A Discussion on Solo Form's Practice

Over the years, many students have asked me the question: How can the slow movements of Tai Chi Chuan be a martial art? The question is understandable since a martial art is supposed to move fast and with power, and Tai Chi Chuan seems to do the opposite.

The slow Tai Chi Chuan solo form has many functions. It has been used quite successfully as a healing approach for sick people who were chronically ill. It has been found to be a meditative and quieting regimen, an extremely relaxing routine in the face of modern stress. It has also been cited as a means of communicating with the environment, nature and the self. Although it is true that this discipline has other goals like centering, relaxation, health, and longevity, Tai Chi Chuan is first and foremost a martial art. Precisely because it is slow, the Tai Chi Chuan solo form allows the practitioner's body to be more relaxed, loose, and nimble. To the Tai Chi Chuan masters, that is the ideal body to cultivate--supple, at ease, fluid, alive; a body that is hard, tight and inflexible is associated with death. When the Tai Chi Chuan practitioner fights, he is alert, supple and sensitive at the same time, his body responds to any situation however unpredictable.

And it is definitely easier for the teacher and the student to fine tune the body and correct the posture if the movement is slow rather than fast. There is also better awareness of the body dynamics when the movement is slow.

The slow Tai Chi Chuan Solo Form also teaches a new vocabulary. It is a beginning. The body starts to learn a different way, a relaxed way, of fighting. There are inherent in the slow movements certain combative techniques that can be developed through Pushing Hand Exercises. The solo form is an excellent means of teaching and learning the combative techniques.

It is often said that the movements were originally single postures and that somebody put them together as a sequence. Even now, instructors still show single, isolated postures for fighting but the intention is only to demonstrate the correct position. If the instructor also shows the martial application, the student should not believe that that is the only application of the movement or posture. Instructors often demonstrate a fighting technique but that is only to give an idea of one of the many applications of a movement. The demonstration should in no way limit the possibility of other applications in each movement or inhibit the movement's potential and student's understanding and self development. It is usually said that the applications are infinite. There are refinements and variations. With the shift of the body, the application may change although the posture is basically the same.

Moreover, for each posture, an application can be choreographed into two categories: the Yang aspect or the "open movement" and the Ying aspect or the "close movement". Within these two aspects, the eight hand techniques of warding off, roll back, press, push, pull down, split, elbow strike, shoulder strike and their many variations and combinations apply.

While the demonstration of an application is valuable, it mimics the external system's tendency to emphasize the physical technique. To me, the physical application such as how to strike is secondary. The emphasis in Tai Chi Chuan should be on energy circulation. How to internally maximize the effect of the strike. A misplaced emphasis on training in the application of techniques can be self defeating.

Many people have mistakenly taken the slow movement of the solo form as the combative form. Among Tai Chi Chuan practitioners, it is often said that the slow form is for the body while the push hand exercises are for the application.

After we master the body through total relaxation, every movement becomes nimble and has offensive and defensive meaning. A practitioner will no longer rely on any individual movement's application. At this point, all responses will be based on the opponent's movements. Any part of the body can be used as a weapon for yielding or sending off power. That is why practitioners often say that when the intention is there, the chi will be there too and the power will not be too far behind.

A knowledgeable Tai Chi Chuan instructor does not talk about application all the time. Rather, he talks about internal power and how to develop more of this internal power, about how to combined this internal power to the strike. When the body is loose and relaxed from practicing the slow solo form, internal power developed from the body coordination. This internal power does not come from the tension in any part of the body. It is the result of total body coordination developed through the slow form. It is very explosive, so explosive that it can send somebody 10 to 20 feet away.

The uniqueness of Tai Chi Chuan's techniques and power is difficult for the beginner to understand.

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