The Definitive Guide to 24 Step Simplified Yang Style Taijiquan
The 24 Step Simplified Yang Style Taijiquan or some people refer to it as the Beijing 24 Step Taijiquan, is one of the most popular Yang style Tai chi routines in the world.
It was structured in 1956 by my great uncle - Late Grand Master Li Tian Ji, based on the traditional long Yang Style long form.
As well as the creator of this amazing routine, he was also the first Wushu Coach of China’s Wushu team, one of China’s 10 greatest Martial Arts treasures in the 20th century, signified as the father of Taiji in Japan.
The traditional long form was long and repetitive and perceived by many as complicated and difficult to learn. A simpler and standardised version was needed in order to make it more enjoyable and accessible to people of all ages with various physical abilities. The 24 Step Taijiquan routine retains the inner essence and finesse of this great traditional art and yet it is easy for beginners to learn.
With tradition and practicality in mind, Master Li Tian Ji based his creation on the traditional 81 step Yang style Taijiquan (believed to be the oldest Yang routine created by Grand Master Yang Chen Fu). In the routine, he took on 24 of the most representational postures, took away most of the repetitions and repositioned the postures to make this routine more symmetrical and easier to teach, to learn and to practise. It is recognised and supported by the Sports Council of China.
The 24 step Taijiquan has detail teaching materials with a detailed step-by-step guide to each individual movements, directions and focuses etc. The routine has given the general public a simple but effective way of exercising for health and wellbeing and a stepping stone to progress onto the long form. Furthermore, it offers enthusiasts from all over the world a common platform to share their enjoyments, learning experiences and exchange their cultures.
The task of promoting and teaching this routine throughout the country was given to young Martial Arts, and exercise coaches in various provinces and cities.
One of the main persons who lead the way in popularising the 24 step in China and the world was my father professor Li De Yin, one of China’s 100 Martial arts treasures, creator of the 42 step Taijiquan, 48 Step Taijiquan, Taiji Kung Fu fan routines, Head judge for most international Taiji competitions. He has travelled all over China, Japan, USA, UK and many other parts of Europe since early 1960 and has written numerous books in Chinese and English on how to better learn, teach and practise the 24 step Taijiquan. He is now the highest authority on the routine.
The creation of the 24 step Taijiquan was a groundbreaking attempt to make Taiji more accessible to wider public and it has proven to be a massive success. It not only became the most widely practised standardised Taijiquan routine in China but also the most popular form all over the world with over 100 million people practising it daily.
There is a saying “When you know the 24 step Simplified Taijiquan; you will find friends in any corner of the Earth”.
Although the 24 step Taijiquan was simplified from the traditional long form, none of the inner essence and external requirements was compromised or watered down. It retains all the principles, characteristics, external and internal practising essentials of this great system of arts.
Like the traditional long form, the 24 step Taijiquan is an exercise that requires the calming of the mind and relaxing of the body, naturalness, and gentleness, continuous and even paced, as well as the combining of movement and stillness. It also requires a high degree of self-control and movements are lead by the Mind and Qi (energy).
Some of the main characteristics of the 24 step Taijiquan are as follow;
- Heart is calm, mind is concentrated and breathing is natural - When practising, one is calm and concentrated, movements are lead by intention of the mind. We emphasise on first in the heart (mind) then the body, body and mind move as one. Together with natural breathing, the movements will become highly coordinated.
- Centred and graceful, relaxed and continuous - As we go through the movements, the body is centred and upright with a sense of gracefulness. Muscles and joints are relaxed and agile. Hence movements become flowing like the clouds or stream, slow but gentle, continuous and even-paced.
- Movements are rounded and nimble, all parts of the body are well coordinated - Movements go in curves and every move is nicely rounded and the connection between movements is smooth and natural. Head, eyes, hands, feet and the body are all working together to create a highly coordinated entity.
- Light, agile and steady, hardness within softness - Every step is like the way a cat walks, very light and agile yet steady just like planting the root into the ground. Movements look soft but inner strength can be felt within every move. We describe this as “soft (graceful) but not feeble (dejected), Hard (confidence) but not rigid (tension)”.
As one of the greatest traditional oriental life-nourishing art, Taijiquan is famous for its tremendous health benefits. That is due to its unique characteristics, inner essence philosophy and special way of exercising the body and mind. In one of the most famous Taiji poems “Song of the practice of the 13 postures (Taiji)”, it says at the end “what is the whole point of it? health and longevity! “
Numerous researches and surveys have been conducted in China, USA and around the world into the physical and mental health effect of Taijiquan practice. These researches have shown that Taiji practice offers excellent health benefits. As an important part of Taiji system, the 24 step offers the same health benefits, which include;
- improve the functioning of the nervous system and the brain;
Modern living and the stress of work have adverse effects on our mental and physical wellbeing. they affect the functioning of the brain and the nervous system, in turn give rise to hyper tension, depression, lack of concentration, lack of balance and coordination etc. When practising Taijiquan we emphasise on using the mind to lead movements, which brings the cerebral cortex into a state of protective constrain. This way of exercising gives the brain a good opportunity to rest, thus improves the functioning of the brain, reduces or improves stress-related illnesses and gain better concentration, balance and coordination.
