Tai Chi Competition and the Competition Forms

Synopsis: Tai Chi or Taijiquan will be a part of the year 2008 Olympics. The sets of Tai Chi Forms to be performed would most likely be the Combined 42 Competition Forms (also known as The Competition Forms, The 42 Forms and The 42 Steps). It was created for major competitions and has been the most sought after prize in all major international competitions. This set of Forms is suitable for almost anyone and is gaining popularity rapidly since its creation in 1990. This article outlines its background and structure, as well as other aspects of Tai Chi.

The Author - Dr Paul Lam

Dr Paul Lam studied Tai Chi with Professor Men Hui Feng, the creator of the 42 Forms, for many years. He was in Beijing at the time when Professor Men was working on The 42 Forms; they had several discussions on its structure and inner meanings. Later Dr Lam won a gold medal for The 42 Forms at the third International Tai Chi Competition (Beijing 1993).

You can obtain more information about Dr Lam in Internet at www.taichiproductions.com

What is a Set of Tai Chi Forms?

Tai Chi is a powerful art of immense depth; the set of Forms or the routine is the foundation of this art. One cannot imagine practising Tai Chi without doing one set of Forms or another. According to Yang Chan Fu (who is known by many as the modern father of Tai Chi in the 30's) "to start learning Tai Chi you have to start with the Forms". There are many styles of Tai Chi, and within each style, it has different Forms.


 Dr Paul Lam Forms 16 Heel Kick

The Advantage of Understanding the Background and Structure of a Set of Forms

To learn a set of Forms it is helpful and interesting to understand its structure and background history. Like an artist playing a musical composition, it is possible to play the music well, but to play it as a piece of art it becomes necessary to understand the inner meaning, the composer's intention and the structure of the piece. It is a good idea for us to know as much as possible about a set of Forms before learning it, even if we were not learning it, we will learn something about Tai Chi from its background history.

History of Tai Chi and Forms

Tai Chi utilises techniques that could date back to more than a thousand years. However, the accountable history of Tai Chi dates back to the 16th Century in the Chen Village in Wen Xian County, Henan Province. Like most great arts, which survive and improve with the passage of time, Tai Chi went through a great deal of change. With the passage of time, the needs of society changes and Tai Chi has evolved to meet the challenges of time. For example, the need for self defence is of less importance nowadays, so Tai Chi has been proven to be one of the most effective (if not the most effective) exercise for health.

Professor Men and Kan Pushing Hands

From Chen style comes Yang style created by Yang Luchan, from both Chen and Yang styles other styles such as Sun, Wu and Wu Style have originated. Some of these older Forms have certain problems in modern time. For instance, the Chen style has two sets of Forms, the first set is the 83 Forms (known in Chinese as the first road) and it takes approximately 35 minutes to complete these Forms. The second set (The Cannon Fists) is harder and more vigorous. It was said that if you work hard at the 83 Forms full time for three years, then you are ready to learn the second set. This may be suitable if we make Tai Chi a University course. Students can study the first set full time for three years as a Bachelor degree, then make the second set a post-graduate degree. While many enthusiasts would like to see this made reality, for most of us, this is not possible. Take another example, the classical Yang style, the 88 Forms takes approximately 30 to 40 minutes to practise, not to mention how long it will take to learn. After learning it, if you were to practise just three rounds of the set per day then you will need approximately two hours. Most of our students will find it difficult to devote 2 hours per day for practise, not to mention the motivation needed.

The Origin of the First Combined Forms; the 48 Forms

After the creation of The 24 Forms (the most popular Forms in the world, created by 4 Chinese experts in order to popularise Tai Chi), there came a growing demand for more difficult Forms for the purposes of further studies and demonstration. In 1976, the Combined 48 Forms were created by three Tai Chi experts headed by Professor Men Hui Feng.

The combined Forms were created based on combining and condensing classical Forms of the four major styles, namely Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun. The idea was to take the best of all styles and to express these in a short space of time, not unlike the Reader's Digest condensed version of classical novels. This idea proved to be popular and effective. In the space age, we want to learn everything quickly, and to obtain the maximal benefits within minimal time. This is not meant to negate the need of time and patience to learn and practice Tai Chi. It is possible to achieve a specific goal with less time if we define our goal clearly and plan carefully.

Professor Men Form 33 Body Thrust with Half Horse Stance

The Origin of the 42 Forms

Later as Tai Chi became more popular, competition flourished, especially within China. When there is competition there are always rules and time limit becomes an important issue. The practical time limit is set on six minutes for most competitions in China. Competitors usually condense their choice of Forms to six minutes, so in a competition every competitor will be performing different sets of Forms. This creates difficulties for setting a standard especially when the competitors are very close in their skills.

In the late eighties, the Chinese Sports Committee realised the need to standardise competition Forms. It had chosen the four major styles and combined Forms. These five sets of Forms were created by different teams of experts, and later approved by a committee of Tai Chi experts in China. All sets of Forms thus created were named after their style, e.g., the Chen Style National Competition Forms is the 56 Forms, and so on. The combined Forms are The 42 Forms or simply the Competition Forms, as it is known in China. Since the creation of these Forms, they become the essential and most sought-after sets for competitions. The Chinese Sports Authority has made books and videos for these Forms.

The immense popularity of The 42 Forms since its creation is an indication of how well it was composed. In October 1990, the 11th Asian Games were held in Beijing, China. For the first time in the history of the Asian Games, Wushu (martial arts) was included as an item for competition. The 42 Forms is the only Forms being chosen to represent Tai Chi. Naturally this set will be the official Forms in the year 2008 Olympics Games.

