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The first form is the most important part of the Chen Taijiquan training system. I would like to let you know a bit about its history, its roots, the names of the movements and so on so you get a general overview.

We don't call it old frame (laojia) nor new frame (xinjia), but Chenshi Taijiquan Gongfujia Yilu

The first road of Chen Family Taijiquan (or 一路 yilu) is probably the most traditional form of Taijiquan (Tai-Chi), from which the other family styles Yang, Wú / Hao, Wu and Sun developed. All the widely practised, modern short forms, such as the 9 movments form, the 18 movements form, the 19 movements form and so on all originate from this first road.

Though there is nothing wrong about short forms in general we don't teach any of these as we don't think they are of too much help to learn Taijiquan. That's more a matter of didactics than of anything else. The traditional first form creates the physical-mental basis for the correct practice and contains most of the relevant methods of Taijiquan so we rather teach the original road - segmented into different sections - than additional short forms for beginners. With our method of teaching one can practice certain sections basically like short forms, but the advantage is you can just move on from section to section if you want to continue and you don't have to learn a completely new choreography.

Outside of the close family of Chen Fake, Chen Zhaokui and Chen Yu and their students and disciples in Beijing the form is often referred to as 新架 xinjia, the new frame. I personally don't care too much, but in our family line this is a misnomer, and not used by any of the family members who preserved this method and their direct lineage. For us, it is basically only a name used by outsiders who do not practise it according to our methodology. 

How many movements are in the first road?

We practice a form with 83 movement sequences that was only passed on within the close family until the 1970s. Chen Yu added six names (not movements!) to this choreography in order to more clearly distinguish certain movement transitions. The sequence of the form basically follows the sequence which was written down in the old manuals. At the time of Chen Changxing the first road probably had 63 movements. There is a note saying: "Taijiquan is also called the main boxing form or the 'thirteen
dynamics', which is namely the 'thirteen bends' or the 'thirteen foldings'."

The movement names were originally recorded in a kind of verse form so that students could remember the movements. Oftentimes the movements consisted of four characters and thus four syllables. Most martial artists in the 18th and 19th centuries were illiterate and could not read or write well so this method enabled them to memorise the names, but also sometimes led to confusions about certain characters which could mean several different things or which were pronounced in a very similar way, as Chinese contains a lot of homonyms.

What contents and methods do you train in the first form?

In contrast to the second road of Chen-Style Taijiquan, the first road is usually trained in a rather calm way. This calmness sometimes hides the actual intensity of the training, the physical exertion plus the awareness needed to fill all the movements and the requirements all movements should display. Every movement also has the potential of a controlled explosive movement (发 劲 fajin).

This first road develops basic building blocks for our practice: the three external connections (外 三合 waisanhe), the internal ones (内 三合 neisanhe), expansive force (棚 力 pengli), spiral force (缠绕 chanrao or 缠 丝 chansi), the forces of peng lü, ji, an, cai, lie, zhou, kao, internal and external connect, etc. All the relevant methods are practically ground into the movement sequences and are taught by the teacher while the student learns the external form. That is, the teacher does so if he has been taught these methods himself.

Gongfu (Kungfu) and internal strength!

In Chinese martial arts circles it was quite common to not necessarily to convey the ideas (意 yi) and concepts of internal strength (内劲 neijin) of the individual movements to all students. Sometimes only their external shape would be taught. Actually, however, every movement, no matter how small, contains an idea that fills the whole movement so that gongfu - a high level of skill after appropriate training - can be developed. If the form is taught in this way and every movement is "full". Then we can speak about the so-called gongfujia, the "kungfu" frame. That is the main idea of ​​our training. The focus is not on the choreography, but on the contents and ultimately the gongfu to be developed from the practice. Running a form slowly can take about 50-60 minutes. Of course you can also practise it faster, then it might be less strenuous, but it will also have certain effects.

