There are five well thought out and researched practices that came to maturity in the Yang family, and these represent the Curriculum of Yang Style T’ai Chi Ch’uan: Solo Form, T’ui-shou (Push-hands), Three Step T’ui-shou, Da Lu (Big Roll Back), and Sanshou. Weapons provide a further extension of the curriculum, if desired.
The classical long (108 movements) Yang Style form is a form of qi-gung. Technically a form of nei-gung, it is considered to be one of the most sophisticated and advanced exercises of this kind, associated with the circulation of qi and frequently prescribed by Chinese medical practitioners for both its preventative and curative attributes. I tell my students, “Do not ‘perfect’ the form.” It is not a performance, but a workshop to which one constantly returns.
Tuishou, sometimes called hand pushing or push-hands, is the first and most critical two-person exercise in the Taijiquan curriculum. Like the form, it is done with an eye to the development of certain subtle and quite non-intuitive reactions to the movements of a partner-opponent. The two formal modes of tuishou are elementary tuishou and penglujian. The most elementary tuishou, sometimes called one-hand pushing, cultivates basic responses of the body to force (yielding). Penglujian utilizes the techniques of Push, Press, Ward Off, and Roll Back to address the skill of making taijis with the partner (adherence).
This exercise extends penglujian to a three step forward, three step back version. Despite its relative simplicity, it serves as an important bridge connecting Taijiquan’s internal changes to footwork and as such is the doorway to the practice of Taijiquan as an actual martial art.
Considered by most to be the most important element of the Taijiquan curriculum, Da Lu or “Big Roll Back” extends the previous focus on the four techniques (referred to as “postures” in the literature) of Push, Press, Ward Off, and Roll Back to the four remaining ones of Pull, Shoulder, Elbow, and Split.
Sanshou is a word that is used in common parlance to indicate completely unstructured or “free-hand” fighting. The Sanshou Exercise is a collection of eighty-eight different movements and counter-movements that proceed without breaks to a final conclusion, mimicking the progress of a real combat situation. While still preserving the emphasis on softness and without any form of impact or excessive athletic strain, it is properly executed at a speed allowing for considerable aerobic activity. In this way its range of usefulness and relevance is extended to even that level occupied by sport and fitness training, as well as satisfying the demands of traditional Chinese medicine.
Taijiquan training may be extended to embrace the following four traditional weapons, each focusing on developing a different basic fundamental element of the art: Staff – qi (circulation of breath), Saber – jing (internal force), Sword – shen (spirit), and Spear (all three).