Chen Forms

The Chen taiji forms have been handed down through centuries by the Chen family. Laojia, or old frame, is said to have been practiced since the time of Chen Changxing, the 14th generation master who taught in the first half of the 19th century. Yang Luchan was his student.

Laojia consists of two routines, the first (Yilu) being longer and consisting of large, slow movements with occasional outbursts of intense energy (fajin). Laojia Yilu runs about 20 minutes. Here’s a video by Chen Xiaowang, grandson of Chen Fake.

Chen Xiaowang Laojia Yilu

Chen Xiaowang demonstrates Laojia Yilu

Laojia Erlu, also known as Pao Chui, or Cannon Fist is a little more than four minutes long and contains substantially more fajin.

Chen Xiaowang demonstrates Laojia Erlu

Chen Xiaowang demonstrates Laojia Erlu

The New Frame Chen routines, called Xinjia, are attributed to Chen Fake and were largely promulgated by his son, Chen Zhaokui. The new forms are Xinjia Yilu and Erlu. This is Xinjia Yilu–less than five minutes, but it’s just part one:

Chen Xiaoxing at Chenjiagou Temple 2006

Chen Xiaoxing at Chenjiagou Temple 2006

Chen Xiaowang demonstrates both parts one and two:

That’s just one option; many videos are available on YouTube for all of these forms. Here is Xinjia Erlu, also called Cannon Fist (less than four minutes):

Chen Xiaowang demonstrates Xinjia Erlu

Chen Xiaowang demonstrates Xinjia Erlu

At Master Gohring’s Tai Chi & Kung Fu, we study traditional Yang-style forms (primarily the Yang 108) for about three years before we learn Chen style, starting with the Chen 38 taught by Grand Master Cheng Jincai. Last month I tested for second degree black sash, passed and graduated, so I’ll be moving on to the better-known traditional Chen forms above, starting with Laojia Erlu.

The Chen forms and style are characterized by the silk-reeling movement called chan si jin and explosions of power (fajin). For the patient and devoted student, Chen Xiaowang explains silk-reeling in Chinese with subtitles in the following 45-minute video, which I have not yet watched. But I will.

Chen Xiaowang explains silk-reeling

Chen Xiaowang explains silk-reeling (subtitles)

Chinese for the Sword

In trying to learn the descriptive names for 32-sword, I’ve added some new vocabulary. Of course, jian is sword. A number of the new words describe stances.

Sifu Amin Wu demonstrates 32-sword

Sifu Amin Wu demonstrates 32-sword

  • Gong Bu – Bow stance
  • Ma Bu – Horse stance
  • Xu Bu – Empty stance (aka cat stance)
  • Pu Bu – Half-squat (I think; squat with one leg extended)
  • Xie Bu – Cross stance
  • Bing Bu – Feet together

Then there are words for moving this way and that, which I’ve also encountered in empty-hand forms:

  • Jin Bu – Advance (a step)
  • Tui Bu – Step back
  • Xia Bu – Step down
  • Shang Bu – Step up

More specific to sword play:

  • Ci – Stab
  • Dian – Point
  • Sao – Sweep
  • Dai – Carry
  • Pi – Chop
  • Lun – Wheel or whirl
  • Chou – Withdraw
  • Liao – Lift
  • Lan – Block

Here’s a good dictionary, by the way: MDBG English to Chinese.

Names for 32-Sword

Names of movements can be either poetic or descriptive, and in the case of 32-sword, there are two completely different lists of the same routine.

photo (15)

The list I gave in an earlier post on 32-sword is useful because so many of the movements also occur in the traditional and the standardized long sword forms. However, I’m trying to learn the descriptive list–in Chinese–because these are the names that my Chinese friends use. They are also the names called out in the music we use.

Here’s a nice web page: Tai Chi Central offers both lists in English. But I need Chinese. And not just any Chinese version (such as I might generate with a dictionary), but the one my friends use.

Luckily, they’ve given me this beautiful written transcript (above). Working out the correct Pinyin from these characters has been a most entertaining exercise! I’m almost there.

Below, the English is not word for word; I’ve rendered it a little more idiomatic. The Tai Chi Central page helped with this.

