About elizabethbuhmann

Author of Lay Death at Her Door (Red Adept, 2013)

Yang & Chen Styles Compared

One of the things I enjoy most when I have the opportunity to study with Jesse Tsao is the linking and comparing of different styles of Tai Chi. In particular, I find it interesting to compare the two traditional long forms that I know best: Laojia Yilu and the Yang 108.

A video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HRaAIdkqiY] shows the two forms side by side, with Chen Zhenglei performing Chen and Yang Jun doing the 108. Whoever made this video did a clever job of matching up comparable moves. A timeline is also provided, showing where in the video some of specific corresponding moves can be found. In the picture above, both are doing single whip.

I’ve gone a little farther–put the lists of moves for both forms side by side, lining up and bolding the 24 points where the same named move occurs in both forms. In six more places (italicized), Six Sealing Four Closing (六封四閉 Liù Fēng Sì Bì) occurs opposite Grasp the Bird’s Tail (揽雀尾   lǎn què wěi). Different names, different styles, but comparable: peng, lu, ji, an. Contact, redirect, follow, and control.

PDF: Yang-Chen Lists Compared

The two routines are also similarly structured. Each begins by guarding the right side. Then both forms travel to the left. Both forms then travel backwards, with Whirling Arms and Repulse Monkeys. Both then turn around and punch before repeating Six Sealing Four Closing/Grasp the Bird’s Tail and Single Whip.

Then both forms travel sideways to the left with Cloud Hands. Then each form has a kicking section. Laojia features a greater variety of kicks, but both forms advance, turn around, and advance again. They travel back to the right with Part the Wild Horse’s Mane and Fair Lady Works the Shuttle, again repeating Six Sealing Four Closing/Grasp the Bird’s Tail and Single Whip.

Both routines then repeat Cloud Hands and offer a low form, followed by a lengthy repeat from Whirling Arms/Repulse Monkeys all the way to the Cross Form Kick. Both finish with a low punch and Step up Seven Stars, a crescent kick and double hand punch. The two forms track each other strikingly, when you compare the lists side by side.

Last year I worked my way through the Wu style long form, and that one follows the same general pattern, tracking the Yang routine quite closely. This year’s work, for me, is learning the Sun style long form. I’d like to be able to practice all four of these traditional routines.

Body Parts

An appropriate topic for Halloween season, don’t you think? Knowing the words for body parts is useful both for understanding names of movements and for taking instruction in Chinese.

Above: Gao Jiamin turns her waist (hips too!) for cloud hands. See the note on Yao below.

The word for the body is shēn. A very common instruction in Tai Chi is zhuan shen, literally “turn body,” which means to turn around.

身    Shēn                      Body

转身  Zhuǎn shēn        Turn body

Ten words very frequently used in Tai Chi:

  1. 手 Shǒu      Hand
  2. 脚 Jiǎo        Foot (also means kick)
  3. 肘 Zhǒu      Elbow
  4. 膝 Xī            Knee
  5. 拳 Quán     Fist
  6. 头 Tóu        Head
  7. 尾 Wěi        Tail
  8. 背 Bèi          Back
  9. 腰 Yāo         waist
  10. 掌 Zhǎng    Palm

A Note on Yao

Yao is translated as waist, but in the context of Tai Chi, the meanings of these two words are different in a critical way. We don’t even say “turn the waist” in English; we say “turn at the waist,” and that means turning the upper torso and shoulders but not the hips, a sort of twist. This is not the zhuan yao of tai chi!

I used to turn at the waist when I did cloud hands. When I began studying with Chinese teachers, they kept telling me “Turn the waist, turn the waist!” I was turning at the waist as hard as I could! I’m thinking, “What do they want?” They’re thinking “What is the matter with these westerners? So stiff! Can’t turn the waist!”

Then I read something that caused the light bulb to come on. Was I supposed to turn my hips too? The whole torso? YES! Finally! In English, it might be better to say “turn your body,” but in Chinese, zhuan shen means turn around (involves the feet).

Number three of Yang Cheng Fu’s  Ten Important Points is 松腰 Sōng Yāo – relax the waist. Doesn’t just mean the upper torso is loose. The whole body core turns freely. Here are a couple of discussions on this point.

