Whole-body movement

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Most people have seen groups of tai chi students moving together in a dance-like sequence. This is referred to as 'form'.
The form is a catalogue of combat moves; the strikes, throws, techniques and applications of taijiquan have been smoothed together into a flowing routine.
This makes them easier to practice solo.

13 areas of study

Form is just one area of tai chi study. There are 12 more.


When tai chi was first introduced to the West, people drew parallels with yoga. The movements were often seen as being 'postures'.
This was an error. Postures are static. Tai chi is about movement. Chang San-feng said:
Taijiquan is like a great river rolling on unceasingly.
Form teaches a tai chi student how, why and when to move. The student should not be standing still.


Form is all about physics. By aligning the body in a balanced, biomechanically efficient manner, the skeleton works better.
Rounded, natural body movements feel comfortable and easy to perform. Your aim is to cultivate whole-body movement, employ whole-body strength and generate whole-body power.

Every pattern of movement has its nature, meaning and purpose, and must be researched and studied before it can be really understood.

(Yang Jwing-Ming)

Understand what you are learning 

Imagine learning a song from another culture, sung in a foreign language... You know the tune, can sing the words accurately and beautifully.
But you do not know what any of the words mean or what the song is about. It could be a love song or a song of sadness and sorrow. You have no idea.
The inflection, emphasis, rhythm, tempo, timing and expression could be entirely awry. And you would not even know.
Tai chi form without application, function, a grasp of purpose and strategy is like a song without meaning.

Form without function

Not being able to apply a form in combat is the taijiquan equivalent of not being able to read...

Meaningless form

If you do form without a comprehensive understanding of the martial applications, then the form is literally meaningless. Without purpose, it is merely a dance. This is not taijiquan.


A student must apply each and every movement of the form thoroughly and convincingly in combat.
They must adhere to the taijiquan strategies and principles outlined in The Tai Chi Classics, 36 Strategies and The Art of War. There are at least 7 applications per pattern of movement.

Classical/traditional forms

Traditional taijiquan forms are always martial in nature; they teach the student exactly how to move their body in combat.
Practice and martial application utilise precisely the same movements; although themes, tactics and skills can be improvised according to preference.
The form trains the body to move this way automatically.
It should not be necessary to change or adapt the form in any way for martial use. Muscle memory and habit are ingrained.

Muscle memory

Form trains muscle memory. Your body becomes familiar with certain ways of moving. These become habit. The habits can then be used martially.

Form follows function

The form movements arise from functionality. You evade an attack, coil the body, store and then release power.  
If a student were to bend at the hip just in order to bend at the hip, this is wrong and meaningless.


Every action arises from intent. By moving the body according to the dictates of the mind, the form flows naturally and freely. The body responds. If there is no purpose, no intent, why even move?


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Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 21 February 2018