The 24-Posture Simplified Taijiquan

By Luo Shiwen


Sometimes called the "Beijing form" due to its place of origin, it is a shortened or simplified version of traditional Yang family taiji (taijiquan). In the early 1950s, the Chinese government sought to promote taiji as a way to improve the nation's overall health. The existing forms were considered difficult for an ­average citizen to learn, so a committee of experts was formed to design a shorter, condensed routine.24 style photo

In 1956, The Chinese Sports Committee brought together four Taiji teachers—Chu Guiting (褚桂亭), Cai Longyun (蔡龙云), Fu Zhongwen (傅鈡文), and Zhang Yu (張玉), led by the renowned master Li Tianji (李天骥) to choreograph the truncated form. The goal was to give the beginner an introduction to the essential elements of taijiquan yet retain the traditional flavor of the longer forms with continuous and flowing movements, proper body alignment and the integration of mind and body.

The form incorporates a mix of open and closed stances, a balance of empty and solid footwork, balanced left and right movements, and preserves the beauty and depth of classical Yang family taijiquan. The basic steps can be learned in a relatively short period of time (a couple months for beginners) but has the depth and nuisances to become a life-long challenge as more advanced practitioners continue to refine and deepen their understanding of the fundamental principles which are the foundation of taijiquan.

After completion, the government actively promoted the form and it quickly became one of the most practiced taijiquan form in the world. It takes around 6 minutes to complete, has most of the postures of traditional forms but less repetition, and it performed in a linear fashion making it easy to practice in confined areas and in large groups.

The Creators:

Chu Guiting (1892-1977) was a former student of Yang Chengfu while in Hangzhou. Not only did he become one of Yang's top ten disciples but, later in life he was Yang's chosen fighter to take on challenges to the school.

Cai Longyun, was a retired professor from Shanghai Physical College and one of the most renowned martial artists in China. He fought and won widely publicized match against an internationally renowned Russian fighter named Marceau Love when he was only 14 years old.

Fu Zhongwen (1903-1994) accompanied Yang Chengfu around China demonstrating taijiquan and helping teach students. Yang Chengfu would teach postures and Zhongwen would demonstrate applications and often accept challenges from other martial artists (of which he never lost).

Zhang Yu (1909-1988) was the first disciple of Wu Huichuan and was known for his exceptional martial arts skills. It is said that he was able to bounce an opponent over 4 yards away by issuing long energy and vibrate the opponent's internal organs by issuing short energy.

24 style taijiquan

Li Tianji (1915-1996). Li Tianji spent his whole life learning, teaching, training and developing Chinese martial arts. In 1927, Li learned the Yang style Taijiquan. Later, he also learned the Chen, Wu, and Sun styles. Li Tianji graduated from the Shandong Martial Arts College and taught at various universities and martial arts schools in the province of Shanxi and Heilongjiang. He moved to Beijing in 1950 and was appointed coach to the State Wushu Team. From 1955 until his death in 1996, he was an executive member of the Beijing Institute of Physical Education and Sport.

The creators of the "simplified" form were experienced martial artists. During that time period, many instructors thought that taijiquan had lost it's fundamentals as other martial artists and inexperienced teachers influenced the practice. Master Li Tianji explained that in the past, this is exactly how the correct techniques associated with taijiquan went astray and developed in the wrong direction. This led hm to agree to assist in the development of the 24 style which was to be based on traditional taijiquan principles.

There is a Chinese saying that "a healthy dragon begets nine sons", meaning that a martial arts teacher produces many good students that spread the art unchanged, However, Li Tianji was describing an alternation of this situation which states that "nine sons" produce "nine variations", or that the descendants who do not practice the correct technique, implying that a deviating copy of a martial art produces an inadequate generation of practicing martial artists who are moving ever further from the correct method. ('They Have Ruined My Taijiquan你们毁了我的太极拳, translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles 2014). Another old saying states: "The slightest error and there is a divergence of a thousand miles!"

The 24 Posture list:

  1. Commencing (Qǐshì, 起势), Preparation, Beginning
  2. Part the Wild Horse's Mane (Zuǒyòu Yěmǎ Fēnzōng, 左右野马分鬃), left and right
  3. White Crane Spreads Its Wings (Báihè Lìangchì, 白鹤亮翅), Stork/Crane Reveals Its Wings
  4. Brush Knee and Step Forward (Zuǒyòu Lōuxī Àobù, 左右搂膝拗步), Brush Knee and Twist Step, left and right
  5. Playing the Lute (Shǒuhūi Pípā, 手挥琵琶), Strum the Lute, Play Guitar
  6. Reverse Reeling Forearm (Zuǒyòu Dào juǎn gōng, 左右倒卷肱), Step Back and Repulse Monkey (Dǎo niǎn hóu 倒攆猴), left and right
    Left Grasp Sparrow's Tail (Zuǒ Lǎn Què Wěi,
  7. 左揽雀尾), Grasp the Bird's Tail
  8. Ward Off (péng, 棚)
  9. Rollback (Lǚ, 捋)
  10. Press (Jǐ, 擠)
  11. Push (Àn, 按)
    Right Grasp Sparrow's Tail (Yòu Lǎn què wěi, 右揽雀尾)
  12. Single Whip (Dān biān, 单鞭)
  13. Wave Hands Like Clouds (Yúnshǒu, 云手), Cloud Hands, Wave Hands in Clouds
  14. Single Whip (Dān biān, 单鞭)
  15. High Pat on Horse (Gāo tàn mǎ, 高探马), Step Up to Examine Horse
  16. Right Heel Kick (Yòu dēng jiǎo, 右蹬脚), Separate Right Foot, Kick with Right Foot
  17. Strike to Ears with Both Fists (Shuāng fēng guàn ěr, 双峰贯耳)
  18. Turn Body and Left Heel Kick (Zhuǎnshēn zuǒ dēngjiǎo, 转身左蹬脚)
  19. Left Lower Body and Stand on One Leg (Zuǒ Xià shì dúlì, 左下势独立)
  20. Single Whip Squatting Down, Snake Creeps Down,
    Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg, Golden Bird Standing Alone
    Right Lower Body and Stand on One Leg (Yòu Xià shì dúlì, 右下势独立)
  21. Shuttle Back and Forth (Yòuzuǒ yùnǚ chuānsuō, 右左玉女穿梭), Fair Lady Works with Shuttles, Four Corners, right and left
    Needle at Sea Bottom (Hǎidǐ zhēn, 海底针)
  22. Fan Through Back (Shǎn tōng bì, 闪通臂), Fan Penetrates Back
    Turn Body, Deflect, Parry, and Punch (Zhuǎnshēn Bānlánchuí, 转身搬拦捶)
  23. Apparent Close (Rúfēng shìbì, 如封似闭), Withdraw and Push, as if Closing a Door
    Cross Hands (Shízìshǒu, 十字手)
  24. Closing (Shōushì, 收势).

Reprinted with permission from Qi Journal, Autumn 2023

Luo Shiwen has been practicing martial arts for over 56 years. Earning a black belt in karate, then switching to external wushu (kungfu) and finally migrating to taijiquan practice while training at the Beijing Institute of Physical Education and Sport in the 1980s.