Form applications

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Why do learn applications?

Tai chi students struggle desperately to see any applications within the L
ong Yang form.
By learning a small variety of applications drawn from section 1 of the form, the student begins to recognise that form movements are not abstract.
They serve a deliberate, functional purpose.
Not being able to apply a form is the tai chi equivalent of not being able to read...

Moving martially

The form practice teaches the body to move into shapes that can be applied martially. Each pattern of movement has a number of potential combat applications.
Practicing the application of form movements is a way of understanding what the form can mean.
It teaches the student how to move their body relative to an opponent, meeting force softly, yet countering with power and stability.


In tai chi, one application flows into another and another. Sifu Waller has successfully extracted hundreds (if not thousands) of tai chi applications from every form.
Tai chi students begin with just a limited number of form applications.

What is the pattern of movement teaching you?

It is very important to apply the tai chi movements. Doing so helps the student to understand the essence of the pattern of movement.
The real skill is to find different ways in which that particular pattern of movement can be used. Imagination is essential.

Movement, not fixity

Form serves to shape movement, it is the movement that matters martially. Shaped energy removes randomness and renders the movement tangible. Tai chi is the movement, the essence.
We must explore how that movement can be used for in combat.
Do not fixate on the final shape; focus instead upon the means that produce that shape, how it occurs and what drives the body to generate the required jing.

The correct rhythm not only gives you maximum power, it helps you conserve energy so you know when to use force and when not to.

(Tim Cartmell)



Thinking of an application can assist initially but remember that every essence has many potential applications relative to the situation. Limiting yourself to one application seems foolish.
Instead, you must feel the quality of energy been expressed (jing) and focus it in the required direction.
In addition to the energetic component, visualising the path of force will encourage your body to assign the appropriate muscles for the task.
Ultimately, the expression should be your focus, not the application. Applications simply serve to assist jing development.


A successful application of tai chi must follow the nature of tai chi. If you do not use softness, stickiness and yielding, you are not proving/demonstrating the effectiveness of the art.
You are turning it into something else, indicating that you are not competent with the tai chi skills. To apply tai chi, you must embrace the art and be true to it.
If you adopt aggression, tension or force, then you are no longer using tai chi at all.

Are these techniques?

No. A technique is a step-by-step formula for addressing a particular type of attack. The purpose of these applications is different.
Students learn how to manipulate and manoeuvre their opponents body in an effective, comfortable, flowing, natural fashion. The principles used can be applied to a variety of different attacks.

7 applications per pattern of movement

It is essential that the student avoid reducing the applications to mere techniques. The student must study every movement and develop at least 7 applications per pattern of movement.
These must adhere strictly to the tai chi principles outlined in The Tai Chi Classics. Form applications attune the
brain to see possibilities within movements, relationships, positioning and angles.
Instead of moving through a lifeless dance, the student finds form to be alive with opportunity. Every movement and nuance offers new ideas for the creative mind.

Do some research

The student needs to really examine, contemplate and research the design elements that led to the creation of tai chi.
Understanding these factors enables the student to recognise the differences in tai chi styles, systems and approaches; why certain schools emphasise particular qualities which others discard.
This will aid you in making your tai chi combat look like tai chi rather than karate.


Your form should eventually look and feel like tai chi combat. Your combat should look and feel like tai chi form. If this is not the case, what exactly are you training and why?
When form and function become the same, it is easy to extract useful applications.

Spur of the moment

As a student advances through the syllabus, their responses should become spontaneous and easy. The appropriate application should emerge without contrivance or conscious thought.
You just move... and something comes out. Thinking makes you slow. Instead of paying attention to what is happening, your mind is reflecting upon memories, options, opinions... the past.
Be present. Be alert. Respond, and let your body take care of the attack...


Students usually find tai chi form applications to be difficult to understand and learn. The reasons why are straightforward:

  1. They don't know the form itself well enough

  2. They are not using their body in a whole-body way

  3. Applications are being perceived as techniques

  4. The student is attempting to employ 'external' methodology to an internal martial art

  5. The mental representation of the tai chi principles/combat approach etc is not fully formed 

These problems can best be remedied through diligent study and practice.

I have recently being working through form applications. Surprisingly, they all felt quite easy and straightforward. They also worked very well. No difficulty at all. How come? Daily form practice. Sifu did not have to waste time correcting my form during application practice. We could simply focus on the applications themselves. Correct form meant smooth, powerful, controlled, effective applications.


Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023