Yang Style Hand Postures

Having done a bit of both Yang and Chen taijiquan, I enjoy doing comparisons of the styles. After learning the Yang Long Form, I had the opportunity to learn the Chen Laojia Yilu. I couldn’t help but notice starking similarities between the sequence of the two sets. If Yang style was derived from Chen, the proof was quite obvious comparing the sequence of the two long form sets.

However, in doing the Chen set, I couldn’t help but wonder, why the change? Why were some of the elements changed from Chen to Yang? Why did the Buddha Warrior Pounds Mortar Sequence of Chen turn into Ward Left for Yang?

Why do quite a bit of Yang have postures making contact on the back of the hand whereas Chen is mostly “grabbing”? I ran across an interpretation that’s pretty interesting:

… Master Yang sought to ‘soften’ some of the commonly employed arm and hand postures in order to allow Chi to flow more easily and openly through the upper body into the arms and hands.

The Chen Style Form Sets include many defensive neutralization postures in which both of the defender’s hands are positioned facing outward and/or upward to simulate application preferences for using the palms of both hands to contact and control an enemy’s attack. Here are examples of this demonstrated by Sifu Chen Zheng-Lei, Sifu Chen Shi-tong, and Sifu Feng Zhi-Qiang:


Master Yang felt that the benefit of being able to place the palms of both hands on the opponent’s body simultaneously in defense was often negated by the tension created in the hands, arms, and shoulders when taking this position. He also felt that this posture used the body externally in a way which was less efficient energetically than it could be internally. So, given the freedom to compose his own Sets, he modified such postures to have what he felt was a better structural alignment of the bones and joints, an arm and hand shape which allowed more muscular relaxation in the posture, and thus a greater speed of execution with a greater volume of Chi flow for power issuance (fa-jing) in the techniques.

A typical example is the Form Posture called ‘Grasp Bird’s Tail’ (Lan3 Chua4 Wei3), in which the leading right arm was rotated clockwise a full half-turn, or 180′ from its Chen Style position, to place the palm of the right hand facing inward instead of outward, and to allow the bones of the right forearm to be positioned parallel to one another rather than twisted and crossed as in the Chen Style position. This change makes the defender’s bodily point of contact on his right wrist or forearm rather than the palm of his right hand. Additionally, the accompanying left hand palm in Yang’s ‘Grasp Bird’s Tail’ is facing palm outward, but not so much upward as the Chen Style shape. The modified shape relaxes the left arm and shoulder considerably, and thus enhancing the entire left side Chi dynamics. Here is Sifu Yang Cheng-Fu and Sifu Deng Er-Qian demonstrating this modified posture:


Master Yang’s modifications allow the Chi that is ‘received’ by the defender’s right wrist and forearm to be brought into his body via the Yang (+) Chi Meridian Channels on the outside of the arm and hand, and then be immediately issued back out via the Yin (-) Chi Meridian Channels located on the inside of the arms that travel to the palms and fingertips on the left arm and hand.

— Source: Sifu Stier on True Old Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan

Whoa! This is quite interesting, especially the part about the modification allowing for the qi to flow more freely! I have often experienced being more “connected” and “smooth” when I do the Yang set. I feel more relaxed and more expansive. In fact, the only times I get the “expansive effect” is when I either do yiquan standing meditation or Yang. Hmm…

Another thing I questioned about the Yang was the reasoning behind the “bent wrist” in Yang. Having almost a 90 degree angle between the back of one’s hand and forearm is common amongst more “external” arts. When I did wushu-taiji (24, 48, etc) this point was also emphasized. However, after doing some TT Liang Yang, they followed the notion of “Fair Maiden’s Wrist” where the hand was aligned with the wrist, resulting in no bend. The idea was to allow the qi to flow to the fingertips. Ok.. I bought this..

Then I started seeing videos and pics of the Dong family taiji and all they exhibited bent wrists.  It wasn’t until I read The Last Interview with Fu Zhongwen [via] until I got the reason.  

… the wrist has to be slightly cocked rather than kept straight.

… It is like a garden hose when you are watering a garden.  If you don’t press the hose in any way, the water flows normally.  If you press the hose or bend it slightly, the water will go farther.  And if you press the hose too hard, the water wills stop.