The origin of the movement names

The choreographies and movement sequences are usually called "taolu", "lu" or "jia", in English we can translate these as "forms", "roads" or "frames". These are further subdivided into individual positions, which are usually called "shi" (either 势 or 式) in Chinese. Each position owes its name to a certain "corner point" or "end point", or a special technique which is deemed as a dominant movement in the whole sequence. Normally, however, not only these characteristic corner points, but the entire respective sequence of movements, that is from the previous position to the following position, is being referred to as "shi". 

One can assume that the corner points have changed a bit over the course of time. And the names also changed from time to time and from teacher to teacher. Please remember: very few martial artists were able to write and read back then. Rather, you had to remember all positions and names. Sound shifts and mix-ups (especially in the Chinese language, which uses so many identical syllables) were almost inevitable. In the translation we can only approximate the original meaning, since many terms are so old that even Chinese people without knowledge of "kung-fu" can hardly understand them today. We drafted this translation after many fruitful discussions, trying to consider cultural-historical perspectices and also movement-related issues, plus heeding some translations we have become used to in the Western world since our exposure to Chen Taijiquan.

Names of the Chen Taijiquan 83 form (89 form) 

1. 預備式 Yu bei shi

Preparation

2. 起式 Qi shì

Commencing move

3. 金刚捣碓 Jingang dao dui

Buddha’s warrior pounds mortar

4. 懒扎衣 Lan zha yi

Lazily tying coat

5. 六封四闭 Liu feng si bi

Six times sealed, four times closed

6. 单鞭 Dan bian

Single whip

7. 第二个金刚捣碓 Di er ge jingang dao dui

Buddha’s warrior pounds mortar (end of section 1)

8. 白鹤亮翅 Bai he liang chi

White crane reveals its wings

9. 斜行 Xie xing

Oblique walking

10. 初收 Chu shou

First gathering

11. 前膛拗步 Qian tang ao bu

Wade forward and twist step

12. 第二个斜行 Di er ge xie xing

Second oblique walking

13. 再收 Zai shou

Second gathering

14. 第二前膛拗步 Di er ge qian tang ao bu

Wade forward and twist step, second time

15. 掩手肱捶 Yan shou gong chui

Cover with your hand and strike with your upper arm (hidden punch)

16. 十字手 Shizi shou

Cross hands

17. 第三个金刚捣碓 Di san ge jingang dao dui

Buddha’s warrior pounds mortar (end of section 2)

18. 庇身捶 (背折靠) Bi shen chui (Bei zhe kao)

Cover the body and strike (the back folds and strikes)

19. 青龙出水 Qing long chu shui

The blue-green dragon shoots out of the water

20. 双推掌 Shuang tui zhang

Double palm push

21. 三换掌 San huan zhang

Three palm changes

22. 肘底捶 Zhou di chui

Punch under the elbow

23. 倒卷肱 Dao juan gong

Turn around and roll in upper arms

24. 退步压肘 Tui bu ya zhou

Step back and press down with your elbow

25. 中盘 Zhong pan

Middle winding

26. 白鹤亮翅 Bai he liang chi

White crane reveals its wings

27. 斜行拗步 Xie xing ao bu

Oblique walking

28. 闪通背 Shan tong bei

Dodge through the back

29. 掩手肱捶 Yan shou gong chui

Cover with your hand and strike with your upper arm

30. 大六封四闭 Da liu feng si bi

Six times sealed, four times closed (big)

31. 单鞭 Dan bian

Single whip

32. 运手 Yun shou

Circling hands

33. 高探马 Gao tanma

Mounted scout (end of section 3)

34. 右擦脚 You ca jiao

Wipe the right foot

35. 左擦脚 Zuo ca jiao

Wipe the left foot

36. 转身左蹬脚 Zhuan shen zuo deng jiao

Turn and kick with the left heel

37. 前膛拗步 Qian tang ao bu

Wade forward and twist step

38. 击地锤 Ji di chui

Punch down

39. 翻身二起脚 (神仙一把抓) Fan shen er qi jiao (Shenxian yi ba zhua )

