Styles of Tai Chi

Legend has it that Tai Chi originated in the Wudang mountains, but the earliest concrete record dates from the seventeenth century. Chen WangTing (1580-1660), from Chen village in Henan Province, was the founder of Chen-style Tai Chi. His statue stands in the center of the courtyard to the Tai Chi Museum in Chen Village.

Chen WangTing statue

Statue of Chen WangTing (my photo, 2019)

Yang Luchen (1799-1872) learned Chen-style Tai Chi during the time of Chen Changxing, the 6th generation master after Chen WangTing. Yang was the first non-family member to learn the art, and according to legend, he did so by subterfuge, taking a job in Chen village and watching lessons in secret.

Eventually, Yang was discovered and surprised the master with his ability. Yang stayed on and studied with Chen Changxing for a total of ten years. When Yang left Chen village, he was sworn to secrecy about the Chen routines and soon developed his own Yang style of Tai Chi.

Two of Yang Luchan’s most notable disciples were named Wu. Looks and sounds like the same name to us, but they are written differently (武 and 吳) and sound different to Chinese ears. These two disciples were Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) and Wu Quanyou (1834-1932), and each founded his own style of Tai Chi.

Wu Quanyu studied with both Yang Luchan and Yang’s second son, Yang Banhou. Wu Quanyou’s style is today called Wu-style. The Wu long form closely tracks the Yang-style long form but is characterized by more of a grappling style, different footwork, different hands, and a distinctive leaning posture.

Wu Yuxiang first learned Yang Tai Chi from Yang Luchan. Then Yang introduced him to Chen Qingping, 7th generation Chen master. Chen Qingping practiced a small-frame version of Chen-style Tai Chi that was influenced by an ancient martial art called Zhaobao.

Wu Yuxiang eventually developed a distinctive style that incorporated elements of both Yang and Zhaobao-Chen. One of the best-known followers of his style was Hao Weizhen (1842-1920). Wu Yuxiang’s style of Tai Chi has come to be known as Wu Hao in the West, to resolve confusion between the two Wu names.

Cover of bookWu Hao is still practiced today but is not as well-known as Chen, Yang and Wu. This is partly because, at the turn of the twentieth century, Hao met Sun Lutang (1860-1933), a fighter of formidable reputation. Sun did not practice Tai Chi. Sun’s arts were Xingyi and Baguazhang.

Sun learned Wu Hao Tai Chi from Hao and then developed his own style, a fusion of Wu Hao Tai Chi, Xingyi, and Baguazhang. The Sun style, thanks to Sun’s reputation and wide influence as a teacher, went on to become quite popular. You could say that Wu Hao was eclipsed by the Sun.

Today, the four most popular styles—Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun—are represented in combined forms like 32, 42 (the modern competition style), and 48. A more detailed history and comparison of the styles described in this post, can be found in a book by Andrew Townsend, The Art of Taijiquan, An Examination of Five Family Styles.

Dragon Section

The eighth and last section of the Tiger-Crane set. Here’s an excellent video (includes Drunken section, too), shown from behind so you can follow, with names.

hunterdragon

And the names of the moves are:

Pull sweep push sweep
Fist like an arrow
Pull sweep push sweep
Monkey steals the peaches
Dragon thrusts its claws
Sweep the sea and push the mountain
Dragon stretches its claws
Hook a star with the fist
Tiger pushes the mountain
Flying arrow fist
Dragon lands on the sand
A pair of butterflies
Turning stance to swiftly strike
Unicorn stepping
Butterfly palms
Continuous butterfly palms
Crescent moon hand and foot
Crouching tiger hidden dragon
Fierce tiger claws the sand
Draw bow to shoot arrow
Single dragon leaps from sea

Followed by the Five Animal Salute. End of form!

Drunken Fist

We’re up to the next-to-last section of the Tiger-Crane Set. It’s short, and Master Gohring’s videos combine it with the Dragon Section that comes after it. Here’s a good video of both sections, with names; the Drunken part is less than a minute.

drunkenchew

The names of the moves are as follows:

  • Eight drunken gods
  • Old man exits cave
  • One finger asks the question
  • First star punching method
  • Second star punching method
  • Two fists punching downward
  • Immediately punching upward
  • Fist like an arrow

Crane Section

This is the sixth of eight sections in the Tiger-Crane 108. Video:

crane

Names are:

Hard and soft crane walking
Descending arm hand and waist
One finger asks the question
Crane wing punching
Fist through the sleeve

[Repeat on the other side:]
Hard and soft crane walking
Descending arm hand and waist
One finger asks the question
Crane wing punching
Fist through the sleeve

Crane pecking
Reviving crane

Flying crane
Hungry crane stands on one leg
Hungry crane captures shrimp

[repeat on the other side:]
Flying crane
Hungry crane stands on one leg
Hungry crane captures shrimp

Crane head punching
Crane head punching

Dragon swings its tail
Monk summons corpse
Tame the tiger shoot the tiger

Footwork and Stances

步法 (bu fa) means footwork. I’ve been working on building a comprehensive list of names of steps and stances. I use the Chinese names, because translations of the everyday meanings of the Chinese words are mostly not applicable; these are terms of art. I do offer some English equivalents, especially where the English expression is well established.

