Yang/Chen Side-by-Side (1)

I’ve just completed a study comparing the Yang and Chen styles of Tai Chi. The two styles look and feel quite distinct, but the one (Yang) is derived from the other (Chen) and retains much of its essential content.

In an earlier post on this subject I made reference to a very clever video in which the Yang and Chen traditional long forms are shown side-by-side, with Chen Zhenglei performing Laojia Yilu and Yang Jun performing the Yang 108.

In that video, the alignment between the two forms is achieved entirely through very skillful video editing after the fact. The two separate videos have been subtly sped up and slowed down so that certain obvious touchpoints such as Single Whip and White Crane Spreads Wings occur at the same time side-by-side.

At the time I worked up a list (PDF) of the movements in the two forms, side-by-side, to show as many correspondences as possible. Now I’ve gone a step further. I wanted to link up the two forms much more closely, not just move-by-move but down to every corresponding step, shift, and block—as far as possible—working on the assumption that the two forms share a common deep structure.

In this manner, I’ve made three videos of roughly equal length:

  1. 起势 Qǐshì to 单鞭 Dān Biān 2 – Beginning to the second Single Whip (above)
  2. 单鞭 Dān Biān 2 to 单鞭 Dān Biān 5 – from Cloud hands through Fair Ladies
  3. 单鞭 Dān Biān 5 to the end

I am not a master of either style, so I am not the best person to make these videos. I would be happy to see this project replicated at a higher level of proficiency.

Necessarily, neither form has its normal pace. Laojia usually takes ten minutes or so, the 108 twice as long. To match the movements, I have slowed and sped up however and whenever necessary. And it’s not always Chen waiting for Yang!

One irreconcilable difference between the two forms in this first segment is the signature pounding of the mortar (金刚捣碓 Jīn Gāng Dǎo Duì) that occurs three times near the beginning of Laojia. That move has no counterpart in Yang, so in the first video, I simply pause Yang and wait for Chen to make that move.

Also, in Chen there is no counterpart for Slant Flying (斜飞势 Xié Fēi Shì) and the second Lift Hands (提手上势 Tí Shǒu Shàng Shì). However, the retreating move (倒卷肱 Dào Juǎn Gōng) in Chen has five steps; Yang repulse monkeys (倒黏猴 Dào Nián Hóu) is just three steps. So I have mapped the two extra Yang moves onto the last two steps of dao juan gong. The two forms then come together again with White Crane Spreads Wings (白鹤亮翅 Bái Hè Liàng Chì).

Throughout, both forms return again and again to the counterpoint of Six Sealing Four Closing (六封四閉 Liù Fēng Sì Bì) and Grasp the Bird’s Tail (揽雀尾 Lǎn Què Wěi) followed by the shared move, Single Whip. In all, this combination will occur six times.

Next: Part 2 – Cloud Hands to Fair Ladies

New Tai Chi Books

This year, I have acquired a couple of books that I can recommend. One is an instructional manual by Chen Zhenglei for Laojia Yilu and Erlu. I’ve been using it as a review of Laojia Yilu, in connection with a video project comparing the Yang and Chen traditional long forms.

Chen’s Tai Chi Old Frame One & Two

In this book, every movement of the form is described in careful detail, with multiple photographic demonstrations by the author (a grandmaster of such eminence that I don’t need to cite his credentials). You certainly could not learn this rather difficult routine by studying Chen’s book. But if you already know Laojia, it is an invaluable resource for refining and correcting your form. I am working it to tatters.

Another book that has recently come to my attention is Martin Mellish’s A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook: Spirit, Intent, and Motion. This beautifully illustrated volume uses sketches, photographs, and diagrams to evoke, explain, and describe the internal experience of Tai Chi.

A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook

This book is not a manual for learning specific forms or styles. Rather, it is a guide to fundamentals such as posture, stepping, balance, and breathing. It would be equally useful to beginners, more advanced students, and (especially!) instructors. It is an attractive and readable book, too.