The interviewee is a senior instructor at the Gin Soon
Tai Chi Club in Boston, Massachusetts. He has been studying Classical Yang
Family Tai Chi Chuan since he was a child, first with his father, the lineage
instructor and founder of the school, Gin Soon Chu, and then with Professor Fang
Ning. Vincent Chu was also studied with several other masters.
How does one begin learning Tai Chi Chuan?
First you must look for a well trained and knowledgeable instructor though
not necessarily somebody famous. Get as much information about the instructor as
possible such as who he trained under, how long, and how much he studied? In
Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, there are forms a student studies, such as the Solo
Form, the Long Form, Push Hand Exercises, Two Man Set and Weapons such as sword,
broadsword, 13 spear techniques or staff. So you should attempt to find out what
the instructor studied. Determine how far you want to go and then see if the
instructor can take you there. Needless to say, you can study the Sword Form
only with somebody who knows it.
There are many ideas about who is competent to teach, so I'll leave that
issue alone for now. What is important is that you know why you have chosen a
teacher. Also ask about the teaching method and curriculum. Is the instruction
systematic? Is there a progression of learning? As a beginner, you usually learn
the Solo Form, one posture at a time. Then, after you have learned the postures,
you begin to refine what you have learned, making the movements smoother,
balanced, concentrated, round and with meaning. You do the postures very, very
slowly so that you can control and focus on the movements and see if they are
What should a beginner emphasize in training?
Here is a list of the major things the beginners must pay attention to all
How does the student determine if the posture is correct?
- Correct posture. When it is upright and comfortable, the posture is
- Circular motion. There are all kind of circular movements in the Solo
Form. You should be aware of them.
- Lightness. Every movement should be light. The feet should be light
and mobile, so should the shifting of the body's weight and the pushing
of the hands.
- Slowness. Be slow but spirited so that all movements have control,
coordination and power.
- Evenness. All the movements should move at the same speed and the
knees should remain bent at the same height all the time to developed leg
strength, coordination, balance and togetherness.
- Balance. When you move or when you assume a posture, you should be
stable, not wobbly. The weight distribution should be correct, the shifting
of the weight should be gradual.
Outwardly, a posture is correct when it looks natural and comfortable. The
body is erect with body's weight sinking downward and supporting on one leg.
Inwardly, when a posture is correct, one should feel the energy coming from the
feet to the hands. In order to develop the correct posture, one should begin
with the outward appearance. Here is a short checklist:
What is your advice to students whose legs hurt?
- Lower the elbows and relax the shoulders.
- The forward knee lines up to the forward elbow (to form one of the three
- Hands do not over extend.
- Head is upright and eyes look straight forward.
When one practices Tai Chi Chuan, the knees are always bent, the movements are executed slowly, and the
body's weight is usually supported by one leg. In the beginning, because the
legs are not strong enough, they hurt or you experience minor discomfort. Later,
if one practices more, the strength of the legs will be developed. Also,
practicing the four major stances separately will get the legs stronger quickly.
The four major stances are:
Take time to practice each one of these stances daily. Over time, one will
develop powerful legs and stances.
- The body's weight on the forward leg with the knee bent.
- The body's weight on the back leg with the knee bent.
- The body's weight on both legs with the knees bent.
- Standing on one leg.
What is your advice to students who can not remember the movements?
Remember that you are not alone. The best way to remember is to practice more
frequently and learn one posture at a time. Break down the movement into its
sub-units, such as how the hands and feet move and how the body's weight control
What other advice can you give the beginner?
There are other things the beginner should remember. A few of them are:
How does the beginner learn balance?
- Hold the head from above. This expression came from the story of a
student who kept falling asleep during study. To overcome this, he tied his
braid to the rope suspended from the ceiling. In Tai Chi Chuan practice,
suspend the head from above' means one must keep the head upright, eyes
looking forward with the neck straight.
- You must relax. In Tai Chi Chuan, this does not mean to simply let
go. In Chinese this means "Jou". It is a combination of being loose,
relaxed and hard. In Tai Chi Chuan practice, it begins with sinking the
shoulders and elbows, and loosening all the joints in the body. Yeung
Chiang Po defined this as iron wrapped in cotton.
- Your movement must be flowing. There should be no break in any of the
movements. All the movements must be continuous from one posture to the
next without any pause in between.
- Sink the chi down to the dantien. If one's chi sinks down to the
dantien (three inches or so below the navel), one will feel a fullness of
the lower abdomen. But to achieve this, you begin with the correct posture
and breathing with the diaphragm.
It is common for beginners to have problems with balance. Remember that when
practicing Tai Chi Chuan, one is always shifting the body's weight from one leg
to the other in each movement. Since the body's weight is often supported by one
leg, the foot of that leg should be flat on the ground to maintain maximum
How does the student improve Tai Chi Chuan skill?
One practices all the movements naturally, comfortably, and should master one
movement at a time and shouldn't hurry to finish all the movements at once. Only
after you have mastered one movement should you move on to the next one. It is
common among beginners that they do not have coordination and balance. If one
practices frequently, everything will come together naturally. After one has
mastered the movements, he or she will begin to interpret and incorporate many
Tai Chi Chuan concepts in practice. One can work on concepts such as empty and
full, using the mind and not physical power, yin and yang. Attempt to understand
why the movements are in certain positions and the relations to its applications
and also how to discharge power. A students should ask all the questions one has
about the movements. Watch how other people practice and take in what is good.
