The Myth of Lineage Inheritance

Fu Zhongwen demonstrates Taiji saber stance

According to myth and legend, the aging Tai Chi Grandmaster selects one promising disciple to become his inheritor. The Grandmaster trains this disciple to the very highest standard, preparing them to assume leadership.

Once the Grandmaster enters their final life stage, they make a public announcement. The Tai Chi community listens respectfully, honors and accepts the decision.

That’s how lineages operate in myth and legend. Smoothly and without controversy. But the reality is not always so amicable.

Usually there are multiple claims on the inheritance. One on the basis of blood relation; another based on incomparable skills; and a third expecting repayment for their past years of faithful service. Then a fourth rises up to claim that inheritance doesn’t matter; and a fifth, to claim the Grandmaster never even had anything worth inheriting!

Suddenly there are forged documents, altered timelines, and conveniently fuzzy memories. I have personally seen all of this, more than once.

Few people know the whole truth; and even they may decline to share it, lest they inadvertently create new enemies. Instead, their communications are typically ambiguous and frustratingly indirect.

These human factors inspired the famous idiom, 臥虎藏龍. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Anyway… please enjoy this photo of Fu Zhongwen demonstrating his Taiji saber form. On the right is a high-quality scan of the original photo. Nobody else has ever published this photo on the Internet. Perhaps nobody else still has the original set.

On the left, you see the photo as it was first shared with the public in 1959. The original publisher could not see the demonstration clearly, and so they added in their own clarifying notion of how it should look.

When I first shared this comparison on the Internet in 2022, I was immediately told that the photo on the right is incorrect. A saber should be more curved, and wider at the end, the experts said. They had never once seen the original demonstration, or the original image, or the original saber.

“The right one is wrong.” What an perfect metaphor for the state of Tai Chi in the world today!


Chris Marshall
Head Instructor
Shoreline Tai Chi