Taiji is very profound. There are at least four major styles. They are Chen Style, Yang Style, Wu Style, Sun Style and Wu (wu as in Wushu) style. There are the competition routines and the traditional routines. I shall introduce the forms and routines of the Traditional Yang Style Taiji as taught by Zhang Yong Tao, whom I shall refer to my lao shi teacher. Any discrepancy in my interpretation is unintended and purely on my account.
Taiji Quan is an old Chinese culture and the terminology is at times quite difficult to grasp in the modern Chinese language. It is much more difficult to translate the terms, technique and nuances into satisfactory English. However, I shall do my level best to express in simple English from my personal understanding and knowledge of this ancient martial art.
Brief History of the Yang Style Taiji: Yang Lu Chan was an ardent pugilistic who learned taiji quan from the Chen Family. He changed some of the hard and pounding movements and formed the Yang Style of Taiji. He left his native Yong Nian for Beijing in the eighteenth century and popularized taiji there. One of his grandsons, Yang Cheng Pu studied this form well and documented it. He also wrote the Ten Essentials of Practising Taiji Quan which all practitioners of taiji quan till today recognize as important techniques in developing taiji quan.
The Yang Style Taiji Quan lao jia old form has 85 movements or forms. It is also known as the 88 forms, 108 forms and 126 forms. The numbers vary on how the movements of each form are accounted. The numbers do not affect the old form of 85.
Yang Cheng Pu had many disciples. One senior disciple was Cui Li Zhi who had a daughter, Cui Xui Chen who was my lao shi's mother. Both mother and son learned and inherited the Yang Style Taiji from senior Cui Li Zhi.
Every generation has its own invention and unique ideas. The original old form had many repetitive movements. Cui Li Zhi, the fourth generation Yang Style Taiji successor came up with a shorter version consisting of 42 forms. This new set of taiji quan retains the old form's character but excludes the repetitive movements in the old form. This enables easy learning. Likewise, my lao shi, wrote the simplified 13 forms of taiji quan, jian sword, dao broadsword (Yang sabre), gun cudgel and qiang spear. These are introductory sets for beginners. Although the sets or routines are short and simple, nothing is compromised on the principle and characteristics of the original Quan 85 forms, Sword 51 forms, Broadsword 76 forms and the Spear Set.
Competition Routines: In the 50s China came up with new taiji routines as forms for standard teaching material and for international competitions. In order to clarify the old form and the new sets, the old form is called Traditional Style or Long Form.
Simplified 24 Form Taiji: This ever popular set of taiji quan is derived from the Traditional Yang Style Taiji Quan. The essentials of the Yang Style are maintained but the movements are simplified and the sequence in the set is rearranged.
32 Form Taiji Sword: A competition set simplified from the Traditional Yang Style Sword 51 Forms.
Yang Taiji 40 Forms: A competiton set derived from the Traditional Yang Style Taiji 85 Forms.
International Competition 42 Form Taiji Guan and International Competition 42 Form Taiji Sword: These two sets are compilations of the Yang Style Taiji as well as of the other styles of Chen, Sun and Wu taiji quan.
How Is Taiji Quan Practised Today: Despite its popularity and length of history, there is still some misconception about taiji. Some view it as an exercise for fitness. Some view it as an elite sport. There are some who practice for its martial art sake. Some prefer the old form for its authenticity. Some prefer the new routines for its magnetism. Some practice because of its health healing benefits. For all the reasons, taiji should work for you. Choose one style that suits your interest and need. It is advisable to begin with a competent taiji teacher as it is hard to correct wrong habits. Practice diligently. Taiji practice is all about keeping fit with minimal fuss.
Taiji For Health: Taiji is viewed upon as a health therapy and as an athletic sport in the present generation. Very few can master it as martial art combat. Taiji is practiced in a series of slow, continuous and relaxed movements. The nature of which makes it a very suitable exercise for all age groups. It improves balance, posture and flexibility of joints. Its fluidity in movements demands relaxation and concentration of the mind. Regular practice will enhance physical and mental wellness. It is a good therapy for cultivating patience, perseverance, discipline and confidence.
It is important to observe the Ten Essentials when practicing taiqi quan. They are:
- Relax with torso and head held upright
- Chest and shoulder relaxed
- Loosen the waist for flexibility
- Shift the full body weight from the left leg to the right leg and vice-versa
- Drop the shoulder and elbows
- Channel thoughts to execute the movements instead of physical force
- Co-ordination of upper limbs with lower limbs
- Co-ordination of internal energy with external physical movements
- Uninterrupted continuous flow of movements
- Steadfast in movements through calmness of mind
Learn at your own pace and practice diligently. Taiji Quan grows in and with you.
Taiji As A Lifestyle: Taiji is one exercise which can carry on to an old age. In fact it gets better with age. It not only enhances health, it can be a meaningful lifestyle as a vocation as well. Share the art of Taiji with friends or impart the knowledge to students. I have wonderful students and I get immense pleasure teaching them the wonders of Taiji.