Introducing the Steelyard Tai Chi Short Forms

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A Brief History of Short Forms

There are over thirty distinct Tai Chi forms practiced in the world today. This white paper explains why yet another form was needed, and created.

Li Tianji and Du Xilian

From 108 to 24 Postures

1952 marked the one hundred year anniversary of Yang family Tai Chi. It had been one century since Yang Luchan first demonstrated his art in the private halls of upper-class Beijing. It had been four decades since his grandson, Yang Chengfu, first began offering it for public tuition.

In the mid-1950s, Tai Chi expert Li Tianji began to speak publicly on the downfall of this once-esteemed art. Other Chinese martial arts leaders, such as Wang Xiangzhai, were making similar observations.

Tai Chi forms were extremely difficult to learn, Li opined. Although a handful of teachers have attempted to reduce its complexity, their haphazard changes only seem to be making it worse. They are diminishing the legacy of Taijiquan, and destroying its future potential.

At the request of the Chinese National Sports Commission, Li Tianji distilled a new Tai Chi routine.1 The 85 postures of the traditional Yang hand form were reduced to just 24. This essential sequence was made to be completed in five minutes, rather than twenty.

24 Simplified Forms quickly became China’s predominant style of Tai Chi practice. Within a decade, millions of people were performing it daily, in public parks and gymnasiums, schools and homes. The new 24 Form helped spread Taijiquan across the nation, and around the world.

Simplified Tai Chi appeared to be a resounding success. Yet Li Tianji, the man who had literally written the book on this project, would eventually declare it a bitter failure.2

His form had not been maintained as a store of traditional knowledge. Nor had it been used as an introduction to more advanced study. Instead, the 24 Form now favored the effete aesthetics of a theater performance, and the social goals of a Maoist loyalty dance.

Jiu zi jiu yang. 九子九样. Tai Chi had been smothered nearly to death, under the weight of political assimilation, reckless innovation, and its own runaway fame. The old dragons had many sons, but no successors.

1 “越南教授胡志明主席太极拳记— 顾留馨” (My Memories of Teaching President Ho Chi Minh Taijiquan in Vietnam) by Gu Liuxin. Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles, PhD.

2 “你们毁了我的太极拳” (They Have Ruined My Taijiquan) by Niu Shengxian.

The Complexity of Simplification

Modern students who learn the 24 Simplified Form, as a means of understanding the traditional benefits, forms, and achievements of Tai Chi, will face unexpected challenges.

The differences between 24 and traditional Tai Chi are more significant than length and repetition. The shape and character of many postures were deliberately altered. Transitional movements and footwork were also changed.

The 24 Form is not just a shorter and simpler version of its predecessor. It is meaningfully, confusingly different.

Furthermore, the simplified form does not address the sword, saber, push hands, drills and combat applications which comprise the bulk of a traditional curriculum.

To learn the 24 Form, by itself, is to receive a partial and contradictory education in Tai Chi Chuan.

24 Forms and Modern Fitness

24 Forms Taijiquan does not fare well in comparison to modern wellness disciplines. These include Hatha Yoga, Pilates, and CrossFit.

This Simplified Form is still too complex to be marketed as a simple relaxation practice, and too easy for a workout routine. Its challenges are somewhat arbitrary, and its achievements too meager. Young people are not interested in learning it, and the elderly are challenged to remember it all.

Newer, ultra-simplified Tai Chi and Qigong forms contain just 4 to 8 postures. Although they are easier to memorize, they otherwise exhibit the same fundamental shortcomings as the 24.

Steelyard Tai Chi Short Forms

The Steelyard Tai Chi™ Short Forms have a specific audience and purpose. They are short but potent routines, meant for students who have already grasped the traditional Yang style hand form, or are in the process of learning it.

Steelyard forms are easier to learn, because there is no change to the order or shape of the traditional postures. There is no change to the footwork or the transitional movements. They omit some postures and repetitions, without compromising the essence of the art.

Steelyard Forms are ideal for competition and exhibition. They are shorter in duration, and require a smaller performance area than the older traditional forms.

The Steelyard Forms advance Li Tianji’s original goals: making Tai Chi more accessible, while also respecting its authentic depth and heritage.

If you previously learned the Yang style long form (85/103/108), then you have already learned these forms too! You need only know which sections to omit; and to execute the remaining movements slightly faster than in a normal practice session.

Details are listed below.

Steelyard 27 Form

Recommended completion time: ~3 minutes, 20 seconds.

