Words of instruction

The names of some movements make reference to animals (Snake Creeps Down). Others invoke imagery (Rhinoceros Gazes at the Moon). But many are instructive: Step Up and Punch Down, for example. Here are some words that recur in the various forms, telling you what to do.

strike with heel

You Deng Jiao = Strike with heel right

Jin means advance; Bu is a step. So Jin Bu is step forward, or advance a step. Tui is step back or retreat, so Tui Bu is step back. Chui means hammer or beat with fist (maybe punch)–this being martial arts, we see a lot of chui!

  • Jin Bu Ban Lan Chui = Step forward, intercept and punch
  • Jin Bu Zai Chui = Step forward and punch down
  • Jin Bu Zhi Dang Chui = Step forward and punch to groin
  • Tui Bu Kua Hu = Step back and ride the Tiger.

The four movements that comprise Grasp the Bird’s Tail (Lan Que Wei) are Peng, Lu, Ji, and An, the first four of the eight energies: ward off, pull back, press and push. The music we practice to has someone calling the names. She says, “You Lan Que Wei: Peng, Lu, Ji, An.” That’s Grasp the Bird’s Tail on the right.

  • Lu Ji Shi = Roll back and press

Chuan is thread, pass through, or penetrate. Zhang is palm. Shou is hand. Xie is slanted or diagonal.

  • Tui Bu Chuan Zhang = Step back and pierce palm
  • Yun Shou = Cloud hands
  • Ti Shou = Lift hands
  • Xie Fei Shi = Slant flying
  • Xie Dan Bian = Diagonal single whip

Zhuan Shen is turn body.

  • Zhuan Shen Zuo Deng Jiao = Turn body left heel kick
  • Zhuan Shen Ban Lan Chui = Turn body, block, parry, punch
  • Zhuan Shen Bai Lian = Turn body and sweep the lotus

P.S. The animals I have encountered so far are He (crane), Hu (tiger), Che (bird such as sparrow or peacock), Ma (horse).

  • Bai He Liang Chi = White crane spreads wings
  • Du Li Da Hu = Stand on one leg and hit the tiger
  • You/Zuo Da Hu Shi = Right/left hit the tiger
  • Gao Tan Ma = High pat on horse
  • Ye Ma Fen Zong = Part the wild horse’s mane

P.P.S. The “Jin” in Jin Ji Du Li is not the same as the “Jin” that means advance, as in Jin Bu Ban Lan Chui. The former has a level inflection and means golden (golden rooster stands on one leg). The latter has falling inflection. In context, this is not a problem, but for me it’s hard to hear (and pronounce) the difference.

Useful Words and Phrases

These words and phrases are useful for when I’m learning and practicing Tai Chi, picking people up or driving them home in my car, and arranging future practices.

practice group

Ni Hao does fine for hello and how are you and pleased to meet you and greeting in general. Thank you is Xie Xie (sounds like shyeh shyeh).

Ming Tian Jian is “See you tomorrow!” (I say that at the end of practice on Saturday). Xiage Li Bai Jian is “See you next week.” (I say that at the end of practice on Sunday.) Jian is the “See you” part; Xiage is next.

  • Jin Tian is today
  • Ming Tian is tomorrow
  • Zuo Tian is yesterday

Days of the week are numbered starting with Monday (1) and going through Saturday (6). You prefix them with either Xing Qi (sounds like sing chee), Li Bai, or Zhou (like the name Joe). My friends use Li Bai, so Monday could be Li Bai Yi, Tuesday is Li Bai Er, Wednesday is Li Bai San. And so on. Sunday is Li Bai Tian; there are other ways of saying Sunday, but Long Feng says Li Bai Tian.

Li Bai Wu Jian would be “See you Friday.” Xiage Li Bai Liu Jian is “See you next Saturday.” We meet at 8:00 am: Ba Dian.

Apart from hello, thank you, and when we’ll next see each other, our conversations consist of reciting things like numbers or names of forms or movements (I say Chinese, she says English). Right now we’re doing days of the week. I always wondered why Long Feng counted on her fingers to recite weekdays. Because in Chinese they’re numbered!

Directions include Zuo for left, You for right, and Ting for stop. If you learn the names for Brush Knee Push, Grasp the Bird’s Tail, etc., you can expand the instructions by adding left and right. Zuo Dan Bian is left single whip (the one we usually do).

Another good instructional term is Du Li, stand on one leg. Jin Ji Du Li is Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg (add left and right!), and Du Li Da Hu is Stand on One Leg and Hit the Tiger (42-form).

