Tai Chi is one of the oldest documented forms of martial arts dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). However, most people may be surprised to know that current Tai Chi styles have a much more recent history. The Chen family of Tai Chi can be traced back to the mid-17th century. Both the Yang Chi family and the Wu style originated in the mid to late 19th century, and the Sun style Tai Chi was developed in the early 20th century.
Yang’s modern style is even newer and comes from Yang Cheng-Fu (1883-1936). Yang Cheng-Fu was the son of Yang Jian-Hou (1839-1917) and the grandson of Yang Lu-Chan (1799-1872), a patriarch of the Tai Chi family of the Yang family.
Yang Cheng-Fu took what he had learned from his family and adapted it into what is commonly called the “big frame” of Tai Chi. Yang Cheng-Fu form, known for its smooth, circular and precise movements, quickly became popular for its health and self-defense benefits. Yang Cheng-Fu’s “long form” contains 108 movements and is the basis of many other contemporary forms of Yang Tai Chi. Popular forms like 24, 32 Gim and several competition forms have their roots in the Yang Family Tai Chi.
The Yang 24 form, also called Beijing 24, is the most famous form of Tai Chi today. This form, created in 1956 by the National Commission for Physical Culture and Sport of the People’s Republic of China, is a simplified version of the original Form 108. It has been passionately taught throughout China and supported for general practice.
Form 24 removes much of the repetition found in 108 and takes about 6 to 7 minutes to complete. Due to its shorter length, it provides beginners, young and old, with an introduction to the basic elements of Tai Chi while trying to preserve the original taste of 108. Its shorter duration also allows beginners to focus on breathing, relaxation and mind and body awareness.
32 degree sword
Weapon training is an essential part of a well-balanced Tai Chi curriculum. Weapons training allows the tai chi student to continue to develop concepts introduced in empty-handed forms. It is also an important tool that helps the practitioner to achieve a higher level of skills and understanding. The most famous Tai Chi weapon of all time is the straight two-edged sword (“gim” in Cantonese and “jian” in Mandarin). The straight sword, considered a “gentleman’s weapon”, is one of the four main weapons of Chinese martial arts, along with a stick, spear and broad sword.
In 1957, the Chinese Sports Commission created the 32-movement “Simplified Yang Tai Chi Sword Form,” which is based on the much longer traditional 54-degree form of the Yang family direct sword taught by Yang Cheng-Fu. The 32-step sword, which contains selected sequences and positions from its older predecessor, simplifies and standardizes many original techniques.
Like the Yang 24-step form, the 32-step form of the direct sword was created to facilitate the teaching of the “game” with the direct sword for modern students. The 32-step straight sword is the most common form of Tai Chi sword today and is a great way to learn the basics of sword handling. Tai Chi trainers around the world enjoy this form because of its elegant simplicity and overall aesthetic beauty.
As Tai Chi grew in popularity, the Chinese Sports Commission sought to condense and combine different styles for the wushu competition. In 1976, the Combined 48 Form was created. This form included movements from the main family styles: Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun. This form was the basis of the Asian Games and other wushu competitions until the early 1990s, when it was replaced by the Tai Chi 42 form. Although this form is not strictly a Yang style form, it is still a very popular form in many Tai Chi schools.
In the late 1980s, the popularity of Tai Chi grew and there was a need to develop competitive forms of Tai Chi that represented each style. The Chinese Wushu Association has brought together leading masters of every style to develop these routines. In 1991, the Yang 40-degree form was created. This form of purely yang style includes many of the original 108’s movements, such as Grab the Sparrow’s Tail, Opening the Wild Horse’s Mane, Waving His Hands Like Clouds, and more.
Whether you prefer longer and repetitive forms of Tai Chi, such as 108, shorter and simplified versions, such as 24, or variety and difficulty, 48, the benefits are essentially the same. Tai Chi is a complete martial arts system and a great way to build strength, flexibility and endurance. Proper Tai Chi practice has been a proven method for years to improve your health while learning self-defense.
by Ben Stanley