Wu Tu Nan was born in 1884, Beijing, to a family of warrior-nobility in the Qing dynasty. As he was a very weak and sickly child, it was recommended that he learn Taijigong from the famed Yang family, who taught in the Imperial Courts.
That was how Wu Tu Nan started his legendary century-long relationship with Taijigong, at the age of 9. For the first 8 years, he studied under Wu Jian Quan (founder of Wu School of Taiji) and then 4 years of Taijigong under Yang Shao Hou. By the time he was in his twenties he was already a master of Taiji.
With the fall of the Qing and the end of dynastic rule in China, Wu Tu Nan became an archaeologist and a librarian. He researched into Chinese ceramics and even wrote a book on it. The master artist Xu Bei Hong rendered the title The Study of Ceramics into calligraphy, but the book was never published.
But Wu Tu Nan's one great love was Taiji. He started researching the art beyond his own lineage to became an influential authority and expert on Taiji theory, practice and history.
Wu Tu Nan traveled to various parts of China which had strong influences on the history of Taiji, and brought new light to our understanding of the many paths that Taiji took. He also researched into Chinese wushu - its major lineages and main forms. All of this research is now collected in "The Essence of Wu Tu Nan Taijiquan" and other publications.
Also important, but for a long time neglected, was his contribution and research into the spiritual and philosophical aspects of Taijigong. Essentially, there are three aspects to the complete art of Taijigong - Health, Self-Defence and Philosophy and Spirituality.
Before China's open-door policy of the 80s, philosophy and spirituality was frowned upon by the Chinese authorities, who totally ignored this third aspect of Taiji.
But Great Grandmaster Wu Tu Nan's private research and practice rebuilt the vanishing links between modern Taiji and the holistic legacies of Chinese philosophy which drew from the Taoist Sages such as Lao Tze, Chuang Tze and Zhang San Feng, as well as Buddhism.
All this time, Taiji outside China (and within as well!) was fast becoming a superficial pseudo-philosophy, bereft of its deeper qigong and self-defence content.
New-age self-styled 'masters' did not understand that Taiji Self-defence was not so much about fighting but the key to self-transformation. So they dismissed the deeper wushu aspects of Taiji as being irrelevant to the modern age, watered down its contents, and unwittingly emptied the art of its true potential.
At the same time, confusions about history and lineage meant that many second-grade practitioners who did not learn the full art, or who watered down Taiji with inappropriate borrowings(*) from the 'hard' styles of wushu, were promoted (sometimes through no fault of their own) as 'masters', thereby legitimizing many diluted or inaccurate Taiji systems and sidelining the authentic ones.
Therefore, Wu Tu Nan's greatest contribution was reclaiming for Taiji its complete legacies and full potentials.
From a sickly boy he grew to become a foremost example of good health. Through Taiji Self-Defence training he mastered his energies so well that he could defend himself from an attacker without physical contact. And finally he brought Taiji back to its spiritual roots and returned it to its true holistic nature.
In his lifetime, Great Grandmaster Wu Tu Nan was regarded as one of the greatest Taiji masters of modern times, lauded by authorities as well as commoners for his dedication to the art of health and well-being.
He passed away without illness in 1989 at the age of 105.
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(*) An example of an appropriate borrowing, or integration, would be the legendary Master Sun Lu Tang, who mastered Xing Yi, Bagua, Taiji and created Sun School of Taijiquan. Xing Yi, Bagua and Taiji are all 'internal discplines' with complementary principles.