弓步 gong bu (bow stance) is the long stride in which the leading foot points straight ahead and the back foot is at a 45-degree angle. How long, low, and wide the stride is varies with the individual and the style of tai chi. In the modern forms that I have studied, long and low is good, as long as you don’t have to lunge or lurch to move around, and about 8 inches in width is desirable. The weight is 60-70% on the leading foot.

Amin Wu is doing 24-form, in which gong bu is the basic forward step.

Amin Wu is doing 24-form, in which gong bu is the basic forward step.

In 虚步 xu bu (empty stance), the weight is entirely (or at least 90%) on one foot. The other can be in front with the ball of the foot or the heel touching and bearing a slight amount of weight. A variation is 点步, dian bu, in which the foot is pointed.

Xu Bu Xia Chuo from 32-sword

Xu Bu Xia Chuo from 32-sword

歇步 xie bu (resting stance) is a low position with the legs folded. The front foot points straight ahead and bears most of the weight. The knee of the back foot is turned in and rests on the back of the front leg. The heel of the back foot is off the ground. Xie bu can be specified as di (low), which means all the way down so the back knee is on or near the ground.

Master Faye Li Yip does Xie bu in Fan Form.

Master Faye Li Yip does Xie bu in Fan Form.

仆步 pu bu is a low stance in which the body is turned sideways and one leg is folded into a low squat while the other is extended. This stance is also called fu hu (tame the tiger), and is most famously exemplified in the taiji movement called Snake Creeps Down. Both feet face front, parallel, and the heel of the bent leg should be on the ground. The upper body should be upright.

Master Faye does Pu Bu Chuan Jian in Wudang Taiji Combined sword form.

Master Faye does Pu Bu Chuan Jian in Wudang Taiji Combined sword form.

扣步 kou bu is a pigeon-toed stance used when turning the body around.

Pigeon-toed, kou bu

Pigeon-toed, kou bu

马步 ma bu (horse stance, or horse-riding stance) is a wide stance with thighs parallel to the ground. Weight is equally distributed in plain ma bu, but the stance may be staggered left or right. It can also be easily shifted into left or right bow stance. In a general list of fighting stances, this one should probably have come first, but it is not so common or basic in taiji as in kung fu.

Ma Bu, Chen Zhenglei

Ma Bu, Chen Zhenglei

擦步 ca bu is the forward step in Chen style taiji, in which the heel skids forward (ca means brush or clean or polish).

Professor Li's wife does ca bu at the opening of Fan II.

Professor Li’s wife does ca bu at the opening of Fan II.

叉步 cha bu is a cross-step behind. When stepping into xie bu, one foot is set down behind the other, but just behind. In cha bu, the back foot crosses well behind.

Cha Bu Yun Shou, Fan II

Cha Bu Yun Shou, Fan II

Jesse Tsao, Cha Bu Fan Liao

Jesse Tsao, Cha Bu Fan Liao

盖步 gai bu is the opposite of cha bu: it is a cross-step in front.

Gai Bu, stepping across in front.

Gai Bu, stepping across in front.

并步 bing bu means feet together.

丁步 ding bu means feet are together, but the weight is on one foot, while the heel of the other foot is lifted. The empty foot may point forward or to the side.

开步 kai bu is a step to the side; kai means open. In Cloud Hands, the sidestep is kai bu.

Kai Bu Yun Shou (Fan II)

Kai Bu Yun Shou (Fan II)

撤步 che bu is a side-facing bow stance.

Che Bu, bow stance with hips turned sideways

Che Bu, bow stance with hips turned sideways

in 摆步 bai bu (swing step), the leading foot is set down on the heel and then swings outward 90-degrees. The heel of the back foot releases with the shift of weight, and the hips turn.

Bai Bu, swing step 90-degrees outward, releasing the heel of the back foot.

Bai Bu, swing step 90-degrees outward, releasing the heel of the back foot.

独立 du li [bu] is standing on one leg. The standing foot is at 45 degrees with respect to the body, as is the knee, which should be lifted waist-high, with the free foot pulled in toward the center of the body for balance.

du-li

跳步 tiao bu is a jump. This generally refers to the move traditionally called Horse Jumps Over the Stream.

tiao-bu

進步 jin bu is an advancing step.

退步 tui bu is a retreating step.

半步 ban bu is a half-step, where the back foot follows the front foot half-way, as for example, to set up Bai He Liang Chi (White Crane Spreads Wings) or Shou Hui Pipa (Playing the Guitar).

上步 shang bu means step up one step with the back leg, as in Shang Bu Qi Xing (Step Up Seven Stars).

行 步 xing bu is a walking step, usually in a circle as in Bagua Walking.

This list is not exhaustive–I keep coming across new steps! I haven’t found all the names of the shifted horse stances or the special empty step for Bai He Liang Chi (in which you set the toe in front, between the opponent’s legs, in preparation for a snap kick) or the staggered horse stance that you jump to in the fan forms (I do know there’s a special name for that, too). But this is most of them.

