Taijiquan Training Speed
By Peter Lim Tian Tek

While the main method of practicing Taijiquan has always been the slow method. And this, despite all variants, remains the basic method of training which is indispensible for forming a firm foundation for the art. There is, however, evidence that indicates that Taijiquan was practiced at other speeds as well.

Some Records Of Other Speeds Of Taijiquan

From early writings of those who recorded the art of Taijiquan we have some descriptions of how these sets were done. We begin with Gu Liu Xin, a noted Taijiquan historian who was responsible for organising the publication of much of the published material on the different styles of the art during the 1960s. He writes in his introduction to the book 'Yang Shi Taijiquan' (Yang Style Taijiquan) by Fu Zhong Wen in 1963 and also in Yang Zhen Duo's English book the following about how Yang Shao Hou, Yang Cheng Fu's older brother, practiced his form:
"His taijiquan 'frame' style was originally similar to his brother's, but later it gradually changed to the style of high 'frame' with lively footwork and well-knit small movements, alternating quick with slow actions. He was swift and powerful in delivering his blows and, with eyes blazing like torches, a grim smile on his face and roaring and howling as he darted back and forth, he was held in awe by others" (Gu Liu Xin, his introduction to 'Yang Style Taijiquan' by Yang Zhen Duo, 1988, page 7)
Fu Zhong Wen later wrote in his last book that Yang Shao Hou's
"movements swift, boxing frame sunk". (Fu Zhong Wen, 'Yang Shi Taijiquan Jiao Fa Lian Fa, 1989, page 5)
Years earlier, Chen Yen Ling, who wrote what is still considered a standard text for Taijiquan, had this to write about Yang Shao Hou's form:
"Boxing set small and strong. Movements fast and sunk." (Chen Yen Ling, Taijiquan Diao Jian Kan San Shou He Pian, 1943, page 6)
In a later chapter, he writes the following about the small frame of Yang Taijiquan as transmitted by Yang Shao Hou:
"The small frame strives for each posture to be compact. Movements agile and swift. This was transmitted by Yang Shao Hou." (Chen Yen Ling, Taijiquan Dao Jian Kan San Shou He Pian, 1943, page 24)
In his last chapter, this if found in one of his 23 fundamentally important points concerning the practice of the form in Taijiquan:
"neither fast nor slow" (Chen Yen Ling, Taijiquan Dao Jian Kan San Shou He Pian, page 295)
Tung Ying Jieh noted 3 ways of practicing the form in the Yang family:
"Seeing Mr. Feng Hou's son Chao Ling's boxing. He was personally trained by Mr Yang Ban Hou. His compact frame. Practiced neither fast nor slow. Mr Cheng Fu his is great softness and gradual. Mr Shao Hou his compact and swift." (Tung Ying Jieh, Taijiquan Shi Yi, 1948, page 33)
Chen Long Xiang and Li Min Di who studied with Li Ya Xuan, who trained directly under Yang Cheng Fu had this to write about Yang Shao Hou in their book 'Yang Shi Taijiquan Jing Jie' (Yang Style Taijiquan Essential Explanation):
"movements fast and sunk, boxing frame small and strong, everywhere seeking compactness". (Chen Long Xiang and Li Min Di, Yang Shi Taijiquan Jing Jie, 1992, page 34)
Yang Zhen Ji, the second son of Yang Cheng Fu has this to say of his uncle Yang Shao Hou's boxing:
"frame high movements small and alternating quick and slow." (Yang Zhen Ji, Yang Cheng Fu Shi Taijiquan, 1993, page 4)
Yang Shou Hou had few disciples, one of them was the famous master Wu Tu Nan who lived to be 105. Before Wu Tu Nan died, he published a book in which he recorded Yang Shao Hou's boxing set and the only known photographs of the set being performed by Wu himself. He writes this concerning how the form is performed:
"This set of small fames has two hundred over movements, these must be performed and completed within a time of around three minutes." (Wu Tu Nan, Taijiquan Zhi Yan Jiu, 1984, page 100)
Wu lists the small frame set as consisting of 73 postures in total. According to Wu, Yang Shao Hou told him that this set was passed down to him by his grandfather Yang Lu Chan. (Wu Tu Nan, Taijiquan Zhi Yan Jiu, 1984, page 97-98)