In fact, the creation of these sets has much greater benefits than being useful in competitions. Standardised sets have positive effects on improvement of the art in general. Like the standardising of the Chinese languages by the Qing dynasty, it had a huge historical significance. If China did not have the standardisation of language, the language would not have developed so well, nor the culture and unity of China. Of course standardising any thing has negative effects too, many consider in terms of Tai Chi development, it has much more positive than the negative influence.

Form 7 Parry and Turn to Punch

Background history of The 42 Forms

A very brief description of The 42 Forms is that it is a condensed version of The 48 Forms, and is based mainly on The 48 Forms. One of the main differences is that where are three repetitions in The 48 Forms, The 42 Forms has only two.

The Structure of the 42 Forms

The 42 Forms contains the essential principles and important characteristics of the four major styles, retains the traditional principles of Tai Chi, is rich in content and technique, meticulous constructed and is fully compliant with competition rules.

In terms of structure, it follows the general principle of The 24 Forms but with some significant differences. It starts with Form 2 Stroking Birds Tail immediately after the Form 1 Commencing Form. This movement displays technique and style to attract peoples' (for both the practitioner and the spectator) interest and attention, yet it still provides gentle stretching of the upper and lower body. The rest of the first section also serves as a warm up but with movements that are more substantial than those of the 24 Forms.

 Form 17 Cover with Hand and Punch with Fist

The second section starts with the Sun style's Form 11 Opening and Closing, not only is this the most characteristic movement of the Sun style, it also signifies the importance of Qigong within the set. Near the end of this section, the first climax appears with the Form 17 Cover with Hand and Punch with Fist and Forms 18 Parting Wild Horse's Mane from the more vigorous Chen style. Since there are more contents in The 42 Forms, two climaxes are needed. Section 3 starts with Form 19 Waving Hands Like Clouds, a slower and easier movement to break up the intensity, then to more difficult movements to prepare for the next. The second climax starts with the fourth section by the movements such as Form 32 Body Thrust with half Horse Stance, Form 33 Turn Body with Full Roll-Back and Forms 34 Hold and Punch in Crossed Squatting Stance. Then logically the winding down comes in to finished off with another Form 40 Stroking Bird's Tail on the other side.


Throughout the Forms the balance of the body is well maintained by giving roughly equal numbers of movements for both sides (many of the traditional Forms only have the right-side movements). Each movement is carefully composed to provide suitable exercise for all parts of the body, to improve mental relaxation and mental concentration, to acquire a wide range of Tai Chi techniques and to improve the function of all internal organs.

Form 33 Turn Body with Full Roll-Back


The Composition of 42 Forms

While the 42 Forms is the combination of four major styles, each style is not represented in equal proportion, the majority of the Forms are Yang style. Being the most popular style, which is characterised by gentle and graceful movements, it is appropriate for Yang’s to be the main building blocks of the set.

Form 11 Opening and Closing of Hands, Forms 12 Single Whip, Forms 14 Turn Body and Push Palm are Sun style. They are characterised by flowing movement like water in a stream, much Qigong (Chi Gong) practise such as Form 11, and whenever one foot stepping forward or backward the other foot follows. Practitioners of Yang style will notice the significant difference of Form 12 in Sun and the Yang styles.

Form 17 Cover with Hand and Punch with Fist, Form 18 Parting Wild Horse’s Mane and Form 32 Body Thrust with Half Horse Stance are Chen Style. Chen is characterised by being more vigorous, containing attacking movements and more obvious self defence application. Punching movements are abundant in Chen style and Form 17 is a typical example of them.

Forms 20 Step Back to Subdue Tiger, Forms 21 Kicking with Toes Forward, Form 34 Hold and Punch in Crossed Squatting Stance and Forms 35 Thread Palm and Lowering Movements are Wu style, which is characterised by close to body movements and agile steps.

Form 39 Drawing Bow to Shoot Tiger


The Pros of the 42 Forms

It is amazing to have a set of Forms, which embraces four major styles yet have its own life and spirit. It is rich in contents and techniques yet easy enough for almost anyone to learn.

It also did well to:

Express and emphasise the fundamental requirements of Tai Chi such as tranquillity and a relaxed body, internal component (mental, or your will) leads the external movement of the body and softness compliments the hardness.

Retains the traditional principles of Tai Chi.

Incorporates the knowledge of modern medical science so that the Forms become more balanced, physiologically sound and more health oriented.

To do all these within six minutes is a great achievement.

The Cons of the 42 Forms

It is very hard to think of any negative point for The 42 Forms, perhaps the beginners might find it easier to learn The 24 Forms first before starting on the 42 Forms, as it is more difficult. It is a relatively "young" set, therefore has not been scientifically tested for it's health benefits. Although based on our knowledge of medicine and Tai Chi, many believe it should have greater benefits than The 24 Forms. For non-competition purpose, I slightly prefer The 48 Forms because it allows more time to express the contents and it is more balanced on both side of the body.

While the competition time limit is 6 minutes, which does not allow a fuller expression of slowness with inner force, for normal practise it is recommended to do the Forms from 6 to 10 minutes.


The 42 Forms is well created with a great deal of thought and work. It contains a rich mixture of styles and techniques, yet breathes its own life as a wonderfully integrated set of Forms. It is designed to be suitable from the novice to the most advanced practitioners, fulfilling the modern needs, offering maximal benefits and techniques in a minimal time. Being beautiful to watch and practise, The 42 Forms has certainly proven to be very popular with many Tai Chi enthusiasts.

NB: The 42 Combined Forms instructional videos by Dr Lam are available through East Acton Videos, the set is divided into Volume 1 and 2, which can be learned and practised independently or together. Call 02 9533 6511 for enquires.



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