An Introduction to Yang Style Tai Chi
Yang Style Tai Chi is also beautiful to do and to watch when performed well though it is generally more subtle than Chen Style.
Like Chen style it is also generally divided up into Da Jia (Big Frame) and Xiao Jia (Small Frame) and as with Chen style, pure Xiao Jia is more difficult and much less common. High level Da Jia will naturally include smaller circles and so the distinction is not so important, but the forms look slightly different. Please see Chen Taichi, for more on Da Jia and Xiao Jia.
Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872) studied Chen Style Taichi with Chen Chang Xing, probably mastering Da Jia, Xiao Jia and the original Chen 108 and then went on to create his own style of Taichi, Yang style.
His original form, Yang Lao jia still exists in Beijing and Malaysia and contains external Fah Jing's, kicks and fast and slow movement like the Chen Tai chi from which it came.
Yang Lu Chan's style included both Xiao Jia and Da Jia versions and there is a popular story that he only taught his Da Jia, with its large circular movements outside the family. Another Chinese poem is attributed to him though which suggests, 'the teacher can only teach what the students are able to learn' and Xiao Jia is difficult. He taught Wu Chuan Yau the whole Yang style and probably others.
Yang Lu Chan had three sons, Yang Ban Hou, Yang Jian Hou and Yang Feng Hou.
Yang Ban Hou was known for his aggressive martial attitude and he practised Yang Xiao Jia in a hard and fast style which still exists today in Handan. His nephew Yang Shao Hou, Yang Chen Fu's brother continued with this style. Their level was very high, but not many people were able to learn with them.
Yang Jian Hou practised what now seems to be considered Zhong Jia, Middle Frame, although it may have been the same as his father's large form. His style was softer than Yang Ban Hou's and he taught many students. The small circles from the Xiao Jia no doubt featured in his larger style.
Yang Feng Hou died fairly young, without children although its not clear how young he actually died. Some records suggest he also taught students in Beijing with a softer style of Yang Da Jia and Xiao Jia closer to his father's style.
So amongst Yang Lu Chan, his three sons and their students, there are those who practised Da Jia, others hard Xiao Jia, others soft Xiao Jia and others a combination of them all, and this forms the early foundation of Yang Style Taichi Chuan.
Yang Jian Hou's sons created the next big influence with Yang Shao Hou following his uncles, hard Xiao Jia and Yang Chen Fu adapting his father's Zhong Jia to form his own larger Da Jia style. Both brother's were famous for their martial skills, but Yang Chen Fu was gentler in his teaching style and through his life further softened the family taichi removing the kicks, leaps and external released of power from his form. He became very famous in China and taught very widely so having a dramatic influence on Yang Taichi creating what is effectively considered Traditional Long form today.
Yang Chen Fu taught many students and so there are high lineages outside of the family now, notably the Fu family from Shanghai, the Trie family in Beijing and the Zhao family in Xian (a female branch off the Yang family). Within the family, Yang Shou Zhong, the elder spent his life in Hong Kong and his students went out to the West. He practised his grandfather's Zhong Jia and uncle's Xiao Jia. The other brothers, Yang Zhen Guo, Yang Zhen Duo and Yang Zhen Ji practise their father's Yang Da Jia and still live in Taiyuan and Handan in China.
Yang Chen Fu's Da Jia had many advantages to it, in terms of it being easier for students to learn and this helped the spread of Yang style Taichi but it's not clear whether he was able to teach the more suble aspects of the smaller circles and silk reeling of the dantian within his form, other than to close disciples. So as with the early taichi lineages, Yang Chen Fu style no doubt encompasses lines with more or less dantian centred movement.
In the 1950's Li Tian Ji created the Simplified Yang 24 often called the Beijing 24 form, and this was very widely promoted by the Chinese Government. In fact for a while they effectively discouraged traditional forms from being practised. Longer Modern style forms were also created at the time but were less popular. When one sees taichi in a park in China today, it is most likely to be the Beijing 24 form.
The 24 form is based on Yang Chen Fu's Da Jia, but also includes subltle aspects from Chinese Wushu, which the founder was also an expert in. The changes give the form a bigger more aesthetic appeal and at the same time the movements are simpler, so making it easier for beginners to learn. The shape of the form is linear making it suitable for the large scale performances often carried out in China. When the practitioner's body is flexible it can look beautiful, but the weakness of the form is that the dantian connection is much weaker than the traditional styles and some of the movements may be too strong on the joints for people with weak health. Still this is a good entry point into taichi, which is what it was designed for.
Chen Man Ching was a senior student of Yang Chen Fu, who taught widely in the West and also created short taichi forms which have been influential in the West, but not in China.
The 42 Style was created in the 1970's, combining aspects of Yang, Chen and the other Tai Chi styles. In practice though it is most similiar to Yang Style. It's aim perhaps is to facilitate standardisation and competitive practice of taichi. In practise some practitioners perform it more like Yang, some more like Chen style.
A final note on the evolution of Yang Style Taichi is that some of the best disciples naturally created their own styles of taichi. Yang Lu Chan's students included the founders of the Lee Style, the Wu and the Wu(Hao) style and the Sun style came from a student who studied with Hao Weizhen.
The Yang Style stance can be high, medium or low. A low stance is sometimes considered a demonstration of achievement which it is if the body is sung and able to do this comfortably, but it is the relaxed sung quality that is significant not the stance itself. If the stance is forced, then it may not be helpful in achieving relaxation in the feet and legs, so reducing the natural sinking. In martial terms a high stance with good natural sinking is more useful, with the capacity to take a lower posture, such as 'snake creeps down' to avoid a high kick.
As with Chen, body movement should come directly from the 'dan tian', the abdominal region, with the whole body moving naturally around it as one unit, one Qi, all without using physical effort. The pace remaining fairly slow, even and gentle.
The goal during performance is to not break the silk like thread of Qi and instead allow it to build in strength throughout the form. This explains the preference for longer forms like Yang 85 (108), with its repetitions of movement, which can create strong resonances of energy.
The origins of Yang Tai Chi are as a martial art just like Chen Style although there is a greater emphasis on the softer aspects of pushing someone off balance rather than using the Wushu or Kungfu derived life threatening applications. It contains both though for those who understand all the applications. From the beginning there was also more of an awareness of the deeper health and spiritual aspects as well, and it feels close to Taoism.
It seems likely that the original Yang Style was strongly influenced by Chen Xiao Jia, although Chen Da Jia may have also been part of Yang Lu Chan's training experience. Xiao Jia more closely follows the Chinese Ba Gua and this explains perhaps the closeness in Yang style taichi.
The subtleties of Yang: sinking with the mind rather than with the muscles, the more even flow, the preferences for higher stances at beginner and high level, the more subtle interal or hidden Fah Jing, all appear in Xiao Jia and so are not additions created by Yang Lu Chan.
What is evident is a more accessible stance than Chen Xiao Jia, which in it's original form at least appears to require a body that is open or 'sung', just to perform the transitions without injury, especially to the knees. Yang taichi follows a yin/yang stance more closely with the leading foot forwards, the rear foot at 45 degrees and this is more straightforward.
Ultimately this may be Yang Lu Chan's greatest gift. He created a Tai Chi style which is accessible to the majority of people and as such a great path for people to make use of to bring the body towards a deeper state of sung / relaxation. It is also easily adapted for people of weaker constitution and so ideal as a practice for the recovery and maintainance of good health.