There seems to be a common connection between the modifications Yang made to the Chen set. The connection has to do with energetics. The opening of the meridians, the closing of meridians, the focus on internal energy flow.. Maybe this is why I feel more connected and energized after doing the Yang …


About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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20 Responses to Yang Style Hand Postures

  1. lgs says:

    wow. this is one hell of a post. i think its gonna take me the next week to sift thru8 all the info. thanks!

  2. wujimon says:

    hehehe.. it’s been a while since I last posted. Had a lot on my mind.. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Rick Matz says:

    It’s my belief that when one has mastered any art, any art; you can’t help but to recreate it in your own image. Now having said that, there’s not necessarily a need to dispose of the exercises that your predecessors have developed before you. Indeed, having mastered an art, you can come to a full understanding of what those exercises where meant to achieve, and you can apply them to your own ends.

    It’s my belief that Chinese Martial Arts are a living tradition that is renewed with each generation.

  4. zenmindsword says:

    good post to start 2007 off wujimon!!! rick has a good point in saying “thereโ€™s not necessarily a need to dispose of the exercises that your predecessors have developed before you”. too often modern practitioners tend to modify or discard an exercise before they fully understand it labelling it as useless or not fitting their requirement. the irony is if one has not fully understand it, is it not logical for the exercise to feel useless? an exercise is a static tool to develop skills. once the skills are in one can use it in an alive manner. from thereon one can change it if there is need to further enhance it or if there really is a defect in the exercise. but sometimes some defects are perceived – they are purposely put there to teach something…..so be careful that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. silkreeling says:

    I too felt more energised and connected after doing the yang form. It seem to make use of more natural movement.

    The chen form seem to take longer(more practice?) to get into this phase.

    as for the expansive effect, you’ll experience that in the chen form too. it is harder to achieve this in the chen form because it is physically more demanding but the feeling is more obvious when you get there.

    for the yang form it is like you have a little to work with in the beginning. But the chen form is like you almost have nothing to work with initially.

  6. wujimon says:

    Great thoughts on not discarding without full understanding.

    Why would defects be left in on purpose? Sort of like the old litmus test?

    Regarding natural movement, should taiji consist of natural movement? Some of the stuff in chen, WHILE COOL, doesn’t seem very natural to me. IE, chen’s version of fair maiden works shuttle just doesn’t seem right compared to yang’s version of it.

    What I have experienced in the chen form is a sense of coiling or spiraling. I’ve never really gotten the “expansive effect” where it felt like I was a balloon expanding beyond my physical body. Also, when I do the yang, I tend to feel “ultra aware” if that makes sense.

    The idea of chen having to work at it almost reminds me a bit of a discussion I was having with a meditation friend of mine. We were discussing the paths to enlightenment regarding the zen approach and the tibetan approach. I felt the tibetan one was overly complex with many layers whereas the zen was just there. Perhaps it’s similar with the yang and chen??

  7. zenmindsword says:

    wujimon, to speak of but one example “step back repulse monkey” – why step back? why not forward? its because the purpose of this movement is to teach how to reverse an unfavorable position – yet it would not seem so unless you get the timing and purpose in the movement. then it suddenly makes sense otherwise it might seem like a throw the way the wu style does it. in some postures certain space are left open on purpose because that’s how you lure someone in – by deliberately leaving the door open by pretending you don’t know it – push hands is a great way to study this. if you close up all your positions then how do you lure?

  8. chessman71 says:

    About the bent wrist, the idea is usualy to hold some “energy” back by not fully extending outward with the hand. You conserve your energy that way. You also don’t over extend yourself, which many dajia Chen and Yang style people do. It’s hard to control someone that is withholding their energy.

    From a fighting POV, it makes sense becaus ethe point of contact is the forearm, not the hand. This leaves the hands free and is really scary in application. Someone who makes the point of contact on the forearm has lots of things they can do with the hands — ie. grab the head, hit, etc.

    The CMC isn’t as full of it as I thought. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. wujimon says:

    Great thoughts on keeping the door open to lure in opponents. It may look like a vulnerable position, but little do they know.. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I like the idea of holding some energy back. Reminds me a bit of what ZMS writes about the bows storing energy. I actually like to block using forearm. Back in my muay thai days, it was a great way to block, redirect step in close to an opponent for some damage ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. silkreeling says:

    i guess the first port of call(also the first challenge)when learning chen taiji is getting the movement to be natural. once that is achieved then one can aim for internal development when learning the chen form. IE the sissors kick in the chen form, how do you know you are doing it naturally or are you using force?

    the application for fair lady works the shuttle for both yang and chen is different so little can be compared.

    as discussed previously, the path that one takes is unique and depends on many factors. what works for one may not apply to another.

