Today, there are many styles of
Tai Chi Chuan and no one practitioner practices the Solo Form the same way. This
is true even among the Yang Family Members. Many students have wondered why.
What is the correct way to practice the Solo Form?
In the Tai Chi Chuan
System, the Solo Form is a series of physical bare hand movements to work to
maneuver and fine tune the body. Depending on the practitioner's intention, a
movement can be executed in many different ways to achieve different results.
Thus, it is said that Tai Chi Chuan is a multiple functions art.
It is also said in the Tai Chi Chuan Classics that the Solo Form is for the
body and Push Hand exercises are for the usage. The body is the control center
of the four limbs' movements. It is the key to unify all physical movement.
Better coordination, execution of a powerful strike, flexibility, balance,
improved vitality, improved physical endurance and mobility are some of the
essential results of body utilization.
There are many disciplines to train the body to achieve these results. In Tai
Chi Chuan, "Jia" refers to family, style and frame. We often read this in
association with "Lao Jia" and "Xian Jia" in Tai Chi Chuan books. The word "Lao"
refers to old or tradition and "Xian" refers to new and contemporary. When
people say that Yang Lao Sim practiced the "Lao Jia", this meant that he
practiced the traditional 108 movement Solo Form by Zhang San Feng whose
emphasis was more on martial art usage than the styles commonly seen today.
Three levels in martial art skills
Generally, martial arts skill is
divided into three levels- the beginner's level, the immediate level and the
The beginner's level refers to the stage when one learns to grasp the basics
or fundamentals. The student trains to develop some skill with the eyes, hands,
feet, body and is acquiring some benefit in health. This is the foundation or
the stage of developing the body.
The intermediate level is reached when the student has had several years of
practice. He has a strong foundation. The eyes, hands, stepping and internal
substances act together. This is the enlightenment stage or the stage of
developing the intent.
The advanced level is reached when one has several decades of practice. The
practitioner has spent a great deal of time in search of the application of each
movement. All the movements are done with ease, the hands move like lightening,
stepping is quick like wind and the eyes shine like a shooting star. When the
intent wants to move, the whole body moves. This is the stage of developing the
a. Beginning Level
This is the stage of physical practice. It is
the stage to practice the basics in martial art training. The main
characteristic of this is that one practices the basics such as hands, legs,
waist and the beginner's hands forms or weapons. The purpose is to build a solid
foundation for more advanced training later. A student must remember three
things here to be successful: serious, persistence and perseverance. This stage
is also known as the body development. It is so because most of the time the
student works on the basic movement of the hands, feet, waist, body and standing
to prepare and build up the body for more difficult movement later.
b. Intermediate Level
After one has mastered the fundamental, one
will go onto the next step of intent development. The difference between body
development and intent development is that body development involves many
maneuvers to fine tune the body and following all the rules and regulations
described in The Tai Chi Chuan Classics. While intent development involves
practical application and following the rules and regulations but at the same
time find ways to stretch out the perimeter of these rules and regulations.
Therefore, it is said that body development is working on the "gong" or internal
power development component and intent development is working on the "chee" or
technique component. As a complete system of martial art, a style or system must
have both components to train the student's skills. There is a saying that it is
not enough just to have "chee," one must have "gong" as well. When one has
"gong", the strike will be so powerful that the opponent will be scared to
Among the martial art practitioners who understand the relationship of gong
and chee, they said "The fist relies on chee, the chee relies on gong, and the
gong relies on chee." From this, one can see that in order to be successful as a
martial artist, one must find the solution to develop both the "gong" and
c. Advanced Level
In order to advance to a higher level, one must
begin the spiritual training. From spiritual training, one will develop a skill
so profound that no word can correctly describe it. The Tai Chi Chuan Classics
refer to this stage in the following statements, "No feathers can added and no
fly can land", and "Nobody know me, I alone know others." What is the difference
between spiritual development and intent development? Spiritual development is
the continuation of intent development. The essential of spiritual development
is that the brain will unconsciously practice the Solo Form all the time so that
all responses will become a natural reflex whenever it faces danger. This is
also known as an inborn ability. A practitioner develops the nervous system to
the peak of sensitivity so that an automatic response occurs without any
3 Frames of The Yang Styles of Tai Chi Chuan
For training in Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, the Yang Family Members developed
the 108 Lao Jia Solo Form into three major styles, each with its own
distinguishing characteristics to arm the practitioner for combat. Yang Cheng
Fu developed the famous "Large Frame" Style. The objective of this style is to
stretch the body's tendons, ligaments and develop the flexibility of all the
joints so that it is able to function in martial art's high demanded. Large
refers to the large degree of circular motion in each movement. Large frame
style emphasizes the find tuning and conditioning of the body's joints.
Therefore, it is also known as the "enter the door style" or a style for the
Yang Jian Hou developed the "Medium Frame" Style. The objective of this style
is for martial usage. The emphasis is on martial technique. he divided a
movement into many smaller sub-movements so that it is more effective in offense
and defense. Medium refers to the degree of circular motion that involve the
body's joints not large as in large frame and not too small as in small frame.
It is the distand that one is able to quickly execute an offensive or a
defensive maneuver. Therefore, medium frame is also known as an application
Yang Pan Hou developed the "Small Frame" style. The objective of this style
is on practicing the chi and spirit. Small refers to the small degree of
circular motion in each movement. The circle is so small that most of the
movement is based on the rotation of the waist and coiling the body. The
emphasis is on the chi and spirit, not the physical. Therefore, it is known as
an advanced style and it is generally practiced among senior and experienced
The multiple disciplines in Solo Form
Tai Chi Chuan's Solo Form can
be practiced by people of all ages and physical conditions. It is based on the
objectives of the practitioners. Generally, practice of the Solo Form is divided
into four groups based on the objectives and disciplines. This is similar to
the four seasons in a year where all living things grow in a complete life
cycle (birth, growth, maturity and death). Since Tai Chi Chuan is a multiple
functions art, one must practice the Solo Form accordingly to achieve all
functions. A practitioner who inherits correct transmission generally goes through four
groups of Tai Chi Chuan practice to maximize its benefits. This is why many
practitioners are still able to execute a powerful strike in their senior age.
