Continuing the Yang and Chen style comparison project (scroll down for the first and second posts in this series), the third video starts with the second set of Cloud Hands and finishes with 收势 Shōu Shì (Closing Form).
Again, I am an old lady; there are no drop-splits to be seen in this video! But you can see that the two forms continue to track each other closely. One disparity occurs at the very end, where Yang does 搬拦捶 Bān Lán Chuí opposite the final occurance of pounding the mortar. Also, nothing in Chen corresponds to the final Yang 如封似闭 Rú Fēng Sì Bì (Like Sealing as if Closing). So I have slowed the closing of Chen to allow Yang time for a hasty finish.
It bears repeating that, necessarily, neither style has its normal pace in these videos. Both alternately speed up and slow down in order to line up against each other. The three videos total about thirteen minutes—a slow-ish Chen and defnitely a very fast Yang!
Also, both of these forms are widely practiced, with minor variations. Where I have had to choose which way to do a particular move, I have used to the following sources to settle the issue:
The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan by Yang Chengfu
Mastering Yang-Style Taijiquan by Fu Zhongwen
Chen’s Taichi Old Frames One and Two by Chen Zhenglei
Continuing the Yang and Chen style comparison project (see the first post in this series), the second video starts with the Single Whip before the first Cloud Hands and finishes with the Single Whip after Fair Lady Works the Shuttle.
This segment was considerably more difficult to make than the first. For one thing, the movements are more challenging physically; most of the kicks occur in Part 2. I am an old lady; I don’t kick high and I certainly don’t do double jump kicks! I have modified 踢 二 起 (Tī Èr Qǐ) to a slap kick.
But also, the two forms diverge more dramatically in some places. There really is nothing in Yang to correspond to the forward and backward tricks in Chen (前着 Qián Zhāo and 后着 Hòu Zhāo), and although there is a nice parallel between the right and left Part the Wild Horse’s Mane (野马分鬃 Yé Mǎ Fēn Zōng), Yang has a third and Chen does not.
Fair Lady Works the Shuttle (玉女穿梭 Yùnǚ Chuān Suō) is even more problematic. Both the Yang and Chen forms include a full 360-degree turn to the right, and both employ 挒 liè (splitting). They have the same name and occur in the same position in the overall sequence. But they are very different. It’s the only near-complete breakdown in alignment between the two forms.
In the clip above, you can see the contrast between these two moves. The Chen lasts about 10 seconds, while this faster-than-normal Yang takes almost three times as long. Moreover, Yang finishes where it begins, while Chen travels about six feet. In making the middle side-by-side video, I have paused and reined in the Chen.
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:
起势 Qǐshì to 单鞭 Dān Biān 2 – Beginning to the second Single Whip (above)
单鞭 Dān Biān 2 to 单鞭 Dān Biān 5 – from Cloud hands through Fair Ladies
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.
I first learned this beautiful sword form in 2016. It is unusually dramatic and theatrical, having its origin in a hugely popular song and both television and film dramas, the latter dating back to 1931.
This time around I found the following video on sword flowers (剑花 jiànhuā ) very helpful:
For more about this form, names of the movements, lyrics of the song, and links to instructional and performance videos, see these earlier posts:
Yi Jian Mei is not without its detractors. Some say it is not even Tai Chi Sword, and in fact, it is not. It is 抒怀剑, shūhuái jiàn, lyric (lit. express emotion) sword. The originator of this type of sword, and creator of the popular Yi Jian Mei sword routine, is 朱俊昌 Zhū Jùn Chāng. Read about him and shuhuaijian here: http://www.shuhuaijian.net/ [I owe thanks to Song Chen and Martin Mellish for this information.]
Professor Zhu is a teacher of dance, but he was trained in the martial arts from an early age. Odd as some of the movements in Yi Jian Mei might appear, I have seen most of them in one source or another in less well known, but definitely authentic, Tai Chi sword forms.