  11. Chenquestion says:

    Hi Wujimon,

    What a great start for Wujimon 2007. Nice to see the comments pouring in, eh! The bit about withholding energy reminded me of what Erle Montaigue’s always saying about never complete the hand movement until the culmination of the overall movement; the hand rotation or change from yin to yang should take place over the whole course of the arm shift etc. He made a believer out of me, but now reading all this I feel like I comprehend the “why” somewhat better.

    Great to see all the talk about forms.

  12. zenmindsword says:

    here’s a head scratcher – how you practice letting the force out yet hold it back? (hint : paradox of power)

  13. puredoxyk says:

    The difference in Yang and Chen “stroke the bird’s tail” is fascinating; thanks for that! I’ve seen it, but never understood what it entailed exactly in practice (since I’m still learning Yang style).

    According to my Sifu, the crooked wrist (i.e. single whip & snake creeps down) is to block energy from leaving out the hand that you’re not striking with. So you “kink” or block the palm-gate on one side in order to direct more energy out the strike on the other side. Made sense to me, anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  14. wujimon says:

    Hi PD.

    I never really considered idea of kinking the wrist of the non-attacking hand. In my executions of the single whip, I do not kink the rear hand (right hand), but there is some flex in the wrist of the left hand. I never really understood why until I ran across the articles above.

    Thanks for sharing.

  15. Pepe says:

    Hi, I do a variation of yang style. The bent wrist idea is not to push forward but diagonally on his ribs (you have to twist his torso first, as he grabbed your right hand before)first to the ground and so rebound. Something similar happens with ‘lao si ao pu’ where almost all practitioners of all styles push forward, but some push diagonally. There is a clip at youtube of Wang Xian (Chen Style) teaching pushhands (a 8 minute video) where he clearly shows this principle:

    (look at 7:45)

    Respect to chi flow, if I were to start learning again from scratch I would have started with Hunyuan Chen Style and then switch to Yang Style. I feel the former awaikens better the broader sense of chi flow, while the latter the detail chi flow.

    Forgive my poor english…

  16. wujimon says:

    Thanks for your comments, Pepe. No worries about your english, I thought it was quite good ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s interesting your chose a huanyuan -> yang route…

  17. pepe says:

    Regarding the hunyuan -> yang route, I believe the lateralized movements in Chen style forms helps a lot in kua opening and understand the 8s of the hip. Then it is easier to understand the correct movements in the Yang forms, whose stances ‘face forward’ and so demand narrower hip circulation. Plus, the chi flow learning curve I wrote in the previous post. All in all, Yang Luchan first learnt Chen and latter developed his own style… why shouldn’t we follow his path?

  18. wujimon says:

    Hey Pepe.. sounds like the Jou Tsung Hwa path of development. He advocates learning chen then yang than hao style. Interesting thoughts about the chen opening up the kua more.

    Any thoughts on the qi flow material of the chen village folks (CXW in particular) vs the qi flow material of the huanyuan folks?

  19. pepe says:

    If classified in 3 physical axis, regarding dantien rotation, I would say Chen Xiao Wang is more horizontal, Yang more vertical (depth, forwards and backwards, the 3rd dimension) and Hunyuan is also vertical (lateral, from side to side, the 2nd dimension). If you remember highschool physics, Hunyuan would be the thumb finger, Yang the index finger and Chen the middle finger. Of course, all style combine the 3 axis though each stresses one more. It’s just my opinion, one of many. Please feel free to criticise!

    Didn’t know about Jou Tsung Hwa… I found rather controversial his rejection of weapons forms and martial applications. In fact, in my experience broadsword practice sparked and boosted my bare hand skills. And I believe that practicing the form without testing its martial application is like trying to learn qigong without doing the forms. It’s easy to take the wrong path, and even if done correctly it demands much more time. Maybe I’m wrong… and should take a look at Hao Style! Any thoughts about this style?

  20. wujimon says:

    Hi Pepe. Thanks for your comments. I will address them in another post as things are heading a bit off-topic from “Yang Style Hand Postures” ๐Ÿ™‚

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