Jiao is kick. Fen Jiao is the “separate right/left foot” kick or sometimes more of a snap kick. Deng Jiao is a heel kick. Add left and right and you can make your way through a kicking section.

Learning the names of the forms and movements is not an idle exercise, in my situation. It allows me to ask questions, for one thing.

For example: The Fair Ladies movement in 42-form is different from what we do in traditional Tai Chi and different also from Fair Ladies in 24-form. Knowing the names of both the form and the movement, I can say, “Long Feng! Si Shi Er ShiYu Nu Chuan Shuo?” (I throw in a little pantomime.)

It’s primitive, but it works. She says, “Ah! Ha! Ha!” (She’s not laughing; that means yes, she understands.) And she shows me how to do Fair Ladies in 42-form, patiently repeating as many times as necessary, correcting details. I have learned four new forms (and a whole new style) in the year that I’ve been working with Long Feng.

Counting and numbers

Here’s a video on counting to ten. The only hard part about learning numbers is getting the inflections right. They may be rising, falling, level or falling-rising. This is the hard part about learning how to say anything in Mandarin!

  1. Yi (level)
  2. Er (sounds like are) (falling)
  3. San (the a in sand) (level)
  4. Si (the vowel sounds sort of like the double-o in good) (falling)
  5. Wu (sounds like woh) (falling rising)
  6. Liu (sounds like leo) (falling)
  7. Qi (chee) (flat)
  8. Ba (flat)
  9. Jiu (joe) (falling rising)
  10. Shi (the vowel is close to the sound of eu in French) (rising)

Eleven is shi yi, 12 is shi er, etc. Ten plus the number. Twenty is er shi–two ten. Twenty-one would be er shi yi. It’s easy enough to extrapolate (though it would take a while to learn to count and say numbers readily).

The real pay-off to all this is that now I can say the names of the forms. We need one more tidbit, however: Shi with rising inflection is ten; shi with falling inflection means form. So shi occurs in the names of all the forms twice, pronunciation varying slightly (for those who can hear it).

Tai Chi Chuan (spelled variously as taiji quan or taiji ch’uan) means ultimate fist, but as I hear it used, taiji quan follows the empty-hand form names, while taiji jian is a sword form (jian being sword).

  • 24-form: er shi si shi taiji quan
  • 42-form: si shi er shi taiji quan
  • 32-form: san shi er shi taiji jian
  • 48-form: si shi ba shi taiji quan
  • 88-form: ba shi ba shi taiji quan

Just to add one final, random note of confusion: Bai, with falling-rising inflection, is hundred (yi bai is 100). Bai with rising inflection is white (as in crane).

Chen Short Form

While looking for the Chinese names for the movements of the Chen 38, I came across the 18-step Chen short form created in the 1990s by Grandmaster Cheng Zhenglai, who, like Cheng Jincai, studied with Grand Master Chen Zhaokui. Here’s a video of Cheng Zhenglai performing the Chen 18.

Chen 18

From the Cloud Hands discussion of this form, I’ve found the following movements common to my quarry, the Chen 38:

Buddha Stamp: Jin Gang Dao Dui
Lazy About Tying the Robe: Lan Zha Yi
Six Sealing Four Closing: Liu Feng Si Bi
Oblique Form: Xie Xing
Hidden Hand Punch: Yan Shou Hong Quan
Double Lotus Kick: Shuang Bai Jiao [I’m not sure about this one]
Cannon Fist: Dang Tou Pao

And of course a number of the names from the 38 are also in the Yang forms (Single Whip, Cloud Hands, High Pat on Horse, etc.). I am getting somewhat distracted by the different ways of Romanizing Mandarin Chinese, just because I hate to misspell, but my goal here is to be able to say the names, not write them.

The 108 in Chinese (3)

There is quite a lot of repetition in the traditional long form. Grasp the Bird’s Tail followed by Single Whip is repeated four times in the third section alone. Cloud Hands is repeated for a second and third time. And the whole sequence from Repulse Monkeys to Hidden Hand Punch is repeated in part three with only a change from Strike with Back Fist to White Snake Spits Out its Tongue.

