Q: What's the difference between Yang Cheng-fu Style and other Yang styles?
A: Yang Cheng-fu established a system of Tai Chi that differed from that of this father, uncles and grandfather. In doing so, he published photographs showing the correct hand and body position for each Posture at a given point. Other Yang styles, as well as those that claim Cheng-fu's style, use modified or different hand and body positions for the Postures in the same positions and the transitions leading up to those positions.
Some Yang style masters are quick to point to pictures of a staged posture that looks similar the way Yang Cheng-fu posed for his postures. But Cheng-fu's students all stated that his postures were the same in the pictures as when he did the Form. When you see many of the new Yang masters in motion, their postures are not the same as their posed photographs.
This site is dedicated to keeping Yang Cheng-fu's Style alive, and as much as possible, the way he taught his style in his later years, as expressed in his photographs, and taught by his students who adhered to those Postures.
Q: What's wrong with changing the form to make it shorter and eliminate repetition?
A: It isn't a question of right or wrong. Yang Cheng-fu created his own style. Those who have changed it do so for what they consider to be the better. They should, therefore, call it their own style and not Yang Cheng-fu's. His son, Yeung Sao Chung, did not teach his father's Large Frame, but rather Medium and Small Frame, and called his style Yeung (Yang) Style with no pretense to it being the same as his father's style.
When the form is changed it is no longer Yang Cheng-fu's form. Cheng Man-ch'ing removed many of the repetitive postures, and performed the form far differently than Yang Cheng-fu taught. Man-ch'ing acknowledge Yang Cheng-fu as his master and called his form Yang Style, but to my knowledge, Cheng Man-ch-ing never claimed what he taught was what his master taught. To the contrary, in his writings, lectures and instruction, he was quick to say he had changed the form. His only fault in this was in continuing to claim his style was Yang. It was not.
Each instructor puts his or her mark on the From. But of all the changes I have seen, none has made it better. Yeung Sao Chung taught what he considered to be a fighting style, and he was impressive. But his style would have been useless for fighting in the West. Yang Cheng-fu warned that any further modification of the form would lead to disaster. He was right; and, I believe Yang Cheng-fu's style may be forgotten unless there is an effort to show what he taught. That's the purpose of this web site.
Again, it is not a matter of what is right or what is wrong, but rather, "are the Postures Yang Cheng-fu's Postures?"?
Q: I'm a beginning Tai Chi student and find it hard to see how my instructor moves his hands because his back is to the class, so I have to follow what the other students are doing. How do I learn the form?
A: Yang Cheng Fu always faced his students while leading the class in the form, and all his instructors taught the same way.
There is Yang Cheng-fu Style Tai Chi and there are other Yang Style Tai Chi. I have no suggestions for other styles. However there is a cardinal rule for all Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, the student always faces South when commencing and ending the From, and the first and last striking moves are always to the right. However, the instructor commences the Form facing North (facing the student or class)
Q: How can I find a good Yang style instructor?
A: There are many good Yang Style instructors. But this site is devoted only to Yang Cheng-fu Style. If the postures being taught are indistinguishable from those of Yang Cheng-fu there is a good chance that the transitions may also be as Cheng-fu taught.
It's not within the scope of this site to say what instructors are good, but anyone with a knowledge of Tai Chi can tell what is bad form.
If the head is tilted back, to the side or forward (down) it is bad form.
If the rear end sticks out it is extremely bad form.
If the knee in the horse stance, or leading knee in the bow (eight figure) stance extends forward past the toe it is bad form.
If the body is stiff and upright and not rounded it is bad form.
If the fingers are bent more than slightly, or feeble when they are in "Elegant Lady Hands" it is bad form.
If the moves or kicks are made with effort, snaps or power, it is not Yang Cheng-fu Style.
If the movements stop or are not "continuous without interruption" it is bad form.
Q: How many postures are there in the Tai Chi Form? I've seen the number ranging from 24 to well over 100.
A: Technically there are only 13 postures in Tai Chi. Eight (8) are hand and body postures:
(1) Ward Off
The other five (5) are foot and body movements:
(2) Roll Back
(5) Pull Down
(7) Elbow Stroke
(8) Shoulder Stroke
It should be noted that some make Pluck one of the postures, instead of Split; but Pluck in not mentioned in the Classics.
