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Martial Arts: Chinese Martial Arts

Understanding Traditional Yang Style Taijiquan

By Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

A martial sequence, called "taolu" ( ) or "tan" ( ), is a combination of many techniques, constructed in the imagination of the creator to resemble a real fight. The creator of a sequence must be an expert in the style and experienced enough to see the advantages and disadvantages of a form, technique, or even just a step or stance. Within a martial sequence are hidden the secret techniques of a specific style. Chinese martial sequences commonly contain two or three levels of fighting techniques. The first level is the obvious applications of the movements and contains the fundamentals of the style.

The second level is deeper and is usually not obvious in the movements of a sequence. For example, a form might contain a false stance at a particular spot. This stance allows the practitioner to kick when necessary, but this kick may not actually be done in the sequence. Experienced martial artists can usually see through to this second level of applications.

The third level is the hardest to see, but it usually contains the most effective techniques of the style. These third-level techniques often require more movement or steps than are shown in the sequence and must be explained and analyzed by the master himself. In addition, when a proficient martial artist is able to understand to the depth of the third level, he or she can understand the secrets hidden "behind" the form of the four categories of fighting techniques. Therefore, a Chinese martial sequence has several purposes:

  1. A sequence is used to preserve the essence of a style and its techniques. It is just like a textbook that is the foundation of your knowledge of a style.

  2. A sequence is used to train a practitioner in the particular techniques of a style. When a student practices a sequence regularly, he can master the techniques and build a good foundation in his style.

  3. A sequence is used to train a student's patience, endurance, and strength, as well as stances, movements, and jin.

  4. A sequence is also used to help the student build a sense of enemy. From routinely practicing with an imaginary opponent, he can make the techniques alive and effective in a real fight.

The taijiquan sequence was created for these same purposes. However, as an internal style it also trains the coordination of mind, breathing, qi, and the movements. Because of this, the yang aspect of taijiquan training comes slowly in the beginning and then gradually incorporates speed and an external manifestation of the inner essence. The yin side of the training is to practice taijiquan at a slower and slower speed, in order to cultivate a more deeply meditative mind that, in coordination with correct breathing, will develop stronger qi.

Fundamental Moving Patterns

Though Yang Style Taijiquan has many different versions that can have 24, 48, 81, 88, 105 or more postures depending, in part, upon the method of counting, but it actually contains only 37 fundamental martial moving patterns, called the thirty-seven postures. These fundamental moving patterns form the basis of more than 250 martial applications or techniques. Within the sequence, many postures or fundamental techniques are repeated one or more times. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. To increase the number of times you practice techniques that are considered more important and useful. This, naturally, will help you learn and master them more quickly. For example, ward off, rollback, press (squeeze), and push (downward pressing), considered the most basic fighting forms, are repeated eight times in the long sequence.

  2. To increase the duration of practice for each sequence. When early taijiquan practitioners found that the original short sequence was not long enough to satisfy their exercise and practice needs, they naturally increased the time of practice by repeating some of the forms. Doing this lengthened sequence once in the morning and/or evening is usually sufficient for health purposes. However, if you also intend to practice taijiquan for martial purposes, you should perform the sequence continuously three times, both morning and evening if possible. The first time is for warming up, the second is for qi transportation training, and the third time is for relaxed recovery.

How to Practice Taijiquan Sequence

Normally, it takes at least three years to learn the taijiquan sequence and to circulate qi smoothly in coordination with the breathing and postures. You should then learn to transport qi and develop qi balance. Even after you have accomplished this, there is still more to learn before you can be considered a proficient taijiquan martial artist. You must learn how to strengthen your qi through practice, you must develop a sense of having an enemy in front of you during the sequence, and lastly, you must learn how to train jin during the sequence.

In taijiquan, qi plays a major role in jin. When qi is strong and full, then the jin will also be strong. An important way to strengthen and extend your qi is to practice the sequence slower and slower. This is the yin aspect of taijiquan practice, which helps you to build both a strong, concentrated mind and internal qi. If it usually takes 20 minutes to finish the entire sequence, increase the time to 25 minutes, then 30 minutes, and so on. Do not add any more breaths. Everything is the same except that every breath that is used to lead the qi gets longer and longer. In order to do this you must be very calm and relaxed, and your qi must be full like a drum or balloon, first in your abdomen and later in your whole body. If you can extend a sequence that normally takes 20 minutes to one hour, your qi will be very full and fluid, your mind calm, and the postures very relaxed. When you do the sequence at this speed, your pulse and heartbeat will slow down, and you will be in a deep self-hypnotic meditative state. You will hardly notice your physical body, but instead you will feel like a ball of energy. When this happens, you feel you are transparent.

