About Our Nam Hoa Tradition

For our Readers:

The following information is provided both for beginner students and for those of you who may already be Qigong or Tai Chi practitioners and may be seeking style and linage information.  For those of you who are new to the practice of the ancient arts, we also suggest you view the page "What is Qigong and Tai Chi?


There are hundreds of Tai Chi and Qigong books and most include a section on history. We suggest you view the recommended reading list available on the "Chi Reading" page.  We also offer this paper (below) on the "Legends of Tai Chi Chuan" written by our own Tai Chi Master, Master Jim Scott-Behrends.


The history of Tai Chi Chuan is a colorful combination of facts, theories, myths, and fabrications. What I am sharing probably contains elements from all these sources. In this article, I would like to focus on three Masters of Tai chi whose contributions to the art still resonate in our modern world. The names of the first two Masters are well known in Tai Chi circles; Chang San Feng, the reputed founder of Tai Chi Chuan, and Yang Chen-Fu, grandson of the founder of Yang style Tai Chi, and the person most responsible for the transmission of Tai Chi to the general public in China. The third Master I would like to talk about is my own teacher, Kinh Nguyen, who is our linage ancestor in the Nam Hoa Internal Arts system.

Chang San-Feng, lived in the thirteenth century. Although there is not complete consensus on this, he is often cited as the founder of Tai Chi Chuan.  He is written about as a larger than life character (some describe him as being seven feet tall) who left the attachments of the worldly life in order to wander in the mountains seeking a wise teacher. It was during this time of wandering that he practiced and mastered Shaolin Chuan. Shaolin Chuan was the exercise and self-defense system practiced at the famous Shaolin Temple in Northern China. The founder of this practice, Bodhidharma, had come from India in 527A.D. When Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Temple he felt that the monks were physically weak so he devised a system of exercise to build their physical strength and energy. Over time these exercises became the highly regarded self-defense practice that still flourishes to this day. It was this practice that Chang San-Feng mastered and that became the foundation for his development of Tai Chi Chuan.

The next phase of training for Chang San-Feng took place at Wudang Temple (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame). Wudang was noted for its emphasis on the internal arts that had their foundation in energy practice. One story about the inspiration for Tai Chi is that Chang San-Feng witnessed combat between a bird and a snake. The bird was very linear with its strikes while the snake utilized its coiling dynamics for evasion. For Chang San-Feng this use of the straight and the curved, combined with internal energy, became the practice of Tai Chi Chuan translated to “great ultimate energy of the universe contained in the hand.” From this insight he created steps that he called the “Thirteen Golden Movements” or “Eight Gates-Five Steps.”  In the Tai Chi form the Eight Gates are: ward-off, roll-back, press, pull-down, push, elbow-stroke, shoulder-stroke, and split. The five steps are: forward, backward, move to the left, move to the right, and center.

There are numerous stories about the skills of Chang San-Feng and his use of Tai Chi that has solidified his stature as the founder of Tai Chi Chuan.  Each year on the last Saturday of April, many Tai Chi students celebrate his birthday and keep the legend alive during “World Tai Chi Day.”

Yang Chen Fu, born in 1883, was grandson of the founder of Yang Chuan. His influence was the greatest during the 1920s and 1930s.  China at this time was undergoing great changes brought on from internal turmoil and outside influence. Yang Cheng-Fu used this opportunity to bring Tai Chi into the public realm as an ideal practice for health and longevity. Before this time the practice was mainly kept in close family circles or among the aristocracy. Even though the practice was now being shared outside the family, there was an inner circle of deeper practice that wasn't open to the general public. This was the practice of the indoor and outdoor student. Indoor students were usually given extra instruction in the highly developed self-defense skills that included secret energy training. Outdoor students were given the basics that would benefit their health.

Even though Yang Cheng-Fu is the Tai Chi Master most responsible for the transformation of Tai Chi into a more gentle health-enhancing practice, his self-defense skills were highly honed. On one occasion, during a sparring match with a rival, he felt his opponent meant to do him serious harm. To test his suspicion he deftly reached for a nearby vase, putting it in the path of the next strike. At first the vase seemed unharmed and then hundreds of tiny cracks developed and the vase crumbled into dust. At this point he knew the other person meant to deliver a serious blow. He then threw his opponent hard to the ground and the match was over.

