Position Names


Blue Belt
Feb 4, 2005
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Why is it that every position in Tai Chi has a colorful name like "Snake Creeps Down" when most other CMAs do not go into nearly the detail in naming the moves? And do all styles of Tai Chi have names and try to be consistant between styles?

Also, does anyone know where these names came from? Where they part of the system originally, or added later? Are the names consistant when in original Chinese because in English everyone seems to have their own "translation" that is slightly different, such as "Play the PaiPa" vs "Play the Guitar".

I was just curious. I believe Le He Bu Fa also has names for every posture, but are different from Tai Chi. Like "Stop Cart and Ask For Directions" and "Rhino looks at moon" and such. Much more elaborate names then Tai Chi.


Master Black Belt
Sep 30, 2005
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simply because the postures immitate movement of animals or certain motions of human body. It's i think just to make it easier to learn and pass along generations.
I dont think styles would necessarily keep the same posture names.

Xue Sheng

All weight is underside
Jan 8, 2006
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North American Tectonic Plate
Actually many styles of CMA have colorful names for the various postures that make up the forms. Xingyi, Bagua, Shaolin, White Crane and I believe even Wing Chun (just to name a few) all have names for the postures.

Some of the names are metaphors that come from Chinese history or mythology and if you know the history or mythology behind it they are very descriptive. Others, as Mantis said, are named that way because they look like the animal and again they are descriptive.

As to where the names in Tai chi come from, that is a REAL good question. Ask the Chen family and they will say they come from them. But there was a style of Qigong called Taijigong way before the Chen familys tai chi style and Chang San-feng that had form names as well that supposedly came from Li Bai and it has similar names to tai chi chuan postures. This is the stuff of study of many martial arts historians in China and they are not sure so there is no answer as of yet. Much of the problem is that early Tai Chi training was not written down it was passed on orally therefore records are scarce.

As for form names form style to style; many of the style share posture names, but the postures do not necessarily look identical. Just look at wave hands differences between Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao, and Sun.

Name translation issues, this is a sensitive topic. Play the pipa is more correct (As far as direct translation goes) than play the guitar but a pipa looks like a guitar to a westerner so it becomes play the guitar. Ask my sifu and you get direct Chinese translations of the names.

But the basis of Tai chi is the 13 postures and those names are not as colorful but also subject to translation errors as well Cai is often translated as pull when it means something closer to yank.

To be honest translation errors exist in many things translated from Chinese to English and English to Chinese so it is not surprising that they happen in Tai Chi posture names, but the play the guitar thing is at least in my opinion just a westerner thing since we really dont know what a pipa is.

An as a side note: the pipa is played very different from a guitar.