What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that has evolved over the last couple of centuries into a popular practice with multiple applications, including self-defense, exercise and physical conditioning, stress relief, disease prevention, and improving overall health. Many people (myself among them) consider it the ultimate age-defying art. Why?

Mural in the Tai Chi Museum in Chen Village, Henan Province.

What is so special about Tai Chi?

Tai Chi, in its martial aspect, is founded on the principle that a smaller, weaker person can prevail over a bigger, stronger opponent. The most basic tenets of Tai Chi, as explained in the Tai Chi Classics, address how this is possible. [See The Origins of Tai Chi, on the Taijiquan Jing and Taijiquan Lun.]

Tai Chi is said to be an internal martial art, more concerned with cultivating and issuing internal energy than with developing muscular (“external”) strength. A person who seeks only to build muscles and deliver heavy kicks and punches will always be pitting strength against strength, and the bigger, stronger opponent will always prevail.

The person who practices Tai Chi uses technique, intention, and natural movement to capture a stronger opponent’s energy and turn it to advantage. To do this, it is necessary to achieve the frame of mind most effective in fighting—which is not anger, fury, desperation, fear or any other such strong emotion, but calmness and presence of mind.

The goals of Tai Chi

The goals of Tai Chi therefore include cultivating internal energy, adhering to the body’s most natural ways of moving, and practicing deep, deliberate relaxation.  The value of these goals is obvious, even for a person who has no intention of fighting.

Another important objective lies in achieving balance—not just the ability to stand on one foot or to avoid falling, but balance in the broader sense of managing opposite tendencies. In traditional Chinese philosophy, this means balancing Yin and Yang—yielding energy versus warding-off energy. Earth-energy versus sky-energy.

I practice balance in my backyard.

In more Western terms, this means maintaining balanced emotions and a balanced center, both literally and figuratively: being aware of one’s center of gravity, being alert yet calm, aware of both one’s internal state and external surroundings, which might take the form of an adversary (physical or otherwise) or the natural environment.

The free flow of Qi

According to traditional Chinese medicine, the foundation of health lies in the free flow of qi throughout the body. Qi is variously defined in English as vitality, life force, or simply as energy. The channels for the flow of qi are called meridians, and they are mapped in traditional Chinese medicine much as we map arteries and veins in the West.

The free flow of energy is not exactly the same thing as what we call good circulation—the latter refers to circulation of the blood and delivery of Oxygen. But the two are analogous. In both cases, the general idea is that blockage and binding are damaging and unhealthy, while free circulation throughout all parts of the body is beneficial and enlivening.

Whatever the technical explanation or scientific theory behind this concept of free flow, it works. A steadily increasing body of evidence shows that people who practice Tai Chi regularly experience improved overall health and balance, lowered stress levels, and greater resistance to disease.

Many people consider Tai Chi the secret to rejuvenation and longevity.

Those of us who have already incorporated Tai Chi into our daily lives gain a whole new level of well-being that has to be experienced to be believed. As a form of physical training, it is gentle, effective, and free of drudgery or injury. Having once tapped into that, who would give it up? Most of us will do it for the rest of our lives.

Animals and Heroes

Continuing the study of Taijiese (Chinese for Tai Chi): Names of many animals and folkloric heroes occur in the traditional names for the movements in Tai Chi moving forms.

The animals most often encountered:

  • 虎     Hǔ         Tiger
  • 蛇     Shé        Snake
  • 马     Mǎ         Horse
  • 鹤     Hè         Crane
  • 金鸡   Jīn jī     Golden rooster
  • 猿     Yuán      Ape
  • 猴     Hóu       Monkey

[Painting of a tiger is by Zhang Shanzi (張善孖, 1882-1940) http://www.chinaonlinemuseum.com/ ]

The poor Tiger is embraced but also ridden, hit, subdued, and shot:

  • 抱虎      Bào hǔ Embrace the Tiger (Embrace tiger return to mountain)
  • 跨 虎     Kuà hǔ Ride the Tiger
  • 打虎      Dǎ hǔ   Hit the Tiger
  • 伏虎      Fú hǔ   Subdue (or tame) the Tiger
  • 射虎      Shè hǔ Shoot the Tiger (Bend bow shoot tiger)

The snake creeps down and spits out its tongue. Add 野 yě (wild) to 马 mǎ (horse) to get ye ma: the wild horse, whose mane is parted (ye ma fen zong). The wild horse also jumps across the stream in the sword forms. The crane spreads his wings and the golden rooster stands on one leg. The ape presents fruit, the monkey is repulsed.