We know that Spring is a time for planting seed and life begins. In Tai Chi
Chuan training, this is the time to develop strong fundamentals. The objective
of the Solo Form at this time will be based on how to improve these
fundamentals. Summer is the time for growth. In Tai Chi Chuan training, this is
the time for development and acquisition of skills. Autumn is the time for harvest.
In Tai Chi Chuan training, this is the time for skill maturation and benefit.
Winter is the time for storage. In Tai Chi Chuan training, this is the time for
preservation of chi to maintain good health. From this, we can see that Tai Chi
Chuan develops and experiences differently at different times of a
practitioner's life. One should practice the Solo Form accordingly. A successful
practitioner begins with the physical to build strong fundamentals and advance
into the spiritual training of the intent in a later date. This is similar to
education, one begins with the primary school, moves onto secondary school and
then college knowledge in a progressive manner.
Four groups of practice
This is the beginning. The emphasis is on the Tai Chi Chuan's fundamentals. Since a fruitful
result is based on a strong foundation, there are many techniques developed over
the years to practice the Solo Form to establish a strong foundation. Like a
tall building, Tai Chi Chuan training begins with a strong foundation.
Otherwise, the building will collapse.
- Wu Tu Nan pointed out that when he learned from Yang Sau Hou, Yang made him
pause in each component of the movement for a few minutes during each Solo
Form practice. Wu took more than one hour to completed one Solo Form
practice. This technique will help the practitioner correctly executing
each movement as well as building a strong foundation.
- The second technique is stationary exercise or practicing the Solo
Form's each movement individually and separately in the same space. In
today's limited space environment, this is an excellent technique to work
- The third technique is to strengthen the leg by lifting the leg up in either
stepping forward or backward motion. Besides building the strong standing
leg, this technique also will develop the kicking technique on the second
- The fourth technique is to utilize the waist rotation. To better understand
the importance of the waist in a movement, do not move the hands so that
the waist rotation alone will be visible. Later, apply this technique
to the shoulders and the elbows.
- The fifth technique is to practice the large frame by stretching the body,
ligaments and joints for flexibility and increase the size of the circular
motion in each movement.
This stage is the continuation of the development
or acquisition of skills. In here, one can practice the Solo Form physically
more challenging as a martial art to further develop the body to expect the
unexpected in a combat environment.
- The first technique is to break down the Solo Form movement into each
individual movement and practice the left side as well as the right side
according to its many martial applications.
- The second technique is to practice the medium frame which divides each
movement into many smaller parts and remain connected in the Solo Form.
This division will create many foldings (repeating) motion which act as
storage and release of power and result in many hands techniques.
- The third technique is to practice the Solo Form on both sides for
coordination and balance.
- The fourth technique is to practice the Solo Form with speed and power to
improve the body's endurance, mobility and ability to discharge power.
This is the stage of maturation. After one has
gone through all the techniques previously described, one is expected to be
skillful in Tai Chi Chuan. Each member of the Yang Family taught different
styles of the Solo Form because their personalities and the society they lived
in were different at their time. However, this does not mean that they did not
practice or know the many disciplines and styles. Depending on the personality,
physical condition and inclination, a practitioner can practice the three
disciplines of the small, medium and large frames.
When we said a person is aging, this means his organs are
not functioning as well as they used to in his prime. It takes a longer time for
him to recover from vigorous activity. Therefore, the practice should not
emphasize the physical, which is a process of spending chi, rather it should
be on the process of preserving the chi and spirit to maintain good health. At
this time, one is not expected to practice the Solo Form as described in the
Spring and Summer. Rather, one is expected to preserve all energy and chi
acquired when he was in his youth. Therefore, one should practice the Solo Form
with less movement to preserve energy. As this time, many experienced
practitioners practice the following techniques to maintain good health.
- The first technique is to practice the small frame. A Solo Form with less
- The second technique is practice the Solo Form mentally. In other word,
one meditates on the Solo Form. This does not require any space.
Therefore, it can be done at anytime.
There are many ways of practicing the Solo Form, but
the sequence, principles, concepts and philosophy remain the same. The
significant difference is in the objectives and the execution of each movement. A
practitioner must focus on one method before practice and adhere to this method
throughout the practice session. From a martial art point of view, a
practitioner must practice different ways to prepare the body to expect the
unexpected in a combat environment. Yeung Sau Chung said "The practice has to be
alive! You have to practice the Solo Form with lightness, heaviness, softness,
hardness, fastness, slowness, big circle, medium circle and small circle. If the
Solo Form practice concentrating on 'hardness', the chi will come up from the
dantien to the four limbs. If the practice concentrating on 'softness', the chi
will return to the dantien. Hardness without softness is not enough strength.
Softness without hardness is not enough circular motion. A movement with a fast
component without a slow component is not considered as having control. A slow motion
without a fast component indicates that the practitioner's skill is not very high.
Hardness does not mean stiff and softness does not mean weak. Strike fast but
not confused. Strike slow but not empty. This is the correct execution."
From a health exercise point of view, a practitioner who selects one
discipline according to his health condition will do the job, for we know that
any physical activity will improve body endurance. However, we also know that
people generally are not satisfied with what they have. A new goal and
discipline progressively to build a strong body, maintain interesting and
maintain good health.
Article By Vincent Chu