Yang Tai Chi: Correcting Snake Style Form
Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 02:32PM
Bob Boyd


When I taught tiger style tai chi from 1985 – 2001, the teaching method was very simple. New students were taught the form, usually one move at a time. This was a long journey of many months, and it was always time for a handshake and congratulations when the student finally finished.

A second journey would then begin, as the student was corrected move-by-move through the form again, adding detail to the hand and foot positions as well as adjustments to the posture and stances. A student who wanted more training after this was introduced to the weapons and push hands practice. These form were also taught one move at a time and then corrected in the same manner as the tai chi form.

Corrections, corrections, and more corrections. Grandmaster Ip called this the “Teaching Style.” Students came to depend on, and look forward to, more and more corrections. Corrections kept them happy. This teaching method worked for years and years, but it came to an end when I became Grandmaster Ip's Disciple and I was taught the snake style.

Although the snake style form is also taught move-by-move to the beginner, it cannot be corrected in the same manner as the tiger style. The snake style is based on the Yang Family's thirteen principles. Principles cannot be corrected. They can only be improved by giving a student a better understanding of them. Much of this “better understanding” comes from oral teaching. I cannot correct “raising the back,” I can only help the student understand it better. I cannot correct “loosen the waist,” I can only make the student try to feel it better. Of course, I can demonstrate the movements myself, but the internal work is hard to see from the outside. This is how the Yang family kept the snake style hidden. Only the sharpest of students can see the difference between the snake style and the tiger style. Therefore, the Yang masters would often refuse to demonstrate their form in front of their students.

Oral teaching is a tradition that is as old as our civilization. It is the most effective way to present concepts and ideas. The use of parables, anecdotes, metaphors and comparisons are part of this tradition. The snake style is truly an “internal” system. It needs to be felt inside the student's body. My role as teacher is to help a student “feel” the internal dynamics of snake style. The external postures of tai chi chuan will continually become more exact and precise as the internal principles are understood and felt more deeply. This is how form is corrected in the snake style.


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