Painting “Running Horse” is by Xu BeiHong (1895-1953).

More birds:

  • 雀     Què       Sparrow (Grasp the bird’s tail)
  • 燕子  Yànzi     Swallow
  • 雁      Yàn       Wild goose
  • 雕      Diāo      Bird of prey (hawk, eagle)

Mythical animals abound, most especially dragons, but also the phoenix and roc.

  • 龙     Lóng      Dragon
  • 鳯     Fèng      Phoenix
  • 鹏     Péng      Fabulous bird (Roc)

The animals come in colors:

  • 白      Bái         White
  • 乌      Wū        Black
  • 黄      Huáng   Yellow
  • 红      Hóng     Red
  • 丹      Dān       Red

There’s a white crane (spreads wings), white ape (presents fruit), white snake (spits tongue), and white tiger (swings his tail). Dragons are black, blue-green, and yellow:

  • 乌龙   Wūlóng  Black dragon  (also oolong tea!)
  • 青龙   Qīnglóng  Blue-green (or azure) dragon
  • 黄龙   Huánglóng Yellow dragon

More animals, less common, less important to know, though they do occur in names of movements:

  • 蟒       Mǎng    Python
  • 狮子   Shīzi      Lion (shakes his head)
  • 黃蜂   Huángfēng    Yellow wasp, bee (returns to the cave)
  • 蜻蜓   Qīngtíng        Dragonfly (touches water)
  • 蝴蝶   Húdié    Butterfly
  • 犀牛   Xīniú      Rhinoceros (gazes at the moon)
  • 豹     Bào        Leopard

Bonus: 五禽戏        Wǔ qín xì            Five Animal Frolics

Heroes

  • 武松    Wǔ Song   Outlaw folk hero (who breaks the handcuffs)
  • 鍾馗   Zhong Kui    Ghost King (vanquisher of ghosts, he wields the sword)
  • 罗汉  Luóhàn     Arhat, enlightened person in Buddhism, has reached nirvana
  • 夜叉   Yèchā    Malevolent spirt (returns to the sea)
  • 哪吒   Nézha   Protection deity (searches the sea)
  • 韦驼  Wéi Tuó (aka Skanda) is one of eight divine protectors in Chinese Buddhism
  • 苏秦   Sū Qín   Historical political figure (380-284 BC)
  • 覇王   Bà Wáng   A warlord whose actual name was Xiang Yu (202-232 BC)

魁星   Kuíxīng  is the legendary scholar for whom the constellation we call the Dipper is named. In the sword forms, we find both the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper (Ursa Major and Minor):

  • 大     Dà          Big (Dà Kuíxīng)
  • 小     Xiǎo       Small (Xiǎo Kuíxīng)

Picture of Wu Song is by Utagawa Kuniyoshi – http://www.britishmuseum.org 

Read about Wu Song: http://www.kungfumagazine.com/magazine/article.php?article=237

Read about Su Qin: http://kongming.net/encyclopedia/Su-Qin

This startling quote is attributed to Ba Wang (Xiang Yu): “Live with a man forty years. Share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge, and on that day, you will finally meet the man.”

Read more about Ba Wang: https://artsandculture.google.com/entity/xiang-yu/m03f26z

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.

Huawu Fan

Zhongji Huawu Fan is a beautiful 42-step fan form created by Chinese national martial arts coach Zeng Nai Liang and Hu senior lecturer Wei Xianglian.

Above, Sing May Chen performs Chang’e (Moon Goddess) Flies to the Moon. The form is also called 42-step Fan.

Here are three demonstration videos:

Another lovely performance by Sing May Chen, video quality not so good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiR6JqNNsdc

I first learned this form from a friend from Beijing who used to join my neighborhood practice group on the weekends. When I learn a new form, I always want to know the correct names of the movements. In this case, arriving at a list was a challenge. I felt like Sherlock Holmes. I started with the list at the beginning of a teaching video. But I couldn’t just copy the text, because all I had was an image.

I found a (somewhat loosely translated) English list. Using that, the voiceover of a teaching video (link below), Google translate, and the MDBG online dictionary (which allows me to draw a character if I can get the order of the brushstrokes right), I have arrived at a list of the moves.

