Column by Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong
November 2003 Issue

Form Fitting

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 Yang family tai chi chuan (standard spelling, using pinyin Romanization, in China is "tai ji quan") originally had only one form with 108 moves. This is the form that the great Yang Cheng Fu performed for a photographer in the early 20th century and is still a valuable reference. Today most people call this the "long form."

In China, this form is known as the "88 form," because some long sequences are counted as only one move. In my schools, throughout the Plum Blossom International Federation around the world, we refer to this form as the "108 form." This is the original tai chi form practiced by Yang stylists in the old days. However, in the Yang family system, there is another, even-longer sequence form called the "long form," which is infrequently taught, therefore we don't call our "108 form" the long form.

In 1949, China turned to Communism. Most of the martial arts systems were not allowed to practice anymore. But tai chi was proven good for health, therefore the government decided to put out a shorter sequence form for the people to practice. In the early 1950s, citizens were encouraged to learn the "24 form." This form can be completed in four-to-six minutes and has both left- and right-hand movements. The 24 form is not like the original 108 form with its complicated repetitions and the 15-to-20 minutes required to finish. The new shorter form was easier to learn and easier to remember. It had the added advantage for the government of getting tai chi enthusiasts to work quicker!

When a person practiced it three times in a row, it was almost equivalent to the old form. Since the "leftist" Communist government in China developed the "24 form," people were required to start to the left instead of the right, as was the case with the original Yang form!

Over time more and more people began to practice tai chi in China. This meant many styles of tai chi chuan re-emerged to be practiced there. The Chinese government in the 1960s created a combination form and put the four major styles of tai chi together to become the "48 form." This 48 form includes the Yang, Chen, Wu and Sun styles of tai chi chuan movements. The 24 form, 88 form and the 48 form have been practiced widely in China for years.

Wushu has almost become a national sport of China. Since tai chi chuan is one system of martial arts, it is included in the forms competition. In the late 1980s, the Chinese government came out with a competition form called the "42 form." This competition form has the four major styles of tai chi like the 48 form. The 42 form balances the numbers of movements of each style of tai chi. In com- petition the tai chi player is required to accurately demonstrate the movements of each style. No matter what style of tai chi chuan you practice, if you want to compete in tai chi in the national tournament, you must do this 42 form. The tai chi competitor must complete the 42 form in five minutes or less.

Most traditional tai chi practitioners don't like the 42 form. Each style of traditional tai chi wanted its own division. In the early 1990s, each of the four major styles of tai chi chuan was finally given its own five-minute competition. To fit this five-minute requirement Yang tai chi has a new competition form called the "40 form." This form is designed to allow the competitor to apply any of the traditional movements from the different lineages. There are versions of movements from Yang style grandmasters such as, Chen Wei Ming, Dong Ying lie, Fu Zhong Wen, Hu Yuen Chou, Cheng Man Ching and others who had learned from Yang Cheng Fu or his students in China. The "40 form" requires five minutes of competition time. If a player performs under five minutes or over six minutes, the judges will deduct points from the score.

Despite the many forms available to the tai chi player, it should be remembered that doing one form properly under the guidance of a qualifled master is more important than knowing lots of forms. Thanks to the many martial artists who brought their knowledge with them when they emigrated from China, and the acceptance over time by the Chinese government, all these forms have become popular throughout the world.