There are, however, many techniques that are also called postures and some moves are called postures but are not postures. The best examples of non-postures are Preparation and Restore to Normal. The Beginning is actually a pithy form, Raise and Lower Hands to Wu Chi (Wuji, Wuxi), but this was never part of the original Yang Lu Chan form. It should be noted that Beginning as used in the Form means "to give birth", as in arising from Wuji.
Other "postures" are actually pithy forms; the most repeated of which is Grasp Sparrows Tail. This pithy form consists of five (5) postures:
either Ward Off Left, or Push Tiger
Ward Off Right,
Grasp Sparrow's Tail always beings with a Left Ward Off. When the right foot is back (east) and the Ward is to the South, the Ward Off is called Push Tiger (or Move Tiger and Advance). Push Tiger (Ward Off Left or Right) is also done independent of Grasp Sparrows Tail. Yeung Sao Chung only counted four postures in Grasp Sparrow's Tail by only counting one Ward Off (Left).
The pithy form, Carry Tiger and Return to Mountain, consists of Diagonal Ward Off Left (Embrace Tiger), Diagonal Brush Knee Right, Return to the Mountain (Pull Down), Press (or Split in Third Set), and Push.
If the individual postures in these 2 pithy forms are counted they amount to 40 postures. However if you only count the pithy forms, Grasp Sparrows Tail and Carry Tiger to the Mountain then these are counted as 8 postures.
It also depends on whether you count Cross Hands and its obverse, Hidden Gift, which are repeated 15 times in Yang Cheng-fu's Form, but which are usually omitted or blended into transitions in other Yang styles. Likewise, Play Pipa and Raise Hands are repeated throughout the form, and while originally counted as postures, (other than in the First Set) they are transitions in Medium and Low Form, but are often omitted in the High From by many instructors.
High Pat on Horse is usually only counted twice, once in the Second Set and once in the Third Set (followed by Spear Hand), but the Second Set actually has High Pat on Horse done 3 times (diagonal left and right). It is, however, quite often merged into a transition to Separation Kick. Other postures like Trace Eyebrows and Gather Earth to Cross Hands have been replaced with Cross Hands in the High From, and are now only found in the Medium and Low Forms. However, in Medium and Low From, Cross Hands at the end of the First and Second Sets transitions to Cover Dantien (Yan Hu Dantien) as the Form is "continuous without interruption" and moves to a high Horse Stance to commence Embrace Tiger.
Single Whip is actually three Postures, Split (Steel Whip Pivot), Pluck (Hook Hand) and Single Push (Standing Palm).
Many years ago, I counted 242 individual Postures in the Yang Form, but omitted the 11 Break Branch moves and three eblow strokes. The short answer is, Yang Cheng-fu assigned 108 Postures to his late Style. All of my instructors who trained directly under Yang Cheng-fu said the number does not represent the actual number of Postures, but rather the mythical combined 108 Big and Small body points and techniques being 36 Tain Gang and 72 Di Sha. Although it should be noted that Yang Cheng-fu's son, Yeung Sau Chung, assigned 124 postures to the form, but only counted one Ward Off (Peng) instead of two in Grasp Sparrow's Tail.
One thing is certain, 241 or 254 moves is far more daunting than 108 and it's quite likely that the number was reduced to make the Form seem shorter. However many of Cheng-fu's students reduced the number by counting Cloud Hands, Repel Monkey, etc, as one posture, without significantly changing the form. 89 is the most common number in this category, while 103 has been popularized as of late, probably to make it appear longer than the 89 Form, which it is not. Others simply turned postures into transitions, or completely removed postures and repeated postures and pithy forms to shorten or "simplify" the form by drawing legs on the snake.
(11) Guard Left
(12) Anticipate Right
(13) Center Equilibrium
Q: How many moves are there in the complete Form?
A:I asked my grandfather's teacher that same question when I was twelve years old. He had begun learning Tai Chi from Yang Lu Chan, and then under Yang Jain Hau, and while his style was quite different from that of Yang Cheng-fu, his answer applied to all of Yang Tai Chi. "There is but one move. It is continuous, without interruption." As stated, Supra, I once counted 242 individual postures. That was in 1967, when my brother and I created Kenpo for Self Defense, Tai Chi for Life. I may have missed a few, but it is so trivial that I never revisited the matter.
Q: How slow should the form be practiced?
A: How slowly do you breath?
Breathing is the most important element to Yang Cheng-fu Style Tai Chi. Many Tai Chi instructors either don't know how to breath properly, or they don't teach it. Their advice is to "breath naturally". That is not what Yang Cheng-fu taught.
