Some Thoughts about How to Practice Tai Chi Quan
Recently, I have received many questions that are all related to the ways to practice Tai Chi well. Thus, I will summarize some of my own thoughts for your reference.
There are many styles of Tai Chi but the inner requirements are the same. The process of practicing Tai Chi is also the process of cultivating oneself. After practicing Tai Chi, people can master the Tai Chi theories and philosophies gradually, which can not only help strengthen people’s bodies but also guide people in their daily life, study, and work.
Learning Tai Chi requires people to study Tai Chi theories and philosophies constantly so that they can comprehend them. For example, reading some books and watching some videos about Tai Chi can enable people to fully understand the Tai Chi theories, values, and rules, which can help them to form their practice. Also, during the process of practicing, people should not learn the forms by themselves alone. Many students have tried to learn Tai Chi by themselves before. However, they not only failed to comprehend the meaning of Tai Chi but also developed some bad habits which are now difficult to change. The reason is that when people learn Tai Chi alone, most of them think they are doing the forms correctly even when they are not. Also, it is not easy for many people to discern the problems they are experiencing in the forms they do by themselves. Thus, they keep doing the forms incorrectly when they practice them. Moreover, there are some books and videos of poor quality, so they do not provide effective instruction. In fact, there are even some errors in the forms depicted in these resources. Thus, I suggest everyone not only get advice about the books and videos they are interested in but also practice under the guidance of Tai Chi instructors.
While studying and practicing Tai Chi, it is important to master the points below.
1. Practice the opening form well. Practicing the opening form well indicates mastery of basic and important Tai Chi principles.
2. Practice Tai Chi fundamental footwork well because Tai Chi footwork is the fundamental requirement for doing Tai Chi well.
3. Practice every move correctly and master every move’s content and details. Do not pursue quantity. Try to practice every move correctly. Do not practice the second move if you cannot do the first one well.
In regards to learning how to practice the opening form, breathing correctly, and completing the internal exercises, I have addressed those in other articles. In this article, I want to express some thoughts about how to do Yang Style Tai Chi footwork well.
Doing Tai Chi requires people to feel like they are pulling silk（a process of making silk） while moving smoothly and continuously without stopping. Also, while doing so, people need to feel rooted at the bottom of the feet and imagine the strength coming from the legs and being controlled by the waist. If people cannot do Tai Chi footwork well, they cannot meet the requirements described above and cannot enjoy the benefits of doing Tai Chi.
Tai Chi footwork includes moving forward, backward, left, and right, which can be seen in all the Tai Chi forms. People can only experience the grace and beauty of Tai Chi when they do the Tai Chi footwork correctly and remember the following three points:
1. People need to have the correct stance and position (upper body empty and lower body solid). They should not lean forward, back, left, or right. When they walk, they should feel they are like ducks swimming on the water. The upper body is in the center and upright, comfortable and steady, and only the lower body is moving.
2. When taking a step, people should shift their weight to one side slowly and slightly contract their crotch so that the Qi is still down, and keep the body steady. Then, they should slowly lift the other leg (the strength is accumulated by the legs from the knees to move the shin) and then lift the heels to make the toes hang and face down naturally. When making the step slowly, they should lift the toes upward, which will point the heel toward the ground. When the heel touches the ground, it should be done so very lightly just like a cat walking. Then they should make the transition to the ball and toes, and the body should be sunk on purpose with the mind [by setting that intention with the mind]. Before the next move, people should have their weight [bearing down] on the front foot and then shift their weight forward. To follow the principles here, the speed should be constant whether one is lifting or dropping the foot and leg. Also, people should have resistance to each movement all the time, and they should not do the moves causally so that they can do them like they are pulling the silk during the movements and walking on the thin ice.
3. When the back foot moves forwards, the weight should be shifted completely to the front foot, and one should press steadily on the front foot and then move the back leg slowly with a constant speed. One should avoid moving the back foot if the weight is not shifted completely to the front foot yet. By doing so, the steps will be steady. All these principles apply to take steps to other directions.
In a word, no matter whether it is the opening form, Tai Chi footwork, the entire form, or the internal movements, they all require people to constantly identify their problems and correct them when they practice. Also, people should pay attention to the details in every move and make sure they do every move correctly before they do the next one and then do them hundreds and thousands of times so that those forms will actually become a part of them.
May every Tai Chi fan have a happy, healthy, and long life!