©Copyright 2011 by Robert Chuckrow

Cheng Man-ch’ing’s Short Form and The Yang-Style Long Form: Their Differences and Relative Benefits

Practitioners of the Cheng Man-ch’ing (C.M.C.) T’ai-Chi short form are largely unaware of many of the changes that he made. They know that Prof. Cheng removed postures and repetitions from the Yang Cheng-fu long form, that he changed “Step Back to Repulse the Monkey” to feet-parallel, and that he emphasized the “beauteous wrist.” But there are many other changes. It is important to understand what the changes are, why Prof. Cheng made them, and the relative benefits of each form.

I learned the C.M.C. short form under Prof. Cheng at Shr Jung School in Chinatown, NYC, from 1970–1975, have been practicing that form since then, and have taught it continuously since 1973. I also studied for five years with Grandmaster William C.C. Chen, who originally learned T’ai Chi from Prof. Cheng in China. Chen’s form is an offshoot of that of Prof. Cheng, and some of Chen’s form is done the way Prof. Cheng originally taught but later changed it. When asked, Chen freely talked about these changes. As a result, I learned the extent to which Prof. Cheng had made changes since teaching Chen. I also observed Prof. Cheng make some changes during the five years that I studied with him. I continue to do the C.M.C. short form and teach it to my students,

I learned the Yang-style long form from the late Clifton Cooke in the mid 1970s and later from Harvey Sober. I have been teaching the Yang long form to my senior students for about two decades. Sober’s version came from the late Franklin Kwong (Kwong Yung-cheng), who learned it from Yang Cheng-fu (see a video of Kwong doing the long form: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dew02bd-SaM). Kwong claimed that his version was authentic.

There is substantial variation in how disciples of Yang Cheng-fu do his form. Some even move similarly to Prof. Cheng. It should be emphasized that, at a given time, Yang Cheng-fu may have taught different people differently, he may have changed his way of doing the movements over the years, and students taught in the same way sometimes do movements differently. Nevertheless, certain conclusions can be drawn.

There is an old video on youtube.com of Yang Cheng-fu’s son, Yang Sau-chung, doing the long form, which may be close to the way Yang Cheng-fu did it (see http://youtu.be/Bze07WyY0C0). It might be interesting to compare that video with that of Cheng Man-ch’ing (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USJPmCZ6Efc). This video of Prof. Cheng is the most recent one.

The following links are for the sequence of movements of the long and short forms, respectively: http://www.chuckrowtaichi.com/LongForm.pdf and http://www.chuckrowtaichi.com/ShortForm.pdf.

In addition to (1) the elimination of some movements and (2) the elimination of repetitions of movements, there are (3) general differences throughout, (4) differences in the order of the movements, (5) differences in movements that are in both forms, (6) transitions that occur in one style and not the other for movements common to both forms, (7) differences in transitions between successive movements common to both forms, and (8) differences between what Prof. Cheng taught, what he did, and what those of his students do and teach.

1. Elimination of Postures

In shortening the long form, Prof. Cheng removed seventeen postures: “Needle at Sea Bottom,” “Fan Through Back,” “Turn and Chop with Fist,” “High Pat on Horse,” “Turn and Strike with Sole,” “Right Foot Kicks Upward,” “Hit a Tiger at Left,” “Hit a Tiger at Right,” “Strike Both Ears with Fists,” “Left Foot Kicks Upward,” “Parting the Horse’s Mane (L),” “Parting the Horse’s Mane (R),” “Horizontal Single Whip,” “White Snake Puts Out Tongue,” “Cross Palms,” “Turn and Cross Legs,” and “Punch Opponent’s Pubic Region.” See Table 1 for a comparison of the movements of the two forms).

Actually, the number of categories of removed movements can be counted as twelve. Three of the removed movements, “Hit a Tiger,” “Foot Kicks Upward,” and “Parting the Horse’s Mane,” are repeated on both sides. Moreover, “Horizontal Single Whip” is not substantively different from the ordinary “Single Whip,” and “Punch Opponent’s Pubic Region” is only slightly different from “Downward Punch.”

