The Yang Tai Chi Short Form taught at the Red Panda Tai Chi Institute is a form I created in 2017 for my class at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Needham, MA. It originally consisted of 14 postures, but in its new and improved(!) manifestation for its debut in 2024, I added two more postures. The characteristics of this form fall in between the mainstream, familiar Yang style tai chi, and the 37-Movement Short Form created by Cheng Man-Ching (CMC).
So what's the difference between these two influences, and why did I choose the middle ground between them?
CMC studied with Yang Chengfu, the grandson of Yang style founder Yang Luchan. So it's not wrong to say that CMC's form is Yang style. In fact, many CMC schools simply advertise themselves as teaching Yang style. But to me, the CMC form is different enough that I consider it a distinct, unique style.
For those of you who want to nerd out on the differences between the two, here are two excellent articles, one written by J. Justin Meehan and another by Robert Chuckrow.
If you want the nutshell version of some of the key differences:
Yang tai chi is closer to a "large frame" style with bigger, more open postures that "lean in" to the martial intention, whereas CMC style I would call "medium frame," staying more vertical, less forward, and placing great emphasis on sinking and releasing, or song.
CMC took the concept of song further in the hands, keeping the wrists relaxed and straight, in what is known as the "Fair Maiden's Hand." The CMC lineage of my teacher's school, the Tree of Life Tai Chi Center (TOL) takes it even further still, with a floppy wrist in such moves as Press, and Brush Knee and Twist Step. (CMC did not flop his wrists to this degree.) But what CMC did do, which TOL does not, is relax his hands to such a degree that some might consider them "dead"and "lifeless." (More on this in a future post.) In my short form I have grabbed all three concepts from CMC and TOL, emphasizing relaxation in the hands to the greatest extreme.
There is another stark difference between the two. When changing bow stance from one direction to another, Yang style shifts 100% back and turns the front toes in to set up the rear foot of the new bow stance. This is what happens in the majority of tai chi styles worldwide. CMC style, however, shifts 100% forward, steps 90 degrees (and sometimes 135 degrees!) with the rear foot, then shifts weight and turns the original front foot inward. This can have the benefit of expanding hip flexibility, but if done improperly or without enough hip flexibility — as is often the case — it can strain the knees. I have chosen to discard CMC's way of changing bow stances, and stick with the more conventional, knee-friendly method.