  1. 并 步 点 剑 Bing bu dian jian – Feet together point sword
  2. 独立反刺 Du li fan ci – Stand on one leg stab overhead
  3. 仆 步 ? 扫 Pu bu hen sao – Half-squat and sweep
  4. 向 右 平 带 Xiang you ping dai – Carry level on the right
  5. 向 左 平 带 Xiang Zuo ping dai – Carry level on the left
  6. 独立抡劈 Du li lun pi – stand on one leg whirl chop
  7. 退 步 回 抽 Tui bu hui chou – Step back circle withdraw
  8. 独立上 刺 Du li shang ci – Stand on one leg stab up
  9. 虚 步 下 戳 Xu bu xia chuo – Empty stance downwards cut
  10. 左 弓 步 刺 Zuo gong bu ci – Left bow stance stab
  11. 转 身 斜 带 Zhuan shen xie dai – Turn body carry across
  12. ? 身 斜 带 Shuo (?) shen xie dai – Carry across body (?)
  13. 提 膝 捧 剑 Ti xi peng jian – Lift knee hold sword both hands
  14. 跳 步 平 刺 Tiao bu ping ci – Falling step level stab
  15. 左虚 步 撩 Zuo xu bu liao – Left cat stance lift
  16. 右 弓 步 撩 You gong bu liao – Right bow stance lift
  17. 转 身 回 抽 Zhuan shen hui chou – Turn body circle withdraw
  18. 并 步 平 刺 Bing bu ping ci – Feet together level stab
  19. 左 弓 步 拦 Zuo gong bu lan – Left bow stance parry
  20. 右弓 步 拦 You gong bu lan – Right bow stance parry
  21. 左 弓 步 拦 Zuo gong bu lan – Left bow stance parry
  22. 進 步反刺 Jin bu fan ci – Advance step stab overhead
  23. 反 身回 劈 Fan shen hui pi – Turn back circle chop
  24. 虚 步 点 剑 Xu bu dian jian – Empty stance point sword
  25. 独立平 托 Du li ping tuo – Stand on one leg lift hilt
  26. 弓 步 掛 剑 Gong bu gua jian – Bow stance wheel sword back
  27. 虚 步 抡 劈 Xu bu lun pi – Whirl and chop to empty stance
  28. 撤 步 反 击 Che bu fan ji – Withdraw step and slash right
  29. 進 步 平 刺 Jin bu ping ci – Step forward level stab
  30. 丁 步 回 抽 Ding bu hui chou – Fourth step circle withdraw
  31. ? 转 平? Xieng zhuan ping me – Turn level…what???? Step around, carrying level*
  32. 弓 步 直 刺 Gong bu zhi ci – Bow stance straight stab

This is all a little backwards, in that the names aren’t helping me learn the form; it’s because I know the form that I can figure out the names! But if I can understand the names in Chinese, I can follow the music. Right?

*This is what you do; cannot make sense of the characters or the Pinyin!

49-Step Wudang Sword (6)

Look at this! One of the people in my weekend practice group has written out the 49 steps of this form for me in beautiful calligraphy. Don’t tell me: Now I have to learn to read Chinese characters.

The 49 steps in Standardized Wudang Sword form

The 49 steps in Wudang Sword

Step 1 is Qi Shi and Step 49 is Shou Shi. Beyond that I can see Du Li in three places–why not more? He also gave me a list of the steps in 32-sword, so that helps in decoding. There are many thousands of Chinese characters, so this is no mean riddle.

I’ve also found another video of 49-step Wudang. It looks like the same place, the same person (but with a different name?) and a different (somewhat less annoying) sound track: Wudang Sword by Master Leng Xian Feng.

We left off at the second sit, with the sword pointing to the left, arms closed, right foot crossed behind the left. Step back out to the right, slashing out to the right and circling the blade around in front of the face. Cross step in back with the left, pointing the sword to the right, left arm over the head. Poor quality screen grab nevertheless shows the position at the three-minute mark:

photo (14)

Footwork on the next move is step out to the left with the left, step to right cat stance, step out to the right, and step across behind with the left. Some shifting of weight happens with the slashing of the sword, as follows: slash to the left, circle in front of the face, and hold palm up with both hands in front at the cat stance. Then slash right, left, right. Finish in position as above, but sword low, left hand high.

Shift onto the left foot and lift the right knee and the hilt of the sword, step right and cut, palm up, to the right, left arm down. Pivot to the left on the left foot, chop overhead and down, right knee up. Step forward with the right (but you’re traveling to stage left) and wheel the sword back, left hand high.

Step left, sweeping to front with the sword, close with the right foot and point the sword. Step left again, sweeping the sword to the left, and close with the right, both hands on the sword.

Run in a circle, starting with the right foot, six steps and then back with the right, to left cat stance. The arms circle once during the six steps, then the sword circles, then the arms open when you step back, same position as if you were about to finish 32-sword.