Some practitioners may feel that “Parting the Horse’s Mane” and “Diagonal Flying” are essentially the same. However, these two movements are quite different. “Parting the Horse’s Mane,” which is done in a series of three (R, L, R), involves unique transitions. Also, the two movements have different martial applications. “Parting the Horse’s Mane” involves a snaking and splitting movement to gain access to the inside of the opponent’s arms in order to attack. “Diagonal Flying,” on the other hand, involves stepping behind the opponent and tripping him backward with your forward leg and outstretched arm.

It is interesting that the Standardized 24-Movement Form starts out with “Parting the Wild Horses Mane”—one of the movements removed by Prof. Cheng.

Name of PostureNumber of OccurrencesNumber of Occurrences

Short Form Long Form
Preparation 1 0
Beginning 1 1
Ward off with Left Hand 2 3
Ward off with Right Hand 3 5
Roll Back 4 8
Press 4 8
Push 5 10
Single Whip 4 9
Lift Hands 1 3
Lean Forward 1 3
The Crane Spreads its Wings 1 3
Brush Knee Twist Step (L) 3 8
Hands Playing the P’i Pa 1 2
Brush Knee Twist Step (R) 1 2
Chop with Fist 0 3
Step Forward, Deflect Downward, Intercept, and Punch 2 6
Apparent Close-Up 1 2
Diagonal Single Whip 1 1
Embrace the Tiger to Return to the Mountain 1 2
Looking at the Fist Under the Elbow 1 1
Step Back to Repulse the Monkey (R) 3 6
Step Back to Repulse the Monkey (L) 2 4
Diagonal Flying 1 2
Needle at Sea Bottom 0 2
Fan Through Back 0 2
Turn and Chop with Fist 0 2
Cloud Hands Left 3 9
Cloud Hands Right 2 9
High Pat on Horse 0 2
Separate Right Foot 1 1
Separate Left Foot 1 1
Turn and Strike with Sole 0 3
Turn and Strike with Heel 1 1
Right Foot Kicks Upward 0 2
Hit a Tiger at Left 0 1
Hit a Tiger at Right 0 1
Strike Both Ears with Fists 0 1
Left Foot Kicks Upward 0 1
Parting the Horse’s Mane (L) 0 1
Parting the Horse’s Mane (R) 0 1
Horizontal Single Whip 0 1
Fair Lady Works at the Shuttles 4 4
Descending Single Whip 2 2
Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (R) 1 1
Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (L) 1 1
White Snake Puts Out Tongue 0 1
Cross Palms 0 1
Turn and Cross Legs 0 1
Punch Opponent’s Pubic Region 0 1
Brush Knee and Punch Down 1 1
Step Forward to the Seven Stars of the Big Dipper 1 1
Step Back to Ride the Tiger 1 1
Turn the Body to Sweep the Lotus 1 1
Bend the Bow to Shoot the Tiger 1 1
Close Up 1 1



Total 66 151

Table 1. A comparison of the movements of the two forms

2. Elimination of Repetitions.

Table 2 shows that, of the movements that are common to both forms, there are 124 – 65 = 59 more repetitions of movements in the long form. That is, in the C.M.C. form, slightly less than half of the occurrences of repeated movements taken from the long form are absent.

Name of PostureNumber of OccurrencesNumber of Occurrences

Short Form Long Form
Beginning 1 1
Ward off with Left Hand 2 3
Ward off with Right Hand 3 5
Roll Back 4 8
Press 4 8
Push 5 10
Single Whip 4 9
Lift Hands 1 3
Lean Forward 1 3
The Crane Spreads its Wings 1 3
Brush Knee Twist Step (L) 3 8
Hands Playing the P’i Pa 1 2
Brush Knee Twist Step (R) 1 2
Step Forward, Deflect Downward, Intercept, and Punch 2 6
Apparent Close-Up 1 2
Diagonal Single Whip 1 1
Embrace the Tiger to Return to the Mountain 1 2
Looking at the Fist Under the Elbow 1 1
Step Back to Repulse the Monkey (R) 3 6
Step Back to Repulse the Monkey (L) 2 4
Diagonal Flying 1 2
Cloud Hands Left 3 9
Cloud Hands Right 2 9
Separate Right Foot 1 1
Separate Left Foot 1 1
Turn and Strike with Heel 1 1
Fair Lady Works at the Shuttles 4 4
Descending Single Whip 2 2
Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (R) 1 1
Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (L) 1 1
Brush Knee and Punch Down 1 1
Step Forward to the Seven Stars of the Big Dipper 1 1
Step Back to Ride the Tiger 1 1
Turn the Body to Sweep the Lotus 1 1
Bend the Bow to Shoot the Tiger 1 1
Close Up 1 1



Total 65 124

Table 2. Summary of repetitions under discussion.

