Tai Chi “Forms” or “Routines” (“Taijiquan Taolu”)
The most recognisable aspect of tai chi training is the slow, graceful routines that combine martial movements with qigong, stretching, balancing, proper posture, and the refinement of subtle body mechanics to improve the health and power of mind, body, and spirit.
Practising a tai chi routine provides a complete workout, deep relaxation, a clear mind, inner peace, an leaves you feeling both rested and invigorated.
While traditional routines typically took 1-3 years to learn and 20 60 minutes to perform onece; modern simplified and standardised routines have been created over the past 50 years that can be learnedin a few lessons and performed in 3- 10 minutes.
Each style of tai chi has its own unique routines with unique characteristics. But the fundamental principles governing how the routines are performed is the same for every traditional style.
The types of routines include: solo routines, weapon routines, 2-person routines.
Following is a list of some of the more popular tai chi routines.
Modern Tai Chi Routines
To learn the a traditional tai chi routine would typically take a student between one and three years. While some teachers can get students through the basic choreography in about six months, a proper understanding of the form would take much longer. Mastery of the form is an ongoing process. A teacher would never start teaching solo without at least ten years in a traditional school.
Modern routines have been created since the 1950’s as a means of making tai chi more accessible to the masses. Routines with as few as 8 movements are now taught in courses of only 6 – 10 weeks. Ongoing instruction will certainly deepen the students’ understanding and provide greater benefit. However, for people who can only take 1 or 2 classes per week, a shorter and simpler form may actually provide greater benefits for health and fitness, as the complexities of long routines can interfere with the teaching of the fundamental principles.
5-Section Tai chi Curriculum
The 5-section tai chi is a modern routine created by Sam Masich. It is part of a comprehensive curriculum which includes:
- The basic 5-section tai chi
- 5-section 2-person tai chi
- 5-section tai chi sword
- 5-section 2-person tai chi sword
- 5-section Chen style
Here are two videos. The first is of a simultaneous demonstration of the “5-section Yang”, “5-section Sword” and the “5-section 2-Person” routines. The second is of a two-person 5-section sword routine.
Above: Video demonstration at tai chi Caledonia of simultaneous Yang, Sword, and Two—person routines.
Below: Video demonstration of the 5-section two-person tai chi sword.
International Standard Tai Chi Routines
As wushu competitions grew in popularity there was a growing need for some kind of standardization for judging. One solution was to create standard choreographed routines that would put competitors “on and equal footing”. This standardization was a bit controversial, but many masters saw the potential benefit of uniformity. So, in 1989, a committee* was organized by the Chinese Wushu Research Institute of China in order to create seven standard routines for the various categories of wushu taolu (form) competition. These categories included:
- Long Fist (Changquan)
- Southern Fist (Nan Quan)
- Tai Chi (Taijiquan)
- Broadsword (Dao)
- Spear (Qiang)
- Sword (Jian)
- Cudgel (Gun)
The routines were “certified” by the Chinese Wushu Association and promoted throughout the world. Athletes competing in national and international events were soon required to learn these routines. These competition routines had a big influence and were taught in many schools for the next twenty years. They are still used in tournaments around the world, sometimes with special categories set aside for them. But there are also divisions for competitors who choreograph their own routines. In international competitions, participants can now choreograph their own routines, with points given for required elements.
*This committee included Pang Lintai, Zhao Changjun, Den Changli, Wang Jie, Bai Wenxiang, Liu Yuping, Yuan Wenqing, Huang Jiangang, Zhang Shan, Fu Quanzhi, Zhang Guangde, Pen Ying, Li Wnying, Men Huifeng, Chen Lihong, Ji Yue-e, Li Tainji, and Li Deyin.
42 Posture Combined tai chi (International Standard Routine)
Created specifically as a competition routine, the 42 form combines elements of the Yang, Chen, Wu, and Sun styles of tai chi. The overall “flavour” of the routine is seen as being consistent with Yang Style. In competition, it is meant to be performed in 5 – 6 minutes. Deductions are made to a competitor’s score if the routine goes over or under time.
42 Posture Tai chi Sword
Following the success of the 42 Posture Combined Routine, the 42 sword form combines elements of the Yang, Chen, Wu, and Sun styles of tai chi sword.
