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, 105, 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. I still usually call the form the 108.

See also:

3 thoughts on “Yang-Style Long Form

  1. Elizabeth, thank you so much for your efforts to document your Tai Chi experiences. I too have been troubled by the endless stream of “authentic” Yang-style long forms. I have recently been viewing Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s long form. The opening movements that he calls “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail” are nothing like the peng-lu-ji-an sequence that I have always seen under the name “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail”. They look more like “Slant Flying” to me. He calls them You (right) Lan Que Wei and Zuo (left) Lan Que Wei. Do you have any idea why his take on this posture would be so unlike the sequence that I was taught under the name “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail”?

    His sequence varies significantly from the one you have compiled, as well. I recently sent a comment to his website asking if someone could explain both his take on “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail” and the origin of the sequence. I respect that they are a big and busy business, but I’m hoping someone there can respond.

    • Hi, Steven. Thanks for stopping by. I know that Dr. Yang does amazing things with swords, but I haven’t seen his bare-hand Yang-style long form. I take the two books mentioned in this post as my guide. I am a great admirer of Tashi (a Tibetan master who studied with Zhao Bin) for her meticulous interpretation of Yang Chengfu’s tai chi. Just yesterday I came across this wonderful video, in which she performs in juxtaposition with the old texts and illustrations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7sYcTKcJV4

      • Thank you for your prompt reply. I will check out that video, today. On your recommendation, I picked up Fu Zhongwen’s book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s