Advantages and Disadvantages of so Few / so Many Movements. In my experience, teaching the short form greatly increases the ability to instill principles at an earlier stage without becoming bogged down with teaching a lot of movements. Nevertheless, I am a firm believer in teaching students the long form after they have become proficient at the short form. In a self-defense situation, the subconscious mind must process a large amount of sensory information over an extended period of time, and the conscious mind is far too slow and limited to do so. The long form trains the subconscious mind to encompass a large number of movements, with repetitions of certain movements leading to a different succession of movements. For example, in the C.M.C. short form, “Single Whip” transitions into “Raise Hands,” “Four Corners,” and “Downward Single Whip” (two times). By comparison, in the long form, “Single Whip” transitions into those same movements plus “Cloud Hands” (three times) and “High Pat on Horse” (two times). Thus the long form has about twice as many transitions from “Single Whip,” which presents quite a challenge to the mind not to drift.

Another example is that of the different transitions from “Brush Knee (L)” to the next posture. In the short form, “Brush Knee (L)” transitions into “Hands Playing the P’i Pa,” “Punch,” and “Brush Knee (R).” In the long form, however, “Brush Knee (L)” transitions into “Hands Playing the P’i Pa” (two times), “Chop with Fist,” “Needle at Sea Bottom” (two times), “Brush Knee (R)” (two times), and “Downward Punch.” Thus the long form has eight transitions from “Brush Knee (L)” compared to three such transitions in the short form.

3. General Differences Throughout.

Yang Cheng-fu in “Push” postureCheng Man-ch’ing in “Push” posture

Fig. 1. Left, Yang Cheng-fu in “Push” Posture.1 Right, Cheng Man-ch’ing in same posture.2

Bent Versus “Beauteous” Wrist. One immediate difference apparent to those practitioners of the C.M.C. short form is that of Yang’s bent wrist (Fig. 1, left). Prof. Cheng emphasized the “beauteous wrist,” (Fig. 1, right) for which there is no bending. He stated that his reason for adopting the beauteous wrist was that the tension of a bent wrist restricts the flow of ch’i to the fingers. An additional interpretation is that in a self-defense situation, any unnecessary tension “telegraphs” your intention to the opponent, thereby giving him an advantage.

Body Vertical Versus Leaning Forward. It is clear to me that Prof. Cheng’s purpose in having the body erect rather than leaning forward, as do other Yang-style practitioners, is to help the body to relax. When the body is leaning in any direction, muscle tension must come into play in order to keep the body from falling in that direction. Having the body “stacked” vertically takes almost no effort. When exerting force on an opponent, it might be necessary to lean to keep from falling backward. When doing the form, however, an external force is absent, and leaning forward is unnecessary.

Propulsion of Force. Even through Yang Cheng-fu is not upright, his back is straight, and most interestingly, the extension of the line of his spine intersects the center of his rear foot (Fig. 2). Note also that each line drawn from the center of each of Yang’s feet to his forward palm is along each respective shin bone (Fig. 3). These relationships appear to be essential for expressing the martial power for which Yang Cheng-fu was renowned. That is, the forces from Yang’s feet are directed along his shins and vector into his forward palm. Nevertheless, Prof. Cheng did not seem to have much trouble in exerting forward force without leaning forward (Fig. 4). Note in Fig. 4 that a line drawn from Prof. Cheng’s rear foot to the arm being pushed by others is along his rear leg and through the center of his body.

The line of Yang Cheng-fu’s back

Fig. 2. Note that the line of Yang Cheng-fu’s back intersects the center of his rear foot.

The lines from the centers of Yang Cheng-fu’s feet to his forward palm

Fig. 3. Note that each line drawn from the center of each of Yang Cheng-fu’s feet to his forward palm is along each respective shin bone.