For example, this (to me) odd-looking position, called Fukan Renjian in Yi Jian Mei, is from the Michuan (secret) Yang Sword form that Yang Luchan taught the Manchu Imperial guards in the 1850s. The illustration here is from Scott Rodell’s excellent book on Chinese Swordsmanship.
The movements of Yi Jian Mei are so intricate that it’s hard to imagine using them in an actual swordfight, but though intricate, they are composed of familiar jianfa. I have modified my own practice of Yi Jian Mei to stay within bounds of the Tai Chi sword that I am familiar with.
This has come to be my favorite fan form, partly because this time around I found and used the teaching videos of Master Zeng Nailiang himself, creator of the form. Read about him here: Kung Fu Magazine-Professor Zeng Nailiang.
Here are the links to Master Zeng’s four-part tutorial, totalling about 45 minutes of instruction. I especially appreciate his emphasis on the martial aspects of the form and the use of the fan as a weapon. That is Master Zeng’s daughter demonstrating the moves at the beginning of each segment.
The name of the form is 华武太極扇 (Huáwǔ tàijíshàn). Huawu means “Flowery Martial” Tai Chi Fan, and here is a list of the 42 movements (PDF). For more about Huawu Fan and links to more video demonstrations, see my earlier posts: Huawu Fan (tagged).
After a year and a half of isolation, my long-time neighborhood weekend practice group has resumed its routine, and I am so glad.
At a nearby park, we start with about a half-hour of basics: baduanjin (the eight brocades qigong), 24, 42, 32-sword, and kungfu fan. What we do after that varies. Right now, we are learning a new fan form: 28-step fan.
The name of the form is 杨氏28式太极扇:Yáng shì 28-shì tàijíshàn (Yang-style 28-step Tai Chi Fan). We call it èr shì bā shàn (28 fan) for short. The form is relatively new, created in 2014, and is quite popular in China. It has many intricate and enjoyable movements, but it has no level-of-difficulty moves, so it is appropriate for people of all abilities. It makes a good ensemble piece too, for group practice or performance.
China Wushu is a great YouTube station with tutorials for many forms, including 28-fan. A very beautiful demonstration by Yang Li (pictured above) begins at 1:20 in the introduction to a series of teaching videos. The whole series:
This famous fan form was created in the early two thousands by Li Deyin as part of the pageantry that surrounded the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It is the second of two fan forms that Li composed for that occasion. The first was Kung Fu Fan. Both routines immediately became very popular.
This form is called Xi Yang Mei (Beautiful Sunset), or 56-Fan, or Fan II (第二套 dì èr tào, “the second way”). It is one of the most sophisticated and spectacular modern forms, first performed in Beijing by Li’s daughter, Faye Li Yip. Here she gives an amazing performance:
Xi Yang Mei is eclectic in style. Its movements are drawn from Tai Chi (both Yang and Chen), Bagua, Long Fist, Bajiquan (never heard of it! I had to look it up), sword, staff and spear, Northern and Southern Fist, even Beijing Opera. Like the music that accompanies it, Kung Fu Fan, it is a celebration of the Chinese martial arts.
Li has made more than one instructional video for this form. A new one, posted in 2020, is the first I’ve seen that has English subtitles. While I prefer to listen for the Chinese instructions (see the PDF below), it is very helpful to have English translations of the discussions where Li explains important points and also identifies the provenance of the various movements.
The tutorial is in three parts, each about thirty minutes long:
Xi Yang Mei is a good bit more difficult than Kung Fu Fan. Also, while Kung Fu Fan is a great ensemble piece, Xi Yang Mei is more suitable for a solo performance. You do see groups of three performing Xi Yang Mei—I have performed it with two other people myself—but it’s a lot easier to field a group for Kung Fu Fan.
Xi Yang Mei is an endlessly absorbing form to study and practice. I first learned it from my friend and teacher Hu Pei Yi, and I have studied Li’s various tutorials over the years, but even so, watching this latest set of videos, I see a whole slew of corrections for myself:
Obviously, I have a long way to go yet! I can only admire the elite performances in Li’s video—I particularly like to watch Fang Mishou (on the left in the opening demonstration), who is Li’s wife and an accomplished Tai Chi master in her own right.