Practice more. 'Practice' is the same word as 'remember'. It is said that one
has practiced the form a thousand times, its principles will appear.
What does open and close mean?
There are open and close motions all throughout Tai Chi Chuan's Solo Form.
Open is the beginning of a movement. Close is the end or completion of a
movement. Open is when the mind is beginning to lead the chi to circulate
throughout the whole body with the help of the physical movement. Therefore, it
is said that when practicing the open movements, the whole body should be open
so that the chi will circulate in the whole body. A close movement is the end of
this chi circulation and with it the chi will return back to the dantien.
What are the qualities of a good practitioner?
A good practitioner must be observed and practiced martial ethics. It is
often said among the martial art community that before a student obtains lesson
in kicking and punching, a student must first obtain lessons in martial ethics.
Throughout history, all skillful practitioners observed and practiced martial
ethics seriously. The nickname "Invincible Yang", earned by Yeung Lou Sim was
not based on his Tai Chi Chuan skill alone. It was based on how he observed and
practiced martial ethics.
How should the Solo Form be taught to a beginner? How about Push hand
Exercises? Should a teacher have a lesson plan for each student? (This was
suggested in a recent magazine article)
In Tai Chi Chuan, there are three levels of practice: the physical movement,
the application of each movement, and the discharge of power or energy in each
movement. After a student masters the physical movements, next, he or she should
learn all the applications. And later, one should learn how to correctly
discharge power. Push hand exercises were developed to train for specific
concepts and objectives. Push hands is a transition from the solo form to
sparring or competition in the Tai Chi Chuan system. Any complete system of
martial arts has a lesson plan or curriculum for its practitioners. It generally
includes some fundamental exercises, bare hand forms, weapon forms, solo or
partner exercises and strength exercises.
How should an instructor teach the different techniques like ward off, roll
back, press and push, shoulder stroke, and others? I am interested in the
teaching method, but many teachers are interested in and discuss the
All martial arts teach the same thing. They begin with the physical aspect,
move to the application aspect and then the power aspect. Martial arts teaching
is done by example and demonstration, and scholarly teaching is done by words
and description. Therefore, it is often said that it is easier to be a teacher
of scholarly subjects than to be a martial arts teacher. That is also said that
because martial arts alway involve competition. Therefore, martial arts always
end with a resolution. Scholarly teaching involves discussion. Therefore, it
often ends without any solution. Thus chinese people often said that in martial
arts there is no second place and in intellectual pursuits there is no first
Is there a special way of breathing in Tai Chi Chuan?
There is alot of controversy about coordinate the breathing with movements.
But, when one does not pay attention to breathing, natural breathing will occur.
One will naturally inhale when the movements are upwards, storing, and closing
and will naturally exhale when the movements are downward, opening or
How can one advance in Tai Chi Chuan? Is it determined by the number of Solo
Forms and styles one knows?
In general, the more knowledge one knows, the better. But, this is different
in martial arts and Tai Chi Chuan training. Advancement is determined by skill
and techniques, not by the number of solo forms one has mastered. It is a issue
of quality over quantity. It is common to see an experienced Tai Chi Chuan
master practicing the same solo form as a beginning student. If there was no
difference, why would a master still practice the same solo form after many
decades of practice? One can observe and appreciate the differences in quality,
in execution of the movements following all the principles and concepts such as
timing, balance, yin/yang, empty/full, continuous and circular, relaxation and
coordination. etc. If a practitioner only puts emphasis on quantity of forms,
how does one has the time to refine and incorporate these concepts in practice.
Tai Chi form styles named after particular family names in Tai Chi Chuan have
only been used in the past several decades. They are different only in the
execution of the physical Solo Form's movements. The philosophy, history and
concepts remain the same. When a reader picks up a copy of Tai Chi Chuan book
published before the 40's and 50's, most likely the title is simply 'Tai Chi
Chuan'. Now, it is common for a practitioner to work on different family styles'
Solo Forms. In actuality, this is but working on the same subject with different
prospectives. This is similiar to remaining in the same grade but at a different
school and with a different teacher.
What is Wu Chi Posture?
It is another name for "Beginning Tai Chi Chuan". Tai Chi Chuan is a physical
exercise that works on the physical body as well as the spiritual body or the
nervous system. Therefore, if one practices the Wu Chi Posture regularly, one
will improve the central nervous system and be able to remove all unwanted
thoughts, clear the mind and reach a stage of tranquility so the physical body
will be relaxed and concentrated.
Making room for flexibility and other factors, what forms should a student
learn in a period of five years? Ten years?
It is often said that among practitioners in the Tai Chi Chuan community that
one cannot graduate without 10 years of practice. In Tai Chi Chuan training,
the curriculum often has the Fundamental Exercises, Solo Forms, Solo and Partner
Exercises, Push Hand Exercises, Weapon Forms, and Strength Exercises. Each of
these training forms is 'completed' when one understands the physical aspect,
the applications and the power aspect.
People and their learning abilities are different. Therefore, it is difficult
to set aside time for training. This is why not all students complete the whole
Article by Rene J. Navarro