Yang Style Tai Chi: List of 108 Postures & Names

Zhang Sanfeng tai chi Taoist monk and martial artist

In the early morning hours at parks and courtyards around the world, individuals and groups converge to perform a special kind of exercise called Tai Chi Chuan.

The movements they practice are slow, smooth, deliberate, and graceful. They take years to develop and a lifetime to master. A balance exists that is, on its face, easy to miss. The movements are strong and fluid, balanced and powerful, clear and flexible.

For most people, that is really all they know about Tai Chi Chuan: it’s slow and meditative. What is not well known is the long and fascinating history of the art, a story that touches on the entire history of Taoism, yin-yang theory, numerous Chinese historical dynasties, and even traditional Chinese medicine.

Yin-yang from Illustrated Explanation to Chen Family Taijiquan by Chen Xin

Photo: Yin-yang from “Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan” by Chen Xin

Every movement in Tai Chi Chuan’s form aligns perfectly with the principles of yin and yang as described by the ancient Taoist priests. Each movement and posture can be dissected in terms of its correspondence to Taoist universal cosmology, life strategy, and core principles.

This is because whether it’s Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s version of the short form or the second long-form set of the Chen family practice, the same theoretical and philosophical foundation is at work.

Tai Chi Styles

There are many systems of Tai Chi Chuan like the Sun, Wu, Chen, Yang, and Hao styles. Each of them has unique characteristics. No matter the system, all styles are grounded in the same philosophy and strategy for movements and mindfulness.

Regardless of style or lineage, the solo form is at the heart of Tai Chi Chuan.

Lower body tai chi posture from Yin-yang from Illustrated Explanation to Chen Family Taijiquan by Chen Xin

Photo: Left knee, right knee from “Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan” by Chen Xin

Chen Style Family Tai Chi

Historically, all modern styles of Tai Chi Chuan practiced today, except one, can be traced back to the Chen Family style. The Chen Family has been training what we now call Tai Chi Chuan for several hundred years before it was even given its name. 

Grandson of Chen Style Tai Chi founder, Chen Chang Xin

Photo: Grandmaster Chen Fake (1887-1957) of the Chen family from “Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan” by Chen Xin

As do all styles of Tai Chi Chuan, Chen style incorporates slow, soft movements with low impact on the body, making it a suitable exercise for people of all ages. Chen style Tai Chi also incorporates faster movements.

Yang Style Family Tai Chi

Next came the Yang family system, which is the form taught at the Vancouver Dojo.

Yangjian, son of Yangluchan, founder of Yang Style Tai Chi

Photo: Grandmaster Yangjian (1839-1917) of the Yang family from “Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan” by Chen Xin

To the experienced practitioner, Yang form is visibly different from Chen style Tai Chi. Its movements tend to be softer, whereas Chen style Tai Chi incorporates hard and soft movements within its form. Yet both are rooted in martial skill.

Other Tai Chi Chuan Styles

After that, all the other modern styles developed such as Sun style and Hao style. Most of them can be connected to the Yang family style except the old Wu style Tai Chi system and the Wudang Taoist Tai Chi Chuan practice, which has its own unique history.

Tai Chi Forms

Tai Chi Chuan has been practiced by a wide array of people of varying ages, levels of experience, and motivations, resulting in the existence of many forms today. Some are longer than others, and each one can be performed with many different levels of intensity and dynamic range.

The most common forms are the short forms, which are usually around 24 to 28 movements. The mid-range forms have 30 to 50 movements, and the longest forms have 103 to 108 movements.

These variations of form showcase the skill and uniqueness of the masters who passed down their practice. However, this variation in expression does not imply that there are many ways to practice true Tai Chi Chuan.

Whether it is the simplified, short forms, the Chen family forms, the weapons forms such as the Tai Chi sword and spear, or the generalized contemporary form used in Tai Chi Chuan competitions, Tai Chi Chuan is ultimatley the same at its core.

From one style to the next, there are differences in how the Tai Chi postures are numbered in the long forms. No single interpretation of a sequence in a form can be considered the correct and only way to interpret the movements being analyzed.

One example is the raising and lowering of the hands. Is this considered one movement or two? This is a philosophical question involving the theories of yin and yang. Hence the variation of movements and associated numbers associated within the form.