Wu Tu Nan's student Xu Zhi Jun wrote a book on the small frame In it he states the set should be performed within 2 minutes. (Xu Zhi Jun, Yang Shi Taijiquan – Xiao Jia Yi Qi Ji Ji Ying Yung, 1991, page 36)

Yang Cheng Fu himself is known to have taught a set called Taiji Chang Quan (Taiji Long Boxing) which consisted of both fast and slow movements. As Gu Liu Xin records this was the case with Yang Cheng Fu's early form:

"When he gave demonstrations in the 'Zhirou Wushu Association" during his early days in Shanghai, which was setup by his disciple Chen Weiming, an editor working in the 'Qing Dynasty History Institute', he performed the movements of kicking with speed and force. Later, however, to suit the needs of treating chronic disease, he changed them into slow movements with inner exertion of force. And in such movements as punching downward and punching the opponent's pubic region, he only made imitations instead of manifest exertions of force, thus making the set of movements continuous and evenly paced." (Gu Liu Xin, in his introduction to 'Yang style Taijiquan' by Yang Zhen Duo, 1988, page 7)
This quick kicking is present when we view the film of Tung Ying Jieh doing his long Yang form in Thailand in the 1940s and serves as a visual record of such a method of doing these postures. A film of his son Tung Fu Ling doing the form also shows this. (A video containing the above footage is available from Master Alex Dong)

Taiji Long Boxing was taught by Yang Cheng Fu and the set he taught was recorded by Chen Wei Ming .(Chen Wei Ming, Taiji Jian, n.d., page 32) Chen Wei Ming also expanded the set as the original set consisted of only 59 postures. Others who have studied under Yang Cheng Fu also expanded their sets to include over 100 postures. Yang Shou Chung, Yang Cheng Fu's oldest son who assisted his father in teaching his classes, taught a variant of the set recorded by Chen Wei Ming but the set in remains essentially the same. (Xie Bing Zhong, Zhong Guo Taijiquan De Xue Yue Shu, 1992, page 157-160)

Taiji Long Boxing is also described in the Encyclopedia Of Zhejiang Martial Arts where several sets of it are listed. The description of the practice of states that the movements in the set 'have both fast and slow' (Various, Zhejiang Shen Wushu Quan Ji Lu, 1988, page 291) that 'this fist's unique characteristic is sometimes fast sometimes slow, alternating between fast and slow' (Various, Zhejiang Shen Wushu Quan Ji Lu, 1988, page 292)

Mah Yueh Liang, the son-in-law of Wu Jian Quan is recorded as having seen Yang Cheng Fu practice a set of fast Taiji when he came over to push hands with Wu Jian Quan at his home. The Wu Jian Quan style itself has a set of fast Taijiquan which is being transmitted by Mah. Mah and his wife Wu Ying Hua, the daughter of Wu Jian Quan, and their student Shi Mei Lin authored a book in 1987 titled 'Wu Shi Taiji Quai Quan' (Wu Style Taiji Fast Boxing). It is also interesting to note that the Wu Yu Xiang style also has record of a fast set though information on this set is scarce.

Master Yang Yu Ting who was the primary promoter of the Wu Jian Quan style in Beijing has this to write about training speeds in his works which are recorded in Master Wang Pei Sheng on the third stage of practice:

"Vary the speed of practice from time to time: the normal; the slower than normal; the faster than normal; as slow as you can without showing any discontinuity of movement and wavering of attention; and as fast as you can without exhibiting any rash and incorrect movement or a hasty and careless attitude. However, most of your practice should be done at normal speed or slower than normal speed." (YangYu Ting, recorded byWang Pei Sheng in 'Wu style Taijiquan', 1983, page 213)
The Wu Yu Xiang Style also has a fast set that is sometimes also called 'Feng Quan' or Wind Boxing. Information on this is scarce and the set very rare, we are fortunate that the set itself has been recorded down by concientious catalogers of the martial arts. Consisting of 96 postures, it emphasizes both neutralising energy and emitting energy. (Various, Sichuan Wushu Da Quan, 1989, page 1663-1664)

Zhao Bao style also records a fast method of doing the set which is practiced after proficiency in doing the set slowly. Zhao Bao has a secretly transmitted short advanced form that can be appended to or can preceed the large form or practiced entirely on its own, called Quan Mao or Boxing Cap because it can be capped at the end or at the beginning of the normal form though it is usually practiced at the end. Consisting of 22 postures, it includes jumping kicks and vigourous toe slapping. (Zhao Zheng Fu, Zhao Zao Chao, Wudang Zhao Bao Da Jia Taijiquan, 1995, page 159-164)