Here is a teaching video in Chinese which is helpful, even if you don’t understand much, because it identifies all the movements by name: https://tv.sohu.com/v/dXMvNjMyODA0MzgvNjA5ODk3MjYuc2h0bWw=.html

And here is a printable list of the names of the 42 movements: huawufan [PDF]

There are actually two forms: a primary level form and a mid-level form. It is the latter that I practice. Huá means flowery or magnificent; Wǔ means martial. The Chinese names of the forms are:

初级华武扇初级               Chūjí  Huá Wǔ Shàn (Primary-level Hua Wu Fan)

中级华武扇                     Zhōngjí  Huá Wǔ Shàn (Middle-level Hua Wu Fan)

Zhongji Hua Wu Shan is a combined form, with elements of the four main styles (Yang, Chen, Wu and Sun). The opening to this form is clearly Sun-style.

A couple of names of movements are particularly interesting. #4, 推波助澜 Tuī Bō Zhù Lán, Push the Waves even Higher, is a saying that means something like the English “Add fuel to the fire.”  #29, 贵妃醉酒 Guìfēi zuìjiǔ (sounds like gway fay djway joe), The Drunken Beauty, is the name of a well-known Qing Dynasty Beijing opera.

And here she is, the Drunken Beauty, reeling away in Huawu fan:

That is Master Zeng’s daughter in back view; here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCK2lLQlIqA

Like many other fan forms, this one includes a number of names familiar from sword forms, with the fan movements mimicking swordplay. And where the sword forms feature Xianren, the Immortal, the fan form names Xiannu, the Spirit Woman.

42-Step Competition Form

For the next few weeks I am going to be reviewing the 42-step competition form. This form was created in 1989 by Li Deyin specifically for tournament play. It is a combined form that incorporates movements from the four major styles of Tai Chi: Yang, Chen, Sun, and Wu.

Gao Jiamin demonstrates 42-step competition form

Here is an outstanding demonstration of the form by Gao Jiamin, one of the most celebrated tournament champions of our time. Not only is this a great demonstration of the form, it also identifies the movements with Chinese/English subtitles.

You can read more about Gao Jiamin in this interview, originally published in Kungfu Magazine in 2000, republished by the US Wushu Center in Portland, Oregon, where she sometimes teaches.

Here’s another beautiful demonstration video by another great champion, Amin Wu, who teaches in the Bay Area. She also offers an instructional video which I have not seen.

Li Deyin, author of the form, instructs.

I originally learned 42 from my friend Long Feng in 2014, then again under the excellent instruction of Hu Pei Yi in 2016. For review and further instruction, I am using a 50-minute YouTube instructional video by Li Deyin, the author of the form. Gao Jiamin demonstrates each move; Li also demonstrates and elaborates on detail.

With the instructional vocabulary that I call Taijiese (much of it incorporated in this online notebook), I find I can understand most of what he says in this video, despite knowing just about zero conversational Chinese.

Here is the list of movements: 42-form [PDF].

Another very useful resource is a book by Li Deyin, available in English from Amazon, in which he details the standards for judging a performance of 42. You couldn’t learn the form from this book, but you can correct your form by referring to it in detail. He explains both important points and common mistakes.

Book by Li Deyin

I particularly like the chart that he offers at the start of the chapter on 42, in which for each move he gives the hand shape, footwork, techniques, and most interestingly, the style (school) from which the movement is derived.

It’s very hot here right now—lows around 80 and highs in triple digits—so I’ll be working early in the morning, one lesson at a time from the tutorial above, reviewing each movement with reference to Li’s book.

Kicks and Punches

More Taijiese: vocabulary for blows with the hands and feet. These terms are good to know both for understanding the names of movements and for taking instruction in Chinese. Mostly, these terms are useful for bare-hand forms.

脚     Quán     Fist

quan

Sun-style punch by Gao Jiamin, Ban Lan Chui (73-step)

Quan (pronounced like chuan) means fist, but it also refers to bare-hand martial arts, often translated as boxing. In English, the Chinese martial arts—Kung fu, Tai Chi—used to be called Chinese boxing. Taijiquan (sometimes written as Tai Chi Chuan) is bare-hand Tai Chi (no weapons), and its techniques involve the use of hands and feet to block and strike.

抱拳   Bào quán      Clench the fists

 

This phrase, bao quan, in everyday Chinese means to cup one hand around the other as a gesture of respect. Bao means embrace. But in the context of the martial arts, bao quan means to make fists, a gesture more threatening or defensive than polite.

捶 Chuí              Beat, hammer

Quan (fist) may be used to refer to a punch, but Chui is the more common word for a blow with the fist. There are several variations on the punch.