Bubishi fighting techniques

Photo: Fighting Techniques from “Bubishi, The Classic Manual of Combat

108 Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Forms

The Vancouver Dojo practices a complete and full-length form that we consider to have 108 movements. They are:

  1. Wuji (void) stance
  2. Preparation/beginning of form
  3. Raise hands 
  4. Catch sparrow by the tail left (throw thermos away)
  5. Catch a sparrow by the tail right
  6. Brush hands left-right
  7. Single whip 
  8. Raise hands, step forward
  9. Redirect, wrist strike 
  10. White Crane spreads its wings 
  11. Press down
  12. Hand strums lute
  13. Left knee brush, push 
  14. Right knee brush, push
  15. Hand strums lute 
  16. Wave at the crowd, carry the tray, attack the vitals 
  17. Step forward, block, parry, punch 
  18. Apparent close up
  19. Cross hands
  20. Embrace tiger, return to mountain 
  21. Catch sparrow by the tail
  22. Fist under elbow
  23. Step back, repulse monkey 1
  24. Step back, repulse monkey 2
  25. Step back, repulse monkey 3
  26. Diagonal flying
  27. Raise hands and step forward
  28. Redirect, wrist strike
  29. White crane spreads its wings
  30. Press down (variation)
  31. Needle at the bottom of the sea
  32. Redirection around the back 
  33. Turn body, take off helmet
  34. Step forward, block, parry punch
  35. Grasp the sparrow by the tail
  36. Single whip (45*)
  37. Cloud hands 1
  38. Cloud hands 2
  39. Cloud hands 3
  40. Single whip
  41. High pat on horse
  42. Right separation, kick
  43. Left separation, kick
  44. Turn body left heel kick
  45. Left knee brush and push 
  46. Right knee brush and push 
  47. Step forward punch
  48. Turn body and chop with fist (take off the helmet) 
  49. Step forward block, parry, punch 
  50. Left heel kick
  51. Left tiger strike
  52. Right tiger strike 
  53. Turn body, right heel kick
  54. Twin fists strike ears
  55. Left heel kick
  56. Turn body, right heel kick
  57. Step forward block, parry, punch
  58. Apparent close up
  59. Cross hands
  60. Embrace tiger, return to mountain 
  61. Catch a sparrow by the tail
  62. Diagonal single whip
  63. Parting wild horse’s mane 1
  64. Parting wild horse’s mane 2
  65. Parting wild horse’s mane 3
  66. Catch a sparrow by the tail
  67. Diagonal single whip 
  68. Fair lady works at shuttles (1/2/3)
  69. Catch a sparrow by the tail 
  70. Diagonal single whip
  71. Cloud hands 1
  72. Cloud hands 2
  73. Cloud hands 3
  74. Single whip
  75. Snake creeps down
  76. Golden pheasant stands on one leg (left) 
  77. Golden pheasant stands on one leg (right) 
  78. Step back, repulse monkey 1
  79. Step back, repulse monkey 2
  80. Step back, repulse monkey 3
  81. Diagonal flying
  82. Raise hands, step forward 
  83. White crane spreads its wings
  84. Press down
  85. Needle at the bottom of the sea
  86. Fan through the back
  87. Turn body, white snake spits out its tongue
  88. Step forward, block, parry, punch
  89. Step forward, catch a sparrow by the tail 
  90. Diagonal single whip
  91. Cloud hands 1
  92. Cloud hands 2
  93. Cloud hands 3
  94. High pat on horse, finger strike 
  95. Cross kick
  96. Step forward, punch up
  97. Step forward, catch a sparrow by the tail 
  98. Single whip
  99. Snake creeps down
  100. Step forward, seven stars strike
  101. Step back, ride the tiger
  102. Turn body, swing over lotus
  103. Bend bow, shoot the tiger
  104. Step forward block, parry, punch
  105. Apparent close up
  106. Embrace tiger, return to mountain 
  107. Closing
  108. Return to normal 

Summary

Through these movements, the entire body of knowledge contained in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan can be developed.

From the highest-level practitioners expressing the deep void of essence to mid-level practitioners utilizing the whipping of energy (FaJing), to beginners learning to use leverage and posture correctly, the Tai Chi Chuan form guides them all. 

It is often said in martial arts circles that there are no advanced movements in the martial arts, only advanced understanding of basic moves.

Nothing could embody this idea more so than the practice of the Tai Chi form. Its simple, graceful, and balanced postures contain countless layers of information to be discovered.


Cover photo: Daoist martial artist and acupuncturist, Zhang Sanfeng from “Bubishi, The Classic Manual of Combat