Other Competition Routines
With the movement to standardize competition routines, came the creation of routines specifically for tai chi competitions. There were wushu competitions that would have a division for tai chi in general, with tai chi sword possibly added in. But there were and still are many competitions specifically for tai chi. These competitions would have separate divisions for each of the major tai chi styles, and sometimes a division for miscellaneous styles called “other.”
73 Posture Sun Style International Standard Routine
Sun Style comes from a derivative of Wu Yuxiang Style, and incorporates elements of two other martial arts called Baguazhang and Xingyiquan. The intersting thing about this routine, is that it has almost the same number of movements as the traditional “long” routine. But due to its unique choreography, the 73 can be performed within the 5 – 6 minute time limit.
56 Posture Chen Style International Standard Routine
Chen style tai chi has two main routines called yilu changquan and erlu paotui (with stylistic variations of each). The 56 posture routine combines elements of both routines.
46 Posture Wu Yuxiang Style (Hao) International Standard Routine
The Wu Yuxiang Style tai chi is still not as popular as the other major styles. But its popularity is growing. Still you will not likely see this routine at many competitions outside China.
40 Posture Yang Style International Standard Routine
Yang Style is the most popular tai chi style in the world. But this routine is not taught very often. Unless a student is intending to enter a competition, most teachers go right from the more simplified routines to the traditional long form.
Traditional Yang Style Routine (108)
This is the routine that made tai chi famous. I was being taught in almost every province in China by the 1950’s, and in most countries by the 1980’s.
Traditional Wu Style Routine (108)
The Wu style choreography is very similar to the Yang style from which it is derived. But the way in which the movements are done is a bit different.
Traditional Chen Style First Routine (Yilu Changquan)
This is the routine on which the Yang Style routine is based. It takes a trained eye to see some of the similarities. But when you know what to look for you can see that they are essentially the same routines.
Traditional Chen Style Second Routine (Erlu Paotui)
Paotui or “Cannon Fist” is an advanced routine in the Chen Style curriculum. It emphasizes more explosive expressions of power called “Fa Jing” and has more leaps and dramatic changes than the first routine. Some people argue that it is not technically tai chi because it deals with “spending energy rather than storing it.” It should be pointed out, however, that while other styles may not have a cannon fist routine, the traditional training does include the practice of “Fa Jing”.
Here the is a demonstration of Laojia (old frame) Erlu Paotui performed by the famous teacher, Chen Zhenglei.
Chen Style Taiji Straight Sword
The straight sword or “jian” is a double edged weapon that requires a great deal of skill. It is also a beautiful weapon with much mystical and historical significance. Many scholars learn the sword to help them refine their personality. Others see the sword as a tool for “cutting through illusion.”
Yang Style Taiji Straight Sword
The author is not certain about the relationship, if any, between the sword routines of Yang style and Chen style. It seems possible that they come from very different sources.
Chen Style Taiji Sabre
The sabre is a soldier’s weapon, with one curved edge and relatively simple techniques. An army could learn the sabre in about three or four months. This is very different from the straight sword, which would require at least three years.
Chen style Guan Dao
The Guan Dao or “Kwan Do” is seen in pictures and statues of Guan Yu, the legendary 3rd century general. His Guan Dao was said to weigh nearly 20 kg. While some guan dao of more than 100 pounds, (45 kg) are used for training by such masters as Liang Shouyu, most modern guan dao are seldom more than 10 kg.
Yang Style Taiji Sabre
The Yang style sabre is often performed using a standard Chinese sabre. But the typical Yang style sabre is usually more narrow and longer, less flexible, and sometime has a sharp back edge a the tip.
Taiji Spear (Yang or Chen)
Spear is the “king of long weapons” and is not suitable for beginners. It is an excellent tool for developing power. Most schools remove the sharp tip for practice. Of course, since the spear takes many years to master, very few teachers even know the art these days. Also, it is difficult to find a school with the space to swing a weapon that is 3 metres long. Then there is the matter of insurance.
88 posture 2-person tai chi
There are a few versions of the Yang style two person routine. It is difficult these days to find a school that teaches it, and even harder to find students with whom to practise.