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The 42 Step Form (Competition Form) of T’ai Chi ch’uan (Taijiquan)

This is the standard Wushu (Chinese martial arts) competition form that combines movements drawn from the Yang, Wu, Chen, and Sun styles of traditional T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan). It was developed principally by grandmaster Li De Yin in 1989 in collaboration with members of the Chinese Sports Committee. The 42 Step Form has been criticized as a hybrid, incorporating styles that work with completely different dynamics and movement signatures. Of course, it can be made to look very beautiful when performed for competitions and demonstrations. For training T’ai chi as a martial art or for health benefits, it is better to stick to a traditional form.

At the 11th Asian Games in 1990, Wushu was included as an item for competition for the first time with the 42 Step Form being chosen to represent T’ai Chi.

It was also the official form in the year 2008 Olympics Games, held in China. This could be seen as diplomatic compromise as the form is based on all four main T’ai Chi styles. The 42 Step Form is itself a condensed version of the 48 Step Form, and is based mainly on The 48. One of the main differences is that where there are three repetitions in the 48 Step Form, the 42 Step Form has only two repetitions.

Grasp-the-sparrows-tail

Eddie Wu demonstrating "Grasp the Sparrows Tail" at a tournament, 1998

It starts with section two ‘Grasp Sparrows Tail’, immediately after the section one Commencing Form. The second section starts with the Sun style’s Section eleven ‘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 section seventeen ‘Cover with Hand’ and ‘Punch with Fist’ and section eighteen ‘Parting Wild Horse’s Mane’ from the more vigorous Chen style.

 Section three starts with Form nineteen ‘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 thirty-two ‘Body Thrust with Half Horse Stance’, Form section thirty-three ‘Turn Body with Full Roll-Back’ and section thirty-four ‘Hold and Punch in Crossed Squatting Stance’. Then logically the winding down comes in to finish off with another ‘Grasp Sparrows Tail’ on the other side.

Section eleven ‘Opening and Closing of Hands’, Form twelve ‘Single Whip’, section fourteen ‘Turn Body and Push Palm’ are Sun style. They are characterized by flowing movement, like water in a stream, much Qigong (Chi Gong) practice such as section eleven, and whenever one foot is stepping forward or backward the other foot follows. Practitioners of Yang style will notice the significant difference of section twelve in Sun and the Yang styles.

Section seventeen ‘Cover with Hand’ and ‘Punch with Fist’, section eighteen ‘Parting Wild Horse’s Mane’ and section thirty two ‘Body Thrust with Half Horse Stance’ are Chen Style. Chen is characterized by being more vigorous, containing attacking movements and more obvious self-defence application. Punching movements are frequent in Chen style.

Section twenty ‘Step Back to Subdue Tiger’, section twenty one ‘Kicking with Toes Forward’, Section thirty four: ‘Hold and Punch in Crossed Squatting Stance’, and section thirty five ‘Thread Palm’ and ‘Lowering Movements’ are Wu style, which is characterized by close-to-body movements and agile steps.

One of the basic criticisms of competition style T’ai chi, whichever form is used, is that there is too much emphasis on flowery exaggerated movements and that the form must be performed too quickly, usually six minutes, so the energy is wrong, and rooting skills are not apparent.

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