|Form pattern: square|
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Form is the sequence of movements that people associate with the words 'tai chi'. Traditionally, it took 6 years to learn the form pattern correctly.
In the 20th century, tai chi form was simplified and shortened. Short forms are now very popular. Sifu Waller does not teach short forms.
An earnest student will spend their entire life exploring the form, increasing their skill, knowledge and insight through daily practice.
Lower grade students focus upon the pattern, the outline of form. This is hard enough to learn. Where to face, how and where to put the feet, what the hands are doing...
But this is not really the Long Yang form. It is a vague, sketchy shell.
When a new starter is given a form movement to practice, they sometimes grow impatient and seek the next move. Although they cannot perform the first move correctly, they want more.
It is necessary to spend quite a lot of time with each movement - a handful of repetitions is not enough.
Initially, a new starter will only get a vague sense of a movement. That is enough to begin with. However, to make progress you need to see the detail.
You must understand the underlying body mechanics of each movement. When you can see how any one movement really works, you realise that you have a lot to practice.
When you begin to see the detail contained in one form, you can see why a student spends a while on the tai chi basics. A beginner initially only learns section 1 of the form.
Section 1 is the first 2 minutes of a 15-20 minute form. There are 5 taijiquan forms to learn in our syllabus.
Students learn to focus on what they are doing. They keep their mind on what is right in front of them. For many people, this is a very challenging endeavour.
It will take considerable practice and patience. And it cannot be forced... Concentration is a necessary first step.
Tai chi offers an opportunity to come to terms with making mistakes and also the experience of 'being corrected'. The complex nature of the art demands a very unusual degree of accuracy.
A slight deviation from the necessary position can mean weakness and imbalance.
Some new starters become paranoid about making mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, and not just in class. Our lives are littered with words and acts of foolishness. It is human.
You cannot avoid making mistakes. But perhaps you can learn from them, grow and move on?
Learning from mistakes
People frequently fail to learn from their mistakes. They just keep on doing the same thing again and again and again. There is far more to intelligence than acquisition. We must be alert.
If something does not work, it is necessary to determine why it failed and try something else. This capacity to change is a key factor.
A dull mind is doomed to repeat the same error continually. An intelligent mind adapts and moves on.
Flowing or flawed?
Some martial students make the mistake of trying to make their form flow. This is absurd. It always (without exception) leads to disconnected movement.
Be patient. Flow comes later on...
Students need to become familiar with the sequence. This will take a lot of practice. Ideally, at home, between lessons.
A common excuse offered by lazy students is that they do not want to practice at home for fear of making mistakes... How exactly can they hope to do the form correctly without practice?
Improvement comes from familiarity. Yes, they will make many, many mistakes. This is inevitable. The reason why you should train at home is to gain the habit of where to move, what to do.
It will not be accurate, but it is a necessary starting place.
Form improves through corrections and awareness. The instructor corrects your form.
Your capacity to understand and implement those corrections is directly linked to how receptive, observant and attentive you are.
If you are prideful, stubborn or lazy, you will not make changes to your form. Awareness is something that needs to be cultivated.
It involves having an eye for the art, for perceiving what the instructor is actually doing. Not what you think they are doing.
The main problem with the form is that the beginner is normally extremely tense. Only through ongoing relaxation, ease and patience can they hope to lose the unnecessary stiffness in the muscles.
Relaxed, lengthened, flexible muscles will allow your joints and vertebrae to move freely and easily.
Students often struggle to get section 1 of the form right. We are not expecting perfection. However, the students is woefully underestimating how hard the form is to learn.
Without daily practice, progress is very slow.
Until a student cannot perform each and every section 1 movement to a reasonable degree of accuracy there is little point in learning any new movements.
If the existing movements are already proving too great a challenge, adding more is fruitless.
Poor form means that the form offers virtually no fitness or martial benefits.
Form every day
Tai chi form was never intended to be a once-a-week exercise. It was designed for daily practice.
Ideally, 15-20 minutes should be set aside for form because the complete sequence takes that long to perform.
A beginner may only have 2 movements to train or a 2 minute sequence, but they should still consider committing up to 15 minutes practice to what they have learned.
If a martial student knows the entire sequence and can mirror it, this will take at least 30 minutes to do.
People frequently complain that they have no time to practice tai chi at home. A beginner only learns section 1 of the form and that section takes 2 minutes to perform.
Is there anyone on the planet who cannot set aside 2 minutes of their day for something useful and productive? It is all a matter of priority.
Gym & other martial arts
Tai chi is not like gym work or other martial arts. Once a week training at your local karate class may result in a black belt in a few years, but this approach will not work for tai chi.
We are looking to move instinctively and naturally - without forethought or hesitation - and this entails regular practice of the form sequence.
If you have trouble remembering the form, then take one movement home with you from class and drill that posture every day until the next lesson.
The following week, take home two movements, and so on... Pretty soon, you will have an entire sequence.
The form DVD features section 1 of the Long Yang form at its most basic. There are no neigong incorporated and the stepping is simplistic.
A new student lacks the groin flexibility to walk like a cat. They must just step in whatever manner their body allows. This is usually quite limited.
The steps are not nimble or agile. More like a shuffle than a cat step.
4 July 1995
Last updated 16 February 2020