Classical Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Solo Forms

BY MASTER VINCENT CHU

Originally, yang style tai chi chuan had only one solo form. It is now called small-frame form. It has a high stance and compact movements. Because of individual practitioners' objectives, it evolved into martial-function solo forms, such as those including application and fundamentals training and health-maintenance-function solo forms, such as those including relaxation and stress management exercises, etc.

1. Tai chi chuan application solo form (small-frame form) this application solo form is different from the martial-fundamentals-training form or the slow form. Due to its quickness - swift and powerful movements - there are many practitioners who call it the fast form. Physically, the application solo form is very demanding. One cannot perform it well unless one's body is in good condition. Therefore, this solo form is not as popular as other, slower forms, which people can practice simply for health maintenance or health improvement.

When one is practicing the application solo form, it is necessary to simulate the martial confrontation. Each movement must have good technique, speed and power - elements for victory. The application form has a high stance and compact movements, so that one can move quickly. All the movements are of a linear nature, without the obvious opening and closing motions as in other forms. Among the many techniques, there are fa jing, hua jing, qi circulation and application. Therefore, when one is practicing this application form, each movement is done with a specific rhythm. When stepping forward, the second foot has to step forward too: when retreating the second foot has to retreat as well. When one regularly practices this form, one will develop a sense of offensive and defensive rhythm. The application solo form is not the training form done fast.

2. Tai chi chuan small-frame solo form (small-circle form) tai chi chuan is a close-quarters, internal martial art. The movements are so compact that a spectator sees only brief contact between practitioners before one is bounced back. The techniques and skills are profound and difficult to master. The yang family members have made training easier by dividing the tai chi chuan solo form into three levels or "frames" so that it is accessible to beginning students.

The small-frame solo form has high stances, compact movements, qi circulation and close-quarters techniques. It works more on the trunk than on the limbs, emphasizing training the vertebral column or the central nervous system in order to develop natural reflexes. Therefore, it is said that the small-frame form appears to have smaller movements outside and larger movements inside the body.
Another characteristic of the small-frame form is that it loosens the body by stretching the muscle groups more often. In the beginning, usually the joints are stiff and the limbs are hard. After one has practiced the ati chi chuan solo form for many years, the body will be nimble and energetic, a quality demonstrated both externally and internally. When one has reached this stage, conducting all physical activity is possible without injury to the body, even when responding to a sudden and unexpected martial strike. This is what the tai chi classics refer to when they say, "first seek out softness. Later it will become strong." softness comes from elasticity. When one is truly soft, a soft spiraling power will be developed and actions will be fueled by this power.

Yet another characteristic is qi circulation. When one practices the solo form slowly and softly, relaxing and stretching the muscle groups, the qi will circulate better, more easily throughout the body. To be soft and relaxed is not enough; the body must have qi to live. When the body is permeated with qi, it is nimble and healthy. This is similar to a tire filled with air: it can support the car's weight and is able to move at the same time.

3. Tai chi chuan transitional-frame solo form (middle-frame form) the traditional-frame solo form is based on yang kin hou's teaching. He recognized that without a good foundation it is very difficult to learn and to practice the small-frame solo form, so he wanted to reform it, thus enabling the student to learn and attain martial skill. He began by enlarging and making visible the hidden circular motions, slowing the pace of the fast movements in this small-frame solo form. In addition, to build a strong martial foundation, he lowered the stance in each movement and, for this same objective repeated some movements several times. With these changes, the new form had the benefits of improving body condition and martial-arts skill.

Due to the policy of closed transmission, it was not an easy task to make circular motions with the coal of improving martial fundamentals. This new solo form was not well known. It did not become popular until much later when yang cheng fu removed all the added circular motions and variations, further softening and slowing the movements with big opening and closing motions, a higher stance and an open-transmission policy. People today call the original solo form the small-frame solo form (application solo form or the small-circle solo form), yang kin hou's creation the transitional solo form (middle-frame solo form or middle-circle solo form), and yang chen fu's creation the arge-frame solo form (big-circle solo form)

4. Tai chi chuan large-frame solo form (large circle form) the large frame solo form is based on yang cheng fu's teaching. Yang cheng fu created this form based on his father's, yang chien hou's, middle-frame or transitional-frame solo form. Yang chien hou realized that is was very difficult for a student to develop martial-arts skill from the small-frame solo form, so he modified the small-frame solo formby enlarging the range of the small-frame solo form's movements, made the stance lower and included other martial-fundamentals-training objectives.

The major characteristic of the large-frame solo form is its large circular motion. Its function is to open all the body joints by stretching the ligaments and tendons. A common objective for all chinese martial arts, so that a practitioner is able to execute the strike quickly and powerfully in combat.
Practicing the large-frame solo form serves two functions. It opens the joints by stretching the ligaments and tendons, therefore improving practitioner's martial fundamentals and power. The large motions also improve blood circulation, thereby bettering one's health. It is a perfect solo form for improving the conditions of one's body. Therefore, the large-frame solo form is also known as the beginner's form.

5. Tai chi chuan medium-frame solo form (medium-circle form) the medium-frame solo form is based on yeung sau chung's teaching. Yeung sau chung created this medium-frame solo form based on his father's yang cheng fu's, large-frame solo form. Yeung sau chung said that the large-frame solo form reached out too far and is too loose. Therefore, it is difficult to focus and concentrate on discharging power. Accordingly, he refined the movements to have the hands positioned closer to the body, so it is easier to mobilize the power to discharge.

Since the medium-frame solo form is based on the large-frame solo form, it shares many characteristics of the large-frame solo form created by yang cheng fu. Today, many people mistake this medium-frame solo form fpr the large-frame solo form of yang cheng fu. When compared to the large-frame solo form, the obvious distinctive characteristic lies in the execution of the movements. The medium-frame solo form has more square components than the large-frame solo form, which has more round components. The hands are not positioned on high or as far away from the body as in the large-frame solo form. It is often said among experienced tai chi chuan practitioners that round components are for qi circulation and square components are for power and delivery.

The second characteristic is excellent posture alignment. The body's wight is well supported in every position. All the postures are balanced, and clearly distinguished between empty and full. Every posture look comfortable and powerful.

The third characteristic is the degree of waist rotation. The medium-frame solo form has the waist rotating not as much as in the large-frame solo form, which stretches the tendons and ligaments and is not as compact as the small-frame solo form, which stretches the muscle groups. It is at the middle between these two solo forms and has the functions of both of them.

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