YANG? CHEN? YANG? CHEN?
by Sam Masich
Often questions come up regarding the difference between Yang style and Chen style Taijiquan. Some of these include:
Q. Is Chen style more "martial" than Yang?
No. Each style may be approached from many different perspectives. While one practitioner may practice tai chi for health, relaxation and meditation another may study more for rootedness, stability, and martial arts/self defense training. The main reason people ask this question is probably due to the sudden and unexpected tempo changes found in Chen style solo routines which often take the form of fast punches, kicks and other blows. While both Yang and Chen style syllabus include various push hands, sparring and weapons sequences, the apparent placidness of the Yang tends to disguise its combat features. Studying any style of taijjiquan for martial arts purposes is a long, demanding and profound undertaking which usually reveals that ultimately things are rarely well judged by appearances.
Q. Why do more people practice Yang than Chen?
At the outset, Yang style Taijiquan seems easier to learn. The movements are somewhat less complicated in terms of their basic shape and transitions. As well, Yang style forms feature a simpler choreography. It tends to be favored by a wider range of people since it seems to require less leg work than the half squatting Chen style. Further, Yang style has been practiced outside of China by large numbers of Tai Chi enthusiasts for a longer time. It has had more opportunity to grow in popularity due to references in publications and other media.
It should be understood that correct practice of Yang Style Taijiquan involves at least as much internal complexity as Chen style and, if practiced correctly, as much leg conditioning work as well. When Yang style is trained with full attention to principle and detail it can be quite strenuous but it is an easy style (compared with Chen) to perform sloppily without obviously visible errors. Practice well!
Q. What is Chan Szu Chin? Does Yang Style have chan szu chin?
This term, associated usually with Chen style, translates to reeling silk energy. The image refers to the subtle and continuous force and action required to pull raw fiber from the cocoon of the silk worm. Also called "twining energy", the application of force occurs in a coiling, twisting fashion with all parts of the body connected in sequence. Various drills, designed to augment this aspect of Chen Style, have been designed by various experts throughout history but there is no one traditional fixed method of practice.
Some schools of thought have sought to reconcile this Chen style training concept with Yang style practice and hence it has developed that an "inner winding" and an "outer winding" method have evolved, the inner usually referring to the Chen, the outer referring to the Yang with its large bumping outwards postures. Sometimes the terms are reversed however with the Chen being the outer (since one is reeling the silk from outside the cocoon) and the Yang being the inner (the player is inside the cocoon like the silk worm itself and producing the silk from inside). While it is less common to speak of chan szu chin in Yang style Taijiquan the concept can be of great value in practice.
It should be understood that historically, the Yang Style long form developed out of the Chen Style first routine. One might almost say that the Yang form, as commonly practiced, is a 20th century variation of the Chen. While some commentators have criticized Yang Style as a simplified or "watered down" version, it is more useful to approach the Yang as an entirely separate but related discipline, which focuses on a similar range of subjects but with a somewhat different approach and philosophy.