Cheng Man-ch’ing withstanding four people pushing his arm

Fig. 4. Note that even though Cheng Man-ch’ing is not leaning forward, he is able to withstand four people pushing his arm. Note that the line drawn from his rear foot to the arm being pushed is along his rear leg and through the center of his body.3

Degree of Bending of Rear Leg. Another difference related to Yang’s leaning forward in 70-30 stances is that of his almost straight rear leg; namely, straightening the rear leg causes the body to lean forward. Interestingly, those who practice Shotokan Karate also straighten the rear leg but arch the lower back to make the trunk vertical. Prof. Cheng emphasized bending the rear leg, which enables the spine to be upright without arching the lower back.

The “Preset Foot.” An important difference between the long and short forms is something that my teacher Harvey Sober calls the preset foot. In the Yang-family long form, transitions involve presetting (turning inward by 45°) what will become the rear foot at the start of the movement rather than turning it at the end. By contrast, in the short form, the rear foot is turned inward by 45° at the end of the movement. For example, the transition from “Ward off Left” (a 70-30 posture with 70% of the weight on the left foot) to “Ward off Right” involves shifting 100% onto the right foot, turning the body and left foot 45° to the right, then shifting back 100% onto the left foot, stepping with the right foot, and shifting into the final posture. By comparison, in the short form, the transition from “Ward off Left” to “Ward off Right” involves shifting 100% the left foot, turning 45° to the right, stepping into a width with the right foot, shifting 70% of the weight onto the the right foot, and then turning 45° to the right, at the same time turning the right foot 45° to the right. Thus, in the short form, the rear foot turns at the very end of the movement. Moreover, in the short form, the thigh joints are much more open during stepping. I believe that opening the thigh joints more was Prof. Cheng’s reason for this change.

Angle of the Rear Foot in 100% Postures. In 100% postures in the long form, the rear foot is at 45° to the direction of the stance. By comparison, in 100% postures in the short form, the rear foot is at 90° to the direction of the stance. For example, in the long form, the transition from “Single Whip” to “Lift Hands” involves shifting 100% onto the right foot, turning the body and left foot 45° to the right, then shifting back 100% onto the left foot for the final posture. By comparison, in the short form, the left foot remains stationary, and the weight just shifts 100% to that foot as the body turns, and the right foot is placed at 90°, heel touching lightly. Thus, in 100% postures of the short form, the rear foot is at 90° to the direction of the final posture instead of 45° as in the long form. Thus, in the short form, the thigh joints are much more open in 100% stances.

I like and practice both ways.

One problem of the weighted foot pointing 90° to the direction of the final stance in 100% postures in the C.M.C. style is that some students erroneously try to have the nose and navel line up. The nose-navel rule only holds for 70-30 stances. Because the head points in the direction of all final stances, attempting to have the navel also point in the direction of a 100% stance results in torquing the weighted knee, that is, forcing the knee inward from its optimal alignment of vertically above the center line of the 100%-weighted foot.

Shifting and Turning. In the C.M.C. form, the sequence is step, shift, and turn. In the Yang-style long form, the sequence is step, turn, and shift. This difference is a logical consequence presetting what will become the rear foot in the long form and turning the rear foot at the end of the movement in the short form. That is, if the rear foot is turned at the beginning of the movement, the body must turn at the beginning of the movement, and if the rear foot is turned to its final position at the end of the movement, the body must turn at the end of the movement.

4. Differences in the Order of Movements Between Both Forms. In the long form, “Fair Lady Works at the Shuttles” occurs before the sequence “Downward Single Whip” and “Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (L) and (R).” That order is reversed in the short form. Moreover, in the long form, the sequence “Brush Knee Left and Right” occurs in the first section after “Hands Playing the P’i Pa” and again after “Turn and Strike with Heel.” In the short form, that sequence occurs only once, after “Turn and Strike with Heel.” There appears not to be any problem with these two changes in order.