#English NamePinyin
(中文)
1PreparationYùbèi
(预备)
2BeginningQǐ shì
(起式)
3Grasp the Bird’s TailLǎn què wěi
(揽雀尾)
4Single WhipDān biān
(单鞭)
Omit section of long form
5Cloud Hands (3 times)Yún shǒu
(云手)
6Single WhipDān biān
(单鞭)
7High Pat on HorseGāo tàn mǎ
(高探马)
8Right Separation KickYòu fēn jiǎo
(右分脚)
9Left Separation KickZuǒ fèn jiǎo
(左分脚)
10Turn Body and Kick with HeelZhuǎn shēn zuǒ dēng jiǎo
(转身左蹬脚)
11Brush Knee and Push (2 times)Lōu xī ǎo bù
(搂膝拗步)
12Step Forward and Punch DownJìn bù zāi chuí
(进步栽锤)
13Turn Body, Chop with FistZhuǎn shēn piē shēn chuí
(转身撇身锤)
14Step Forward, Parry, Block, and PunchJìn bù bān lán chuí
(进步搬拦锤)
15Right Heel KickYòu dēng jiǎo
(右蹬脚)
16Left Strike TigerZuǒ dǎ hǔ shì
(左打虎式)
17Right Strike TigerYòu dǎ hǔ shì
(右打虎式)
Omit section of long form
18Single WhipDān biān
(单鞭)
19Snake Creeps DownXià shì
(下势)
20Step Forward, Seven StarsShàng bù qī xīng
(上步七星)
21Step Back, Ride the TigerTuì bù kuà hǔ
(退步跨虎)
22Turn Body, Lotus KickZhuǎn shēn bǎi lián
(转身摆莲)
23Bend Bow, Shoot TigerWān gōng shè hǔ
(弯弓射虎)
24Step Forward, Parry, Block, and PunchJìn bù bān lán chuí
(进步搬拦锤)
25Apparent ClosingRú fēng shì bì
(如封似闭)
26Cross HandsShí zì shǒu
(十字手)
27Closing PostureShōu shì, Huán yuán
(收式 还原)
Steelyard 27 Form Demonstration

Steelyard 34 Form

Recommended completion time: ~5 minutes, 20 seconds.

#English NamePinyin
(中文)
1PreparationYùbèi
(预备)
2BeginningQǐ shì
(起式)
3Grasp the Bird’s TailLǎn què wěi
(揽雀尾)
4Single WhipDān biān
(单鞭)
Omit section of long form
5Cloud Hands (3 times)Yún shǒu
(云手)
6Single WhipDān biān
(单鞭)
7High Pat on HorseGāo tàn mǎ
(高探马)
8Right Separation KickYòu fēn jiǎo
(右分脚)
9Left Separation KickZuǒ fèn jiǎo
(左分脚)
10Turn Body and Kick with HeelZhuǎn shēn zuǒ dēng jiǎo
(转身左蹬脚)
11Brush Knee and Push (2 times)Lōu xī ǎo bù
(搂膝拗步)
12Step Forward and Punch DownJìn bù zāi chuí
(进步栽锤)
13Turn Body, Chop with FistZhuǎn shēn piē shēn chuí
(转身撇身锤)
14Step Forward, Parry, Block, and PunchJìn bù bān lán chuí
(进步搬拦锤)
15Right Heel KickYòu dēng jiǎo
(右蹬脚)
16Left Strike TigerZuǒ dǎ hǔ shì
(左打虎式)
17Right Strike TigerYòu dǎ hǔ shì
(右打虎式)
18Turn Body, Right Heel KickHuí shēn yòu dēng jiǎo
(回身右蹬脚)
19Twin Fists Strike EarsShuāng fēng guàn ěr
(双峰灌耳)
Omit section of long form
20Part the Wild Horse’s Mane (3 times)Yě mǎ fēn zōng
(野马分鬃)
21Grasp the Bird’s TailLǎn què wěi
(揽雀尾)
22Single WhipDān biān
(单鞭)
23Fair Lady Works at ShuttlesYù nǚ chuān suō
(玉女穿梭)
24Grasp the Bird’s TailLǎn què wěi
(揽雀尾)
25Single WhipDān biān
(单鞭)
Jump forward
26Snake Creeps DownXià shì
(下势)
27Step Forward, Seven StarsShàng bù qī xīng
(上步七星)
28Step Back, Ride the TigerTuì bù kuà hǔ
(退步跨虎)
29Turn Body, Lotus KickZhuǎn shēn bǎi lián
(转身摆莲)
30Bend Bow, Shoot TigerWān gōng shè hǔ
(弯弓射虎)
31Step Forward, Parry, Block, and PunchJìn bù bān lán chuí
(进步搬拦锤)
32Apparent ClosingRú fēng shì bì
(如封似闭)
33Cross HandsShí zì shǒu
(十字手)
34Closing PostureShōu shì, Huán yuán
(收式 还原)

Tai Chi Practice Music

“Autumn Moon Over a Windless Lake” (平湖秋月) is a popular music selection for Tai Chi practice. This video presents multiple versions of 平湖秋月 ranging from 3 to 5 minutes long. Practicing consistently with this music, will ensure your Tai Chi short form is precisely the desired length.

“High Mountain and Flowing Water” (高山流水) is another popular choice.