“Yao – Usually translated “waist,” it refers to the entire region of the pelvis and abdomen (lumbar).  It is roughly what we call “the core” today but sometimes refers to the entire torso.”

— From https://www.taichifoundation.org/glossary-terms-0

More Body Parts

Zhǎng (palm) may also refer to the sole of the foot (shouzhang=palm of hand, zhongzhang= palm of foot). Zhǐ (finger) also means to point. Jiaozhi (foot finger) is toe.

指           Zhǐ          Finger

踵           Zhǒng   Heel

Kua is the word for the crotch or the place where the leg joins the torso (the hip), but it also means to straddle, as you might straddle a horse (or a tiger!) to ride. Dang refers to the crotch in the sense of a target: zhi dang chui is a punch to the groin.

胯           Kuà        Crotch, groin, hip

裆    Dāng      Crotch

In the context of Tai Chi, the Chinese word for eye or eyesight refers to eye spirit, the purposeful direction of the gaze to an imaginary opponent, or the hand where it makes contact, or the part of the sword being used in jianfa (swordplay).

眼 睛    Yǎn jīng                                Eye Spirit

Some additional (less frequently encountered) words for body parts:

腿           Tuǐ          Leg

臂           Bì            Arm

肩           Jiān        Shoulder

The dantian is the center of gravity, but in the internal martial arts it is the center from which energy and power emanate. The qi, or life force, resides in the dantian.

丹田     Dāntián                                Center of the body

As in English, the word for heart can refer to center of emotion or the mind, but in Tai Chi, it refers to the physical organ.  Hu xin quan (literally “protect heart fist”) is the name of a movement to protect the chest. Hu xi jian is another movement using the word for protect: protect the knee (sword).

心           xīn          heart

护    hù           protect

Bonus vocabulary: the words for breathing.

呼           Hū          Exhale

吸           xī             Inhale

呼吸     hūxī       Breathe

Kung Fu Fan

Kung Fu Fan is one of two fan forms created by Li Deyin in the early two thousands. Both are popular and widely practiced, at least in China and among Chinese people living here, and both are usually performed to a piece of music also called Kung Fu Fan.

Here is Master Faye Yip performing Kung Fu Fan. She is Li Deyin’s daughter, and I think of her as the gold standard for both of his fan forms.

Fan Form

In an earlier video, Master Faye performs Kung Fu Fan with a group of students at a workshop in Madrid.

Kung Fu Fan has 52 movements, divided into six sections corresponding to six sections in the music. The first and last sections are slow and Tai Chi-like. The second section is faster, the third faster still. The fourth section repeats the second section exactly, and the fifth section starts out fast and emphatic, reaches high point, then stops and slows dramatically.

Most of the movements in Kung Fu Fan are based on traditional tai chi forms, especially sword forms, with the fan substituting for the sword. In the list I’ve got, the names of the movements are followed by the name of the traditional movement in parenthesis. Here’s the list: (PDF) kungfu fan

I’ve found a two-part, two-hour instructional video by Li himself. It’s in Chinese but as usual, he presents it so clearly, with such ample demonstration, that you can learn without understanding what he’s saying (though I wish I could!). The captions that appear on the screen match the list in the PDF above.

Instructional videos:

Just for fun, and not to be missed, check out a couple of WOW renditions of the same form in tournament play:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3XRUF48z2c
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7cz03oIFGc&t=3s

Kung Fu Fan is an entertaining piece to watch, fun to perform, not to mention good exercise in practice.  It works very well as an ensemble piece for as many people as you can fit on the stage. It’s not that hard to learn, at least well enough to perform in the back row, so a lot of people get to be in on the act.

My weekend practice group has performed with as many as seven people, in settings as diverse as Chinese New Year parties, community centers, and nursing homes. Above, Long Feng, Hu Peiyi and I (L-R front row) perform Kung Fu Fan  for a senior lunch at the Gus Garcia Community Center in Austin in 2018.

Taijiese

Taijiese is what I call my lexicon for Tai Chi. It encompasses many Chinese terms of art and words and phrases used during instruction, as well as the names of the forms and movements of Tai Chi. It is Chinese for the Western student of Tai Chi.

taijiese

A vocabulary of about 100 words of Taijiese is sufficient for taking instruction from a Chinese teacher who speaks no English.

