Chen Family’s Small Frame: A Few Details

Plum’s note: Alan Sims, who has published in many of the leading martial arts magazines in the past, contacted us about including this short article on “the flavor of the ‘Small Frame’ of the Chen Family’s 1st Routine,” saying “…I don’t have illustrations to use. I know that it’s a little difficult to grasp, but no one appears to be writing about Xiao Jia in English, and maybe not in Chinese either. This system has been around for a long time.” Without illustrations, this material might be difficult to access. We are publishing it here to encourage dialogue and feedback on this special subject.

Many of us in the Taiji community know of the existence of the Chen Family’s Small Frame [or forms] also known as Xiao Jia, but not much in details at all.

First of all, the stances in the 1st Routine [I believe that there are 3 main barehanded Routines], are not exaggerated or especially large. Another characteristic is that the footwork is quite smooth and, in my opinion, more sophisticated than that in the Old Frame and New Frame (which is illustrated in “The Dao Of Taijiquan by Jou Tsung Hwa.)

The sequence is basically the same as the other 2 forms mentioned or variations (old and new) but some of—if not most of—the postures are entirely different from the other 2. Of course, there is also the matter of the old and the new variations even within the performance of Xiao Jia itself. Chen Xin, whose book on Taiji (or 4 volumes) passed away in 1929. Chen Xin was a practitioner of this style and his book is based around it.

Immediately after the first “Jin Gang Dao Dui” (or “King Kong Nailed Fist” in The Dao Of Taijiquan,) the right fist makes a small clockwise circle to raise up slightly in front of the stomach while opening the hand palm facing the stomach, while the left arm is extended almost all the way to the left in an upward line with the palm facing the surface at shoulder level. The weight is mainly on the right leg, head facing the left with the left heel raised and the body facing the front.

Right before the movements into “Lan Zha Yi” or Tying The Coat, the right foot is already placed to the side and ahead of the left foot, the opened right hand is made into a fist with the left hand extended slightly in front of the left shoulder and higher than the right (which is pointed to the front and downward.) Instead of stepping to the right with the right leg with both hands open, the right fist moves to the right and only opens when the movement is finished. The left palm turns into a “crane’s beak” with all of the fingertips touching, and only opens into a palm when the hand is to rest on the left hip. Both hands then turn into a “crane’s beak” with the right hand “beak” facing the rear, and the left hand “beak” facing the surface as the hand is raised slightly, but near the left waist.

A very nice stance is formed at the conclusion of “Kick Forward and Twist Step”, which leads into the “Hidden Hand Punch” which is posture #10. The right foot is directly in front of the left foot with the toes pointed Northeast. The left foot is pointed Northwest with both knees bent, the body facing the same way as the right foot, the right hand is opened and curved with the palm facing the surface leftward and close to the chest and stomach, while the left hand is closer to a claw formation with the palm facing upper left. The right hand, nose, and heels of both feet form a line down the center of the body, while the left hand with the elbow well bent, is in front of the left shoulder. The elbow of the right arm is also well bent. The eyes are looking forward with the head slightly tilted towards the right.

At the conclusion of “Brush Knee” in posture 6, the left knee is bent more than more than the right knee and carries most of the weight. The legs are a little more than shoulder width apart, and the left leg is slightly in front of the right. The right hand is open and relaxed held about a foot in front of the chest with the palm facing left  and slightly downward. The left hand forms a “crane’s beak” with the fingers pointing upward (“the all seeing eye”) behind the back on the left side in a relaxed manner. The head is facing straight ahead.
When I speak of Xiao Jia as being endowed with sophisticated footwork and body movement, I’m speaking as someone who practices the Chen 1 and 2 of Jou Tsung Hwa, the Yang Family’s 2 person set (although by myself,) Tai Ji Sword (Yang Family,) as well as the Hao form. In other words, I have something to compare it with.

In posture 32 “Turn Body and Kick” which corresponds to movement # 41 in “The Dao Of Taijiquan”, the right foot kicks out with the heel, with the body facing the rear and the left and right hands spread out in the left and right directions [east and west]. A very pretty move comes up right about here. The left hand circles up and then towards the west as the right hand circles to the east, upwards, to the west [like the left hand], and then downwards on beginning on the south of the body but ending on the right side of the body [or the north side of the body]. Meanwhile, the right leg circles in back of the left leg, the right fist following, the left hand coming down in a strike with the edge of the palm, as the left foot pivots inwards on the heel before lifting up in the air with the right fist behind the right leg. The body is turned a little towards the north as another nice move is in the making for “The Hidden Hand Punch”. The body now facing northwest but more west.

I hope that these explanations haven’t been too tedious while presenting somewhat, the flavor of the “Small Frame” of the Chen Family’s 1st Routine.


For an example on DVDs of the relatively rare Old 108 Form and, especially, the Small Frame (Xiao Jia), click HERE

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