Form pattern
Whole-body movement

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The pattern

There are 3 versions of every form in our syllabus.
They are deeper expressions of the same form.
Each one is harder to learn and more physically demanding than the previous method.
Students learn each pattern relative to competence.

Slow form

The Long Yang form is often known as the 'slow form'.
The slow, deliberate movements encourage concentration and allow the student time to become familiar with the coordination.
There should be no attempt made to speed up the sequence.
Slower movement will also develop muscular strength and body control.

3 versions

Each pattern involves distinct alterations to both the appearance and the functionality of the form itself: 

  1. Square form
    - an introduction

  2. Round form
    - square on the inside & round on the outside

  3. Empty form
    - combat form

These versions are drawn from the Ancient Chinese coin; which was round and had a square hole in the centre.

Square form

Beginners focus upon the outline of form. This is hard enough. Where to face, how and where to put the feet, what the hands are doing...
Yet this is not the final pattern.
It is a vague, sketchy shell. An introductory version.

One of the most difficult skills in kung fu is the ability to change movements. This skill is a primary aspect of forms. When you are swiftly and smoothly able to change movements, your chances of defeating an opponent are greatly increased.

(Adam Hsu)


In some respects the square form has more in common with qigong than tai chi.
The movements are open, rudimentary and decidedly non-martial.


Form is largely asymmetrical. It does not provide an even stretch on both sides of the body.
Usually a form was designed to favour a right-handed person.
Students must mirror every form, exercise and drill in our syllabus.
Doing this will ensure that your body receives a balanced workout.
It is also a good perceptual challenge.


It is necessary to have the form regularly corrected by the instructor.
A process of ongoing refinement and improvement takes place and injuries can be avoided.
Form can always be refined and improved.


A common error in many forms is that one hand is emphasised, whilst the other hand is simply ornamental. Trimming.
This is ridiculous.
There are no aesthetic moves in tai chi. Every movement has martial content.
Every tai chi movement - whether in the form or in self defence - involves both hands moving as one.
Remember: it is the entire body that moves. If one part moves, all parts move.
All movement is initiated and controlled by the centre.

Learning from form

The form contains an unbelievable amount of information that any diligent student can access if they are patient enough and have awareness.
For every movement, consider balance, stability and mobility.
Is your movement comfortable, natural yet strong (without tensing or resisting)?
Are your joints mobile?
Can you feel any discomfort or awkwardness?
Where are your knees aligned relative to the toes?
How stable is your balance?
Would it be possible to pick up one of your feet easily?
Do you feel relaxed?


The movements need to provide an elastic structural framework that is optimally aligned for the transmission of groundpath, without any discomfort or physical tension.
Your body should not feel strained in any way at all; the movements should not be exaggerated.
If the form feels like hard work, you need to adjust how you are doing the movements.


Ease is the key.
Your form may require concentration but it should not be uncomfortable for your body.
If it is, there is something wrong.
Every movement should feel smooth and relaxed.
The slow-motion practice of form allows the time necessary to fine-tune your body usage so that every awkward element can be addressed.


Students who do not train at home tend to be inflexible in the hips and groin.
They struggle to perform the pattern in a nimble fashion.

Round form

Progress with pattern is attained by working through the '8 stages'.
The round form is the product of neigong (whole-body strength) and also the cultivation of more integrated whole-body movement.
The joints are used less and the soft tissue does more of the work.
Smooth, nimble, agile footwork is paramount.

Is the round form slow?

In fact, it should be even slower than the square form.

13 postures

The round form is fuelled by the 13 postures.
It uses a half-horse stance (with relaxed knees rather than bent) and adheres to the 'just enough' guideline.

Natural power

The maxim states: Taijiquan must be square on the inside and round on the outside.
This is made possible by the correct use of structure and alignment.

Empty form

The empty form is the combat form. It is not a crowd pleaser. The movements are compact, crisp and minimalist.

Is the empty form slow?

Very. Unless you are training jing.

Combat form

The empty form is about jing, power generation and kinetic energy emission. It requires a high degree of softness, sensitivity and lightness.
Expertise with form application, shuai jiao, chin na and the other areas of skill is a must.


This spirit of combat will infuse and transform the pattern; making it energised and edgy.
he martial spirit/intent is evident in the gaze, poise and every movement.

Lessons in form

We work with our students, offering corrections, tips and pointers.
Students are encouraged to learn from the form itself, to consider why things are done a certain way and to analyse the possibilities.
The form is the means of journeying deeper into your tai chi, but this will not occur if you blindly copy and fail to consider the implications of every nuance within the sequence.


A good form contains all that you need. The important thing is to peel away the layers.
It take students a few years to find the essence of the movements and really employ them.
It might take a lifetime to appreciate the genius of just one form.
Practicing tai chi forms from different styles simultaneously divides the attention and wastes precious time.

Connections and associations

If you just train one style of tai chi, you begin to see connections and associations throughout the form sequence.
There are less than forty truly unique/distinct movements. Everything else is a variation on a theme.
Patterns emerge in the form. Possibilities. Options. Choices. Strategies. Rhythms.
This degree of awareness is only possible when your mind is unpolluted by other concerns, by other forms or systems.
Our students are encouraged to get to know their form really well.
They must apply every movement in multiple ways, deliver jing, incorporate neigong and take the skills of the form into freeform combat.

What are you observing?

When watching somebody demonstrate tai chi form, it is worth considering which version it is.
Historically, tai chi was a secretive Art and teachers were very reluctant to share.
Usually, the crudest version was shown to the public.
Only the most trusted students even saw the instructor doing form and the martial version was normally withheld.

Learning form

It can and should take years to learn a form well.
Beyond the superficial level of choreography, there are layers of detail and substance that need to be added.
Every movement must be a whole-body movement and every nuance should be applied martially.
In time, the sequence will feel easy and natural.

Page created 9 March 1995
Last updated 06 February 2018