Anyone in America who is fortunate enough to study Tai Chi with a Chinese master is likely to pick up at least a smattering of Chinese. Students are also likely to learn names, most often English names, for the movements of the various forms they study. Less often do they systematically set out to learn all the names of all the movements in Chinese. But I have done this, and I’ve found it to be easier than I expected and more valuable than I imagined, as a supplement to classes, lessons, and practice.

Taijiese is a very specialized vocabulary, one not covered in most tutorials and programs for learning conversational Chinese. Even dictionaries and phrase-books are of limited use, omitting words and phrases unlikely to occur in everyday situations. And when you do find the words and phrases used in Tai Chi, the meanings given in the dictionary usually have little relevance to the practice of Tai Chi.

Chinese is a difficult language for a Western speaker of English to learn, but learning Taijiese is actually quite doable. For one thing, the vocabulary is relatively small. For everyday conversation in  most languages, you need a vocabulary of about a thousand words. A vocabulary of fifty words is a very good start in Taijiese. Learn one hundred words and you will be fairly fluent. And because Taijiese is used in such a specific context, it’s easier to understand and make yourself understood, as compared to everyday conversation, which can range over many possible topics. Pronunciation and regional accents are less of an issue, too, for the same reason.

I’ve added a new section to this notebook, Taijiese in the main menu, where I’ll be collecting all my various lists of useful words and phrases. If a reference like the one I have been building for the last few years exists, I am not aware of it.  I haven’t got everything uploaded yet; I’ll be adding more links soon.

36-step Taiji Dao

Over the summer this year, I learned a wonderful new saber form. My friend and teacher Hu Pei Yi (below) knows this form and does it very well. I am so lucky to have access to first-hand instruction!

@peiyi4

This form has 36 steps. It was created by Ma Chonxi, who performs in the video below.

Video: https://www.  youtube.  com/watch?v=HFZOiVs6vrA

Here, also, is a good article about Ma, who started out as a street performer, then became a quite well-known wushu master and coach. She was born in 1940, so she is 66 in the video (published in 2006), which is inspiring to someone as old as I am.

36machonxi

Though it seems to be considered predominantly Chen-style, it looks like a combined form to me. Several saber techniques used here are not found in either the Yang or Chen saber  forms I’m familiar with—jiao and ya, for example. Hit the Tiger and the double jump kick are both in the Yang form, not the Chen. And I have never seen yang shen in saber anywhere. Interesting!

Here’s another very impressive performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a844FVYDIl0

36yellow

I found a list of the movements on the Chinese search engine hosted by Baidu. I’m not sure quite all the characters are correct (as noted in the list): 36-Taijidao (PDF).

While searching out videos and names for 36-dao I came across a 56-step saber form that I love. Maybe someday I’ll have a chance to learn this one. 56-step dao: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-tkuoEErgI

56dao

Chen Sword

Yet another form that I have been revising this year is Chen sword, and right now I’m working through it with Hu Pei Yi. Chen Zhenglei’s demonstration of the form is an excellent paradigm:

chaoyang-jiajian

 

In a series of short videos, Chen Zhenglei goes through the form a few moves at a time, with names and some instruction. The videos are in Chinese, but with a list of names and a modest vocabulary for sword techniques and stances, etc, I find I can understand a fair bit.

  1. Moves 1-11 (起势 Qǐshì  to  斜飞势 Xié fēi shì )
  2. Moves 12-21 (展翅点头 Zhǎn chì diǎntóu to 白蛇吐信 Bái Shé Tǔ Xìn)
  3. Moves 22-28 (乌龙摆尾 Wūlóng bǎi wěi to 斜飞势 Xié fēi shì)
  4. Moves 29-37 (鹰熊斗智 Yīng Xióng dòuzhì to 斜飞势 Xié fēi shì)
  5. Moves 38-44 (左托千斤 Zuǒ Tuō Qiān jīn to 斜飞势 Xié fēi shì)
  6. Moves 45-49 (哪吒探海 Nézha tàn hǎi to 还原Huányuán)

I have also worked my way through Jesse Tsao’s English instructional video for Chen Sword, which can be downloaded or streamed from his website: Taichihealthways.com.