5. Differences in Movements That Occur in Both Forms.

In “Step Back to Repulse the Monkey,” in the long form, the rear foot steps back and is placed at 45° to the forward direction, in a cat stance. By comparison, in the short form, the feet step backward with their center lines on parallel tracks a shoulder width apart. Prof. Cheng said, “Stepping feet-parallel opens the front and back of the body equally. If you see someone doing ‘Step Back to Repulse the Monkey’ with feet parallel anywhere in the world, that can be traced to me.” Moreover, it can be seen from examining a skeleton or model thereof that having feet parallel places the thigh joints in their centered position. Thus, the body is most centered and mobile when standing with feet parallel. In my view, whereas feet-parallel is harder to do in “Step Back to Repulse the Monkey,” it is an improvement over the former way.

6. Transitions That Occur in One Style and Not the Other for Movements Common to Both Forms.

In the C.M.C. short form, “Diagonal Flying” transitions directly into “Cloud Hands.” That is, after “Diagonal Flying,” and before and “Cloud Hands,” the following sequence is eliminated from the long form: “Raise Hands,” “Lean Forward,” “The Crane Spreads its Wings,” “Brush Knee Twist Step (L),” “Needle at Sea Bottom,” “Fan Through Back,” “Turn and Chop with Fist,” “Step Forward, Deflect Downward, Intercept, and Punch,” “Ward off with Right Hand,” “Roll Back,” “Press,” “Push,” “Single Whip.” In fact, this sequence is repeated in the long form, the second time with “White Snake Puts Out Tongue” added after “Turn and Chop with Fist.”

In the long form, the transition from “Cloud Hands” to “Single Whip,” occurs after doing the left side of “Cloud Hands.” In the C.M.C. form, the transition from “Cloud Hands ” to “Single Whip,” occurs after doing the right side of “Cloud Hands.” That is, in the long form, the left and right sides of “Cloud Hands” are both done the same number of times, but in the C.M.C. form, “Cloud Hands (L)” occurs three times, and “Cloud Hands (R)” only occurs two times. I do not know why this change was made, but it appears not to be a problem.

At two places in the long form, “Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (R)” transitions into “Step Back to Repulse the Monkey (R).” In the short form, “Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (R)” transitions into “Separate Left Foot,” and that transition only occurs once.

In the long form, “Downward Punch” transitions into “Rollback and Press,” and later, “Groin Punch,” which is very similar, also transitions into “Rollback and Press,” At two other places in the long form, “Deflect Downward, Parry, and Punch” also transitions into “Rollback and Press.” Whereas in the short form, “Downward Punch” transitions once into “Rollback and Press,” there is no transition from “Deflect Downward, Parry and Punch” to “Rollback and Press.”

In general, all transitions from 70-30 postures to 100% ones differ between the two forms because of the preset foot in the long form and the stationary foot in the short form. That is, presetting the foot involves turning the body at the beginning of the transition, and keeping the foot stationary involves turning the body mainly at the end of the transition.


Transition From To Occurs in C.M.C. Short Form Only Occurs in Yang-Style Long Form Only Occurs in Both Forms But Differently
1 “Diagonal Flying” “Cloud Hands” yes

2 “Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (R)” “Separate Left Foot” yes

3 “Diagonal Flying” “Raise Hands”
yes
4 “Single Whip” “Cloud Hands”
yes
5 “Golden Cock Stands on One Leg (R)” “Step Back to Repulse the Monkey (R)”
yes
6 “High Pat on Horse” “Separate Left Foot”
yes
7 “Single Whip” “Raise Hands”

yes
8 “Raise Hands” “Lean Forward”

yes
9 “White Crane” “Brush Knee (L)”

yes
10 “Brush Knee (L)” “Hands Playing the P’i Pa”

yes
11 “Cloud Hands” “Single Whip”

yes
12 “Downward Punch” “Ward off Left”

yes
13 “Four Corners” “Ward off Left”

yes

Table 3. Summary of transitions of the short and long forms.

7. Differences in Transitions Between Successive Movements that are Common to Both Forms.

In the long form, the transition from “White Crane” to “Brush Knee (L)” involves keeping the left foot stationary as the body turns to the right. In the C.M.C. form, that transition involves pivoting the left foot on its ball as the body turns. Such pivoting seems to be a natural consequence of having the weighted foot at 90° to the direction of the final stance; that is, not pivoting would limit the degree of turning the body. A similar statement about pivoting can be made concerning the transition from “Hands Playing the P’i Pa” to “Brush Knee (L).” Moreover, in that same transition in the long form, the left hand makes a large clockwise circle past the face. In the C.M.C. form, that hand swings almost horizontally to the right and then to the left. This latter change was evidently made to induce students to relax more.

