Yang Style Taijiquan
in English, Characters, & Pinyin
Traditional and Simplified Chinese,
Pronunciation in Pinyin with Tone Marks,
Numbering Examples for 85, 88, 103, 108, and 150 Postures
I don't claim to be a martial arts expert, but I am good at the art of making lists. This spreadsheet of Taijiquan (T'ai-chi Ch'uan) Yang style long form postures has two hidden columns you can "unhide" for insertion of any variations in translation used by your school, and of course you can move numbering around, add your own, or make any other changes you wish. It's just a place to start.
I've included five ways of counting the postures, with my English translations alongside Traditional and Simplified characters, plus Pinyin with tone marks generated using my Pinyin macro. After creating the tone marks I removed the macro, but you can add it again yourself if you wish to create more pronunciations.
Want some background? Following is what I understand about where those different posture numbers come from, and in the next section we can have some fun with the language. (Or you can jump to Language now if you wish.)
How Many Postures Are There?
Yang Chengfu was taught a version of the Yang family form with approximately 300 postures, but he simplified that down to about 150. He and his first generations of students then simplified the counting, without further reducing the actual number of postures. The best example is "Stroke Peacock's Tail" (a.k.a. "Grasp Sparrow's Tail", etc.), which contains 4 to 6 subpostures. What's confusing is that some of Yang's senior disciples each decided to teach the same form with different numbering.
In the 1920s and 30s Yang Chengfu published simple workbooks containing photos, which you may have seen in wall posters, showing up to 124 examples of Yang performing the postures. 104 of those photos were then organized into 94 "sections" in his 1934 book, The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan (Kindle | paperback ), a more detailed work that was recently translated into English by Louis Swaim in an excellent new edition. That book was edited and in large part probably written by Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man-ch'ing), but it was apparently not the final word on the topic.
Most practitioners I know group the movements into 85, 88, 103, or 108 sections, but there are several other ways of counting them. Fu Zhongwen, a grandson and direct disciple of Yang Chengfu, detailed the 85-posture version in Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan (Kindle | paperback ), published in 1963 and recently released in a new English-language edition by the same excellent translator mentioned above. The 103-posture approach was founded by Yang's son, Yang Zhenduo, author of Yang Style Taijiquan (paperback ),
which was first published in English in 1988. Books I have owned on the 88- and 108-posture versions are dated and error-ridden (and one with Wade-Giles Romanization is unfortunately still being reprinted), so I have no reading recommendations for those, but you'll find all four counts in the spreadsheet.
All such books contain Yang Chengfu's ~150 postures, divided into conveniently memorized sections in different ways. The postures taught by each branch of the traditional Yang family form lineage are otherwise the same, although transitions, teaching emphasis, and other superficial features may appear quite different.
This spreadsheet does not show simplified Yang forms with fewer movements, such as the 37-posture form created by Zheng Manqing in the 1940s (actually over 70 postures, in a seemlingly more "relaxed" style), or the 24-posture form created in 1956 by an official Wushu committee that included Fu Zhongwen.
It will of course also not match up with versions of Taijiquan that combine Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun, and other styles, such as the 99-posture form created by Chen Panling for Guoshu standardization in the 1940s, or the 48-posture combined form created on the mainland in 1976. The latter was condensed into 42 postures in 1989 for Wushu competitions.
The 24-posture simplified Yang and 48-posture combined forms are covered in Tai Chi Chuan: 24 & 48 Postures with Martial Applications (Kindle | paperback ).
Some postures never seem to be counted by themselves these days, and are sometimes not even mentioned to beginners (like shoulder strike, 靠), but they are still in there. Following general conventions like that, I found it easy to line up almost everyone's version of Yang long form posture-counting in one spreadsheet.
There is no one "right" way to do the numbering, except to focus on the method used by your teachers, so feel free to change this as needed. Once you master the form you should not actually be stopping at each of these points anyway, so in the end how they are counted really should not matter. But I do enjoy minutia like this.
I'd like to point out a few of the odder points of language here, some of which may cause confusion. I will use numbers for the tones on this page to avoid driving your web browser nuts, but in the spreadsheet you'll find actual diacritics.
High Pat on Horse.
This is the strangest of them all. This English phrase is actually a more accurate image, if not a precise translation. Let's have some fun with this. The Chinese is 高 (gao1) for "high" or "tall", and 探馬 (探马, tan4ma3) for "mounted scout".
He's riding high above us on a horse, and maybe he's high-ranking too, but I briefly thought of using "tall" instead of "high" so his superior officers wouldn't accuse him of self-medicating while on duty. Or not. But visualize this if you can: you are the scout (a fully sober scout), and you are mounted upon a mighty stallion. You are pulling back on the reins with your left hand to stop the horse, and you are running your right hand along the horse's mane to pat the neck, calming and controlling the beast while you look ahead for the enemy. Don't like that one? OK then, how about this? You're standing in front of a gentle mare, pulling her bridle forward with your left hand, while you slide your right hand up the bridge of her nose to pat her forehead. Problem is, I just made that second one up.
