The Process of Learning Tai Chi
The process of teaching or learning
Tai Chi is one of gradual refinement. At first it is a simple
case of this goes here and that goes there, and then you face
that way and then you step … and then this goes here
and that goes there, and then you face that way and then you
step … and so on. In the process we teach ourselves
the best way of getting the bits and pieces to where they
ought to go, and later we might also learn why it is that
this and that goes here and there. This process is really
is no different to that involved in any other 'art' 'form'.
Good art will always demonstrate or showcase the artist's
or craftsman's refinement of technique; and the finest forms
of art will normally be imbibed with originality or at least
a certain style. The greatest works of art are unique, un-do-again-able
By necessity, just like in all the other arts,
the primary method of learning Tai Chi involves much repetition.
It is best taught by visual/physical demonstration and in
turn learnt at first by imitation and later mastered through
repetition. Personal, self-motivated, disciplined, regular
practice i.e. repetition, repetition and more repetition!!!
However, no matter how well, proficiently, efficiently,
skilfully or with perfect technique and refinement Tai Chi
is done and there will never be an end product - like paint
on a canvas within a frame.
Is Tai Chi a dance?
If the Tango is more artistic than the jump up and down dance
it is only so because the former is more disciplined form
of dance than the latter - and consequently it may be justifiably
defined as being more refined. However, unlike most other
forms of dance there is no accompanying score or musical accompaniment
to Tai Chi and even as some kind of shamanistic ballet the
dance of Tai Chi enacts or represents no story or examines
no particular emotion; and it has no allegory, no moral and
no message aside from "go with the flow".
Perhaps then the nearest equivalent of Tai Chi in classical
or high art is Ballet. But then again, there is no 'man' Tai
Chi or 'lady' Tai Chi and there is no such thing as a pas
de deux like there is in ballet; there is just Tai Chi as
it is - for everybody.
So, it has no message, it makes no statement,
it has no sound and essentially it has no material or physical
presence. It can only be done and it only has meaning when
you are doing it; and when you are done, again - you end up
with nothing to frame - and nothing that you can listen to
… or smell or taste to encapsulate, represent or remind
you of it. It is what it is. It is, like a lot of art, fundamentally
It is my feeling that the art that Tai Chi is most akin to
is music. Sometimes you may hear just a couple of notes but
all at once they 'mean' something. You may not know exactly
what the meaning is but most of the time this does not matter
anyway. The important thing is you just know it for what it
is - and words … and sometimes even meanings just don't
The Yang Long Form is like a Symphony. It is
not verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, bridge, chorus; it
far more complicated than that. However, its virtue is not
per say in its complicatedness but in its dynamics and the
demand for virtuosity on the part of the player, for in this
masterwork that is The Yang Long Form every instrument is
played by just one person. The body is the orchestra.
What are we actually 'listening' to when we
are listening deeply to music? We are not just listening to
the notes are we? No, we are listening to it all - including
the pauses - and we are trying to 'feel' or understand the
emotion of the composer; and the music is all that the composer
gives us to go on. He/she does not also provide us with a
written auto-biography, or paint us a picture as well, or
stop the performance to explain some nuance - its just done
(played) and then gone.
Before getting on with this newsletter I discussed
its potential subject matter with a senior student (a structural
engineer named David) who is also a musician. I started by
saying that Mark had asked this question, "why the Long
Form?" and confessed that at that time I that my only
reason was because it is … simply … "long!"
I had no sooner said this when David added "so it is
David is now just two or three 'new' postures
away from completing the Long Form. I have been meeting with
him weekly for more than two years now. He is a quick learner
- because he practices every day and thus, each time we meet
he has himself taken care of the repetition repetition part
of practice and is ready to move on. The most important aspect
of this is that I am assured that all that went before has
been committed to memory and become cognitive or, as I put
it, filed in the riding a bike department of the mind.
Each 'new' posture in the Yang Long Form is slightly more
difficult than the one that went before - but students are
not inclined to give up learning the Long Form not because
it is difficult to do but because it is difficult to remember!
The 'mood' of Part One is that it is learnt posture after
posture - and the directions faced are not complicated. With
just two exceptions, orientation is to the cardinal (NSEW)
By the time a student is learning Part Two they
are then normally able to absorb or commit to memory sequence
after sequence. Many postures are repeated (in and out of
sequence) are orientation is more often inter-cardinal (NE,
SW and so on). By the end of Part Two the student has learnt
all but a handful of the postures needed to complete the Form
and whilst these last few 'new' postures are the most physically
challenging (each 'new' posture is slightly more difficult
than the one that went before. The first is simply raising
the forearms, one of the last is Sweep Lotus - a 360degre
spin on one foot) the hard part is remembering all that went
Part Three is very much a case of remembering
sequences of sequences and keeping up that particular form
of concentration i.e. just concentrating on what you are doing
whilst you are doing it.
It is my feeling that it is the 'mind training'
aspect of the Yang Long is that which renders it as a 'complete'
or holistic form of self administered therapy and indeed a
from of moving meditation.
We are all able to scribble a note on a scrap
of paper or bang off an email or text message bereft of punctuation
or capital letters and in the circumstances that's OK. However
there are some people that choose to learn calligraphy - or
write a book. These people are still at liberty to send a
text and probably will but they are likely to continue with
their studies just because it is a challenge and take pride
in their creations. What they do/study/practice/play is perhaps
fundamentally pointless but they continue because, one way
or another, they enjoy doing it. This is why I do the Yang
Long Form and encourage others to do the same. I trust that
all of the above adequately answers those questions that you
did not ask!