Yang Style Tai Chi Long Boxing
-Yang Cheng Fu's Advanced Set

By Peter Lim Tian Tek

Most people think of Yang Tai Chi Chuan as transmitted by the standardiser of the style Yang Cheng Fu as consisting only of one routine. And that Yang Cheng Fu taught the art only as a health art rather than as a combat one. This is a wrong perception. Yang Cheng Fu viewed his art as a combat art that was also a means of gaining good health. His two books on Tai Chi Chuan all focused on it as a martial art and provided martial explanations for the postures, martial theorems and he taught his art not as a form of moving calesthenics but as a combat art. So great was Yang Cheng Fu's combat skills that he was never known to have been defeated. And he did teach a second advanced set: Tai Chi Long Boxing.

So where did the misconception that Yang Tai Chi Chuan was mainly health oriented come from? Mainly from those who cannot understand how a soft appropriate response to an attack is more effective than a reposite with great power which may not necessarily be efficient or appropriate. And those who cannot see the how the slow can beat the fast and how a lesser force can conquer a larger one.

Yang Lu Chan and his son Yang Ban Hou both were known for their combat skills, earning the title 'Yang the invincible'. Their teaching in the imperial court, rather than lowering the combat standard of their art, made it all the more imperative that they turned out exceptional students with high attainment. Their lives and status depended on it. Yang Cheng Fu, likewise, was mainly noted as a martial artist, not as a health expert. Tai Chi Chuan's curative capabilities was also promoted but that was not the main thrust of Yang Cheng Fu's teachings. Those who learnt from him learnt the art as a combat art and in time gained the health benefits of practicing the art as a combat art.

Historical Background

Before going to Shanghai in the 1925, Yang Cheng Fu taught not only the now well known large frame (also known as the 'Six Routines' since it was normally broken up into six sections and practiced one section at a time when learning and eventually linking all six together to form one long routine) but to his advanced students he also taught a set of Tai Chi Long Boxing.

After he went to Shanghai at the invitation of Chen Wei Ming to popularise Tai Chi Chuan, he dropped Tai Chi Long Boxing from the public syllabus he taught. This was because all the elements needed for success were present in the large frame, the Tai Chi Long Boxing being a refinement of the principles within the large frame. Another reason being that in his teaching tours to the major cities in China, he did not have much time to teach the students gathered there and so the large frame alone was taught.

The early large frame of Yang Cheng Fu included Fa-Chin (explosive emmission of strength) with slow and fast movements. Later the explosive strength emmissions were replaced with extending the limb with qi which is a basic method of practice. It must be noted that not all the movements were practiced with Fa-Chin and that even with the changes in speed the requirements for smoothness, continuity, relaxation and rootedness remain.

Till today, it is still only taught as an advanced set (by only a handful of teachers) after one has attained a sufficiently high level of practice in the large frame. Normally, only when one has learnt the large frame and does it with Fa-Chin in it does one progress to the Tai Chi Long Boxing. It is relatively unknown but remains the advanced set of Yang Cheng Fu's Tai Chi Boxing.

The Form

Tai Chi Long Boxing consists of 59 postures, less than the large frame but most of its postures are derived from the large frame. It is an agile form, much more mobile than the large frame and is even more combat oriented than the large frame.

In order to practice this form effectively, one should have already attained all the aspects of the large frame. All the joints should be 'open', supple and relaxed. The root should be sunk and clearly single weighted, the five bows of the body utilised coordinatively, the spirit and head raised and musculature relaxed. Energy is generated from the feet, directed by the waist and functions through the hands and fingers.

The speed of practice is faster than the large frame. Fa-Chin is present so there are fast movements during explosions of strength. It is also relatively higher standing than the large frame. Proper rooting isn't just standing low and one should already have gained an understanding of that before learning this form. It is a lively form and embued with much spiritedness and intense focus. It is similar in many ways to Yang Shao Hou's small frame combat set.

At advanced levels both the large frame and the Long Boxing forms are practiced. Because it is so combat oriented, some have referred to it as Yang Cheng Fu's fighting form. Others, because of its faster speed its often called the Fast Form as well. Tung Ying Jieh's fast form is derived in part from Tai Chi Long Boxing and still retains some of its postures.

Because it is a relatively short form, some masters have added postures to the original to lengthen it. This has resulted in versions of Tai Chi Long Boxing with as many as 150 postures in the form. Fortunately, the original form was recorded down by Chen Wei Ming and Yang Shou Chung, Yang Cheng Fu's eldest son, taught it (there were some additional posture names given to the interim movements but upon close examination, the form is almost exactly the same).

Combat Characteristics

The main type of attacking chin used in Tai Chi Long Boxing is Leng Chin or Cold Chin as in Cold Without Defense, it is a spectacular very fast and short Chin that so shocks the enemy that he breaks out in a cold sweat.

The closing of distance to the opponent is done quickly, sometimes in a leaping fashion. The movements, though fast, are neat and susscint, relaxed and sunk. In postures like 'Detecting Root' which is similar to 'Apparent Closure', the fingers are used to detect the root of the opponent as a prelude to a Fa-Chin attack. Very important for an effective attack. There are quick changes in direction, deliberate avoiding of incoming attacks and smaller circular movements. High, middle and low level attacks are accounted for and are present in the form. Foot stomping, slaps and whipping attacks are present as are limb breaking and dislocating techniques.

There are chin na techniques as well as releases from chin na techniques in the form, most of these are targeted at anatomically vulnerable locations like accupoints. Specific accupoints are also attacked by a variety of different methods and 'illegal' applications are present as well, since in a real fight there are no rules. Like the large frame, each part of every technique has an inherent application and the form, though fast, is subtle as well. All this while still conforming to the principles set out in the Tai Chi Chuan Classics.

Because the movements of the form are relatively high standing and small, they are very practical to use either in rather restrictive work clothing and in small places. Control and usage of the opponent's centre and momentum play a part in all the techniques and in every technique there are inherently 4 techniques of neutralising (Hua), holding (Na), hitting (Da) and emitting (Fa). Listening to Chin or Ting Chin is a crucial element in combat Tai Chi Chuan and this sensitivity is present throughout the form.

Tai Chi Long Boxing Today

Yang Cheng Fu's Tai Chi Long Boxing is seldom taught today. It is practiced by relatively few Tai Chi Chuan exponents even in China. Only those who trained in the earlier period with Yang Cheng Fu or his close disciples got to learn the form. It was kept quite secret and in Chen Wei Ming's lineage, its sometimes referred to as Tai Chi Kept Boxing (kept or keep in Chinese is pronounced 'chang' which is phonetically the same as the Chinese term for long, so this is a Chinese pun), meaning that it was kept within doors and not transmitted outside.

Yang Shou Chung, Yang Cheng Fu's son, taught this form to his three daughters and some of his close disciples like Mr Yip Tai Tuck and Mr Chu Gin Soon. They continue the family tradition of teaching this rare form to advanced students. There are also other teachers who continue to teach this advanced set. It is fortunate that this rare form is not lost and continues to guide serious Tai Chi exponents on the intricacies of Tai Chi combat.

All comments are most welcome.
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