As you can see, this whole "high mounted scout" thing requires too much explanation, and it's clear why someone first translated it the way they did. So in the end, I decided to just go with "High Pat on Horse" too. (Whoa Nelly, easy girl.)
What is that crane doing with its wings?
And why are you pronouncing it that way? I was initially quite confused about "White Crane Spreads Its Wings", which in my spreadsheet is 白鶴亮翅 / 白鹤亮翅 / bai2 he4 liang4 chi4. It turns out that the version you are reading may not be the version your Chinese-speaking teacher is saying.
In the Chinese characters printed with the original photo of Yang Chengfu performing this posture, the verb is 亮 / liang4, meaning that the white crane "reveals", "shows", or "displays" its wings, and at some point that was further transcreated into a nice visual image as "spreads" its wings. Some masters have written 晾 / liang4, "to dry in the air" and 凉 / liang2 "to cool", but I believe Yang Chengfu and his descendants have always used 亮 / liang4.
Those are all fine with me, but if someone objects to your English translation or to your Mandarin tone, you may want to ask them which character they think this is.
"Fist Under Elbow" is guarded, not glimpsed.
One word in the "Fist Under Elbow" posture name is sometimes pronunced incorrectly in Chinese, and I've seen incorrect Pinyin given for this as well. The characters are "肘底看捶". In Pinyin this is "zhou1 di3 kan1 chui2".
Notice that "看" is "kan1" with a first tone, and not "kan4" with a fourth tone. Kan1 means "to watch" as in "to guard" (like a watchman), and not to watch as in "to look" or "to see".
I almost had some fun and called this "Guard Fist Under Elbow", but many masters have dropped "kan1" in both English and Chinese just to avoid this whole discussion. That's probably the best idea, so "Fist Under Elbow" it is.
Kicking and turning.
There are two or three types of kicks, and three or four kinds of turns. Variations between schools may require further editing of the translation you'll find in the spreadsheet.
Separate foot (分腳, fen1 jiao3) is unique enough not to cause confusion. For the other kicks, I have been taught to raise my knee and stamp out with the sole or heel (蹬腳 deng1 jiao3). I've called that one simply "kick". It is similar to a "front kick" in other martial arts.
However, some schools list many of those as upward kicks with your toe or the ball of your foot (踢腳, ti1 jiao3), as you might kick a ball. That may be just a mistranslation back into Chinese, but if your school does teach you to do this, then you may want to translate those as "kick up".
Finally, in one of the last kicks, you follow "pierce with crossed palms" (穿身十字掌) with a "turn around to cross kick" (轉身十字腿) which sounds good in Chinese, but I've translated that one as "turn around and kick straight out" to make the English clear. The striking surface for that kick is also the sole or heel.
"Turn" is just "turn" in most posture lists, but I've translated "轉身" (zhuan3 shen1) as "turn around" to make clear you are turning 180 or 360 degrees. In only one kicking posture (just before Strike Tiger), it is "回身" (hui2 shen1) which means you're only returning to a kicking position by bringing your rear leg forward and up, and that one I've translated as simply "turn".
"Left. No, your other left."
Posture lists sometimes differ on the movements "left" and "right", in Chinese and in translation. Is it Brush Knee and Twist Step Left (左摟膝拗步), or Brush Knee and Twist Step Right (右摟膝拗步) the first time? And what about Repulse Monkey (倒攆猴), or that fidgety Golden Cock (金雞獨立)?
The way I think about this is that it should describe the first direction your body moves. In the first Brush Knee and Twist Step, you're leading with your left hip, leg, and hand. Even though it ends with you pressing forward with your right hand, the Chinese description is usually "left" (左) to describe the initial movements on your left side. This is why even though the first Repulse Monkey also ends with a right palm strike, in most lists this is also a "left" because it too begins with a leftward movement. And when you get to the first Golden Cock Stands on One Leg, you are standing on your left leg but moving your right leg and right hand by turning your right hip slightly forward, and so in Chinese that is usually called "right" (右).
Some teachers clarify all of these in translation by adding more words for more detail, and that is very helpful. But whether your school's list looks like mine or not, don't worry about it. Just memorize without words. Words confuse us. I have too many words myself. 'Nuff said.
Questions, Comments, or Suggestions?
If you are having trouble installing and using the separate Pinyin Macro files, please see the Troubleshooting section on the macro FAQ page. If that doesn't help, or if you have any other questions, comments or suggestions, feel free to contact me anytime.