Master Chen Xiaowang, a renowned Tai Chi master, shares his thoughts on Tai Chi with beginners who are passionate about learning the art.
Master Chen Xiaowang believes that Tai Chi is not just a martial art but a profound system that encompasses various aspects of life. It is a practice that requires dedication and patience. He emphasizes that although Tai Chi may seem difficult at first, it is not a matter of being inherently difficult or easy, but rather a process akin to education.
He compares learning Tai Chi to the progression through different grades in school. Just as students follow a step-by-step curriculum, beginners in Tai Chi start by learning the fundamental postures and movements, with the guiding principle of being natural. The height, depth, and intensity of the postures should be adjusted gradually, allowing for a slightly challenging practice without advocating excessive strain or difficulty. Similar to having meals, where breakfast is followed by lunch and then dinner in a systematic manner, the learning of Tai Chi should also proceed in a disciplined and gradual manner. Rushing through the process only hinders progress.
People say that Tai Chi is profound and difficult, but when it comes to its difficulty, it’s similar to going to school. In the first three grades, you follow the steps and start by learning the basic postures. The first principle is to be natural. The height and depth of the postures, as well as the amount of practice each time, should be slightly tiring but not excessively difficult. It’s like having a meal – after having breakfast, you wait four or five hours before having lunch, and then dinner follows. It’s a step-by-step process. If you rush, you won’t achieve your goal.
Starting with the basic postures, the first layer is to memorize the movements and understand where your hands and feet should go. First, learn a routine and become proficient in it. Then, address any conflicts and errors within the routine. If there are movements that don’t meet the requirements, you need to overcome them and minimize the errors. It requires effort to reduce the errors to a certain extent and achieve a smooth flow of movements. This is called practicing the form. Practice the form slowly and smoothly to ensure a continuous flow of energy.
At the beginning, the movements should be slow and the route should be broader to allow the energy to flow smoothly. If you go too fast, it will become chaotic. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle – you can ride well on a big square or a wide road, but when you encounter a difficult road or a narrow path, you fall off easily. The same applies to Tai Chi. Once you become proficient, you can handle not only the easy situations but also the challenging ones. To excel in Tai Chi, you must start by practicing the form in a small and gradual manner. From a big circle to a medium circle, then to a small circle, until there is no circle. The internal changes of emptiness and fullness are not visible from the outside. The circle represents the force, and the force comes from within the circle. The transformation between emptiness and fullness allows the whole body to move as one, with a continuous flow of energy. Different movements from various angles, such as “Golden Cock Stands on One Leg” forward, “Lazy Tying the Coat” to the right, and “Single Whip” to the left, help you experience various transformations.
People who learn Tai Chi often ask, “How do you apply this move? How do you use that move?” There are three points to consider: First, think for yourself. Second, develop your own skills. Third, when practicing, imagine that there is someone there. Practice as if there is someone there, as if it were a real fight. That’s why the steps of learning Tai Chi are as follows: First, practice the form; second, develop your skills; third, practice the applications. When practicing, imagine that there is someone there. However, at the beginning, don’t practice in this manner. If you are not familiar with the form and your energy is not flowing smoothly, you will be focusing only on the external movements, while your body lags behind. It won’t work and can even be harmful.
Patience is crucial when learning Tai Chi. Start with a relaxed approach, and it’s good enough to perform a few movements correctly. Then, think about how to connect them and proceed further to become proficient. Once you reach a certain level of proficiency, you will naturally understand how to apply the movements and incorporate them into routines. Additionally, if the principles are understood correctly, you can apply them without being taught. If the principles are not understood, explanations won’t be useful. Why is that? When your opponent attacks, you won’t have time to think about which move to use to counter it. Thinking often
takes too long. However, if your body remembers and you have trained accurately, your natural response will be effective. Are the applications important? Not really. If you practice correctly, your body will naturally understand. Understanding them to some extent can be helpful, but as long as you grasp the principles of movement accurately, your natural response will be even better.