As one becomes more involved in Tai Chi one can see that there are different purposes for the forms. This is based on my own observations.
Yang 24 Forms
This is a super little form. It is not a competition form. The form was designed to create a simplified Yang style Tai Chi Form. The form is also a great little form to demonstrate Tai Chi with as it can be completed in 5 minutes. I have inserted repetitions into this form and I personally believe the changes have made it a longer and more enjoyable form. The repetitions increase the performance time from 5 to 18-20 minutes. From personal experience I regard this form as an intermediate form and should be avoided as a beginner form.
48 Combined Forms.
Iíve learnt this form about 3 years ago. It is one I used to practice daily. The form lends itself well to include repetitions. This is a well balanced form working the left and right sides of the body. This form combines the 4 major styles of Tai Chi. I have added my touches of repetitions to this form which I now honestly believe makes this form superior over the long Yang Form. This is not a competition form. This is also not a beginner form either. Done with single repetitions this is a great demonstration form.
37 Forms of Cheng Man Chíing.
This is a very popular form in the UK and in the world. The form was designed with the purpose of health in the movements and to simplify the long Yang form. Although I took the time to learn this form I moved on from it as I didnít see where it fitted into my program of forms. If one knows the yang 24 Forms and the Long Yang Form why learn this as well? I would recommend the 48 combined forms over this form. This is an intermediate form.
24 Hun Yuan Chen Forms.
Personally I believe Chen style should be learnt after learning a few more simple Yang and Sun style forms. This particular form is brilliant. One will learn a tremendous amount about Chen style from this form. I love this form and practice it regularly. For me Iíve really learnt softness from this form as well as really refining the Chen Style movements. This is definitely not a beginner form. Performing this form regularly will transform your Tai Chi standard. Itís one of my top 5 favorites. There is no great vcd or dvd on this form out there at the moment though. There is an extension to this form called the 48 Hun Yuan Chen Forms. That is the next form to learn on my list. Iíve seen it and it very impressive.
Long Yang Forms.
I learnt this form at a time before the Internet and before I knew about all the other types of Yang Forms. China was still quite insular from the rest of the world, so Taiwan was a major source of information about Tai Chi. I love this form. The version I do is very close to the Yang Cheng Fu version but still has differences. The long Yang Form is probably the form with the most variations to it. I wouldnít recommend learning it unless you have a copy of a video or dvd of it. One could end up just learning it, all fresh in the mind and then move town or the Instructor leaves. Then you are left with a version that probably will not be available in your area. The long Yang Form is great. After performing one feels that one has had a pleasant workout and done a full session of Tai Chi practice.
The form is however, one-sided. That is some postures and movements are only done to one side. The government forms have addressed this. However, Iíve read that there are healing reasons why the form flows the way it does and is based on the asymmetrical internal organs of the human body. So I guess if you perform it a few times a week one gets the benefits anyway. I would say the purpose of this form is to give everything Tai Chi has to offer. The effortless flow of this form allows one to really focus on relaxation, and all the details of Tai Chi. The longer duration forms such as this one gives one time to settle into the form. Sometimes it can take about 3-5 minutes to get into the right frame of mind and energy while performing Tai Chi. As this form can last as long as 30 minutes, depending on speed, one always feels refreshed, complete and calm of mind, during the form and afterwards. When teaching in the past I was always very keen to teach this long form to students as I wanted to share the wonderful feeling this form offers. Unfortunately, this form takes a long time to teach to a level where it can be practiced alone. I found it very frustrating. Teaching smaller forms didnít seem to help either as they were also taking too long to impart the sequence. This is why I am so excited about my forward facing Forms. The simplicity offers quick learning while the repetitions keep the form going beyond 3 to 5 minutes, to 10 minutes or more. That extra 5 minutes or so makes a huge difference in enabling one to move into stillness and calmness.
Chen JU FEN HUANG New Frame 83 Forms.
When I first saw this form I knew I wanted to learn it. It offers everything one would want in a Chen Form. Certainly this is an Advanced form. I would say that after learning this form and performing with ease there will be no question about oneís credentials as a serious Tai Chi Practitioner. It took me about 6 months to become really comfortable with this form. These new frame forms offer great postures for strength and flexibility. They are also done a little faster as well making them more athletic. They are not really chill-out meditation forms, however, one can still be very still and relaxed while performing them. They do lend themselves to being slowed down which is preferable when learning the quivering body vibrations associated with the new frame chen forms.
Chen Zengleiís Old Frame Long Chen Forms.
I would say that if one has not learnt the long Yang Form then this form is worth learning, if your intention is to only learn Chen Style. However, if one has learnt the Long Yang Form Personally I would advise a more intermediate to advanced student to skip straight onto the Chen New Frame Forms. I recently stopped practicing this form as I felt the Chen Zhenglei new frame form gives the full flavour of Chen Zhenglei. This form is not really a meditation chillout form or an athletic form. I would recommend buying Chen Zhenglei DVDís on this form and the New Frame 83 Forms as he is a real Master. Just watch and absorb that maturity in performance.
Chen Zhengleiís New Frame 83 Forms.
This is a fabulous form. I consider this an Advanced Long Form. If you buy the DVD of this form there is a huge mistake in it(The full performance at the end skips out a sequence of 7-8 moves. We all make mistakes but after all this time Iím surprised no-one has recalled the dvd. The performance is so seamless that only the very observant will spot it. Iíve posted my comments on Tai Chi Finder).
32 Step Chen Forms.
This is a great little form. This form is an intermediate form. Thereís a great little vcd on this form available. This is another of Chinaís standard Forms. Nicely put together. If you are keen to learn Chen I would recommend the progression of 24 Hun Yuan Chen Forms followed by 56 Chen Competition Form, followed by Chen JU FEN HUANG New Frame 83 Forms.
56 Chen Competition Forms.
This is must have form for all budding Tai Chi teachers. Itís a brilliantly designed form, combining old frame and new frame chen forms.
Sun Style 98 Forms.
This is the great chill-out long form. No strain easy going and lots of flow. I love this form. Just very silky. This is put together by a Tai Chi genius, Sun Lutang.
Sun Style 73 Forms Competion Forms.
I read that Sun Lutangís daughter walked out of the committee putting together this form for competition. I think itís a great little form. I have put my repetition touches to this form and now itís become one of my favorite warm up long forms. A great chill-out form.
I have for the time being dropped the Wu Forms from my program. Iíve had to trim back the forms I practice to make room for new forms Iíve learnt. My only real excuse is that I didnít fall in love with Wu Style. Perhaps when I have the whole day to myself I will re-introduce them. I found I couldnít chillout in them, they didnít flow like Yang or Sun and they werenít developing stamina, strength and flexibility like Chen Style. Itís a personal preference. I am glad though, I took the time to study Wu to understand the movements and feel of the style. As I do the 48 Combined style itís nice to know the original forms of the 4 styles in the form.
I have learnt a Hao Form but have stopped practicing it for now. Itís an OK form but I didnít fall in love with it. Iíve got a DVD on the long Hao Form which looks very interesting. However, Iíve got other Forms I wish to learn first. I would say this form is similar to Sun Style and is a chill-out Form, quite a decent long form. I do intend to get around to teaching it to myself.
I have not listed all my comments here on all the forms I have seen and learnt. I will extend this list at a later date.