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Tian Yingjia - Evolution of the Middle Frame in the Early Yang Family

Here's another fantastic article from Tian Family Taijiquan on the Evolution of the Form.

Pay particular attention to the emphasis on neigong and internal methods. A great read!

Evolution of the Middle Frame in the Early Yang Family

by Tian Yingjia
Translated by James Yuan with LeRoy Clark

The original practice frame of Yang Luchan and his sons was the small frame set.It is also the case there is really only one frame of taijiquan. The whole set of the original small frame set was comprised of sixty-four movements. That training focuses not on the physical appearance but rather on the mind (Yi). The stance is higher than the other frames and the stepping is also smaller for the small frame practice. The bigness or smallness, greater or lesser circling in the small frame set is led by qi. The circles may sometimes be seen but at other times are not seen.It is as if the circles sometimes exist and sometimes are non-existent.This is due entirely to the movement inside one’s body.

Fajin is mind-based in the practice frame. The heng/ha sounds of the internal heard when doing fajin will be uncomfortable to one's hearing and ears. Further, the movement appears sometimes slow, sometimes quick, other times hard, yet other times soft. It is no wonder a learner has such difficulty catching the true requirement and the essence.This is because the change of each motion can not be described by mere words, rather, it is done entirely and only in accordance to the changing of jins.

The original middle frame of the Yang family was finalized by Yang Luchan's third son, Jianhou. It was created originally to facilitate learners in acquiring the small frame practice. The whole set of the original family middle frame is made up of ninety postures and is divided into three sections. The first section is comprised of fifteen postures. The second section has thirty three postures. The third and last section is made-up of forty two postures.

A feature of the middle frame is that of being gentle, slow, and using extended movement. The stance holds four levels. Middle frame practice demands administering qi and running jin through the exchange of gestures smoothly and coherently in the movement transitions. This practice is completely in accordance with the natural rule of human action in self cultivation of intelligent life. Therefore, the middle frame does possess an efficacy of promoting one’s internal energy (neigong) as well as making the body robust, and acquire an ability to avoid disease. The practice also helps to prolong one's life in a positive manner. Usually when one's neigong develops to a high level, the surface of the body will be pliable while the interior is strong, and qi will be accumulated on the skin. The arms are then felt to be heavy and soft as well as sticky when countering the movement of another person. An adept's demonstration will bring awe and admiration to one's heart. It is the natural cultivation of intelligent life.

The middle frame may be practiced in a complex manner or in a simplified manner, i.e., either with difficulty or done easily. One may practice the whole set or one or two sections according to one's health and intention. Previously, Yang family principals mostly adapted the practice according to the aptitude and level of the person being taught. If the learner were strong, he was required to begin with the basic skill, circling, and circulating the qi and jin. Step by step, stage by stage, persevering over time, the learner would gradually arrive at a level of perspicacity that with continued perseverance enabled him to achieve the needed epiphany required for learning at the small frame practice level. This small frame level represents knowledge painfully acquired.

When a student learns taijiquan only for health, practicing only the first section is quite sufficient. The stance is started high and is made lower over a period of time. Circling is omitted in the beginning. Regulation of the breathing also is added but only little by little, one step at a time. Later, the learner may start to practice the second section or even the third section as well as learning the circling movements according to the student’s aptitude and willingness. If the student is weak, he would be taught only the first section without any circling. The stance would be high. Over time his health would benefit with the smoothening of the bodily meridians and the improved circulation of qi and blood. Actually, the 88-gesture set of the Yang style popularized today is merely a simplified version that evolved from the 90-gesture middle frame set.

Some people assert that taijiquan is also a sort of qigong. This is true, however, it is also well said and true that taijiquan is actually a kind of walking qigong. The regulation of breathing and the administration of qi are natural and are to be coordinated with other movements.Breathing and qi should never be contrived or mechanical. Only if the gestures are performed correctly and the convergence of the gesture is smooth and coherent, can qi then go through the arteries and veins freely and naturally. Thus, the operation of the qi will not go awry or astray and to possibly lead to an illness. To the contrary, the more of that correct practice, the more one develops efficacy.

Later, Great Master Jianhou, during the process of teaching taijiquan, enlarged and slowed the circling of the small frame, making it sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, but always caused by movement inside the body, i.e., the reeling silk jin. Jianhou demanded that each gesture be done clearly, distinctly in order for the learner to better understand the full implication of the circling. Then, he modified the postures further,
making them lower and slower. He properly added some necessary movements to promote and strengthen the learner's basic skill and his internal energy, i.e., the learner’s neigong. After a period of practice, Jianhou would require the learner to train circulating qi and jin while doing gesture movements. Gradually the middle frame evolved into the advanced middle frame of Yang Jianhou’s mature years.

It is quite difficult to accurately describe the correct practice of the middle frame thoroughly because of the complex nature of the complete practice. For example, circling, regulating the breath, running jin, and the exchange of gestures, and last but not least, adding the interior energy (neijin) to the movements. It is even more difficult to explain small frame movement. Thus, there have been exceedingly few clear, concise
writings on the esoterically complex small frame up to now. In order for the taiji enthusiast to better understand features of the middle frame practice, I shall try my utmost to explain the first section of the middle frame as explained in minute detail to me by my father Tian Zhaolin. He was the direct and very close student of Yang Jianhou, the son of Yang Luchan, and constant companion and closest friend of Yang Shaohou. His explanations to me were based on his direct experience with Yang Jianhou and his son Yang Shaohou as well as his experience having taught taijiquan for many years. An upcoming article on the first section of Jianhou's middle frame set shall include a description of the movements and common applications. While I sincerely attempt to convey my father's meaning, my effort is far from perfect and I beg your patience.