 One of the great contributions Yang Chen Fu made to the art of Tai Chi was his “Ten Essential Points” which are:

  1.  Shen (spirit) rising to the top
  2. Lower the chest, raise the back
  3.  Loosen the waist
  4.  Differentiate between apparent and solid
  5.  Sink shoulders, drop elbows
  6. Use will, not strength
  7.  Coordination between top and bottom
  8.  Internal and external unity
  9.  Continuity without break
  10.  Seeking stillness in movement

Master Kinh Nguyen was born in 1923 and began his study of martial arts when he was six. His family was located in the mountainous area of North Vietnam and was well off enough to arrange private lesson for young Kai (his informal name). In his teens he continued his education at a local monastery. His education was based in the Vietnamese and Chinese classics. Curriculum included language, fine arts, philosophy, meditation, music, science, and martial arts. During the 1940s Master Nguyen traveled extensively in China studying at many temples and monasteries, much in the way as Cheng San-Feng. Besides training at Shaolin and Wudang, Master Nguyen studied at Nam Hoa Temple where he received advanced training in the Nam Hoa Internal Arts System.

There were also times of great difficulty in Master Nguyen's life. Living in a country split by war, becoming a refugee from North Vietnam, relocating in South Vietnam ,only to be a refugee once again as he escaped to Thailand by way of Cambodia. He saw this death and destruction for many of his adult years and was separated from his family for extended periods of time. It is a testament to his courage and character that he was able to come to this country and pass on the gift of his practice.

Master Nguyen was exceptional in his knowledge of self-defense and the health benefits of Tai Chi Chuan, but it was his understanding of the spirit of the practice that made him unique. The creative force and artfulness of his practice gave a life to the forms that allowed him to transcend the physical movements and express the energy within. Watching him go through the forms was akin to witnessing a virtuoso performance.

What I learned from my Teacher Kai was much more than the forms. He was a catalyst for insights into life’s true values; values such as opening up to living in the present moment, skillfully and artfully, with compassion towards ourselves and others.  He would make a large circle with his finger in the air, saying “This is the cycle of energy in our life. For most people it is big at the beginning of life and becomes smaller and smaller towards the end. The Tai chi way is to keep the circle large and then to stop when it is time, like a light bulb going out." Master Nguyen lived a Tai Chi life and I will always be grateful for the time I was able to spend with him.

The path of Tai Chi is wide and varied. There are many treasures to discover, but we must understand that it is through some effort and diligence that the benefits will be obtained. The essence of Tai Chi is revealed by practice, thus the saying "A year to learn, a lifetime to perfect!”


 Linage History for Master Jim Scott-Behrends

Chang San-Feng (13th century) was the legendary founder of Tai Chi Chuan. He was a monk who studied at the Buddhist Shaolin Temple and the Taoist Center at Wudang Temple. For the next 400 years, Tai Chi was practiced and taught in the temples. Tai Chi as the art of living has been taught for several thousand years and probably sometimes outside the temples.

Tai Chi Chuan has been recorded in formal documents since the time Chen Wan-Ting began the Chen Family Practice (17th century). The Chen practice stayed within the family until Chen Chang-Hsin taught it to Yang Lu-Chan, the founder of the Yang family practice.

Master Jim has had the opportunity of studying with Teachers from the Yang and Wu family traditions. He has greatly benefited from this rich linage association. Master Jim has focused his efforts in the Nam Hoa internal arts tradition (a Temple tradition) and is the linage holder for this practice.

An interesting linage connection for the Nam Hoa is Hui-neng (638-713). He was the last of the original Grand Masters of Zen in China. He was the founder of the Southern School of Zen and also the founder of the Nan Hua (Chinese spelling) Temple where our practice began as a system. The main abbot of Nan Hua during the early 20th century, which would be when Grand Master Nguyen was there, was Master Hsu Yun, also known as "Empty Cloud."  Master Nguyen was trained by Master Mak. 

Unfortunately many of the records of the various temples were destroyed during the Chinese revolution. Master Jim continues to pursue any information that may help fill in the linage from Hui-neng to Hsu Yun and any information about either of the Grand Masters.


The Yang Lineage 

Chang-Hsin Chen

Lu-chan Yang (1799 - 1872) Founder

Chian Yang (1839 - 1917)

Chen-Fu Yang (1883 - 1936)

Chein Yi Tung

Hu Ling Tung

Kai Ying Tung (Teacher for Jim Scott-Behrends)


The Wu Lineage

Yang Lu-Chan Yang Ban-Hou

Chuan Yuo (1832 - 1902)

Wu Chian-Chuan (1870 - 1942)

Ma Yueh-Liang Wu Ying-Hua

Wen Mei Yu (Teacher for Jim Scott-Behrends)


The Nam Hoa Linage

Grand Master Mak (previous linage destroyed in Chinese revolution)                             

Grand Master Kinh Nguyen

Master Jim Scott-Behrends


To learn more about our Tai Chi Master, Master Jim Scott-Behrends, please click on the page "About Our Tai Chi Master.  This page records the more modern history of our practice.



To find a local instructor, please view our "Locations" page (top tool bar).  Join us for the the wonderful practice of the ancient internal arts.