Furthermore, practising with focus and intention helps re-establish balance in the nervous system and in turn helps to minimise the risks of hormone deficiency, immune system defect and other long term illness given rise from malfunctioning of the nervous system.
- improve functioning Cardiac Vascular system and Blood Vessels’ elasticity
The gentle and coordinated movements in Taijiquan encourage better blood circulation, improve the elasticity of blood vessels and functioning of the heart. Long term practice of Taijiquan helps strengthen heart muscles, prevent or improve high blood pressure and Arteriosclerosis.
- improve and strengthen the functioning of the respiratory system
We use abdominal breathing (conscious expansion and contraction of the lower abdomen) when practising Taijiquan to boost the lungs’ capacity (increase intake of oxygen). It also helps strengthen the functioning of the diaphragm, in turn, encourage better flow of blood and oxygen through various organs.
Increased range of expansion on the diaphragm encourage movements of organs in the body, thus helps strengthen the functioning of organs and the digestive system.
- positive effect on muscles and bones
Good practice of Taijiquan requires the body to be upright and centred, steps to be steady and light, joints to be flexible and relaxed. These helps practitioners build a good body postures, increase flexibility, improve coordination and minimised joints and bones related problems (osteoporosis, arthritis etc.).
Most of the movements in Taijiquan are performed in various stances, these stances have positive effect on muscles in the lower limbs. Regular practice of the 24 step Taijiquan will help improve muscle tones, enhance one’s stamina and delay the aging process.
Key points to better practice
The 24 Step Taijiquan offers tremendous health benefits. but in order to maximise these benefits, it is vital we practise in a more systematic and correct manner.
We can categorise the practice of the 24 step Taijiquan into three stages of progression, foundation stage (learning and remembering postures, focus is on body and limbs), improvement stage (coordination and use of waist and legs) and instinctive stage (expressing emptiness and solidness, hardness and softness and mind / intention leads the movements).
The foundation stage is like learning calligraphy, every stroke should be slow and careful to make sure all steps are performed properly. Eyes, hands, body, feet, legs should be well coordinated. Practising every move slowly, check on postures, coordination regular will help lay a good foundation for future progression.
The essentials in this stage include;
- Body relax and mind calm - 24 Step Taijiquan is an exercise of both mind and body, it seeks stillness within motion. Practitioners regulate their minds, relieve their tensions and clear their thought in the exercise.
But very often beginners believe that practise well means practise hard and excessive force is need, They end up tense and breathless. In order to bring the body and mind into the right state for practice, it is important to keep the body relaxed and the mind focused.
- Body upright and centred – When practising Taijiquan, Practitioners are required to maintain good body postures and alignments. Many people, due to long term bad habits, raise their shoulders, hunch their back, duck their head, bend their back. These bad habits result in rigid postures, unnecessary leaning body and sticking out of the buttocks.
It is vital to consciously check and correct body postures when practising to avoid these bad habits. In the long run, practitioners will establish a habit of maintaining good postures. Thus improve or minimise the risk of postural defect or illness.
- Accurate movements and detail steps – The 24 Step Taijiquan has clear teaching materials with in-depth step by step instructions, beginners need to practise every move in detail and execute every step clearly. This way beginners will lay a solid and effective path for future progression.
- Agile step and steady movements – Apart from a few movements where practitioners rise up and creep down, most movements are required to practise stances along with the same level. Both legs take turns to support body weight.
Some beginners try too hard to make their stances low, but their legs are too weak to support the body weight and end up very rigid and wobbly. Some beginners don’t even bend their legs at all and end up strolling. In both situations, none of the health benefits have been achieved. It is therefore essential to build up the strength on the legs through stance exercises. Once the legs are strong movements will become agile, the step will become steady and graceful.
- Extended and soft – Beginners are often too rigid or too soft (feeble) when practising Taijiquan. Taiji postures should be like an inflated balloon, soft but nicely extended. The energy in our body is like the air in the balloon, which gently pushes outward to all directions. We describe this in Taiji as “Hardness within softness”
Beginners may find the inner essence difficult to grasp, but should still try to practise the postures in such a manner that they are soft but not feeble, extended but not rigid.
After grasping all the essentials of the foundation stage, beginners will enter the improvement stage. This stage focuses on raising practitioners' skills and further understand the key essentials, thus making the practice of the 24 step more comprehensive, continuous, even-paced and smooth delivery of strength and energy.
The essentials in the improvement stage include;
- Coordination from top to bottom – All Taijiquan styles emphasise good coordination of the hands, eyes, head, and steps, all part of the body united as one. Every posture requires different parts of the body to move in certain way in order to make the posture more effective and coordinated.