Develop a Sense of Enemy

Even when you can do the form very well, it may still be dead. To make it come alive you must develop a sense of enemy. When practicing the solo sequence, you must imagine there is an enemy in front of you, and you must clearly feel his movements and his interaction with you. Your ability to visualize realistically will be greatly aided if you practice the techniques with a partner. There are times when you will not use visualizations, but every time you do the sequence your movement must be flavored with this knowledge of how you interact with an opponent. The more you practice with this imaginary enemy before you, the more realistic and useful your practice will be. If you practice with a very vivid sense of enemy, you will learn to apply your qi and jin naturally, and your whole spirit will melt into the sequence. This is not unlike performing music. If one musician just plays the music and the other plays it with his whole heart and mind, the two performances are as different as night and day. In one case the music is dead, while in the other it is alive and touches us.

If you don't know how to incorporate jin into the forms, then even if you do the sequence for many years it will still be dead. In order for the sequence to be meaningful, jin and technique must be combined. An important way to do this is to practice fast taijiquan. Practicing fast taijiquan is part of the Yang aspect of taijiquan, and it allows you to manifest your internal qi into external forms and power. Once you can do the sequence of movements automatically and can coordinate your breathing and qi circulation with the movements, you should practice doing the form faster and faster. Remember, if you ever get into a fight, things are likely to move pretty fast, so you have to be able to respond fast in order to defend yourself effectively. If you only practice slowly, then when you need to move fast your qi will be broken, your postures unstable, and your yi scattered. If any of this happens, you will not be able to use your jin to fight. Therefore, once you have developed your qi circulation you should practice the sequence faster until you can do it at fighting speed. Make sure you don't go too fast too soon, or you will sacrifice the essentials such as yi concentration, qi balance, breath coordination, and the storage of jin in the postures. When doing fast taiji, do not move at a uniform speed. Incorporate the pulsing movement of jin so that you are responding appropriately to the actions of your imaginary enemy. It is difficult to develop the pulsing movement of jin solely by doing the sequence, so you should also do jin training either before or concurrently with the fast taijiquan. If you are interested in knowing more about taijiquan jin development in detail, you should refer to the book "Tai Chi Theory and Martial Power", and see this previous article:

Republished with permission from

Photo credit: Dr. Yang performing taijiquan (Photo: P Segadaes)

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About The Author:

Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming started his Gongfu (Kung Fu) training at the age of fifteen under the Shaolin White Crane (Bai He) Master Cheng, Gin Gsao. In thirteen years of study (1961-1974) under Master Cheng, Dr. Yang became an expert in the White Crane style of Chinese martial arts, which includes both the use of bare hands and of various weapons such as saber, staff, spear, trident, two short rods, and many others. With the same master he also studied White Crane Chin Na, Tui Na and Dian Xue massages, and herbal treatment.

At the age of sixteen, Dr. Yang began the study of Taijiquan (Yang Style) under Master Gao, Tao. After learning from Master Gao, Dr. Yang continued his study and research of Taijiquan with several masters and senior practitioners such as Master Li, Mao-Ching and Mr. Wilson Chen in Taipei. Master Li learned his Taijiquan from the well-known Master Han, Ching-Tang, and Mr. Chen learned his Taijiquan from Master Chang, Xiang-San. Dr. Yang has mastered the Taiji barehand sequence, pushing hands, the two-man fighting sequence, Taiji sword, Taiji saber, and Taiji Qigong.

At 18, he entered Tamkang College in Taipei Xian to study Physics and also began the study of traditional Shaolin Long Fist (Changquan) with Master Li, Mao-Ching at the Tamkang College Guoshu Club (1964-1968). He eventually became an assistant instructor under Master Li. In 1971 he completed his M.S. degree in Physics at the National Taiwan University and then served in the Chinese Air Force from 1971 to 1972. In the service, Dr. Yang taught Physics at the Junior Academy of the Chinese Air Force while also teaching Wushu. After being honorably discharged in 1972, he returned to Tamkang College to teach Physics and resumed study under Master Li, Mao-Ching. From Master Li, Dr. Yang learned Northern style Gongfu, which includes both barehand techniques, especially kicking, and numerous weapons.

In 1974, Dr. Yang came to the United States to study Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. At the request of a few students, Dr. Yang began to teach, which resulted in the foundation of the Purdue University Chinese Kung Fu Research Club in the spring of 1975. While at Purdue, Dr. Yang also taught college-credited courses in Taijiquan. In May, 1978 he was awarded a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering by Purdue.

Yang's Martial Arts Association was established in Boston, MA in 1982. Currently, YMAA is an international organization, including 56 schools in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Holland, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 1984, Dr. Yang retired from his engineering career, to focus his energy on teaching and researching the Chinese arts, and introducing them to the West through many books, videos and DVDs. Visit for current information.

Dr. Yang has nearly 40 years of instructional experience: seven years in Taiwan, five years at Purdue University, two years in Houston, TX, and 25 years in Boston, MA. On November 29, 2005, Dr. Yang conferred the title of Taiji Master to one of his senior students, which by definition bestows the honorable title of Grandmaster upon Dr. Yang.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Chinese Martial Arts, Taijiquan, tai chi, kata, forms, tai chi forms, understanding kata, understanding forms, making kata alive

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