To close the form (!!!) step forward left, close with the right (as in the Compass), then catch the hilt in the left hand, palm up, hand pointing back at you. Step forward left, right, then left to shoulder width. While taking these steps, circle the sword back to resting position and circle the right hand up. Straighten up and lower the right hand, as if ending the 32-sword. We’re done.

photo (12)

49-Step Wudang Sword (5)

From the sit at 2:30 (Liang Video), rise on the right leg, step left and cast overhead to right cat stance, circle sword counterclockwise and step back with the right to a low cross stance. Then stand on the right leg, sword pointed down. This sequence is also in 32-sword: Lifting the Curtain and Wheeling the Sword Left to what in Yang sword we call Minor Literary Star.

What I am calling Cut Nose Off Face

What I am calling Cut Nose Off Face

Here, it gets complicated: The sword circles clockwise, leading with the point, then figure-eights to the right, then stabs under the right arm. He spins right out of this somewhat awkward position and wheels the sword back on the right, arm up.

Finally, he leaps (left, right) to right cross in back, facing away, casting the sword overhead to the left. The sword follows through, circles up, as he spins to the right, on the left foot. He finishes by stepping out to right bow, left hand up, sword stabbing.

Step back with the right and sit. Step back out to right bow with a left-to-right slash, rock back and circle the sword in front (cutting off nose!), slash right and step across in back with the left foot.

Wheeling the Sword (Right)

Wheeling the Sword (Right)

Finishes at 3:00 facing front, right foot crossed behind the left, sword pointing back to the right, left hand over the head. Whew. This section is difficult, but there’s only half a minute left.

49-Step Wudang Sword (4)

The more I learn about the sword forms (and I have barely scratched the surface) the more I begin to recognize moves that recur, often styled differently, but nevertheless, familiar.

I’m glad I learned 32-sword first. It’s the simplest sword form (meaning the shortest), but it contains elements that are like stepping stones. Going into the third minute of the 49-step Wudang sword form, I recognize the part of 32-sword that includes the Compass.

The Compass

The Compass: sword held out with both hands

Starting from the right bow stance following the jump and squat, at 2:00 (times refer to Liang video), shift back to left, rocking onto right heel, sword point up. Then step around and back with the right, turning 180 degrees and slashing the sword around to the right. Lift into:

  • Holding the Moon
  • Circle sword and step back to right cat stance
  • Circle sword across the face and catch
  • Stab forward with two hands
  • Shift back and turn: Su Chin Carries the Sword
  • Shoot the Flying Goose
  • The Compass

The Compass comes at 2:15. That circling of the sword in front of the face is like a move we learned in Chen sword. You throw the head back. We could call this one Cut Off Nose to Spite Face. Blocking a stab to the face?

In 32-sword, the Compass is followed by left and right bow stance with sword sweeping (as in Swallow Beats the Water). This form is similar but more complicated. First, draw the sword back. Then sweep right and left, but on each side you run three steps: right, left, right, left to right cat; right, left, right, left, right to left cat.

My favorite move follows: step left and lift the right knee while flicking the foot and sword up (see below). Land on the right and step around left right, pivoting on the right to make a full circle. Then run: right left skip to right bow stance and stab just before 2:30.


The sword circles four times: tight following the flick, around on the turn, tight to change direction, and then in a large circle to wind up for the stab. Withdraw the sword and sit in cross stance facing front, with the sword pointing to the front.

49-Step Wudang Sword (3)

I’m liking these Kung Fu Quest videos! Here’s another one, also 45 minutes long, YouTube, with English subtitles. This one is about Tai Chi.


The emphasis is again on fighting, and the Tai Chi is mostly traditional. However, our two pilgrims do go to Beijing and touch on standardized Tai Chi, and the promotion of Tai Chi in the last century as a form of healthy exercise for most people, and especially for older people.

In the Wudang sword form, I have gotten to the 1:30 mark. In the next section, we walk in a circle and jump to a squat. Long Feng has led me through this section more than once; it’s time to learn the sequence.

Master Faye Li Yip 49-step Wudang

Another video of 49-step Wudang sword

We left off in Zuo Gong Bu — left bow stance — stabbing palm up and level, away from the direction we faced at the beginning. Left hand is up.

Rock back on the left heel, withdrawing the sword. Step across to the left with the right foot; the sword snakes across the body and turns right so you are following its point.

Walk in a complete circle to the right, counting the first step with the left, up to twelve steps. On eleven, turn to the left and step to right bow stance (twelve), stabbing down with both hands.

The movement of the sword is tricky. It leads, hilt high and point low, left hand high, for four steps. On step five, the left hand comes up to the hilt. Then both arms circle around: up, out, back, in (that’s 6, 7, 8, 9), crossing hands at nine.

