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 of tai chi.
The original creators of the tai chi forms had designed the sequence of moves with a purpose. This purpose was to provide a means of practicing tai chi principles using techniques which could be grasped as basic biomechanical movements while increasing the level and depth of understanding.
With 5 main styles of tai chi, the various form styles also provide varying aspects of difficulty and challenge. The forms were also designed to be long enough to be beneficial to the practitioner from a Traditional Chinese Medicine or health perspective as well as martial arts training perspective.
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. These forms were created for the purpose of competition as they could be performed in a short amount of time while demonstrating the requisite skills.
To help students remember what might seem like an overwhelming number of movements, we have a strategic learning experience. People can enjoy learning in steps and progress at a manageable pace.
We place a lot of emphasis on a high quality teaching system. In addition, we continually improve upon the teaching system as we discover better ways of passing on knowledge and understanding. We know this is what makes the difference in our students’ learning experience. If you have never attended our school, we have a teaching system which progresses in this way:
- 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 or 2 principles. These principles are simple to understand, but requires practice repeated over a period of 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 details of biomechanics and movements of our body.
LEARN THE FORM
The process of learning the form is split into multiple levels. Each level is built upon the previous level. There are a lot of opportunities to practice and reinforce what you have already learned previously. Practicing, reviewing and improving what you have already learned each week before learning new movements are a mandatory part of the learning process. Each semester, students learn a section of the form whether it is level 1 which is the beginning of the form or a higher level which represents either the middle or possibly, the end of the form of movements.
At the micro level, when teaching each new move, it is further broken down into logical steps. Each step only focuses 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 each new level.
LEARN VITAL ENERGY
Vital Energy is where the journey of learning Tai Chi truly begins. After learning the basics and completing enough semesters to complete a form, most people have probably sensed their own internal energy at least once or twice.
At this stage, the more complex and profound theories of Tai Chi will start to emerge. In these advanced classes, the entire form is practiced from beginning to end during the first half of the class. Then, a chosen individual move within the form is broken down by the instructor so students can learn a deeper understanding of how the movement is executed. The vital energy elements of the movement are reviewed in detail and practiced.
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 point in the form.
Advanced classes are taught by Senior or Master instructors who will continuously observe and guide each individual student’s progress.
Advance principles can include: Five Character Tactics, Dantian-Shoulder-Elbow-Hand, Sinking, Yin & Yang and more.
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.