Taiji Master Wu Tu Nan (1884 to 1989)
Wu Tu Nan was born to a warrior family. He grew up during China's last dynasty, the Qing. Sickly from birth he was given as a student to one of Beijing's most famous and favored martial families, a family which even taught members of the imperial court: the same Yangs who had created Yang style Tai Chi.
At that time the style of Wu Jian Quan had not emerged as completely separate. So Wu began, at the age of nine, studying under Wu Jian Quan while he was still a representative teacher of the Yang style (Wu Jian Quan was later attributed with founding the Wu style). From Wu Jian Quan he graduated to Yang Shao Hou. This was how Wu Tu Nan started his legendary century-long relationship with Taijiquan, at the age of 9. For the first 8 years, he studied under Wu Jian Quan (founder of Wu School of Taiji) and then spwnt 4 years under Yang Shao Hou. Studying under such illustrious teachers guaranteed his skill and by his twenties he was already recognized as a Taiji master.
After the Qing dynasty fell, Wu became a librarian and an archeologist. He wrote on a favored topic, Chinese ceramics, creating a text good enough for master Xu Bei Hong to produce the calligraphy for the title. Unfortunately the book went unpublished.
During this other career Wu's enthusiasm for Taiji never faltered. He focused his research skills on the art and researched the entire subject, regardless of style. As time passed he became an influential expert on Taiji's theory, principles, history and linage.
More successful at this type of research and writing, Wu visited various the actual sites of many major events in Taiji history bringing new understanding to the evolution of the art. Going beyond this topic he also researched other forms of Chinese Wushu describing lineage and styles. Many publications, such as the compendium of "Essential writings of Wu Tu Nan on Taiji", offered his findings. Not content to write only of events he delved into the spiritual and philosophical facets of Taijiquan which he considered to have three distinct aspects: Health, Self Defense, and Philosophy combined with Spirituality. Anyone who knows the history of China can realize that this position was unpopular especially before the 1980's and China adopted her Open Door policy. Nonetheless, Wu continued his research in private forging important links between Taijiquan and the works of sages such as Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Zhang San Feng—the legendary creator of Taiji— and also Buddhist practice. His research, though on similar topics, reflected nothing little of the politically correct governmentally approved thought or the coffeehouse superficial concepts that were and are still being associated with Taiji. Wu Tu Nan's work countered the watered down and uninformed teaching of the art, refusing to reduce it to simplistic fighting or flighty philosophy.
More than just theory, his practice took him from a sickly child to a fine example of excellent health. Some believe that his self defense skills reached the state of Kong Qi, beyond physical contact. His whole life was dedicated to returning Taiji—"return" itself being a Taoist concept—to its true holistic roots.
Universally Wu Tu Nan was regarded as a solid, important master who had dedicated his life to his art.
Quietly, without illness, he passed away in 1989, aged 105 years over 90 of which were enriched by the study of Taijiquan.
Check out Wu's interview in this text
See a Chinese edition of Wu's book on Taiji