On step ten open up again, sword circles like Swallow Beats the Water on eleven, and then stab on step twelve. This whole sequence, the 12 steps, starts out slow and accelerates right up to the Yo Gong Bu. That stab is with both hands, downward. All this takes only15 seconds!

We are up to the jump. Shift back, swing to the left, sit back on the right leg in left cat stance, arms open, palms down. Settle. Step left and jump to the right foot, making a 360-degree turn in the air. Set the left foot down and squat, sword pointing left.

It’s not a hard jump. Long Feng does it easily and gracefully, and it’s not too hard for me, either, except that Master Liang, I notice, lands on both feet in a squat. Landing in a squat is not so easy.

He then rocks back to the right, pivots to the left on the left foot, steps right and back with the left into right bow stance facing back the way he came. The man is beset from all sides! Very dramatic! I like it. The sword pulls back when he rocks back, the swoops and stabs down on the You Gong Bu. Left arm is up.

We are almost at the two-minute mark. That jump is right about the halfway point in the form. Next, we’ll get to the Compass, run around, and do my favorite part, a cute little flip of the sword and foot that captures the spirit of this form for me.

49-Step Wudang Sword (2)

This long (nearly 45 minutes, with English subtitles) YouTube video about the Wudang Kung Fu Academy is fascinating. I have never seen anything like the Tai Yi Wu Xing form of Tai Chi. The Wudang Mountains are beautiful (as are the temples and the Academy).

Kung Fu Quest - Wudang (video)

Kung Fu Quest – Wudang (YouTube video)

The training is fiercely difficult, and you can’t help worrying about the children who are sent there. It’s definitely all about fighting, which is not my goal in learning Tai Chi. But the sword play and light body skills (at about the 26-minute mark) are amazing.

“Light Body Skills” Master Chen Shiliu

As for the 49-step Wudang Sword that I’m trying to learn, picking up from Ma Bu, with the sword pointing to the right, the next section is as follows:

  • Step up with the left, turn sword to left
  • Step around with left (turning to the right), sword pointing right
  • Step forward right and stab downward (palm down, left hand on hilt)
  • Step left and right, sweeping sword
  • Stand on one leg, sword pointing up, palm up (Holding the Moon)
  • Step back left, turn to left and squat to lower sword (palm down)
  • Step up to right cat stance, holding sword palm up

From here, lift the right knee, extend the leg, and perform a run like that in 32-sword, consisting of Lion Shakes his Head, Tiger Holds its Head and Horse Jumps Over the Stream.

Finish by pulling the sword back to the right hip, pivot 270 degrees on the right foot, step to left bow stance and stab, palm down, level (or slightly down). This completes the next half-minute; we are at about 1:30 of 3:40.

49-Step Wudang Sword (1)

The standardized version of Wudang sword starts out much like 32-sword. I haven’t found a good list of names for this form yet, so I am borrowing the names from 32-sword, even though the moves may be slightly different. This is just an aid to learning the rough sequence of the form.

49-step Wudang Sword

Another demo: 49-step Wudang Sword

  1. Commencement (slightly different)
  2. Three rings Around the Moon
  3. [Stand on one leg]
  4. Swallow Beats the Water
  5. Block and Sweep left and right.
  6. [Stand on one leg]
  7. Sweep the Dust into the Wind on right
  8. Wheeling the Sword to the right
  9. Slash left, right, left to horse stance, sword pointing right.

In step 3 above, the sword points downward, as in Yecha Explores the Sea, and back. Step 6 resembles the Big Dipper, except the right leg extends in a heel kick. Step 8 is the one that looks back; in Chen sword we call this Rhinoceros Gazes at the Moon (after the similar Nei Kung posture).

These first nine moves comprise about the first minute of the form (which is about three and a half minutes long, give or take).

Wudang Sword

I’ve had a moratorium on new material since I decided to test for second degree, but now that the test is over, I am eager to learn another sword form. Long Feng has started teaching me Wudang sword.

Traditional Wudang Sword

Master Chen Shixing Traditional Wudang Sword

There are several versions of this form. The one in the video above is traditional; what Long Feng is teaching me is the standardized 49-step version, demonstrated in the video below.

Standardized Wudang Sword 49-step Master Liang

Wudang Sword 49-step Master Liang

I’d like to learn both eventually, if that wouldn’t be too confusing. A third form, Wudang Seven Sword, seems to be a Kung Fu version (below).

Wudang Kungfu Academy China demo

Wudang Kungfu Academy China demo