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?
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.
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.