Thursday 29 March 2012

Short forms – do we really need them?

When I was younger I trained Shaolin gongfu - the Malaysian master of the system placed great importance of having a sense of history. Of seeing yourself as a link in a chain – the art flourished before you came along and it was up to you to see that it carried on to following generations in its true essence. Chen Taijiquan players are rightly proud of the fact that Chen style is the parent style from which all the major branches of Taijiquan can be traced. Since Chen Wangting created the system at the end of the Ming dynasty the two most significant changes were probably Chen Changxing’s reclassification of the original forms into the Laojia Yilu and Erlu; and Chen Fake’s development of the New Frame routines. Both Chen Changxing and Chen Fake were renowned masters at the height of their skill when they made these modifications, both of which have stood the test of time.

How does this compare with the plethora of short Chen forms that are springing up all over the place? Off the top of my head I can think of the 56 Form, 38 Form, 36 Form, 32 Form, 20 Form, 19 Form, 18 Form, 13 Form, 11 Form, 9 Form, 8 Form… Can you see where this is going?

 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 ZERO! 

I can sort of understand where one of the grandmasters develops a short form, saying that it is for people who do not have time to practice the traditional routine. But what of the grandmasters students then taking the process further? For example, one of the current grandmasters created the 18 Form and then one of his close disciples creates a 9 Form. Why? Or the new 13 Form that is going all around the internet at the moment – if it is supposed to be a “simple form that can be learned in a week”, why are all the difficult kicks left in? 

The late Malaysian Taijiquan master Huang Sheng Shyan – disciple of Zheng Manqing – had a few sayings that I really like. He said “learn less and practice more” and “don’t be content to be the student of a successful teacher, make a success of your own practice”. If we want to be like any of the top masters, then we must go through the same process they went through. That means following the traditional forms. For those students who either cannot or don’t want to go through the full traditional syllabus why not just teach the beginning of the traditional form – this is what we do in our school. In Chenjiagou they would train “San Jingang” – that is the first fifteen movements of Laojia Yilu (up to the third Buddha’s Warrior Pounding Mortar). 

Do we really need all these new forms, or should we put our faith in the traditional ways and just get on with putting our time in?


  1. I am not sure but I thought I heard that originally Taiji started with several short routines or exercises. Perhaps Taiji is completing a circle of its evolution and now we have Taiji Deconstructed. I like the idea of just doing the first part of Laojia Yilu for beginners. It would also be interesting to seek what these begging practices were instead of creating something new.

  2. I believe the long forms can be taught in sections. A perfect short form is from the beginning up to the 3rd Buddha Warrior. This is a true form of itself with the most important basic movements included and no difficult or challenging movements. This form can be practiced by itself with a beginning, middle and end before moving on. Creating short forms with differing choreography just makes for confusion when trying to learn the long forms.

  3. Yes, in our school, beginners learn up to the third Buddha’s Warrior Pounding Mortar. We don't teach anything but the traditional forms.

  4. A great, thought-provoking post again, David. I can see the logic both ways. I've been practicing the Chen 19 and the Chen 38 since learning them from Jim and Angela Criscimagna, Chen Xiaowang and Ren Guangyi back in the late 1990s. I teach these to my students, but I also practice Laojia Yilu and Erlu. If done properly, the Chen 19 is just a shorter version of Laojia Yilu. In the end, the key in my mind is good structure, mechanics and technique. Whether it's a short form or a longer form, or the first part of a long form, doesn't really matter, as long as you're practicing. :)

  5. Funny, you mention Huang Xingxian, whom I met twice in person. He himself trained the shortend ZMQ 37 step and his white crane stuff also semms not very classical. So he promoted shortened stuff, no?

  6. Lets distinguish b/t Taiji (Tai Chi) for health and relaxation and Taijiquan the martial art requiring a lifetime to not quite master.

  7. If Chen Xiaowang developed 38 and 19, then ... he's the lineage holder. He designed them, so they are good.
    If you take the first 1/4 of Laojia Jilu ... is that a complete form ? Is that contiguous ? Is that the best teaching ?
    Chen Xiaowang did not think so.
    19 contains Old / New / Small frame movements.
    38 contains Old / New frame movements.

    You quote one teacher saying "learn less" practice more.
    Then practice the 38.
    If you just practice the first 1/4 of Laojia Jilu then ... you have no New Frame movements and there is 3/4 of the form you never practice.

    What is the point in practicing traditionally > do you really have time ?

    Also you make no mention of Chan Si Gong. Better to simply practice Chan Si Gong and forget all forms. Or if you are really pressed, simply practice Zhan Zhuang.

    ZZ + Chan Si Gong + 38 = 10 years work.

    Who cares if you know all the forms .... but never master them, there is never a true integrity from ZZ to Chan Si Gong to your form. It is meaningless ... I expect many are in this category.


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