Yang-Style Long Form

I’ve been on a mission this year to correct my Yang-style long form to make it as authentic as possible. I’m studying Jesse Tsao’s instructional videos (available on taichihealthways.com), Yang family videos, and these two books:

chengfu fuzhongwen

Yang Chengfu was arguably the most influential tai chi master of the 20th century, and it is his long form that defines the Yang style today. Fu Zhongwen studied with Yang Chengfu from an early age and traveled with him throughout Yang’s teaching career, demonstrating for him and representing him in push-hands contests, at which he was famously unbeatable.

Yang Chengfu explains each movement in terms of its martial arts application. Fu Zhongwen, by contrast, describes each movement in great detail, but does not make reference to the purpose of the move. I don’t know that you could learn the form from these books, but they serve very well to check the authenticity of one’s own practice.

The Yang style originated with Chengfu’s grandfather, Yang Luchan, who developed a new style of tai chi after studying for ten years with Master Chen Changxing in Chenjiagou. Yang had three sons and many disciples to preserve his teachings, but there is no concrete record of exactly what his form was like.

The historian Gu Liuxin suggests that Yang Luchan’s boxing initially shared more characteristics of Chen style, such as fajin and bursts of speed. Over time, his form took on more and more of the smooth, continuous, and gentle character that we associate with Yang style today.

Yang Chengfu learned directly from his grandfather, and according to Gu, early in his career his kicks were swift and explosive, his movements generally more physically challenging. It was only in the later years that he modified his entire form to adhere to the principle of slow, steady, and soft movements.

Whatever mystery may surround Yang Luchan’s practice, we can be pretty clear about Yang Chengfu’s fully developed long form. We have photographs of every posture as well as the careful descriptions in the two text books. Variations in detail are few and minor, and in the practice of Yang’s best-known disciples there is very substantial agreement and consistency.

In addition, we have the photographs and descriptions of Li Yulin, dean of studies at the Shandong Provincial Martial Arts School, who prepared teaching materials under the direction of Yang Chengfu himself. The major content of the 1931 book is reproduced in Li Deyin’s  book, Taijiquan.

While we can be pretty clear about what the movements were, the naming and counting varies significantly. Some count 81, others 85, 94, 103, and 108. The form doesn’t vary; it’s mostly a matter of whether you count a repeated movement one or three times (cloud hands versus cloud hands 1, cloud hands 2, cloud hands 3). My own list compiles all notable names but no repetition, and comes out to 86.

See also:


The Ji Xiao Xin Shu of Qi Jiguang

The 继效新书 Jì Xiào Xīn Shū (New Book of Effective Fighting Techniques) was published by General Qi Jiguang 戚继光, (1528-1588) in 1560. A handbook on military strategy, the Ji Xiao Xin Shu is not included among the Tai Chi Classics, but according to some, it may have had significant influence on some of the earliest practitioners of Tai Chi.

323px-Qi_JiquanQi Jiguang was known as the Tiger General. From his father, who fought for the founding Ming Emperor, Qi held a hereditary position as a military leader, which he assumed at the age of 17. Within a very few years he had distinguished himself in battle against the Mongolians who threatened Beijing from the north.

Qi then assumed leadership of a garrison in Penglai. During the next decade Qi secured his place in history by defeating the Japanese (and Chinese) pirates that had been terrorizing the entire east coast of China.

Qi’s book,  the Ji Xiao Xin Shu, was concerned mainly with military strategy and the use of weapons, but he included a chapter on unarmed combat, not because he believed it was useful on the battle field (he didn’t) but because he considered it good physical training and discipline for troops. He was aware of a wide variety of martial arts and identified 32 postures in particular as being useful.

In a 1993 doctoral thesis, Clifford Gyves translates the 32 verses of the Quanjing Jieyao Pian, chapter 14, the Boxing Canon, and argues that eight of the postures named and described appear to be common to Tai Chi. The eight postures are:

  • Dan bian (single whip)
  • Jin ji duli (golden rooster stands on one leg)
  • Gao tan ma (high pat on horse—but he translates this as spy technique!)
  • Shang bu qi xing (step up seven stars)
  • Tui bu kua hu (step back to ride the tiger)
  • Bai he liang chi (white crane spreads wings)
  • Xiashi (snake creeps down)
  • Zhou di chui (fist under elbow)

However! I am guessing that in 1993, Gyves was unfamiliar with Chen-style Tai Chi, or he could hardly have missed the similarity of the movement described in Verse 1 to Lanzhayi:

Casually hitch up your clothes and let your body assume the Going Out the Door position. Change to a lowered posture and momentarily take the Single Whip stance.

In an appendix, Gyves compares names from the Ji Xiao Xin Shu with those of Yang and Wu practitioners. But, reading through all 32 verses, I see names and descriptions that sound like moves from Laojia Yilu and Erlu: the Beast Head Pose (Shou tou shi), for example, and Ride the Dragon Backwards (Dao qi long).

