Hi Glittalogik and Wushuer,
Wushuer, thanks for the information about the Wu Family forms. I think your account could also stand for the variety that exists in the other branches of Taijiquan.
By the way, “gim” (pronounced with the “hard ‘g’” of the English word “go” and with a mid-level tone) is one way to spell the Cantonese equivalent of the Mandarin word “jian.” Both mean “sword.” As you may know, many Taiji lineages have portions that go through Hong Kong or Guangdong (Canton), where Cantonese is the dominant language. Cantonese is not spoken in the region where historical Taijiquan emerged over the last 2-3 centuries, but it is the dominant version of Chinese among most longstanding overseas Chinese communities in the U.S., in the U.K., and in many areas of Southeast Asia.
Glittalogik, I can add a little to what you posted about the Beijing Institute of Sport. My understanding is that a few decades ago government officials who were experienced in Taijiquan created shortened forms to be used almost as national callisthenic routines. I think they then also developed into competition vehicles analogous to those for figure skating.
According to my memory, the main routines had 24 or 48 movements, but many variations have been created. Like in everything else about Taijiquan, opinion differs as the relative value of these forms, compared with the traditional ones. Nothing is as simple as it appears on the surface or as complex as the full facts might suggest.
I believe that a distinctive characteristic of these forms is that they are quite symmetrical, generally repeating postures or sequences of postures to both the right and left sides. I believe that the theory was that it was healthier to exercise both sides of the body equally. For whatever reason, most of the traditional Taijiquan I have seen or read about does not seem to bother with form symmetry. I have even heard second hand that some masters claim that rigid symmetry in the form is bad for the health, since the body itself is not symmetrical (e.g., the placement of the heart and liver). Others argue the same position from a martial perspective. I am aware, however, of some who do both left and right hand versions of some “Yang Style” forms. Again, opinions differ.
The government forms were developed independently from members of the traditional families. Recently, these families were invited by the Chinese government to create new “more traditional” shortened forms. This is what I understand to be the genesis of the 49-movement Yang Style form described on this website. The 49-movement form is intended for demonstration and competition, but not as a stepping stone to or replacement for the 103-movement form. It is conservative in design, retaining all the named postures of the 103-movement form, but deleting some repetitions, altering the sequence of some postures, and creating some new posture transitions.
I understand that the Yangs have also recently created a 13-movement form to satisfy those who have clamored for something that can be performed by those whose health or mental condition do not permit study of longer forms. I think it was described elsewhere on the discussion board, but I confess to have had difficulty locating the thread. Perhaps Charla could help with this, since I believe she was involved in the discussion with Yang Jun where the form was described.
As for other forms, much could be said, in fact, probably too much for anyone’s taste. There are no generally accepted Taiji authorities, and so anyone can create a form for any purpose. Many have done so, to varying effect and impact on the greater Taiji community. If you read a lot about Taijiquan, you will hear about perhaps a dozen bare-hand forms or families of forms that pretty much represent the breadth of the art and that have some notoriety. Many more than this exist, however, probably even within the limited confines of “Yang Style.”