Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 235
Varied Tai Chi Forms
How beautiful and wondrous the varied styles and forms of Tai Chi! The current trend toward the standardization of Tai Chi forms for competition and ease of teaching is so limiting that I feel saddened. This practice takes so much that is special, and packages it for mass production. It is analogous to taking a trip around the world, only to discover that everybody speaks English and eats at McDonalds. The beauty of life is in the details, the variations.
When I started studying Tai Chi in 1968, there was no internet, and no books or magazines devoted to Tai Chi. I was under the impression that what I was learning was the only way. When I first saw another Tai Chi form demonstrated, I thought that person didn’t know what they were doing as it wasn’t what I learned from an all knowing Tai Chi Master. I had a lot to learn.
Now, I get very excited to see other people’s Yang style forms, how they go about interpreting the same material in different ways. I want to know how they arrived at their current form – did they consciously change it, or did their teacher? What is the cause for the difference between performing a certain movement one way, and my form doing it in a different way?
There is almost unlimited possible study in the history of Tai Chi, its evolution, its refinement, its adapting to the various localities and tastes of the people of various areas. In the Yang style, for example, there are differences between the Northern and Southern styles that reflect the climate and temperament of the people of that region. The North is colder, so people tend to move faster than people of the hotter South. The Northern people are taller and more slender, so their forms use lots of long distance moves in the form of punches and kicks, whereas the Southerners are shorter and more stocky which leads to the forms using more close in movements with lots of throws and traps.
I simply love the idea that all styles of today started out from one person’s idea of what a martial art should be, and then it evolved and spread world wide. It wasn’t until the invention of guns that Tai Chi took a big step from a martial art into an exercise system. And now, due to the influence of the internet, people are able to see, study, learn, compare forms from every corner of the globe. You should feel free to incorporate any new ideas that advance your practice, if the changes are motivated by a deeper understanding of what you are doing. Even the Yang Family’s form changed when it moved from father to son, and then out into the wider world.
Take your time, look deeply, practice, understand, and you will achieve your goals.