Yang Chengfu’s 13 Original Postures

Yang Chengfu’s 13 Original Postures is a short, powerful form I learned from Master Yang Fukui. He learned it from his grandfather in Hebei, China. It is a large frame form, and contrasts nicely with my go-to taijiquan, the small to medium frame, Grandmaster William C.C. Chen’s “60 Movements.”

I have been doing Master Chen’s version of the Yang style short form for over 35 years. I love its economy of moment. It is about as spare as you can get. Master Chen comes from a fighter’s perspective, and all unnecessary frills are trimmed to leave a rugged, dependable taijiquan that gets the job done. The stances are high and narrow, and the hips and shoulders are squared up to face forward. This permits quick, nimble movements and allows both hands to be free to handle attacks and deliver a punch or a push with no hesitation. It is easy to learn and is also perfect for those with knee and hip problems. I used it to grab several national championships in push hands.

But this blog entry is not about that form. It’s about “Yang Chengfu’s 13 Original Postures.” I have learned a bunch of different taigi forms through the years. Most of them haven’t stuck, primarily because “Who has the time?” I can barely keep up with other internal styles: luoxuanzhang, xingyiquan, baguazhang, yiquan, and Wudang Tai Yi. Many others have fallen by the wayside, not because they aren’t fantastic styles, but like I said, “Who has the time?” For me to learn a new taijiquan form, well…it needs to provide something I’m not getting from my dependable war horse.

Enter the Yang Chengfu  “13.” A little lineage background first: I learned my taijiquan from Master Chen, starting in 1979. His teacher was Cheng Man-ching, who learned from Yang Chengfu. And Yang Chengfu was the grandson of the Yang family’s founder, Yang Lu Chan. Got it? Master Chen took the short form he learned from Cheng Man-ching and modified it to fit his pugilistic predilections. Cheng Man-ching shortened the long form he learned from his teacher to make it more broadly accessible. He was also half his teacher’s size (Yang Chengfu was a big dude) and his stylistic modifications fit his slight build. Yang Chengfu standardized the taijiquan he inherited from his grandfather, Yang Lu Chan,  to lay the foundation for the broadly popular form we see today. You can see from all this that this is a lineage of innovation. My teacher has actually encouraged that on many occasions, and I have done my best to live up to his challenge.

Back the the “13”: What makes this such a juicy nugget for me? First of all, it’s really short. (This is not the popular 108.)You can learn it in days, not months. Most well-meaning students drop out before learning even a short form. The “13” is a gateway drug. If you like it, maybe you want to learn more. Second, it’s BIG! Large frame. Expansive. Long, low stances. It is physically more demanding to relax into these postures. It’s more of a workout. Third, I do it super slow as a way of generating qi. For me, it’s not as practical for fighting or push hands as the Wm Chen short form (feel free to disagree) but when done slowly it really cranks up the energy. Big time. So, I do it more as a qigong than martial art.

While taijiquan will certainly generate qi, I find it more effective for circulating it once generated. I like to do a form with a full tank. Do the “13” slowly and holding those long, low, slanted postures really pumps you up. Follow that up with the Wm Chen’s “60 Movements.” They complement each other nicely.