The Wudang Tai Chi long form
Tai Chi Chuan requires a thorough mastery of certain key principles and ideals. Although we learn and practice techniques, the objective is ultimately to reach a state of no-technique, where a spontaneous understanding is achieved. The systematic approach to training begins with learning the Square Form. This form contains precise structural positions which the student settles in and feels, to the point that their natural movement patterns become remodelled, in improved ways. Posture, body awareness, awareness of shapes and structures are developed. Practice also develops a tensile strength throughout the body. Stamina and fitness also increase.
The round form is learned once a certain level of ability and refinement is achieved in the Square Form. The sequence and techniques are the same, though they are now practiced in a completely fluid style, with no gaps or pauses between any of the techniques. The whole sequence takes between 15-20 minutes when practiced at a slow speed. The practice of this form further develops body awareness, coordination and is a perfect expression of the Tai chi principle.
After a student has become proficient in the Round Form, they will start to practice the form in a ‘mirror image’. This develops and refines all of the skills and qualities though now all the techniques are performed the opposite way, leading to development of ambidextrousness. The body’s physical development is also balanced.
The final stage for advanced students is the practice of the form in revers. This is tremendously challenging for anyone at any level. It develops absolute mastery of body awareness, control and coordination as well as a thorough understanding of the mechanics of all techniques.
Regular daily practice of the Hand Form should instils the qualities of lightness, agility, balance, circularity and liveliness;
Fundamental qualities in form practice
Balance and Centredness
Each of the postures of the Hand Form is practiced in it’s optimal balance point. Each of the stances is rooted from the feet, with optimal foot, ankle, knee and hip positioning. We practice to develop awareness of the spinal positioning in it’s entirety from the base to the head, finding the perfect neutral balance in all postures. The alignment of upper and lower parts of the arms, as well as the hands is trained. This body awareness practice is carried out in a mindful, relaxed and tranquil way, allowing the Qi to sink.
In Tai Chi Chuan there should be no forced movements, everything should feel natural and unstrained. Movements and actions are practiced so that they flow naturally from one to the next smoothly, with calm, smooth and deep breathing. The body is completely relaxed, using the minimal amount of muscular tension to carry out the postures and movements. Body and mind in this state are said to be tranquil. This allows for smooth circulation of vital energy.
All of the postures in the form are trained so that the practitioner feels perfectly comfortable in all of their movements. Proper extension and contraction of all of the bodies muscles and joints, combined with a relaxed attitude and well balanced body positions leads to a relaxed and sunken, comfortable quality.
When you practice a form with the emphasis on comfort, tranquility and balance you can begin to develop the quality of lightness. A keen sensitivity is developed and movements become unrestrained and light. Lightness of movements leads the way to sticking skills, which require a keen sensitivity to your own actions and those of the opponent.
Once you have achieved lightness, agility is also developed. Being able to change with perfect timing, balance and coordination with the movements of the opponents requires agility. Perfect control of your own movements and the ability to connect to and follow the opponent lead to agility.
The human body, with it’s myriad of muscular lever systems and the connective tissue matrix that assists movement and posture, moves optimally in arcs. The Tai Chi Chuan Hand Form therefore trains the student to find perfect arc like movements in all of the postures and techniques. Additionally all of these movements are carried out with the body moving as ‘one Qi’ – or as an entire unit. So that in any given technical execution, the optimised mechanical power capacity of the whole body is behind it.
After a student has trained the above qualities into their Hand Form practice, liveliness begins to develop. This leads to perfect and effortless opening and closing, extending and contracting, advancing and retreating.