The Existance Of Other Frames Of Practice

The Taijiquan Classics state, in Li I Yu's 'Notes on Push Hands and Form Practice' (literally translated 'Walking Frame Hitting Hands Practice Important Words') that:
'Daily practice of fthe form is training to know oneself. While moving, first ask yourself if your whole body meets the requirements mentioned here. If not, then immediately correct yourself. To do this you must practice the form slowly, not fast.' (translation taken from 'On Tai Chi Chuan' by TY Pang, 1987, page 169)
What Li I Yu writes on is the Walking Frame or Jou Jia method of doing the form. In this initial and most important method, the emphasis is on not doing the form fast to build up a good foundation in the art. This mode of practice remains the most important in Taijiquan but the art is not confined to just the Walking Frame. That it is specifically categorised as such implies the existance of other frames of practice not recorded in the limited number of works that comprise the Classics.

Master Yang Cheng Fu himself writes:

'Only when the height of our stance and the speed of our hands is guided by the proper measure can we be free of the necessity for fixed rules of height and speed.' (translation of the introduction to Yang Cheng Fu's Taijiquan Ti Yung Quan Shu taken from Douglas Wile's Tai-Chi Touchstones – Yang Family Secret Transmissions, 1983, page 157)
This makes clear that there does come a point where such rules no longer apply, hence the existance of a set like Taiji Long Boxing which Master Yang Cheng Fu taught to those who had attained the proper measure from training in the normal Taijiquan set.

In Master Yang Cheng Fu's 'Talks On The Practice Of Taijiquan', the sequence of training is first to learn Taijiquan, then Taiji Long Boxing before going on to Push Hands, Sparring Hands and Weapons. Taiji Long Boxing can then be viewed as a mode of practice to ready the student for the practice of Push Hands which is not always slow. ( Yang Cheng Fu, recorded by Chen Wei Ming, found in Yang Style Taijiquan by Yang Zhen Duo, 1988, page 10-12)

Chen Yen Ling also records multiple frame methods to practice a single set. He records that for many people only know one method and not others and that for a single set, it can be done in three heights of high, level and low and for each height, the set can again be done in three ways of large, medium and small, each height and method constituting a different frame of practice. He then goes on to give examples of Master Yang Cheng Fu's set as being a large frame method, Master Yang Jian Hou's set as being a medium frame method and Master Yang Shao Hou's frame being a small frame method. (Chen Yen Ling, Taijiquan Dao Jian Kan San Shou He Pian, 1943, page 24)

The Place Of Fast Sets In Taijiquan

The main mode of practice in Taijiquan is to do it slowly. This ensures that good fundamentals are built, the Classics themselves exhort us to do the same. None of the sets described in the previous section which contain faster movements is a set that is done first and none of them is the main set in the system.

Yang Shao Hou only taught the small frame to those who had achieved a high enough proficiency in the slow form. Yang Cheng Fu and his son Yang Shou Chung only taught Taiji Long Boxing to students who had attained a good level of skill in the slow form. This was the same for his disciples who taught the form. The Tung family fast form is also an advanced set only taught to advanced students as is the Wu style fast form taught by Mah Yueh Liang and Wu Ying Hua.

These sets never superceded the slow set as the main mode of practice and represent only another way of doing a set after proficiency in the slow set has been achieved. None of the fundamentals and principles trained in the slow set is lost in these faster sets, in fact the stress is that these are retained. These sets, though fast, are not done in the same way as external boxing, and this is stressed also as a taboo.

Conclusion

Though the main mode of practice for Taijiquan is slow and rightfully so. There are other frames other than the 'walking frame' described in Li I Yu's work and one of them is a method of doing the postures in a speedier way while yet retaining all the fundamentals, principles and requirements of Taijiquan as trained in the slow method. To ready the body to retain these essentials in a more combative context.

