Creativity of the Solo Form

One complaint about the Solo Form is that it is too long and too difficult to remember, that it is not the right routine for today's busy and stressful society. And so, practitioners have come up with shorter and easier versions of the form. These new versions, while easier to learn and more accessible to the public, have lost many of the original meanings.

The movements of the Solo Form created by Zheng San Feng is a combination of old and new, simple and complex, easy and difficult, movements. One can see this in a movement that involves stretching and relaxing, up and down, fast and slow, repetition and new, which follow the principle of Yin and Yang. However, movements do not just simply repeat themselves. The movements are repeated but there are many new and different movements in between so that they act as a service breaker and provide a sense of spiral repetition. This spiral imply of moving ahead. For example, take the movement of "Brush Knee and Twist Step." It appears first in the first section of the Solo Form. It is done five times: (1) After "White Crane Spreads its Wing; (2) after the first "Play the Lute", it is done three times; (3) after the second "Play the Lute," it is done one time. In the second section, "Brush Knee and Twisted Step" is done four more times: (1) after "Turn Around and Kick;" it is done two times; (2) after the two "White Crane Spreads its Wing," it is also done two times. From this sequence of repetitions, we see that the step of repetition reviewed the old movement of "Brush Knee and Twisted Step" as well as connected into other movements. This process of repetition and new movements following the same movement throughout the Solo Form alert practitioners that attention and concentration must be observed all the time.

"Ward Off," "Roll Back," "Press," and "Push" are the four directions while "Split," "Pull Down," "Elbow Strike" and "Shoulder Strike" are the four corners of the hand techniques. The Solo Form highlights the most essential movements first by beginning with the four directions as in "Grasp the Bird's Tail" and repeating this sequence several times in the second and third sections. It is common knowledge among practitioners that if there is no "Grasp the Bird's Tail" in the Solo Form, it is not Tai Chi Chuan.

Although there are over hundreds of movements, there are actually only 37 sets of completely different movements. The Solo Form repeats some of these 37 movements several times. The number of repetitions is based on the importance of the movements. For example, "Grasp the Bird's Tail" appears seven times, "Step Forward and Punch" and "Repulse Monkey" appear six times. "Brush Knee and Twisted Step" appears nine times. "Single Whip" appears ten times. These movements have a lot of functional value. They are choreographed to repeat many times in the Solo Form so that the practitioner can understand them thoroughly.

Tai Chi Chaun is also known as Cheung Chuan or Long Form. It is symbolized as the ocean waves. A process of infinite phenomenon. One can see the Solo Form as being to an ocean wave in three ways. (1) Each single movement flows into the next movement like one tide flowing into the next. (2) A group of movements together to form a short segment that has repetitions, new, complex, simple, difficult and easy movements. This is like several tides connecting together so that one comes after another. (3) The Solo Form is divided into three sections. The second section is longer and more complex than the first section and the third section is much more complex than the second section. This is like one wave is bigger and higher than the last one. In the first section, there is simplicity but important movements are highlighted. In the second section, the movements utilize the body more, from the palm strikes to the feet kicking. In the third section, in addition to more movements than the second section, the movements incorporate many complicated body maneuvers. The first section is like a low tide, the second section is higher and the third section is highest.

The three sections composing the Solo Form are like a good novel. There is an introduction, a climax and conclusion. Each section has its important movements- "Brush Knee and Twisted Step" and "Grasp the Bird's Tail" in the first section; the kicking in the second section; and the difficult movements in the third section. In a novel, a good conclusion is very important. It generally summarizes what the author wanted to present. We see the movements of "Step Forward to Form The Seven Star," "Retreat to Ride the Tiger," "Turn Around Lotus' Kick," and "Pull Bow to Shoot the Tiger," which are a series of difficult movements, and then concluded with the familiar movements of "Step Forward and Punch," "Seal Tightly," and "Cross Hands." This is the same sequence of movements at the end of each section and completes the whole circle with "Closing Tai Chi Chuan."

Tai Chi Chuan is the physical interpretation of the philosophy of Tai Chi. We see the composition and structure of Tai Chi Chuan's Solo Form aims to achieve the following objectives: 1. The Solo Form points out the philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan by demonstrating the movements according to the following: a. The beginning and ending movements are the same. The Solo Form is a complete circle. b. It is not always the same movement that follows a repetition and all the movements do not move in one direction. In one set, the movements go backward and forward three times. it provides a sense of spiral motion and moving ahead. c. All the wave motions described above symbolize continuity. d. There are repetitions and new, fast and slow, easy and difficult movements. This is the interpretation of Yin and Yang. 2. The Solo Form points out the essence of the art of Tai Chi Chuan by demonstrating the movements according to the following: a. Begin with the movement "Grasp the Bird's Tail" to highlight the importance of Ward off, Roll back, Press and Push. b. Repeat the important movements several times in one practice so that a practitioner will better understand and become familiar with these movements and comprehend their usages. c. All the movements following the repetitions are not the same so that a practitioner will pay close attention to practice. d. The routine is not done strictly in one direction that is common among External Styles, rather it goes back and forth three times. This provides a sense of "folding" for leverage and flexibility.

Thus, we can see why it is so difficult to learn the Solo Form. It is designed to answer the question- What is it? How do we practice it? It exists for the practitioner to explore, to experience and to adapt. Throughout history, many practitioners have attempted to improve it but the essential framework has remained the same.

Article By Vincent Chu
Copyright © V. Chu. All rights reserved.