One especially interesting point: Talking about this form as an exercise for older practitioners, Li says that it elevates the heart rate to about 120 beats per minute, and a maximum of 150 beats per minute in its most demanding parts. Perfect.
Last year, my doctor, who knows I do Tai Chi every day, asked me about whether my practice was sufficiently aerobic. He was no doubt picturing slow, Yang-style Tai Chi (which involves more exertion than most people realize, if they haven’t tried it). Next time I see him, I’ll tell him about the heart rate for Xi Yang Mei.
The Sun 73 is a modern form designed for competition. As such, it is between 6:00 and 6:30 in length and eliminates the repetition in the traditional long form. Also, as is usually the case with modern forms, it is more left-right balanced than the old form.
My current teacher here in Austin, Grandmaster Aiping Cheng, learned from Sun Lutang’s daughter, Sun Jian Yun. Years ago, the Chinese government made a video of Aiping performing the Sun competition form, and this is the standard for judging the form. Unfortunately, the copy on YouTube is incomplete (only the first three minutes) and not the best video quality.
The name of the form is 孙式七十三式太极拳竞赛套路, Sūn shì Qī Shí Sān Shì Tàijíquán Jìngsài Tàolù, which translates as Sun-style 73-Step Tai Chi Competition Form. Below, Gao Jiamin demonstrates the Sun 73 with Li Deyin providing the names of the movements.
The 98 and the 73 start out the same—the whole first section is the same, in fact. But then in the second section of the 73, several of the movements occur on the unfamiliar side: Lanzhayi is on the left, single whip is on the right, and cloud hands travels to the right.
In section three, ban lan chui is on the opposite side from usual. The four corners of Fair Lady Works the Shuttle (section five) are in a different order in the 73; the order in the 98 is the same as in the Yang 108: SW/SE/NE/NW. In the Sun 73 the corners are SW/NE/NW/SE.
Finally, here is Gao Jiamin in back view:
As usual, I got Jesse Tsao’s instructional video from Taichihealthways.com. Between that and Li’s videos above, I learned the form well enough to schedule some private lessons (outside, masked) with Aiping. I actually learned the 73 first, and found it pretty easy to move up to the 98 from there.
The Sun-style long form that Sun Lutang describes, move by move, in his book, Taijiquan, consists of 98 movements and echoes the overall structure of both the Chen and Yang long forms. It’s quite a bit shorter, however; it only takes about seven and a half minutes.
Here is a video of the Sun 98, with names, demonstrated first by Liu Jingshan (刘金山), then by Sun Lutang’s daughter, Sun Jian Yun.
Sun Jian Yun dedicated her life to preserving her father’s teachings. Li Yulin, father of Li Tianji and grandfather of Li Deyin, was a close disciple of Sun Lutang, and all three (father, son, grandson) have carried on the tradition as well.
My list of the movements in the Sun long form is derived from the book and the names given in the first video above. Where the two lists diverge, I have followed the video; footnotes in the book indicate that Sun’s form continued to evolve after he published the book.
My daily backyard practice in 2021 begins with the Sun 98. I learned the elements of Sun style from Grandmaster Aiping Cheng in 2020, and learned the 98 using Grandmaster Jesse Tsao’s instructional video (available on Taichihealthways.com).
I love the gentleness and accessibility of this style of tai chi; it’s perfect for an ordinary (and older) practitioner like me. These days, a modern competition form in Sun style, the Sun 73, seems to be more widely practiced than the old form. More on that next.
The Yang-style 24-step Tai Chi routine is the most widely practiced form in the world. It is said to be simplified in the sense that it is short—much shorter than the traditional Yang-style long form on which it is based—and some movements have been modified to make them a little easier for beginners to learn. Here is a brilliant demonstration of 24 by Gao Jiamin:
The name of the form is 二十四式简化太极拳 (Èr Shí Sì Shì Jiǎnhuà Tàijíquán): 24-style Simplified Tai Chi. Here is a PDF list of the 24 movements.