See also Wikipedia on Wushu Stances. Also, Jesse Tsao covers basic Taiji stances in his Tai Chi Fundamentals DVD, which is also available as Amazon Stremming Video. This book, Complete Taiji Dao, also covers many of the stances described in this post.

Tiger Section

The Tiger section of the Tiger-Crane 108 is all footwork, and travels to four corners like the Yang Fair Lady Works Shuttles. Here’s the video, with names:

Snake section leads into Butterfly Scatters and Black Tiger Claw Method. Then Tiger Exits Cave points to the right front corner. Tiger Captures Sheep points to the right rear corner. Repeat.

Then Tiger Combats Wolf points to the left rear corner. Tiger Exits Cave (same move as before but mirror image) points to the left front corner. Repeat Tiger Combats Wolf.

Tiger Ascends and Descends Mountain are left and right symmetrical moves, as are the two Return Horse to the Stable. Here’s the full list of names:

  • Butterfly Scatters
  • Black Tiger Claw Method
  • Tiger Exits the Cave
  • Tiger Captures Sheep
  • Tiger Exits the Cave
  • Tiger Captures  Sheep
  • Tiger Combats Wolf
  • Tiger Exits the Cave
  • Tiger Combats Wolf
  • Tiger Ascends the Mountain
  • Fierce Tiger Descends the Mountain
  • Return Horse to the Stable
  • Return Horse to the Stable

Snake Section

The Snake Section is the fourth part of the Hung Gar Tiger Crane set. Videos:

snake

And the names are:

  • Wipe the Sleeve
  • Snake Spits Poison
  • Rising Falling Block
  • Lift and Press
  • Snake Points to Heaven
  • Double Falling Back Fist
  • Fist Going Through the Sky
  • Continually Piercing the Sky
  • Staggered Horse Stance, Fist Like an Arrow

Repeat other side. Then:

  • Snake Pierces the Eye
  • Cat Stance Chopping Down
  • Turn Around and Slice bamboo
  • Snake Strikes from the earth

We are going to stop here for a while and return to Laojia Yilu, but there are two more sections remaining to this form. We’ll learn them before the end of the year.

Leopard Section

Continuing with the Hung Gar Tiger Crane Set. After Poison Hands and Iron Body is the Leopard Section. I have three videos to work with:

Leopard section: Suppress the Tiger

Leopard section: Suppress the Tiger

The names of the movements are as follows:

  • White Horse Offers Front Leg
  • Suppress the Tiger
  • Pearl Bridge
  • Press Ten Thousand Pounds
  • Dragon Leaps from Sea
  • Leopard Palms a Tree Trunk
  • Leopard Breaks its Prey
  • Leopard Breaks its Prey
  • Leopard Smothers its Prey
  • Arhat Exits the Cave
  • Crosscutting Bamboo
  • Divide the Grass in Search of Snakes
  • Throw a Ball Through a Wave

REPEAT ALL on the other side. Then:

  • Kicking Star Method
  • Double Bow Hugging the Moon
  • Children Bow to Buddha
  • Leopard Pulls Back
  • Cornered Leopard Fights Back

Finally, for review, here is a demonstration by Head Instructor Hunter of the first three sections, at a walk-through pace. We haven’t yet learned the Five Animal Salute that you see at the beginning and end.

Iron Body

Returning to the Hung Gar Tiger Crane set. A while back I posted links and names for the first section, Poison Hands. Iron Body is the second section.

Buzzard folds his wings

Iron body- Vulture folds his wings

I’ve got three good videos to work from:

The names of the movements are:

Sweep in front, sweep behind
Raise the sun and moon
Vulture folds its wings
Double bow spears the flower
Duck traverses water
Press ten thousand pounds
Double dragons leap from sea
Establish an iron bridge
Soft bridge left
Soft bridge right
hero holds a pot
Scoop the moon from the bottom of the sea
Crane flashes wings
Crane folds wings
Twin daggers cut the bridge
Tiger defends left
Tiger defends right
Tiger defends behind
Tiger cleans its whiskers

As a bonus, I’ve found the Chinese names for the first four names in the Poison Hands section–not in characters or standard Pinyin, just phonetic. Still looking for a proper list.

Fu hu qian long — qian is hide
Mei ren zhao jing — zhao is to regard one’s image, jing is mirror
Xie feng bai liu — liu is willow
Xiu li cang hua — xiu is sleeve, or tuck into sleeve; cang is hide

Laojia Yilu: Tricks and Horse’s Mane

In section four, after the single whip that follows Push Mountain (Tui Shan), we do forward and backward tricks and Part the Wild Horse’s Mane right and left:

  • Forward Move (Qian Zhao)
  • Backward Move (Hou Zhao)
  • Part the Wild Horse’s Mane (Ye Ma Fen Zong)

Zhao (招) means maneuver, move, or trick. Here’s the video:

Part the Wild Horse’s Mane:

And finally, a video of section four through Part the Wild Horse’s Mane:

Ready for Yu Nu Chuan Suo and the end of section four!