms and wide apart legs. Chen Style and Yang Style are classified as large frames while Wu Style is a small frame. Nevertheless, there is another way to distinguish the frame size of a form beyond the physical openness and compactness of postures.
Silk Reeling or rotating is the foundation of Chen Style Tai Chi. Silk Reeling is not just the rotations of hands and arms. It is executed throughout the body including legs, torso, Kuas, hips, spine, and Dantian. Beginners learn how to do the rotations outside first. Gradually, the rotations go inside. First the circles are big; progressively, the circles becomes smaller and smaller. The energy generated by the spiraling maneuvering actually increases as the circles get smaller and tighter. Once an individual’s Tai Chi skills reach the pinnacle, the circle is almost invisible.
Chen Style Tai Chi was created by the 9th generation descendent General Chen Wangting 陈王庭 (1600-1680) approximately 400 years ago. It is said that General Chen created five sets of Tai Chi chuan. The famous 14th generation descendent Chen Chang-Xing 陈长兴 (1771-1853) organized the theory and consolidated movements from all five sets and developed Chen Style Old Frame. Another less known 14th generation descendent Chen You-Ben 陈有本 (1780-1858) inherited the same Tai Chi principles and sets. He amalgamated them and eliminated some highly difficult or complicated movements. He emphasized on cultivating the energy during the practice. He also developed a training approach that teaches students how to learn Tai Chi chuan with large circulations first and then delve into to small circulations. His form is also done in a large frame physically. Originally, it was termed New Frame and later changed to Small Frame when the 17th generation Grandmaster Chen Fa-Ke 陈发科 (1887-1957) created New Frame in Beijing a century later. Unlike the Old Frame, the Small Frame was not widely practiced outside the family. Chen You-ben’s best disciples and nephews Chen Zhong-Shen 陈仲甡and Chen Ji-Shen 陈季甡were generals in the army and they did not focus on teaching outsiders. However, Chen Zhong-Shen’s son Grandmaster Chen Xin 陈鑫authored the famous text The Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taichiquan 陳式太極拳圖説, which has been regarded as the most important classic of Chen Tai Chi. Today’s Small Frame routine with 64 movements are exactly the same postures as illustrated in Chen Xin’s book.
Born to the Chen family, Master Chen Chon is a 20th generation descendent. He has been studying Tai Chi chuan since childhood. He has won multiple titles in national and international competitions. According to Chen Chon, there was a saying that poor people in Chen village practiced the Old Frame while the rich people practiced the Small Frame. Therefore, the Small Frame is not known to many until recent years. Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries may have Small Frame practitioners. There are people in the U.S. claiming practicing Small Frame but is different.
The Small Frame is much straight forward and the movements are less complex than Old Frame. Because of the small circles, the movements can be executed faster and more suitable for combat. Chen Chon’s main school is located in Chen village and has close to 40 affiliated schools throughout China. His school has a reputation of training Push Hands champions especially the heavy weight category. He attributed this accomplishment to the benefits of the Small Frame and probably his own teaching method. However, Master Chen stated that as long as a practitioner masters the art, it does not matter if it is Old Frame or Small Frame, the outcome is the same. He himself also practices the Old Frame. Grandmaster Zhu Tiancai 朱天才 also practices the Small Frame and praises it for its energy cultivation benefit.
You can use the link here to watch Master Chen Chon demonstrating Small Frame Routine Two or watch Master Chen Dong Hai’s 陈东海 Small Frame below.
(Edited by Doc Luecke.)
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