In my years of practicing the Yang long form and its many variations I have often heard disparaging remarks about the short form, Beijing form, or what is sometimes called the public form. Yet when I finally went to China, and visited with teachers and other martial artists I found most people did practice the 24 form, even the really hardcore martial artists! So I dug in, and began learning the form one morning in Nanjing with Shifu Gao Xiu Ming. Luckily, with my long form experience the choreography came very quickly and with just a few adjustments I was playing the Beijing short form.
Over the years I have come to love the form, and this past year I began teaching it. This opened my eyes even further to the beauty of the form - it's complete and relatively compact, and it has become one of my favorites. So how did this form come about, and was it really a conspiracy to remove the martial aspects, the heart and soul from taiji for the masses?
In 1956 the Chinese Sports Committee brought together four taiji teachers - Fu Zhongwen, Zhang Yu, Cai Longyun, and Chu Guiting to create a taiji form that could easily be disseminated throughout China and used in competition. In modern day terms, this is like bringing together Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaq, and Larry Bird to teach the public basketball. These masters shortened the form to 24 postures, the 24 essential forms in the Yang family style, and created a sequence that could be completed in about 5-6 minutes. 1956 - 1960 saw many national martial arts competitions in China, and the Beijing form along with weapons, traditional forms, and what would become wushu were demonstrated. The 24 form has now become the most popular taiji form practiced throughout the world, and while it is practiced by many simply for its meditative aspects, the martial aspects are intact, and taught by many teachers who have this experience.