Master Tsao’s Chen lineage is directly to Chen Zhenglei, so the form is the same. It is called 陈氏太极剑四十九式 (Chén shì tàijí jiàn sì shí jiǔ shì): Chen Style Tai Chi Sword 49-step form. Here is a list of the 49 steps:

Chen Sword List of Movements: Chen_Sword (PDF)

I arrived at this list by transcribing from the six videos by Chen Zhenglei. The Chinese names should all be good. The English translations are mine and are not guaranteed (or even likely) to be what anybody else uses. This form is not so well known that there are established English names. I use the Chinese.

Here is Chen Bing, Chen Xiaowang’s oldest nephew, performing Chen sword:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVoAts7CnRM

Bing’s younger cousin, Chen ZiQiang, is the head instructor at the Chen family school in Chenjiagou. He also offers a step-by-step instructional video on YouTube, with names.

Chen ZiQiang performs Chen Sword: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nem8pEmoAzE&t=7s

Here is his instructional video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhxErjCbXxU

In the frame below, you can see that Chen ZiQiang gives the nine sword techniques (Jian fa) in the Chen system as follows: beng, gua, liao, pi, ci, dian, tuo, jia, and sao (for the characters and standard pinyin, see my vocabulary for sword). The move he’s doing is Qing Long Chu Shui (Bluegreen Dragon Emerges from the Water). It repeats twice, in moves #14 and #33.

chenjianfa

Just for fun, some of the personalities in the form are:

Zhong Kui (鍾馗), the Ghost King (vanquisher of ghosts);

Luóhàn (罗汉), aka Arhat, an enlightened person in Buddhism, one who has reached nirvana;

Yèchā (夜叉), a malevolent spirt;

Nézha (哪吒), the protection deity; and

Wéi Tuó (韦驼), aka Skanda, one of eight divine protectors in Chinese Buddhism.

Chen-style Dan Dao

The Chen-style single broadsword (單刀 Dān Dāo) is an exciting form that lasts only about a minute. I first learned it (a slightly different version, actually) about five years ago. This year I have been practicing and correcting my form with the help of Hu Pei Yi and Jesse Tsao’s excellent teaching video.

Here is a beautiful demonstration by Chen Zhenglei: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4ld2HZ8rSY

zhenglaidao

Chen Zhenglei performs Chen Saber

He also offers a YouTube instructional video with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JL2SvwTYE7Q .

Here is the list of names of the movements, of which there are just 21: ChenSaber (PDF).

Michael Garofalo offers a thorough, interesting, and ultimately bewildering discussion of broadsword techniques, dao fa, on his excellent Cloud Hands tai chi blog: http://www.egreenway.com/taichichuan/swordtech.htm#Daotech. He lists 18 altogether; the Chen style seems to employ 13 (read the source notes that follow his list). Chen Zhenglei lists “slicing, hacking, blocking, cutting, pricking, rolling, closing, scooping, cross-cutting, twisting, shaking, supporting, and tilting”—but these are not his words. This is English, and as usual, the translation muddies the water.

I come away with the following vocabulary for saber. These are terms that I think I understand (meaning that I know what to do with the saber). I list them here in roughly the order that they are introduced in the form.

  1. 刺     Cī (Stab)
  2. 缠     Chán (Wrap)
  3. 划     Huá (Slash)
  4. 挂     Guà (Hang)
  5. 托     Tuō (Support)
  6. 撩     Liāo (Lift)
  7. 切     Qiē (Slice)
  8. 扫     Sǎo (Sweep)
  9. 劈     Pī  (Chop)
  10. 拦     Lán (Block)
  11. 截     Jié (Intercept)
  12. 扎     Zhā (Stab)
  13. 砍     Kǎn  (Hack)

The wrap, chan, is chan tou, wrap the head. The saber passes close around the head, protecting the back and head and positioning for a second slash (hua). The chan tou/hua combination is continuously repeated in Yang saber. Here, it occurs only when the wind sweeps the wilted flowers (and in closing form).