Turn body and kick with both feet (the immortal takes hold)

40. 护心锤 Hu xin chui

Protect the heart and strike

41. 旋风脚 Xuan feng jiao

Tornado kick

42. 右蹬一根 You deng yi gen

Right heel kick

43. 海底翻花 Hai di fan hua

Turn the flower on the seabed

44. 掩手肱锤 Yan shou gong chui

Cover with your hand and strike with your upper arm (end of section 4)

45. 小擒打 Xiao qin da

Small capture and punch

46. 抱头推山 (金丝缠腕) Bao tou tui shan (Jin si chan wan)

Hold head and push mountain (wrap the golden silk around the wrist)

47. 三换掌 San huan zhang

Three palm changes

48. 六封四闭 Liu feng si bi

Six times sealed, four times closed

49. 单鞭 Dan bian

Single whip

50. 前招 Qian zhao

Forward maneuver (lure forward)

51. 后招 Hou zhao

Backward maneuver (lure backward)

52. 右野马分鬃 You yema fen zong

Part the wild horse’s mane right

53. 左野马分鬃 Zuo yema fen zong

Part the wild horse’s mane left

54. 大六封四闭 Da liu feng si bi

Six times sealed, four times closed

55. 单鞭 Dan bian

Single whip

56. 双震脚 Shuang zhen jiao

Stamp with both feet

57. 玉女穿梭 Yunü chuansuo

The jade maiden works the shuttle

58. 懒扎衣 Lan zha yi

Lazily tying coat

59. 六封四闭 Liu feng si bi

Six times sealed, four times closed

60. 单鞭 Dan bian

Single whip

61. 运手 Yun shou

Circling hands

62. 双摆莲 Shuang bai lian

Double lotus kick

63. 跌叉 Die cha

Fall and split

64. 右金鸡独立 You jinji duli

The golden rooster stands on one leg, right

65. 左金鸡独立 Zuo jinji duli

The golden rooster stands on one leg, left (end of section 5)

66. 倒卷肱 Dao juan gong

Turn around and roll in your upper arms

67. 退步压肘 Tui bu ya zhou

Step back and press down with your elbow

68. 中盘 Zhong pan

Middle winding

69. 白鹤亮翅 Bai he liang chi

White crane reveals its wings

70. 斜行拗步 Xie xing ao bu

Oblique walking

71. 闪通背 Shan tong bei

Dodge through the back

72. 掩手肱锤 Yan shou gong chui

Cover with your hand and strike with your upper arm

73. 大六封四闭 Da liu feng si bi

Six times sealed, four times closed (big)

74. 单鞭 Dan bian

Single whip

75. 运手 Yun shou

Circling hands

76. 高探马 Gao tan ma

Mounted scout (end of section 6)

77. 十字单摆莲 Shizi dan bai lian

Cross hands, single lotus kick

78. 海底翻花 Hai di fan hua

Turn the flower on the seabed

79. 指裆锤 Zhi dang chui

Striking the crotch

80. 白猿献果 Bai yuan xian guo

White ape presents fruit

81. 小六封四闭 Xiao liu feng si bi

Six times sealed, four times closed (small)

82. 单鞭 Dan bian

Single whip

83. 雀地龙 Que di long

The dragon sinks to the ground

84. 上步骑麟 (上步七星) Shang bu qilin (Shang bu qi xing)

Step forward and ride the unicorn (seven stars posture)

85. 下步跨虎 Xia bu kua hu

Step back and mount the tiger

86. 转身双摆莲 Zhuan shen shuang bai lian

Turn around, double lotus kick

87. 当头炮 Dang tou pao

Hitting the head

88. 金刚捣碓 Jingang dao dui

Buddha’s warrior pounds mortar

89. 收势 Shou shì

Finish form (end of section 7)

© 2019 Daniel Barth, Peter Loughlin, Nabil Ranné and the Chen-Style Taijiquan Netzwork Germany (CTND)