Understanding form (2)

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Balancing the body

Form enables the student to shift through a wide range of movements that provide the framework for functional day-to-day healthy body use.
Both sides of the body are employed in a varied, non-strenuous manner. Agile, careful stepping trains the student to step easily and naturally in a balanced, whole-body fashion.

Mirror everything

New starters learn the form with the right hand dominating. Mirroring the form movements encourages ambidexterity; allowing the left hand to take turns being dominant.
Every aspect of the tai chi syllabus should be practiced with the right and left hand.

Central equilibrium

Tai chi requires the student to be totally balanced at all times. To achieve this, minute internal adjustment is necessary.
A dynamic process of awareness and subtle
change enables the tai chi exponent to remain stable whilst in motion.

The form is an exploration of the 13 methods

Each form movement is comprised of a combination of the 13 methods.
If a student does not understand how and why the 13 methods operate, their practice lacks whole-body power and cannot be applied martially in a tai chi way.


In order to apply the form, your form needs to be something worth applying. If your form is careless, clumsy, unbalanced and sloppy... then how can you expect your applications to work?
They won't work. That is the sad truth. Lacking the necessary balance, connection, coordination and flow, the student resorts to local arm strength and brute force. But that is not tai chi.

Length strength

'Connection' is a major theme for tai chi students: it is the most simplistic neigong concern. Without it, nothing will really work in
Qigong teaches basic connection by lengthening the soft tissues of the body whilst the feet are static.
Form explores an enormous range of dynamic connection possibilities whilst moving. The feet are required to step in coordination with the rest of the body; ensuring length strength at all times.


Over-stretching pulls the joints adversely and therefore represents one extreme of 'disconnection'. The other extreme is sagging; whereby insufficient connection prevents whole-body movement.


For every form movement, the student has the opportunity to sustain length and cultivate the optimal configuration of unified body parts. This is a real challenge.
Mindful, slow, careful practice is essential. There is no scope for spacing out.

Unbroken strength

With sustained daily form practice, the tendons, ligaments, fascia and muscles become united.
The exponent can use less and less effort for each movement. This means that the muscles are less tired and do not hold residual tension.
There is no longer a need to exert. Whole-body strength is now present continuously.  

How do you move?

Form reflects the way in which you personally move in tai chi. If your form is clumsy, then you are clumsy and that is useless for combat. Your tai chi must be fast, sensitive, alert, powerful and lively.
The cat-like grace of tai chi encourages agile, strong movement, excellent poise, high energy levels and a feeling of vigour.

Invest in form

Students normally underestimate the significance of form. Bad form = bad tai chi. It is that simple. Your form highlights and determines how you move, how you use your body.
Invest as much time as you can in form practice. The better your form, the easier all aspects of the tai chi will be to pull off.

Long Yang form

The complete sequence will take at least 15 minutes to perform; ideally 20 minutes. Then it must be mirrored.


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)

Training tip

The more time you commit to form practice, the better your tai chi will be. Practicing form every day at home will aid with coordination, mobility, strength, relaxation and balance.
Even 10 minutes a day is worthwhile. Do more if you can.

Familiarity is essential

A beginner only knows 2 minutes of form, so repeating it 5 times each day will instil necessary habit patterns. Without habit patterns, what is going to emerge martially? Nothing. Nothing at all.


For every correction, isolate that movement and drill it independently for a good 5 minutes; until the new insight becomes familiar.

Worth reading

8 stages of form

Form (whole-body movement)
Form applications
Form is movement
Form pattern
Form without function
Free the movement


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Page created 21 May 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023