To teach Tai Chi well, one must understand that Tai Chi is not just about learning a set of choreographed moves. The routine of moves is a means to practice the principles. The original creators of the tai chi forms had designed the sequence of moves with a purpose, to practice principles using techniques with increasing level of difficulty. The forms also need to be long enough to be beneficial to the practitioner.
At our school, we teach the traditional tai chi forms with over 80 moves that take approximately 25 to 30 minutes to perform. We do not teach the shorter forms like the Simplified or 24 Form routine because these forms were created for the purpose of competition to be completed in a very short time.
Many are intimidated by the traditional long forms, unsure if they can learn or remember so many moves. This is when a good teaching system can make a difference in your learning experience.
To teach anything long and complex, you have to first break it down into small manageable chunks. Our teaching system starts with 3 big groups:
- Learn the Basics
- Learn the Form
- Learn Vital Energy
LEARN THE BASICS
There are 6 basic moves that are practiced at the beginning of every class. The goal of each basic move is to focus and practice on 1-2 principles. These principles are simple to understand, but requires practice for a long time before it becomes instinctive for your body. In addition to the basic moves, we teach body posture and alignment, how to relax, be balanced and centred at all times. We also practice self awareness and mental focus to control the very detailed movements of your body.
LEARN THE FORM
The process of learning the form is split into multiple levels, with each level built on top of the previous one. A subset of the moves are taught at each level, and moves from the previous level are practiced together with the new moves learned, until the whole routine is complete.
At the micro level, when teaching each new move, it is further broken down into logical steps, each step only focusing on a specific aspect of the move. Once all aspects of the move are acquired with a certain amount of fluency, then the move is practiced as a whole.
At the macro level, the instructor is observing the class to see if the required principles are present while learning each new move. Principles learnt from the Tai Chi Basics course are reinforced and applied. New principles will also be taught and applied as the student progresses to the next level.
LEARN VITAL ENERGY
Once all the movements in the form are learned, then the student moves to the next stage, acquiring Vital Energy. This is where the journey of learning Tai Chi truly begins.
At this stage, the more complex and profound theories of Tai Chi will start to emerge. With each individual move, the instructor breaks down how the multiple layers of requirements are applied and how they interact with each other. This process is repeated from the first move to the last move of the entire form. The pace is very slow and usually takes 3 – 4 terms to complete one cycle of the form. Then it is repeated again from the beginning. A student does not need to wait for the instructor to start from the first move, learning Vital Energy can start from any move in the form.
At a macro level, the instructor is observing and guiding each individual student’s progress using the Five Character Tactic as the basis.
Heart is Calm 心静
If the heart and mind is not calm, one cannot concentrate, and when the arm is raised, it does not know which direction to go, therefore, it is necessary to first achieve calmness. When a move begins, do not move on your own, listen carefully and follow your opponent, bend and straighten without retreating or over extending, never yielding and never resisting. If my opponent has strength, I also have strength, but my strength leads. If my opponent does not have strength, I am also without strength, but my intent still leads. Be constantly mindful of your body and the contact point and go with your heart, find rest in the midst of not yielding and not resisting. Train this way for up to half or one year, it will then become instinctive. All of this should be done with intention, not with force, and over time, I will control the opponent and no one can control me.
Body Aware 身灵
A stagnant body cannot move freely, therefore one must be aware of our body. You cannot raise an arm in a trance. The moment the force of my opponent touches my skin, my intention is already penetrating his bones. Lifting up the arms, internal force threads through, if the left is heavy the left becomes empty, the right moves in. When the right is heavy, the right becomes empty, the left moves in. Internal force in your body is like the wheels in your car, they must coordinate and move together. Otherwise, your body becomes disoriented and weak. The problem is typically in the waist and legs. Begin by using your heart to move the body, follow your opponent and not yourself, later you body will follow your heart, but you are still following your opponent. When you follow yourself, you are sluggish, when you follow your opponent, you are agile. If you can follow, you become very sensitive and can sense accurately the amount of force. You can gauge the distance of your opponent’s approach and intention without mistake. Advance or retreat, coordination is perfect, practice this diligently and you will become skillful in your techniques.
Internal Force Converged 气敛
If internal force is undisciplined, then it is not stored, easy to scatter. Allow internal force to converge onto the spine, moving in and out unimpeded throughout the whole body. In means to close and gather, Out means to open and release. In naturally lifts up, uprooting your opponent. Out naturally sinks down, expelling your opponent. This is done through the use of intention moving your internal force, not using brute strength to mobilize your force.
Energy is Whole 劲整
The energy from the whole body, practice to unite as one. Distinguish clearly between substantial and insubstantial, there must be a root for your energy. One’s energy starts from the heel of the foot, controlled at the waist, released from the spine, and manifested in the fingers. One must also fully concentrate, at the moment just before your opponent releases energy, my energy has already penetrated his. The timing is neither late nor early. Like tinder starting a fire, or a fountain gushing out. Forward advance or backward retreat, not the slightest bit disorganized, seeking straightness from the centre, store first before releasing, then your movement will flow with ease. This is called borrowing your opponent’s force to strike back or using four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds.
Vital Energy Focused 神聚
Once you have acquired the other four tactics, you can return to Focused Vital Energy. When vital energy is focused, it is continuous and uninterrupted. Training your internal force returns to vital energy, when your internal force is ready to maneuver, when vital energy is focused, opening and closing occurs at will, and the differentiation of substantial and insubstantial is clear. If left is insubstantial, the right is substantial, and vice-versa. Insubstantial does not mean completely without strength, internal force must be ready to maneuver. Substantial does not mean completely locked, vital energy must be focused. All is done from within, maneuver from the waist, never from the outside. Borrow strength from the opponent, force released from the spine. To release force from the spine, let the force sink down, collect from the two shoulders towards the spine, down to the waist, the force then travels up and down, this is called open. Close is to gather, Open is to release. When you know Open and Close, then you know Yin and Yang, reaching this level, each day’s vital energy nourishes you, gradually things follow your heart, nothing makes you unhappy.