A beginning student will breath faster (and incorrectly) and may go through the complete form in 15 minutes or less. An advanced student my take 22-26 minutes. One Yang master stated that anything over 22 minutes would block Chi, yet Yang Cheng-fu was seen many times taking nearly one hour to do the form. As you learn how to breath properly, and when to breath in the form, you will take longer. That's one reason why Cheng-fu had beginning, intermediate and advance classes. It is also why it is absolutely necessary to practice on your own. In class you will breath at the class rate.
Q: Why do you say there are no snapping kicks in the Form?
A: That's how Yang Cheng-fu taught the form.
The kicks are usually a foot advancement, more of a thrust than a kick, and the foot only retreats in the form for balance. Tung Ying Chieh exhibited fa jing in his kicks, but he emphasized to me that is not done in Yang Cheng-fu's form; and I will ask you the question he asked me. Which of the 13 Postures is a kick? Meaning, if kicks are not postures but were in the original form, what difference does it make for traditional Tai Chi, if they snap or are done slowly as Yang Cheng-fu taught?
Q: If Shoulder Stroke and Elbow Stroke are two of the postures, where are they in the form?
A: Shoulder Stroke and Elbow Stroke are each done 3 times in the form.
Shoulder Stroke is used in Step Up in Raise Hands and Step Up, and is omitted by many Yang style instructors. Elbow Stroke has been omitted by nearly all Yang style instructors and turned into a transition. When I first demonstrated the form to Tung Ying Chieh, as I had learned it, he told me the elbow stroke was never shown to outsiders. Why? He wouldn't say. However, I later found that when demonstrating the form to other Tai Chi masters, I always received a nod of approval from those rare masters who knew the move, and they would stop me after the first Elbow Stroke to say I knew the form well enough to learn from them. Others, who didn't know the move never saw it, and I never repeated it in the form, nor did I bother training with them.
The short answer is, ask your instructor.
Q: How wide should the arms be held when kicking?
A: Kicks are not one of the 13 Tai Chi Postures, but are an added part of a pithy form. That means that the leading arm should be expansive and control the kick. That is, the hand is extended before the kick because the technique is to grab the attacker's arm before kicking.
Remember, Large Frame has wide, expansive moves. However when a kick is employed, the trailing arm is only used for balance and must be coordinated with the kick in a slow effortless movement. High kicks are impressive, but they are not necessary, and a high kick with short arm position is not only bad form, but shows a complete lack of understanding of Yang Cheng-fu style. Beginners usually have Medium or Small Frame arm movements and kicks but the kicks should never snap or move faster than the rest of the form.
Q: I have read that all the postures must be done at the same speed. How is this possible?
A: Only by doing the Form wrong.
Yang Cheng-fu taught all moves should be done with the same slow, openness. That means the body and hands move at the near same slowness. Take for example, Grasp Sparrow's Tail. When done properly all moves except Push take the same time. That is, if Ward Off Left takes 5 seconds to complete, then all the other posture motions should also take 5 seconds, except Push, which would take 10 seconds. Many instructors shorten Push so it will take the same amount of time as the other postures. That is not what Cheng-fu taught.
The best example, however, is Single Whip, which, (using the 5 second posture) would take 15 seconds to properly execute. Many of Cheng-fu's students shortened Single Whip to make it Small Frame, and complete the posture much faster.
Q: I find it hard to do Single Whip without shifting my weight off my right foot when it moves. Shouldn't Single Whip be done with shorter moves?
Yang Cheng-fu shifted the weight to the non-moving (left-substantial) foot, and turned the right foot; his moves were Large Frame and the photographs are Center High Posture. Louis Swaim, after giving the correct way of shifting the weight from Push to Single Whip has an extensive note in his excellent translation of Fu Zhongwen Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan Supra, where he explains the way Single Whip is done in the "traditional form". Yang Cheng-fu Style is not "traditional" form. Mr. Swaim goes on to state that Fu Zhongwen's son confirmed that his father did not shift his weight in Single Whip as stated in the book. I have a video of Fu Zhongwen doing the form, and he clearly shifts the weight just as he explained it in his book. It should be noted however, that both Fu Zhongwen and his sons movements are closer to Medium Frame and High Frame Posture.
In Yang Cheng-fu Style the weight is always shifted so the moving foot is insubstantial, or less substantial. Always, of course has exceptions. The turn from the Right Heel Kick to Two Peaks Box Ears is of course made with all the weight on the left foot.
