In the earlier Diversity in Practice post here I compiled a clip showing how various descendants of Grandmaster Wei Shuren played the first section of the 22 Form. It is certainly an eye opener to realize that within a two generation span the way the form is played could vary in the essential requirements.
I can imagine if I am someone totally new to the style looking from outside in and wondering what to make of the differences, particularly if I am looking to learn the style. Or I could be a beginner wanting to improve myself, being confronted by the differences and wondering who to look to as a learning model or perhaps I should try to take in all.
In another previous post The Classics As A Standard I highlighted the importance of using a reference standard in assessing our practice of Tai Chi. The same tool can be used in the case of the 22 Form. For us we are fortunate because we also have the following :-
i) A number of videos of Grandmaster Wei playing either the 22 Form or 108 Form
ii) Four texts including one text specifically on the 22 Form
Taking into account the above we can then use them as tools to understand what we are seeing in the videos of the different performers. We can compare them with the first clip of Grandmaster Wei to have a general impression.
We can then move on to the text on the 22 Form to see what the general and specific requirements are and observe if they are in play consistently. For example, the requirement of elongated wrist is highly specific to our Yang style Tai Chi.
Using these tools as reference standard will also allow us to answer other questions such as this – the Cheng Man Ching style uses the Fair Maiden Hand which outwardly looks very similar to our elongated wrist. Based on this observation some outsiders have concluded that our Yang style is similar to the Cheng style.
However, I have learned the Cheng style before and I can say that outer appearances aside we are not similar. I don’t make this conclusion based on emotion but by using the tools above to make an objective evaluation.
For example, below you can see the Single Whip posture of Grandmaster Wei Shuren and Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching :-
The characteristics of our style which can be seen in the posture of Grandmaster Wei but absent from Grandmaster Cheng would be the following :-
i) Bell body posture
ii) 2-4 line
iii) Bell clapper line
iv) 3-Chi rings
vi) Elongated wrists throughout
vii) Hot bun under armpits
I have not drawn the lines in but as an exercise you can do it yourself and my conclusions here will be very clear.
Instead, I am highlighting three obvious discrepancies in the performers in the video compilation which you can easily spot below :-
a) Non-elongated wrists
This is something that is easily overlooked when playing the form. If you cannot keep the wrists elongated properly it means that you have not developed deep awareness of what your hands are doing.
If you are unable to master the principle of elongated wrists how then will you be able to fulfil the requirement of “when intercepting strength do not use wrists…..” – this saying can be found in the text that GM Wei wrote for GM Wang Yongquan on the 108 long form.
b) Carry the wooden tablet
In the posture of Wild Horse Parts Mane we have the requirement of Peng Ti which is likened to using the arm to carry a Chinese court official’s wooden tablet.
This is a very important principle for fajing purposes. So if you fail to fulfil this requirement you will not be able to demonstrate the fajing flavor shown by Grandmaster Wei and you will end up using normal biomechanical means.
The 3-passes is a method for controlling the spine mentally. There are 4 variations to the 3-passes. If you fail to keep the 3-passes it also means your bell body will be non-existent.
Consequently you will not be able to develop strong, springy power through the principle of what is normally referred to as Peng Zhang but often mistakenly called Peng Jing. Thus, each requirement is for a purpose. You can think of them as pieces that make up the entire puzzle.
Sometimes its not politically correct to analyze what other people do. But if we want to Master Tai Chi Today we should be bold to ask politically incorrect questions. For example, an obvious politically incorrect question is if everyone is correct then why no one is really getting it. So what’s the answer? This I leave you to ponder.
Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today at the link here.