Monthly Archives: May 2018

What is a Tai Chi ‘Form’?

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.

Performing
There are many definitions of the word “Perform”, e.g.:
To begin and carry through to completion
Fulfill
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.

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James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and Qigong in both London and in Kent. Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Tai Chi on one Saturday a month.

CONTACTS:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
http://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308

Song 松 & Peng

Following the previous blog, a question was posted about it: “… How does Song relate to the other thing which is said regularly, that there should be ‘Peng’ in every movement? I take that to mean that Peng should be present particularly at the conclusion of every movement, and not as tension but perhaps as extension?

Peng is possible because, although you soften the white muscle tissue (the bulk of the muscle), you don’t exactly relax the fascia, or connective tissue, you extend/stretch it, treating it like an overall flexible/stretchy body ‘stocking’.
Think of your limbs like an audio cable – there’s the core(s) of the cable, which may be any number of wires encased in different coloured plastic, and there’s an outer shield. They are all wires, but the wires on the outer shield are often meshed and can be stretched or compressed, whilst the inner wires are usually long strands without the same flexibility because they are encased in plastic, and are not usually meshed.
For the purpose of the analogy, the cable is a limb; the cores of the cable are your bulk white muscles; the shield is the stretchy, flexible fascia.

Feeling it.
If you lift your arm in front of you as you read this, curving it so that the palm faces you at approximately chest or shoulder height, and relaxing all the muscles whilst still holding the arm in position, you are halfway there. Next you feel as though the back of the forearm is gently expanding away from you, but without involving any muscles; it’s as though the gaps between the joints have expanded, not because you have stretched them (which would involve muscles), but because they have loosened at the joints.  The arm should feel heavy.

‘Unbendable Arm’.
The Aikido exercise, the ‘unbendable arm’, demonstrates this concept perfectly.
If you’re not familiar with it, a brief description of it is that you place your wrist on a partner’s shoulder, and he gradually increases the pressure of his downward push on your elbow joint.
The more you tense your muscles, the harder work it becomes, but the more that you relax and loosen whilst simultaneously gently extending your arm, the harder it is for the person pushing downwards.  Your arm will flex slightly, but it is more like a solid rubber tube bending under pressure than a stick snapping.  A very interesting exercise.

Stretched (but not) & heavy.
The trouble is that people find it very difficult to stop using the white muscle tissue; it feels like a contradiction to relax, sink, loosen, and yet simultaneously lengthen.
It’s probably easiest to work on Song first and then add Peng, rather than the other way around, and this is where Pushing Hands or any two-person exercise comes into its own. It’s very helpful to have someone else to gently and sensitively test you by providing a small amount of resistance.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and Qigong in both London and in Kent. Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Tai Chi on one Saturday a month.

CONTACTS:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
http://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308