Is Tai Chi just a sequence of movements?
In a previous blog, I mentioned something that had happened many years ago in a class:
I had a student who, through my own inexperience of teaching, learnt the Yang Long Form in 2 terms, and when we’d reached the end and I suggested that we look at it in more detail, he said, “Thanks, but I don’t really need to; I now know tai chi”.
Of course, he didn’t know tai chi; at best he had memorised a sequence of arm and leg movements.
However, he did know a tai chi sequence, or at least could get from the beginning to the end of one – which is precisely what a Form is: a series of cleverly interconnected movements working in much the same way as a book, a piece of music, a choreographed dance routine, or a film, in that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Like those art forms, it can be of varying lengths, the middle can become more complicated, and the conclusion/denouement can have similarities to the beginning although modified. As in sonata form in music, there can even be a ‘development’ in the middle.
How do you play your tai chi?
As in all artistic works, it can be performed in a very basic way, or with varying degrees of subtlety. A very simple set of movements can either look ‘clunky’, or can look like a work of perfection depending on the practitioner. A beginner tai chi Form is, for example, not unlike a Grade 2 piano piece being performed either by a beginner or by a concert pianist; it’s the same piece of music, but the quality of interpretation is completely different.
There are many definitions of the word “Perform”, e.g.:
To begin and carry through to completion
To enact (a feat or role) before an audience.
So, do you ‘per-Form’ (‘carry the movements through to completion’) from inside you, from the heart, with sensitivity, with feeling, with intention, with connective awareness, with poise, with equilibrium, with relaxation and softness, whilst working with the movement of your Qi?
Or, do you focus on how you position your hands and feet, on what comes next, on whether your knee is aligned with your toes, or if your bottom is sticking out, etc.?
A ‘Form’ is only a vehicle.
A Form strings together a number of postures, (but it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it).
However, there isn’t one way to do it, there are thousands … as many ways as there are practitioners.
If this wasn’t the case, the Form would be dead, and the practitioner would be trying to squeeze into a fixed mould.