And surely this is Cannon Overhead (Dang tou pao) in Verse 30:

The Canonball (sic) Against the Head maneuver assaults the person’s fear; Advance your steps with tiger-like erectness and drive in with both fists.

417px-Ji_Xiao_Xin_Shu;_pg_464Without access to the text in Chinese (which I haven’t yet found online) I can’t take this much farther, but I’d be willing to bet that many more, if not most, postures in the quanjing can be identified in the old Chen forms.

Gyves stops short of saying that postures of Tai Chi were derived from the Ji Xiao Xin Shu; he says instead that they may simply reflect a common martial arts heritage. But it is interesting to note that Chen Wangting (1580-1660) was a Ming Dynasty military leader, in addition to being the head of the Chen family at the time and originator of Chen-style Tai Chi. It is entirely possible that he would have been familiar with an influential military handbook like the Ji Xiao Xin Shu.

Gyves points out that there is no reason to believe that General Qi’s practice was internal, so he cannot be said to have had a hand in the origination of Tai Chi. But Qi may very well have contributed to the selection of named martial arts postures and applications that Chen Wangting transformed into the earliest practice of Tai Chi.

Article from the Shanghai Daily about General Qi:

Translation of Chapter 14 by Clifford Gyves:

Origins of Tai Chi

From the time of Chen Wangting (1580-1660), the history of tai chi is fairly well known and documented. However, it is widely believed that tai chi has roots going back at least a couple of hundred years more.

1224rainZhang Sanfeng (张三丰), a Taoist monk, is a legendary figure said to have been inspired when he witnessed a snake fighting a crane in the Wudang mountains (left, Wudang mountains  in spring 2017, my photo). Zhang allegedly wrote the Taijiquan Jing. Jīng (经) means classic text or canon. The Jing is the earliest of the documents called the Tai Chi Classics. Here are a couple good online translations:



The Jing includes the basic tenet that Jìn (劲) is rooted in the feet, generated though the legs, directed by the waist, and expressed through the fingers. Jin, in the context of tai chi, means force or energetic power.

The eight energies are enumerated in the Jing—掤 péng, 捋 lǚ, 挤 jǐ, 按  àn, 采 cǎi, 挒liè, 肘 zhǒu, and靠 kào—as well as the five directions: 进步 jìnbù (advance), 退步 tuìbù (retreat), 左顾  zuǒ gù (attend to the left), 右盼 yòu pàn (anticipate right), 中定 zhòng  dìng (hold the center). Together these are identified as the thirteen essential postures of tai chi.

Below, Taoist temple from the summit of Wudangshan (my photo, 2017):


That the body should move as a unit, that the form should be continuous and unbroken: these familiar and central principles of taijiquan are contained in the Jing attributed to Zhang Sanfeng. Here is a good biography (so to speak) of Zhang: http://qi-encyclopedia.com/?article=Zhang-Sanfeng

Another legendary figure in the obscure origins of Tai Chi is Wang Zongyue (王宗岳), who may or may not have been a student of Zhang Sanfeng. Wang is generally credited with authoring a second classic text, Taijiquan Lun, the Tai Chi Treatise. Lùn (论) means theory or treatise.

Here are a couple of good online translations. The first offers an interesting note about the authorship of the treatise.



The entire section on the martial arts in the Qi Encyclopedia (http://qi-encyclopedia.com/?portal=Martial%20Arts) is an excellent source of translations and articles about the classic texts of Tai Chi. So is Lee Scheele’s online tai chi notebook: (http://www.scheele.org/lee/taichi.html).

The Taijiquan Lun contains the idea that taiji begins with wújí (无极), which translates as eternity or infinity but in practice, it seems to mean stillness, neutrality, or more specifically the neutral, quiet, meditative stance from which every moving form begins.

From wuji, when the movement begins, yin and yang, the opposites, become distinguishable. Left and right. Fast and slow. Upward and downward, hard and soft, and so on. Every movement within the form is definable in terms of yin and yang, opposites. When movement stops (at the end of the form), yin and yang once more come together into the quiet meditative state.

Some additional vocabulary for these basic concepts: dòngjìng (动静) is movement (dong) and stillness (jing). The characters in the treatise are traditional. The simplified characters for yin and yang are阴阳 (yīnyáng). Yin and yang separate (分 fēn) and come together (合 hé).

There should be neither lack nor excess: I interpret this to mean that there must be a balance of yin and yang in every movement—this is something that one of my teachers, Grandmaster Aiping Cheng, has just recently been telling me. The challenge is to identify the yin and the yang in a movement, and then to understand how to balance them.

