Thursday, April 16, 2015

8 Ways to Memorize Your Tai Chi Form

Tai Chi does not just improve health; practicing and learning the forms also helps improve your memory. New students often ask me how to memorize the forms, so I share some of my experiences below.

1.   Facing of the Palms

My late father, Master Zhang Lu Ping, taught me various memory aids for placement of the palms. Consider Peng as used in Brush Peacock’s Tail; it is like holding a mirror with the palm facing in. If Peng is used with the hand facing out, you are pushing open a door. If the hand faces in, you are holding a baby. When the palm faces up, you are lifting a plate. When the palm faces down, you are bouncing a ball.

2.   Circles
There are many circles in Tai Chi form and considering them all could be complicated. I suggest you consider only two circles; clockwise and counterclockwise.

3. Stances
There are only four major stances.
-Opening Stance (Opening form)
-Bow Stance
-Horse Stance
-Empty Stance (heel OR toes on the ground)

4.   Arm Transitions: Peng and Lu ( or Ward Off and Roll Back)

If you perform Peng, you must next perform Lu. If you perform Lu, you must next perform Peng. If you open you must next close, if you close you must next open. You cannot perform Peng-Peng or Lu-Lu; it must be Peng-Lu or Lu-Peng. Understanding this will prevent mistakes and help you memorize the arm

5.   Foot Transitions: Weight Transfers

There is always a weight transition between movements. If all your weight is on one leg, it is not empty and you cannot lift it. You must transfer weight to the other leg to make the first leg empty; then you may lift the first leg. Always transfer weight between forms; from full to empty, empty to full.

6.   Associate the Movement with the Name

Whether Single Whip or White Crane Spreads its Wings, connect the form name with the moves that link it together.

7.   Use in Application

Although some students are most interested in the health benefits of Tai Chi, it is often easier to remember forms if you learn their applications. You might not want to learn how to fight, but the martial applications will help you visualize movements and memorize the forms.

8. Repeating single movements in the forms is the best way to remember.

Continued practice, learning a little at a time, will move your forms from short-term memory to long-term memory.

2015 Copyright by Huan's Tai Chi

Monday, February 23, 2015

The door to Tai Chi: Stages and Steps of Learning Tai Chi

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step - Lao Tzu
but how? and where should we start in the world of Tai Chi?
When I give lectures and seminars, I often hear students saying they have already learned Tai Chi or have been doing it a long time. Most of them have only reached the first or second stage of the following four stages: Xing/Shape, Sheng/Feel, Yi/Meaning, and Jue/Song. The students have not really completed all four stages.

Yang Cheng Fu (the founder of Yang style Tai Chi) wrote a book whose full title is The Complete Body and Usage Book of Yang Style Tai Chi. It is divided into two parts; one is for your own body, to understand if your body can adapt to the tai chi forms, the other is for usage, to understand how to apply the forms to others. Shape and Feel are part of the body; Meaning and Song are part of the usage.

Shape(Xing): Includes understanding the basic principles, movements and positions, and the transitions between them. Are you familiar with all of the movements and can you do them yourself? 

Feel(Sheng): Coordinating the whole body with proper weight transitions. Are you able to move smoothly and feel relaxed during each movement? Moving through the forms should ultimately be automatic, without thinking. 

Meaning(Yi): Understanding what each movement is for. What is the martial application for each movement? Are you able to apply the form for self-defense against different types of opponents?

Song(Jue): Synthesizing, understanding, and applying the written, philosophical, and martial material that prior and current Tai Chi Masters have offered. 

"In the Song Dynasty, there was a farmer who thought his crops grew too slow. He went and pulled up all the crops, just a little bit. After a day, he found all the crops were dead. This is a famous story that everyone in China knows. It tells us we have to realize our goals step-by-step, not in a hurry." 

“Follow in order and advance step-by-step; advance gradually in due order; follow in proper sequence and make steady progress.” – Zhu Xi’s (famous comment on Confucius’ book)
Here I list the steps to practice the above four stages:

Preparing and Opening Forms

Prepare your Tai Chi and understand balance while in a still position.

Brush Peacock’s Tail

Understand the four major movements of Tai Chi; Peng, Lu, Ji, and An.

Post Standing

Practice a steady form for the various stances, e.g., Horse Stance, Bow Stance, and Empty Stance.

Practicing the Steps

Practice your footwork for the various stances, e.g., Advancing Steps, Retreating Steps, and Side Steps.

Practicing Single Form

Practice the major forms individually, e.g., Single Whip, Knee Brush, Waving Hands Like Clouds, and Jade Lady Moves the Shuttles.

Practicing Whole Form

Go through the whole form smoothly.

Push Hands, Basic Forms - Steady

Understand the basic forms of push hands while not moving your feet.

Push Hands, Basic Forms - Walking

Understand the basic forms of push hands while walking.

Push Hands - Feeding and Understanding Energy

Learn to identify your own energy as well as the energy of a partner.

Push Hands - Applying the Forms You Have Learned

Apply the Tai Chi forms you have learned in during push hands.

Applying Each Form

Understand how to apply each form not just during formal push hands, but in informal martial arts applications.
Above I offered steps to help you understand how to practice and learn your Tai Chi.  Kang Jin Zi, from the Yuan Dynasty, had a famous saying called “Tiger’s head with snake’s tail.” It means “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” Now you have a guide I have mentioned above to start your first step to the door of Tai Chi, will you able to continue and last yourself to the end and complete the journey?

2015 Copyright by Huan's Tai Chi