In order to help Tai Chi enthusiasts to quickly and properly learn Tai Chi Chuan, I would like to offer the following information based on my own personal learning and teaching experience.
Know the purpose of learning Tai Chi Chuan.
To strengthen our body, to cure disease and to prolong our life with quality is why we learn and practice Tai Chi. Only when we are able to accurately and correctly master Tai Chi Chuan can we hope to achieve such purpose, or else it would be just an empty Tai Chi-look-alike form of calisthenics with no significant health benefits.
Understand the specifics of Tai Chi Chuan( the underlying principles of Tai Chi Chuan).
Tai Chi Chuan requires a quiet mind and a relaxed body. It demands the yi (intent, mind & will) to direct the movements so as to cause the whole body to move slowly, softly, smoothly and naturally in a relaxed manner. Thus it will circulate the flow of qi and blood, strengthen the body and conserve energy. Therefore, when learning the form and imitating the movements, we need to be totally relaxed and calm, and follow the teacher’s instructions step by step, doing each move correctly and precisely, paying careful attention to the co-ordination of breath (qi),the mind (yi) and the movements.
First learn and practise well on the foundational moves of the body, the hands and the feet.
Such moves will appear in the whole Tai Chi form time and time again. Thus when we master them well, we will have accomplished 50% of the form. All other postures or movements are derived from these basic moves. In the beginning, the learning process seems to be very slow, but once the basic moves are understood and mastered, the progress will be a lot faster resulting with much greater health benefits. We will break down a new movement into sections for easier learning. With more complex movements, we will first learn the upper body moves and then the lower body moves. Afterwards, we combine the upper and lower body moves into one big movement and practice it until it is done very well. As you have mastered all the basic stepping, all you need to do is to concentrate on learning the upper body moves of any new movement, section by section. Try to learn each movement (form) well before moving onto a new one. Otherwise, just copying somebody doing the form will just lead you astray, getting further and further away from the real Tai Chi Chuan and its true meaning and purpose.
It is very difficult for beginners to relax, quiet the mind and be still.
When performing the movements, their hands and feet, the upper and lower body are unable to co-ordinate in unison, but move rather awkwardly. Training in Tai Chi Chuan is about eliminating old and bad habits and it cannot be achieved in a day or even months. Therefore patience is of utmost importance. Contemplating the Tai Chi principles and paying attention to the correct postures of the movements are very essential. In order to quiet one’s mind, a beginner can pay attention to his hand movement by looking at his lead hand as it moves.
The high or low stance of the postures depends on the strength of the participant.
A beginner should choose it according to his strength. An older person could start with a high stance and as the leg strength increases, he could lower the stance accordingly. A young person can choose medium to low stance even as a beginner.
Practising Tai Chi Chuan only once a week at the school will not produce significant health benefits or good skills.
It requires daily practices. Due to the busy lifestyle of our society, many people do not practice Tai Chi at home but rely on the school. This is not good enough. When the teacher is teaching a new move today and you are busy trying to remember the move from last lesson a week ago, you will be losing your concentration on learning. The teacher is trying to teach you a new move and you are trying to remember the previous move from a fellow student. Such playing catching up is not the right way to learn Tai Chi. The correct way is to re-arrange your priority so that you can squeeze a little bit of time in your daily schedule to do Tai Chi. Writing notes are invaluable. If you do forget the previous move or miss a class, do not worry about it when the teacher is teaching the new one. Learn the new one well first then ask the teacher about the previous moves and re-learn them. “It is pointless to tear down the new wall in order to mend the old wall”. The sequences of the Tai Chi Chuan form is not important. Learning the moves from the ending part first will not affect the learning of the beginning moves. Practising well the foundational moves (the basics) is the most important. Therefore newcomers do not need to try catching up with the class, just learn and master well the basics.
To learn and practice Tai Chi Chuan is to enhance our quality of life, thus if we view Tai Chi Chuan practice as part of our daily life, it will not be difficult to fit it into our daily schedule. “How we sow so shall we reap”.
** The English version is translated by Master Shao Lei’s student and the contents of the English translation could deviate from the original Chinese document written by Master Shao. The translator apologizes for any errors, oversight, omissions, and misinterpretation.**