But Cheng-fu taught even more foot movement in Single Whip than are found in other Yang styles. First, the right foot turns from a 90° position facing south to 135° East (left) as the arms move wide and level from right to left (Steel Whip Pivot). Then as the arms move back from East to West (left to right) the right foot turns back to the right (east) to its original position 90° so the toe is facing South.
It should also be noted that the left hand when brought back to the right is not on the same plane as the right hand. Rather, it moves lower and cups at the waste where it is motionless as the right hand turns to Hook Hand; forming a two hand embrace. The right hand then continues and extends to the west (right) with the turning waist. Then as the waist turns east (left) again the left hand turns and moves to the Cutting Hand position of Single Whip.
This should also answer the question as to when the right hand becomes a Hook Hand. It is in front of the right shoulder, not at the extension of the right arm to towards the west.
Q: How low should you go in Lower Posture?
A: Yang Cheng-fu style is wide and expansive, so you should go as low as is comfortable. Nothing is ever strained or forced.
Medium and Low Form go lower than High Form, and Snake Creeps Down which is done in Medium and Low Form is not technically Lower Posture, but rather Lower Posture is the ending position of Snake Creeps Down. This is done only in Medium and Low Form.
Lower Posture, is, as the name implies Single Whip done in a lower stance. Snake Creeps Down is different, although many in Tai Chi make them the same. Snake Creeps Down begins as a transition from Wave Hands Like Clouds but does not continued into Single Whip. Medium and Low Form require either 5 or 7 Cloud Hands and on the 5th (or 7th) Cloud Hands the right hand extends further to the left (east) to from a hook hand (on the left side) then pulls back and down ahead (to the right) of the left hand as the Snake Creeps Down into a Lower Posture Single Whip. The left hand, rather than moving from the chest and outward in a Cutting Hand, turns from Cloud Hand (palm facing north) to palm facing south and pulls down and in and then out (as in traditional Lower Posture).
Q: What's the difference between Slant Flying and Part the Wild Horses Mane?
A: The transition, and the angle.
Slant Flying commences after the transition from Repulse Monkey which requires a clockwise body rotation from East to a 225° angle or to the South West (45° from South) with the Split commencing at mid turn and the Eye of the Tiger is high. Part the Wild Horses Mane always commences from either Raise Hands or Play Pipa and is executed on a near straight plane. Thus, in moving from Diagonal Single Whip to Raise Hands the body turns (clockwise) from North East (45°) 165° to South West (a near straight plane - 15° less than 180°). All subsequent Part Wild Horses Mane move to the West advancing on a 15° near straight plane, and transition alternately from Play Pipa then Raise Hands for either 2, 4 or 6 times after the initial Part Wild Horses Mane. The Eye of the Tiger is in the same 15° angle as the body.
This differs from how most Yang Styles perform the move because they either eliminate or hide Raise Hands and Play Pipa. Yang Cheng-fu personally taught the move as described above, but his students began teaching the transitions without what they considered to be the Secret move, leaving that to teach the advanced students. Thus, the so-called secret moves were in time either not taught, or never learned and the successive modifications of the form eliminated them completely.
Q: Why is the step from Repulse Monkey to Slant Flying so awkward?
A: It isn't. At least not when done correctly.
The move is made awkward when it is done on the substantial leg. Yang Cheng-fu taught the pivot of the left leg to the South with the substantial right foot. Then the weight shifts to the left leg (100%) and the right foot steps out (south west) ahead of the Tiger Palm.
Q: Why is there no Hook Hand in the Single Whip just before Fist Under Elbow?
A: Because there is no Single Whip!
Fist Under Elbow follows Push. The hands move is Steel Whip Pivot to the left, but do not go into Single Whip but rather the Left foot moves in Ka Lung Bow with Left Push Tiger followed by the right foot stepping into Fist Under Elbow.
Q: Other than the finger flip as opposed to a fist, is there any difference between White Snake Puts out Its Tongue and Turn and Throw Fist?
A: Yes. Look at Yang Cheng-fu's postures. It is a Standing Palm, not a Cutting Palm. Also White Snake Puts out Its Tongue (or Spits Venom) is followed by White Snake Delivers Message then Turn and Throw Fist
Q: I don't understand Intention. How does imagining the move before you do it help with anything but concentration?
A: Imagination is not Intention, just as using your Mind is not imagination.