In general, Prof. Cheng changed a number of transitions to involve circling a hand to its lowest-possible position. For example, in the long form, the transition from “Ward off right” to “Roll Back and Press” involves circling both hands off to the side, in a horizontal plane. In the C.M.C. form, that transition involves circling the left hand in a vertical plane. Similar statements can be made of the right hand in the final part of “Deflect Downward, Parry, and Punch” and the right hand in the transition from “White Crane” to “Brush Knee (L).” My understanding is that Prof. Cheng wanted us to do the form in the most relaxed manner and felt that lowering those circles would help to teach us that.

In the long form, the transition from “Brush Knee (L)” to “Hands Playing the P’i Pa” involves taking a step forward with the rear foot. In the C.M.C. form, that transition involves lifting the rear foot and then placing it in approximately the same location.

In the long form, the transition from the second “Fair Lady Works at the Shuttles” to the third one involves only shifting the weight onto the left foot, back onto the right foot, and then stepping into the final stance with the left foot. In the C.M.C. form, that transition involves shifting the weight onto the left foot, taking a small step to the left with the right foot, and then stepping into the final stance with the left foot. This extra step the C.M.C. form does not involve stepping across the body but only involves the natural swing of the leg resulting from the momentum of shifting the body. I like both versions equally.

There are other transitions that differ between the long and short forms in terms of the motion of the arms. Examples are the transitions from “Raise Hands” to “Shoulder Strike,” “Single Whip” to “Raise Hands,” “Raise Hands” to “Lean Forward,” “Brush Knee (L)” to “Hands Playing the P’i Pa,” “Hands Playing the P’i Pa” to “Brush Knee (L),” and the last “Fair Lady Works Shuttles” to “Ward off Left,”

8. Differences Between what Prof. Cheng Taught, what he did, and what Those of his Students do and Teach.

Prof. Cheng did not speak English, and any verbal instruction to English speakers had to pass through one or both of his interpreters, Tam Gibbs and Ed Young. Moreover, in teaching Americans, Prof. Cheng was out of his culture. From my memory, the goal was to get students, many of whom were into body-building and hard-styles, to relax. To this end, Prof. Cheng changed some of the movements to circle lower than that of Yang-style practitioners. Examples are “Roll Back,” “Brush Knee,” “Punch,” and “Single Whip.” I remember his reaction when he saw beginners prematurely lifting their left hands before the shifting and turning into the final posture of “Single Whip.” He walked over to a student and held his hand down to prevent this atrocity. To this day, Cheng’s original students and their offspring hold their left hands down in deference to Prof. Cheng, and when doing other movements, many prevent their hands from moving when stepping. But if you view any of the videos of Prof. Cheng (for example, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USJPmCZ6Efc), you will see that the movement of his left hand in “Single Whip” is smooth and continuous. In my view, not transcending instructions given to rank beginners is foolhardy.

Conclusion

Because of so many changes from the traditional Yang style, we can conclude that Cheng Man-ch’ing created a separate style. A similar conclusion was reached by Master Koh Ah-tee in an interview by Nigel Sutton of the Zhong Ding Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Association (see http://wuweitaichi.com/articles/Master_Koh_Ah_Tee.htm).



References

1photo from Dr. Tseng Chiu Yien, The Chart of Tai Chi Chuan, Union Press Limited, 14 Dorset Crescent, Kowlon Tong, Kowloon, Hong Kong, no date given, p. 28.

2photo from Cheng Man-ch’ing, T’ai Chi Ch’uan: A Simplified Method of Calisthenics for Health & Self Defense, Shih Chung Tai-chi Chuan Center, Taipei, Taiwan, 1962, p. 77.

3photo from T’ai-Chi Ch’uan, Body and Mind, published by Tai Chi Chuan Association, 211 Canal Street, New York, NY, 1968, p. 32.


©Copyright 2011 by Robert Chuckrow


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