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The Yang style of taijiquan was developed by the martial arts legend Yang Lu-chan. Yang Lu-chan's nickname was 'Yang-the-Invincible'.
He is famous for teaching his taijiquan to the Manchu Emperor's elite palace guards.
Faced with a major health crisis, the People's Republic of China turned to Yang style tai chi for a solution. Just think about what that means...
Yang style tai chi's reputation for fitness was so well founded that the government of China thought to employ the art officially as a means of improving wellbeing.
The art was introduced to schools nationwide.
One should note that right from its creation, Yang taijiquan has always
been combat-oriented. The set should be practiced with its martial
applications in mind. These applications may be taught through the set,
individual movement explanations, tui shou (push hands), san shou (fixed-step
sparring) and san da (free sparring).
People may look at different versions of the Yang style of taijiquan and wonder whether or not they even qualify as Yang style. There are so many interpretations being taught.
This is a reasonable question.
What are you observing?
When watching somebody perform Yang style tai chi are you watching form, application, combat or partner work? Which form? What skill level is being demonstrated? Is this a public form or a martial form?
Has the teacher got martial skill or do they only teach tai chi for health? Can you actually understand what you are watching?
When a beginner learns a taijiquan form they cannot conceivably start with an advanced rendition of the form. They learn a crude, introductory version: the slow/square form.
This is the version usually shown to the public. There are many versions.
As the student gains skill, the form changes. It looks more rounded and flowing. Eventually, the form becomes more martial.
To learn any form, a student passes through 8 distinct stages:
Shen (fighting spirit/martial intent)
Martial applications (7 per movement)
Whole-body strength (neigong)
Whole-body movement form)
Whole-body power (jing)
Natural-feeling body use
These stages are inevitable and necessary.
Most people never reach stage 2 and few get past stage 3.
The Chen form derived from
battlefield military movements, where people wore medieval body armour that
had to be compensated for. The Chen-style stances were specifically designed
to achieve these compensations and obtain a workable position from which to
realistically throw an armoured opponent.
By the time Yang had reached Beijing, times had changed. With the advent of firearms, battlefield armour became obsolete; hence, the need for techniques to deal with armoured foes had passed.
Yang and his students had to deal with situations encountered by bodyguards, not armies opposing each other.
Long Yang form
The classical Yang form may be called many different names. This is OK. However, the order of the movements should be fairly consistent from school to school. This is the Long Yang style sequence.
Simplistic forms are known as 'short forms'. They have many movements omitted and tend not to be martial.
Yang Cheng Fu style
Some people believe that they are practicing "Yang Cheng Fu style" taijiquan. Is this accurate? Surely only Yang Cheng Fu practiced taijiquan in the Yang Cheng Fu way.
Even the most faithful rendition cannot account for his proclivities, personality, preferences. Is there any way of knowing if he even shared his most advanced practice?
Yang Cheng Fu form
Most people only talk about one Yang Cheng Fu form. What about his other material? His pushing hands? His combat applications? His neigong? Are you accurately reproducing this too?
Who can say for sure?
Your art, your version
Yang Cheng Fu was very big and fat. This fact will have influenced how he performed his art. A smaller, more nimble person would not benefit from emulating Yang Cheng Fu.
They should instead train the Yang style in a manner that suits their own body and their own aptitude. Follow The Tai Chi Classics.
Is it really Yang style?
A lot of modern classes purport to be teaching Yang style taijiquan, but are they? Common approaches you may encounter:
Tai chi for health
Tai chi for fitness
Tai chi tailored for the elderly
Tai chi tailored for specific medical problems i.e. arthritis
Tai chi-style exercise
Tai chi as performance art
Numbered forms (i.e. 24 step)
Tai chi as dance
Taijiquan offered alongside other martial arts by an instructor who practices a variety of external martial arts
Tai chi classes offered by a so-called instructor who 'learned it from a book' or has a 'fast track' or 'long distance' qualification
Tai chi as an add-on to something
else, e.g. Alexander Technique "Let's do a bit
of tai chi"
Common methods within Yang style tai chi
If you were to look on-line for examples of Yang style tai chi, you'd pretty quickly realise that what Sifu Waller teaches isn't the common approach. It looks unorthodox.
It certainly isn't what most tai chi teachers are doing. e.g. typically Yang style exponents lean notably forward at the hip and straighten the rear leg.
By contrast, we align vertically and relax the hip kwa and legs.
Yang style has something of the
feeling of 'killer energy' about it; it is more martial in appearance.
A spectator can see the applications of the movements when they watch the form.
(Master Xu Shu Song)
What is the reason for the differences?
Most people are training a 'public'/outdoor version of tai chi. Also, usually tai chi for health; whether they realise it or not. There are very few examples of indoor taijiquan on-line.
Some people show a little of their own indoor lineage (e.g. Richard Clear) but most instructors either don't know the indoor stuff or are following tradition (and decline to reveal it publicly).
Taijiquan fighting method
The differences between Yang style approaches are worth some consideration. Remember: Yang style taijiquan is a martial art. It is an advanced method. Is this what you are learning?
1 May 1995
Last updated 20 December 2020