Ann from Charleston, SC asks:
“I know that learning the form in Tai Chi is only the beginning, but once I do so, what should I be focusing on next?”
Ann, you’re absolutely right that “learning” the Tai Chi form, meaning knowing the pattern in which the postures flow, is only the beginning. Some would even say that one’s study of Tai Chi hasn’t truly begun until they have learned the movements of a form, and we know that Tai Chi is the study of a lifetime.
When the movements have been learned, and you no longer need to keep them in mind, the next thing you should practice for is smoothness. This is one thing I always tell my students as well as those I judge in form competition, as there are those who think smoothness is important and those who do not. If you want to use Tai Chi to change your life, you need to develop smoothness. However, if you are only looking to develop tournament skill in form, you only need to please us judges, and a number of us to do not think it is that important, so it is up to you whether you choose to focus on smoothness or not if competition is your only goal.
It might help here to digress and explain a few of the benefits of smoothness.
To start working on your smoothness, pick a speed to perform your form at. For Cheng Man-Ch’ing form, this would preferably at least a 7 minute form speed, and for others, pick an average or a maximum speed that the form should be done at. Stick to this speed, day in and day out. It is helpful to be able to go to at the same speed every day, but what’s really important is, whatever speed you start at, that is the speed you should continue and finish at at. So if today you start at 9 minute speed, you should finish at 9 minutes, and if yesterday was 7 minutes you started at, you should have finished your form after 7 minutes.
When you get your hands moving at an appropriate, consistent speed, it’s time to remember your body and your feet, which are probably moving faster than your hands. The body is usually easy to adjust, but the feet tend not to be, most likely because we take our steps for granted. So this is the next challenge: to move hands, body and feet together. This is not easy; it is like starting Tai Chi again with the feet as the central focus.
Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing was once asked about smoothness and evenness, in particular about the smoothness and evenness in the posture Four Corners (Fair Lady Weaves Shuttles) where you move, stop and move the opposite way. He said the movement is the same speed coming in and going out, and at the physical pause, the chi is moving at the same speed.
When the whole body moves at one speed, then you are ready for the challenge of the next level of study: Tai Chi as a moving meditation.
In T’ai Chi,