Snake Creeps Down

Yang Cheng Fu, grandson of Yang Lu Chan Snake Creeps Down, 3rd section of 108

So you only have to learn a dozen new moves in the third section. They’re among the most difficult movements in the whole form, though. The new names in the third section of the long form are:

  • Part the Wild Horse’s Mane – Ye Ma Fen Zong
  • Fair Lady Works the Shuttle – Yu Nu Chuan Shou
  • Snake Creeps Down – Xia Shi
  • Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg – Jin Ji Du Li
  • White Snake Sticks Out its Tongue – Bai She Tu Xin
  • Piercing Palm – Chuan zhang
  • Cross Form Kick – Shi Zi Tui
  • Brush Knee Punch to Groin – Jin Bu Zhi Dang Chui
  • Step Up Seven Stars – Shang Bu Qi Xing
  • Step back Ride the Tiger to the Mountain – Tui Bu Kua Hu
  • Turn Around and Sweep the Lotus – Zhuan Shen (Jiao?) Bai Lian
  • Bend Bow to Shoot Tiger – Wan Gong She Hu


The 108 in Chinese (2)

I’m listing Chinese names for only the new moves in the middle section:

  • Embrace Tiger Return to Mountain – Bao Hu Gui Shan
  • Fist Under Elbow – Zhou Di Chui
  • Repulse Monkeys – Dao Juan Hong
  • Slant Flying – Xie Fei Shi
  • Needle at Sea Bottom – Hai Di Zhen
  • Fan Through Back – Shan Tong Bei
  • Strike with Back Fist – Pie Shen Chui
  • Cloud Hands – Yun Shou
  • High Pat on Horse – Gao Tan Ma
  • Separate [Right/Left] Foot – [Zuo/You] Fen Jiao
  • Strike with Heel – Deng Jiao
  • Step Up and Punch Down – Jin Bu Zai Chui
  • Hit the Tiger – Da Hu
  • Box the Tiger’s Ears – Shuang Feng Quan Er

Zhuan Shen is turn body; turn body and strike with heel left would be Zhuan Shen Zuo Deng Jiao. Turn around and strike with back fist would be Zhuan Shen Pie Shen Chui.

Here’s a list of the 108 moves in Chinese (but no audio). Repulse Monkeys is completely different: Dao Nian Hou.

The 108 in Chinese (1)

I think I’ll try to learn the whole 108 in Chinese. This might take a while! But I can do the first section, right now:

  • Commencement – Qishi
  • Grasp the Bird’s Tail – Lan Que Wei
  • Single Whip – Dan Bian
  • Lift Hands – Ti Shou
  • Strike with Shoulder – Ma Bu Kao
  • White Crane Spreads Wings – Bai He Liang Chi
  • Brush Knee Push – Luo Xi Ao Bu
  • Playing Guitar – Shou Hui Pi Pa
  • Deflect Downward, Intercept and Punch – Ban Lan Chui
  • Withdraw and Push – Ru Feng Si Bi
  • Cross Hands – Shi Zi Shou

For Strike with Shoulder, I’m using the name for Lean-in Horse Stance (42-form), which is a strike with shoulder. Kao is the name of the shoulder-striking energy. Tai Chi Wizard lists it as You Kao (right shoulder strike), so maybe that would be better.

“Shou” with a smile-shaped accent (rising inflection) means hand or hands. With a straight line accent (level inflection) means gather or collect. Closing form, or feet together, is Shou Shi.

Grasp the Bird’s Tail consists of four movements: Ward-off (peng), Pull back (lu), Press (gi) and Push (an).

Zuo is left and You is right. Pronunciation audio for all these names can be found on the Lau Shi site; most of these movements occur in either 24 or 42 form.

Chinese Names

Few of my Chinese friends speak English. In the year that I’ve been working with them, we’ve managed to learn only a handful of words in each other’s language. Up until recently, I’ve really struggled to hear Chinese–I’ve learned much less than they have–but suddenly, I’ve experienced a very small breakthrough. My brain, for some reason, is beginning to accept a little Chinese.

White Crane

Bai He Liang Chi – White Crane Spreads Wings

I found a great website run by the Lau Sui Taijiquan school in the UK. Not only do they list the Chinese names for movements of many forms–they even provide audio to help with pronunciation! For example: movements of 42-form. Fantastic!

Many of these movements are familiar from other forms. I’m working on the following list right now:

  • Grasp the bird’s tail: Lan Que [cheh] Wei
  • Single whip: Dan Bian [bi-en]
  • Lift hands: Ti Shou
  • White crane spreads wings: Bai He Liang Chi
  • Brush knee push: Luo Xi [lo shee] Ao Bu
  • Step forward, deflect downward etc: Jin Bu Ban Lan Chui [chway]
  • Fist under elbow: Zhou [jo] Di Chui*
  • Part the wild horse’s mane: Ye [yay] Ma Fen [fun] Zong [tzong]

*Different for some reason from what I’ve learned in school.