撇身捶       Piē shēn chuí               Fist across the body

Pie means cast away, or fling aside. Shen means body. In Tai Chi, the phrase pie shen chui refers to a backhand punch. Pie shen chui is sometimes (strangely!) translated as “draping” the fist across the body.  In the older forms, the back fist is sometimes called pie shen quan.

栽锤 Zāi chuí  Punch down

Zai means insert, literally, or plant in the ground. In Tai Chi, zai chui is a punch downward, as if to punch an opponent who is already on the ground.

指裆锤 Zhǐ  dāng  chuí   Punch to the groin

Zhi means point (it is also the word for finger), so literally, zhi dang would be pointing to the crotch, and sometimes it’s translated that way. But who points at the crotch in a fight? In Tai Chi, zhi dang chui is a blow aimed at the crotch with the fist.

Strikes with the hands are not always punches:

穿掌   Chuān zhǎng      Strike with extended fingers

Chuan is pierce, a word also used in swordplay. Zhang is palm, and chuan zhang may be called Piercing Palm, or Pierce with Palm. Chuan zhang is not a strike with the palm or heel of the hand but with straight(extended) fingers (usually palm-up).

Other specific punches are named in the various empty-hand forms, especially the Chen-style form called Pao Chui, or Cannon Fist. But the terms above are the most common and useful to know.

Blocks with the hands include:

搬     Bān        Deflect

拦     Lán        Block

Ban means shift (move something heavy) but in Tai Chi it refers to a backfisted block, whereas Lan (which actually does mean block) usually refers to a block with the open hand. The move called ban lan chui is sometimes translated as block, parry, punch. I first learned it as deflect downward, intercept and punch, a mouthful, though a literally accurate translation.

脚          Jiǎo        Foot, leg

Jiao, the word for foot or leg, can also refer to a kick in Tai Chi. The two most common are:

分脚      Fēn jiǎo               Toe kick

蹬脚      Dēng jiǎo            Heel kick

Fen is the verb for separate, so the toe-kick is often called separate (right or left) foot. Deng is literally to step on. Either way, as usual, the translation makes for odd English. Why not just call them fen jiao and deng jiao? Those are the proper Chinese names for the toe kick and heel kick in Tai Chi. Note that these two words are pronounced like fun and dung.

A few more kicks:

摆莲         Bǎi lián                Crescent kick

拍脚         Pāi  jiǎo               Slap kick

擦脚         Cā jiǎo                 Brush kick

旋风脚      Xuàn fēng jiǎo              Whirlwind kick

踢二起                Tī  èr qǐ        Double jump kick

二起脚                èr qǐ jiǎo       Jump kick

The last two terms are used for the same kind of kick. Though it is often called the double jump kick, it is actually more like a double kick jump. Both feet leave the ground and first one foot, then the other, kicks while you’re in the air. The second name above is a more accurate description, literally two (er) raise (qi) leg/foot (jiao).


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32-Step Taijijian

Thirty-two-step Sword, also called the simplified sword form, is a short routine for Tai Chi straight sword that was developed in the 1950s, around the same time as the 24-step simplified taijiquan. Li Tianji was the master who created this form.

Purely Yang in style, 32 is a shortened and somewhat rearranged version of the longer traditional Yang Sword form. All of the movements in 32-sword are drawn from Yang Sword, though some of them are executed somewhat differently.

deyin32

I first learned 32-sword from my friend Long Feng, then relearned it with Hu Pei Yi, an excellent instructor from Jiangyin. I was learning yet again from Frank Lee when the pandemic intervened. Over the winter (of 2020), I studied an excellent tutorial by Li Deyin.

The tutorial is an hour and forty minutes long and it’s in Chinese, though as I have pointed out before, his demonstrations are so clear that you can understand a lot without words. Also, with a modest vocabulary for sword and the list of names, you can follow more of what he says than you might have thought. I especially like Professor Li’s back-view demonstration at 1:28.

Though simple enough to be learned easily the first time, 32 is both subtle enough and robust enough to reward frequent practice and ongoing study. It employs most of the major sword fighting techniques found in Yang sword, yet it takes only three to four minutes to perform.

wu32

Two good demonstration videos to study:

Chen Sitan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ-sUFf2K9U

Wu Amin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrGZXgTP-ZA&t=77s

There are two lists of names, which I have combined. The modern names specify the footwork (or stance) and the sword technique employed. The traditional names indicate the movements in Yang Sword from which the 32-steps have been derived. 起势,Qǐshì (Beginning) and 收势,Shōu shì (Close form) are not included in the 32 steps. Here is my combined list: 32-sword-list (PDF)

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.