Yet even with this speedier mode of practice, it is not fast beating slow or big beating small. Beating fast with slow and big with small is still primary but the ability to call forth speed to counter great speed without losing all the qualities and without losing the principles of Taijiquan is important. As the Taijiquan Classic of Wang Tsung Yueh states:

'You respond quickly to a fast action, slowly to slow action. Although the changes are numerous, the principle remains the same.' (translation taken from T'ai Chi by Cheng Man-Ch'ing and Robert W. Smith, 1967, page 109)

Bibliography

Fu Z.W. (1963) Yang Shi Taijiquan [Yang Style Taijiquan] Ren Ming Ti Yu Chu Ban She, Beijing

Fu Z.W. (1989) Yang Shi Taijiquan Jiao Fa Lian Fa [Yang Style Taijiquan Teaching Method And Practicing Method] Tong Ji Ta Xue Chu Ban She, Shanghai, ISBN 7-5608-0333-4/G.40

Chen L.X. & Li M.D. (1992) Yang Shi Taijiquan Fa Jing Jie [Yang Style Taijiquan Essential Explanation] Si Chuan Ke Xue Ji Shu Chu Ban She, Chengdu, ISBN 7-5364-2159-1/G.490

Chen W.M. (n.d.), n.p. Taiji Jian [Taiji Sword]

Chen W.M. (1925) Taijiquan Shu [The Art Of Taijiquan] Zhong Hua Shu Ju, Shanghai

Chen Y.L. (1943) Taijiquan Dao Jian Kan Sanshou He Pian [Taijiquan Broadsword, Sword, Long Staff, Sparring Hands Combined Publication] (1988 reprint) Shanghai Book Store, Shanghai, ISBN 7-80569-358-7/G.19

Chen Y.K. (1947) Tai-Chi Chuan – Its Effects And Practical Applications Cheng M.C. & Smith R.W. (1967) T'ai Chi (1989 reprint), Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, ISBN 0-8048-0560-1

Mah Y.L., Wu Y.H. & Shi M.L.(1987) Wu Shi Taiji Quai Quan [Wu Style Taiji Fast Boxing] Henan Ke Xue Ji Shu Chu Ban She, ISBN 7-5349-0121-0/G.122

Sun N.S. (1994) Yang Shi Taiji Chang Quan [Yang Style Taiji Long Boxing] Beijing Ti Yu Da Xue Chu Ban She, Beijing, ISBN 7-81003-864-8/G.633

Pang T.Y. (1987) On Tai Chi Chuan, Azalea Press, Washington, ISBN 0-9612070-1-9

Tung Y.J. (1948) Taijiquan Shi Yi [Taijiquan Explained] (1989 reprint) Ying Jieh Taiji Jian Shen Yuan, Hong Kong

Various, (1989) Sichuan Wushu Da Quan [Encyclopedia Of Sichuan Martial Arts], Sichuan Ke Xue Ji Shu Chu Ban She, Chendu, ISBN 7-5364-1123-5/G.77

Various, (1988) Zhejiang Shen Wushu Quan Ji Lu [Record Of Boxing And Weapons Martial Arts In Zhejian], Zhejiang, ISBN 7-5341-0096-8/G.9

Wang P.S & Zeng W.Q., (1983) Wu Style Taijiquan, Zhaohua Publishing House, Beijing, ISBN 962-238-015-8

Wu T.N. (1984) Taijiquan Zhi Yan Jiu [Research On Taijiquan] (1988 reprint) Shang Wu Ying Shu Guan, ISBN 962-07-5024-1

Yang Z.D. (1988) Yang Style Taijiquan, Hai Feng Publishing Co., Beijing, ISBN 962-238-092-1

Yang Z.J. (1993) Yang Cheng Fu Shi Tajiquan [Yang Cheng Fu Style Taijiquan] Guang Xi Min Zhu Chu Ban She, ISBN 7-5363-1984-3/Z.166

Xie B.Z. (1992) Zhong Guo Taijiquan De Xue Yue Shu [The Principle And Implementation Of Yang's School Of Taijiquan] Ever Ben Publishing Co., Hong Kong

Xu Z.J. (1991) Yang Shi Taijiquan – Xiao Jia Yi Qi Ji Ji Ying Yung [Yang Style Taijiquan – Small Frame And Its Combat Applications] Beijing Ti Yu Xue Yuan Chu Ban She, Beijing, ISBN 7-81003-509-6/C.383

Zhao Z.F. & Zhao C. (1995) Wudang Zhao Bao Da Jia Taijiquan [Wudang Zhao Bao Large Frame Taijiquan], Shanxi Ke Xue Ji Shu Chu Ban She, Xian, ISBN 7-5369-2397-X/R.568


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