Two more important concepts from the Lun: 走 zǒu and粘 zhān or nián. Romanizations vary for these words. What I have just given is the standard Pinyin and simplified characters. Zou is sometimes written Tsou, zhan as chan. Zhan and nian mean the same thing: sticky.

Zou (or tsou) is the word for yielding to force. Zhan or nian is the word for sticking, the technique of following your opponent, maintaining contact, and matching his speed (fast or slow) and position (high or low).

Wherever the opponent attacks, he should find emptiness; when he withdraws he can’t get away. These fighting skills are not easily mastered, but they are critical: without technique, fighting can never be anything but the strong overcoming the weak with brute force.

The Horsetail Whisk

The fuchen (拂尘 Fúchén), or chen (尘), is a soft Taoist weapon from the Wudang mountains. My friend and teacher Hu Pei Yi brought me one from China and she is teaching me a 38-step routine. Here is a video of Vicky Ting performing the same one we’re doing:


This is a modern combined wushu form. There is a shorter, faster and more furious traditional form practiced by the Wudang masters. The setting of this video makes me long to go back there!


The chen makes a beautiful sound much like its English name: whisk. A number of its movements are borrowed from the saber (daofa): chan tou, hua. Others are derived from sword (jianfa): jiao, pi, dian, ci, beng. Miss Hu also gave me a list of names and instructions, which it has taken me the better part of a month to decipher.


Here is the PDF list of names, many of which are familiar from other forms: fuchen38names.

I have worked out all the instructions (with a lot of help) in Pinyin, but haven’t bothered to translate into English; the vocabulary is familiar, with just a few new words. Here are several new (to me) words that are good to know: 弹dàn  (flick); 曲qū (bend, as in 曲肘qū zhǒu, bend the elbow); 把bǎ (handle); 后坐hòu zuò (sit back); 拉 lā (pull). I needed to clarify for myself: 反 fǎn is reverse; 翻 fān is flip over, overturn.

Fuchen 38 names and instructions (may not be 100% correct, errors are mine): fuchen-instructions.

I always enjoy coming across idioms among the names of the movements. Love this one: (#10) 虎踞龙盘 Hǔ jù long pán is literally Where tigers crouch and dragons coil, a lovely figure of speech to describe forbidding territory.

Other good ones:

  • (#15) 声东击西 Shēng dōng jī xī means to threaten the east and strike the west; in other words, to use diversion.
  • (#4) 芙蓉出水 Fú róng chū shuǐ is translated as Lotus emerges from the water,  but Furong is actually hibiscus, not lotus. Anyway, this one is an idiom for blooming, either figuratively or literally.
  • (#17) 横扫千军 Héng sǎo qiān jūn is literally Sweep aside a thousand troops. It is an idiom for total annihilation.

Elsewhere I have seen Bawang ju ding as hero raises a pot. But when I looked up Bawang ju bian (raises the whip), I read that Bawang is a despot! A Simon Legree!

Shuang Dao Review

I first learned Chen double sabers two-three years ago at Master Gohring’s school. I’m reviewing it now with the help of a series of YouTube videos by Chen Zhenglei. Here he is doing the whole form:


Here is my final list of Shuang-Dao Names, derived from multiple sources as well as my own translation. The Chinese and Pinyin are certainly correct; the English translations are as usual all over the map. I’ve settled on fairly literal, simple English. I think it’s easier to just learn the Chinese.

Shuang Dao Names (PDF)

Chen Zhenglei has also made a tutorial consisting of 8 short videos, each covering a few of the 35 moves.

  1. Moves 1-3
  2. Moves 4-8
  3. Moves 9-13
  4. Moves 14-18
  5. Moves 19-22
  6. Moves 23-26
  7. Moves 27-29
  8. Moves 30-35

I also have Jesse Tsao’s instructional video (available here), which is in English and well worth the small cost. When I worked my way through the form in 2015, I also used the long, two-part tutorial by Master Tzu Tian Cai. It’s in Chinese with some English subtitles and rewards patience with very clear footwork and swordplay for every move.

Here’s the link for all my posts (notes) on this form, but the resources in this post cover everything I found useful. The version I’ve arrived at this time around is a little different from what we learned in class; it now agrees with Chen Zhenglei , Jesse Tsao, and Tzu Tian Cai.

Chuantong 85

Last spring I asked Jesse Tsao what the traditional Yang-style long form was called in Chinese, and he told me it was known as Chuantong 81 or 85, most often the latter. That is, 传统杨氏太极拳八十五式 (chuántǒng Yáng shì tàijíquán bā shí wǔ shì): Traditional Yang-style Taijiquan 85 form. The key identifier is 传统 (chuántǒng), meaning traditional.

libookAccording to Li Deyin, Yang Cheng Fu, grandson of Yang Luchan, originally counted 81 movements in the long form we call the 108 (some say 103 or 105). Again according to Li, Yang Cheng Fu later separated some of the moves to arrive at 85 steps. In his book, Taijiquan, Li describes the 85 movements, which were recorded in a text and demonstrated with photographs taken in 1931 at the Shandong Provincial Martial Arts School, under the direction of Yang Cheng Fu and the deputy head of the school, Li Jinglin. The movements are demonstrated by Li Yulin, dean of studies at the school.