Many people practice this form with little or no training, and it’s the only Tai Chi they know. Others learn 24 as an introduction to Tai Chi, train to a higher level of performance, and then move on to learn longer and more advanced forms.
Among this latter group, many continue practicing 24 routinely as a review of fundamentals. Twenty-four may be simplified, but it’s not easy! With heel kicks and xiashi duli (low form to standing on one leg) on both sides, it is as physically challenging as Yang Tai Chi gets.
History of the form
Twenty-four dates from the 1950s. At that time, the prevailing Tai Chi practice was the long form of Yang Chengfu. That form is a brilliant exercise, but it is very long—85 to 108 moves, depending how you count it. The problem is not so much that it takes a long time to perform (25-30 minutes) but that it takes such a very long time to learn. Most people never get there.
Recognizing that tai chi was a remarkably good exercise for health and longevity, the Chinese government’s sports commission sponsored the development of a shorter, more accessible form for beginners, in hopes that more people would learn and practice tai chi.
Yang Chengfu was long gone, having died in 1936. A number of well-known masters were consulted or involved in this development project. Li Tianji—son of Li Yulin—was a leading creative force behind the new form, and it was Li who wrote and illustrated Simplified Taijiquan, the first textbook on 24, which was eventually distributed to physical education departments throughout China.
In any case, the resulting form has only 24 movements derived from the traditional long form and little or no repetition. The long form contains 50-odd unique movements, so 24 has not quite half as many moves. It can be learned in a matter of weeks or months, not years. A person who has learned 24 can then move up to the 108 fairly quickly, having already learned the fundamentals of Yang-style Tai Chi and nearly half of the moves in the long form.
Instructional material for 24 abounds. Arguably the most authoritative is this instructional video by Li Deyin, nephew of Li Tianji and for many years one of China’s most influential teachers, as well as its number one tournament judge. He has produced a number of instructional videos on 24. This one is almost two hours long, very complete.
This video is in Chinese. Li does a lot of talking, but if you are patient, you can learn from watching. He’s very clear, shows everything from multiple angles, and goes into great detail. After a brief introduction, a full demo starts at 3:15, back view of the first part at 9:00, and instruction begins at about 17:00.
Although the 24 moves are derived from the 108, they are not all exactly the same. In fact, 24 is revolutionary in some respects. For one thing, the traditional forms tend to be one-sided; a lot of moves are only ever practiced on one side.
Twenty-four, by contrast, is more left-right balanced. Grasp the Bird’s Tail is practiced on both sides in 24, and Snake Creeps Down is performed on both sides as well, which makes the Golden Rooster Standing on Right Leg considerably more difficult than it is in the 108. This left-right balance turned out to be a trend; nowadays, in contemporary forms, we practice almost everything on both sides.
The retreating move in 24 is simpler than the traditional Repulse Monkeys. Some people call the backward-stepping move in 24 Repulse Monkeys, but it is a different move and has a different name in Chinese. Repulse Monkeys is 倒攆猴 Dào niǎn hóu, and the move in 24 is 倒卷肱 Dào juǎn gōng (Go back whirling forearms).
The upper body movement in these two steps is pretty much the same, but the footwork is different. Many beginners have a hard time learning the footwork for Repulse Monkeys. Dao Juan Gong is a more basic 退步 tuìbù (step back)—step straight back, from empty stance on one side to empty stance on the other.
I love 24 and practice regularly to keep my fundamentals up to speed. My only comment would be that 24 requires a warm-up. The 108 starts so gradually that by the time you get to the more demanding moves, you are ready for them. When you do 24, you are doing heel kicks and squats within two minutes. Of course, you could take it easy, but I like to practice 24 after I am thoroughly warm so I can perform each move as well as I can. Ba Duan Jin (the Eight Brocades) serves very well as a warm-up for 24.
My backyard 24 below is considerably less impressive than the world-class performance by Gao Jiamin above. This is more like what most of us do: