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Yang style footwork

The Yang style of tai chi is occasionally criticised on account of its apparent lack of dynamic footwork.
Usually the obese size of the famous practitioner Yang Cheng Fu is cited as the reason for this. This may be true. But it is not the real reason why the footwork operates as it does.

Which form?

When speaking about the Yang footwork, which form is being considered?
Typically the Long Yang form. It is usually depicted at the most basic level - 'square' form - otherwise known as the slow form. The name somewhat explains the situation, doesn't it?

Start slowly

The Long Yang form is performed slowly by students who lack an advanced level of skill. Later, it may be performed at whatever pace seems most appropriate on a given occasion.
Slow practice is important at first: it encourages accuracy, builds strength and develops concentration.

Agile forms

The weapons forms all require nimble footwork.


So, when someone speaks of Yang style footwork they are not actually talking about the Yang style in general. They are referring to one particular form within the old/classical Yang style. 
The Long Yang form. Also, they are speaking of the first level of form practice.

One should note that right from its creation, Yang tai chi has always been combat-oriented. Yang Cheng Fu always emphasised that the set should be practiced with its martial applications in mind.
These applications may be taught through the fast set, individual movement explanations, tui shou (push hands), san shou (fixed-step sparring) and san da (free sparring).

(Alex Yeo)

Stepping in the form

During the Long Yang form stepping is minimal. This serves a particular, specific martial purpose: adjustment.
Evading an attack is the first stage in countering the attack and this often - but not always - requires a step.
However, if your step is too large you will be too far away to remain sticky and deliver an effective counter. Therefore, stepping is not about escaping. It is about adjusting your positioning.


The function of adjustment is maintain the optimal position at all times. This skill is trained throughout the entire Yang syllabus with numerous partner drills teaching the skill.

Functional stepping

Stepping enables you to remain close to your attacker: balanced, structurally aligned, relaxed, sticky and sensitive. But it should not be arbitrary.
You should only step as and when you need to and then only in order to improve your positional relationship with the attacker.

Weight shift

Shifting the weight between the legs and turning the waist is an alternative to stepping. It requires less physical effort and relies to a greater degree upon timing and accuracy.
Although stepping is a safer option when you are being attacked, you may not be afforded the time to step. Skill with peng, listening and yielding is now paramount.

Tai chi fighting method

Smaller movements are harder to see and difficult to avoid in time. The smaller the action, the less apparent it is, and therefore the more surprising.

Small circle

When you are accomplished with adjustment, a very small movement can be used to immediately affect the attacker's centre.
This imperceptible touch instantly renders the attacker subtly off-balance. As the attacker seeks to re-gain the advantage, the student must continue to adjust themselves in order to maintain the uproot.
Presence, sensitivity and a lack of self-consciousness are all required. The subtle adjustments taught throughout the Long Yang form now come into play.
Overt, unnecessary stepping would break the connection between attacker and defender, rendering the tai chi ineffective.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023