Li’s book (available on Amazon) is a great reference, not only for the interesting chapter on the traditional Yang-style long form, but even more so for the detailed descriptions of the contemporary forms, starting with 24. The book covers 24, 42, 32 sword, and 42 sword. It would be impossible to learn these forms from the book, but if you know them, the book is invaluable for checking the correctness of each move. Since Li is (or was for a long time) a (if not the) top judge in China, his specifications can certainly be trusted.

I am not sure how to reconcile the list of 85 with Yang Zhen Ming’s (if that’s his voice) list of 108 movements (see the post before this one), or with the Yang Family list of 103 moves. As I said before, these lists vary more than the actual form. But using the name, 传统杨式太极拳八十五式, (chuántǒng Yáng shì tàijíquán bā shí wǔ shì), I came up with this video, which I love.


Tashi performing chuantong bashiwu

This woman is 扎西老师 (Zhā Xī lǎoshī). Laoshi means teacher; Zhaxi is her name. I found a couple of bios for her. She is from Qinghai, Tibet, and her Tibetan name is written Tashi in English. She was born in 1932 and began to study Tai Chi in 1974, at the age of 42, when she was desperately ill. She was taught by Zhao Bin, a senior disciple and nephew of Yang Chengfu. She not only recovered her health but also became the first Tibetan Tai Chi master ever, widely recognized and much celebrated.

Her form looks very close to Yang Zhen Ming’s, and there is plenty of good video available. Here are her tutorials on the long form:

Here is another demonstration of the whole form by Tashi. Zhao You bin is Zhao Bin’s son, and he also offers demonstrations and tutorials for the traditional Yang-style long form as taught by his father, Tashi’s teacher, Zhao Bin.

Yang Family Videos

Here is a very interesting video of Yang Sau Chung (守中Pinyin shǒu zhōng), Yang Cheng Fu’s oldest son demonstrating his father’s long form.


His name is actually杨振铭 Yáng Zhèn Míng. How Yang Zhen Ming comes to be Yang Sau Chung is a mystery to me, as is the very poor video quality, seeing as this film is not ancient. It was recorded in 1980, when Yang Zhen Ming was 70 years old. This one (same raw footage) has corrected aspect ratio but the ending (where quality deteriorates badly) has been deleted.

This biography of Yang Zhen Ming is hard to follow using Google translate, but this much is clear: He studied and taught with his father from childhood until Yang Cheng Fu’s death in 1936, when Yang Zhen Ming was 26. In 1949, he moved to Hong Kong, where he lived and taught for the remainder of his life.

Yang does the form quickly—in less than nine minutes. Someone in the comments attributes this to the limitations of the camera (couldn’t record the 20+ minutes that the form usually takes). The names of the moves are voiced over. I transcribed them and got 108 names (I did add qishi as the first move—the video picks up after the opening):

Yang Zhen Ming List [PDF]

The lists I’ve seen for this form—the number of movements and the names—vary a lot more than the actual form, but I noticed a couple of things in this version of the form itself. The first ward-off is called xie fei peng (slant flying ward-off) and appears to be left che bu (the sideways bow stance), facing right. This movement (xie fei peng) also follows the four corners (yu nu chuan suo).

Another surprise: He does ye ma fen zong (part the wild horse’s mane) four times, not three. Also, the single whip that follows the first bao hu gui shan (embrace tiger return to mountain) appears to be normal (and is not called diagonal); only the second is diagonal (and that one is called xie danbian). And bai he liang chi (white crane spreads wings) faces straight ahead.

Another resource is a slideshow with photographs of Yang Chengfu demonstrating each of the postures of the long form. Below: Yang Chengfu demonstrating lou xi au bu (brush knee push).


Yang Chengfu Taijiquan 108 Movements

Yang Zhen Duo, the youngest son of Yang Cheng Fu, would have been about ten when Yang Cheng Fu died, so I conclude that he would have learned primarily from his brothers. He offers a lengthy tutorial on the long form, much of which is lecture, at least in the beginning. I can’t say I got much out of the English subtitles and voiceover in the first hour. Demonstration begins at about the one-hour mark.

I found a set of four shorter videos of Yang Zhen Duo doing the long form (demonstration, no lecture). The parts do not correspond to the usual division of the form into sections; they are just equal-length (about 8 minutes) segments:

The Yang Family’s website offers a list of movements, which differs on a number of points from the list above (transcribed from Yang Zhen Ming), but again, the difference lies mainly in the names, less in the execution of the form.