The Mind directs Intention to move a physical body without force, effort or outwardly apparent movement. Yang Cheng-fu taught each beginning student the principle of Intention, and each student, without exception, could demonstrate Intention for him within ten minutes. About half of his students could demonstrate Intention as soon as they observed its principle. The others required the transmission of Intention by Yang Cheng-fu. The principle is that easy to understand, and every Yang Cheng-fu instructor can demonstrate Intention the same way. Applying Intention to every move, however, requires training an practice.
Q: Is Intention used when the hands follow the direction of your eyes?
A: The hands do not follow the eyes in Yang Cheng-fu Tai Chi. The eyes follow the leading hand without focusing on the hands.
Q: Why do the hands only move with the waist when shifting weight from one foot to the other in the transition from Ward Off Left to Ward Off Right in Grasp Sparrow's Tail?
A: I'm not sure what you are asking, other than what some are teaching as Ward Off Left, where the right hand comes back towards the right leg at the completion of posture. This is not Yang Cheng-fu style.
Look at the Posture photograph, which is the slicing transition from Ward Off Left. This slicing movement is similar to the first move of the form after the Wu Chi position, (Open Water Gate) except your feet are facing west instead of south. The transition from here to Ward Off Right requires the right hand to move back towards the right leg as the waist and left hand moves into the next posture. Tung Ying Chieh left his hand in the slice position (first move) while doing Ward Off Left (eliminating the right hand following the left) as is found in Push Tiger. Some Yang instructors bring the right hand back to the right thigh as the termination of Ward Off Left which requires a shifting of the body without much hand movement. That is not Yang Cheng-fu style. This, like so many other questions can be answered by looking at Yang Cheng-fu's Postures. However, it should be noted that the Ward Off Left photograph is not the termination of the move but the transition (after the termination) and I believe Cheng-fu chose this photograph because it is also the position of Push Tiger.
Q: What is the application of Raised Hands?
A: There are many techniques where Raised Hands is used.
It's not the purpose of this site to give applications, as none of the Postures as done in the From are intended for application. That is, the application as a technique must be practiced differently than in the Form. However, you should note that Raised Hands is the other side version of Play Pipa, and both Postures are repeated numerous times throughout the Yang Cheng-fu Form. The basic move is against either a grab or punch, and with Raised Hands, the leading hand either pushes or strikes the opponent's (outside) elbow while the close hand strikes or presses the wrist with both hands facing each other; then (always in the form) a second (hidden) move is added as the forward hand turns up and the close hand faces down locking the arm at the joints. This is hidden because the move in the form is done so smoothly that it appear only as a flowing hand movement transition to step up (shoulder stroke) or as with Play Pipa, leading to brush knee, or as a transition (as in the last Part Wild Horse Mane) to Ward Off Left or other similar transitions throughout in the form.
Q: I've looked at the Postures but I can't see the transition from Fan Through Back and Turn and Chop Opponent with Fist. Do you just turn at your waist and move the hands?
A: From Fan Through Back you shift your right leg back (North) slightly, opening the stance for your turn to the west in High Posture. In Medium and Low Posture the right foot pulls back close to the left foot and the steps out in an open stance, (left leg substantial) to the West.
The hand movements can be done either with the right arm dropping into the fist and the left hand rising in front of your forehead; or, the arms can move (swing) right which requires the right arm to move slightly to the right and circle back to the fist position. Yang Cheng-fu taught both way, and he required the latter for Medium and Low Posture.
Q: Why do some Yang schools do Repulse Monkey and Cloud Hands five times?
A: The simple answer is, it is what Yang Cheng-fu taught.
The High From is taught to beginners and Cheng-fu only required three repetitions of the three Postures, Repulse Monkey, Cloud Hands and Wild Horse Parts Mane. When the High Form was practiced by advanced students, either five or seven repetitions were done depending on how much space was available.
Yang Cheng-fu often told his students that they could gain a greater understanding of Tai Chi by performing those three Postures, than any other way, and he would have his students practice Cloud Hands as many times as it took to move from one end of the room to the other. On the return they would do Repulse Monkey, then Go forward again with Wild Horse Parts Mane, then return with Cloud Hands and repeat this several times.
Cheng-fu said these three Postures were important because they move the waist, coordinate upper and lower body, distinguish substantial and insubstantial and extend the body like no other postures. This also speaks volumes as to why simplifying the form by removing repetition degrades what Yang Cheng-fu taught.