When practising, practitioners often focus on one part but forget the other, limbs and body move in their own separate ways. This is called broken strength in Taiji. It is imperative for practitioners to study in-depth on timing, pace and coordination of each part of the body in order to achieve high degree of coordination and comprehension.
- Smooth and agile movements – good demonstration of postures with smoothness and agility represent good standard of practice. It not only requires high degree of coordination between the limbs, but also the use of the waist.
The Taiji saying goes “root is on the feet, execution is on the hands, but they are all determined by the waist”. Practitioners therefore need to work on the better coordination of the waist with other parts of the body in order to make movement smooth and synchronised.
- Continuous and comprehensive – When practising the 24 step Taijiquan, it is important to shown continuity and good connection between postures. The transition between movements should be visible but not distinctive and broken. This means “posture has ended but strength hasn’t, strength has ended but the intention hasn’t”.
At this stage, practitioners should focus on intention and visualisation before the waist and limbs.
The instinctive stage is a stage where practitioners have to grasp the inner essence of the first 2 stages, their focus will now be on harmonious unification of the body and mind, internal and external, Qi (energy) and strength;
- The mind leads the body and clear segregation and of emptiness and solidness – at this level practitioner is like a singer, rather than singing the words or sounding the tunes, he/she will be express the inner feeling of the song.
This means practitioner is focusing more on the internal expression of the postures, using intention / mind to lead the movements. Every opening and closing, emptiness and solidness are shown naturally from the inside.
- Qi fills the body and Qi and strength united as one – At the beginning practitioners should use natural breathing to minimise the problem of breathless or holding breath during training. In this stage, we should consciously use breathing in coordination with movements, which means we breathe in or out according to the need of the postures.
Adding the intention of the mind, Qi (energy) will flow with the movements and fills the whole body like an inflated balloon. This way the mind, the Qi and the strength will unite as one and Taiji practice becomes natural and instinctive.
- Spirit is high, the body is relaxed and graceful – all movements and postures become natural and every step is precise. The whole body feels light and yet steady, effortless yet powerful, the mind is relaxed yet focussed.
Movements will be like the flowing stream, subtle yet expressive. Postures will be like mountains, solid yet graceful. Transitions will be like clouds, smooth and continuous.
There may only be 24 postures in the 24 step Taijiquan, but all the requirements and inner essence in practising this routine are the same as any traditional long-form.
I have taught this routine in the UK & Europe for more than 20 years. and regularly conduct seminars throughout Europe. I am very pleased that many enthusiasts, with high standard of the 24 step Taijiquan, attended my seminars because they feel there are so much details and essence to learn.
However, a small number of practitioners have the wrong perception that the 24 step Taijiquan is a beginner’s routine, there is no need to pay too much attention to detail and essentials. Their practice become as what Taiji critics described “simply waving hands about with no substance or finesse”.
As my family tradition passed down from my great uncle Li Tian Ji and my father Professor Li De Yin, I hold the 24 Step Taijiquan routine dearly in my heart. And I believed that in order to reap the maximum benefits of the 24 step Taijiquan, it is imperative to study every detail, practise with diligence, patience and determination. Master each posture before progressing onto the next.
Finally, Taiji practice is a lifetime of passion, which brings great pleasure and tremendous health benefits. Practise the 24 step Taijiquan will enable Taiji enthusiasts to attain a solid foundation for future progress, and grasp the inner essence and finesse of one of China’s greatest treasures ever made available to the world.
The 24 step simplified Taijiquan consists of 24 representational postures from traditional Yang style Taijiquan, below is the sequence of the routine (in English & Chinese Pronunciations);
1. Opening stance / Qi Shi
2. Part the horse mane (left & right) / Ye Ma Fen Zong
3. White crane spreads it’s wings / Bai He Liang Chi
4. Brush knee, twist steps / Lou Xi Ao Bu
5. Strum the lute / Shou Hui Pi Ba
6. Repulse the monkey (left & right) / Dao Zhuang Gong
7. Grasp the peacock’s tail (left) / Zuo Lan Que Wei
8. Grasp the peacock’s tail (right) / You Lan Que Wei
9. Single whip / Dan Bian
10. Waving hands like clouds / Yun Shou
11. Single whip / Dan Bian
12. High pat the horse / Gao Tan Ma
13. Right heel kick / You Deng Jiao
14. Double punch to the Ears / Shuang Feng Guan Er
15. Turn round and left heel kick / Zhuang Shen Zuo Deng Jiao
16. Creep down and golden cock stand on one leg (left) / Zuo Xia Shi Du Li
17. Creep down and golden cock stand on one leg (right) / You Xia Shi Du Li
18. Fair lady works the shuttle (left & right) / Zuo You Yu Nv Chuan Shuo
19. Needle at the bottom of the sea / Hai Di Zhen
20. Fan through back / Shan Tong Bi
21. turn round block, parry and punch / Zhuang Shen Ban Lan Chui
22. Apparent close up / Ru Feng Si Bi
23. Cross hand / Shi Zi Shou
24. Close stance / Shou Shi