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Working Through Tough Spots in Your Form

Volume 5 Number 4
Fall 2004

By Kit LeClair

Why are certain sequences in the taijiquan form so much more difficult than others? There are some simple reasons, and some equally simple solutions.
The opening moves of any taijiquan form will naturally become the most familiar to students. Those moves will have been practiced the longest, and would have been introduced slowly in great detail; plus, they have constantly been reviewed. The opening moves become the building blocks for all subsequent work. They are vehicles for introducing techniques, form, positions, directions, mental focus, and philosophy.
Imagine then, why later moves seem so much more challenging. New, and often more difficult techniques are introduced. New directions are faced. Longer sequences of moves are introduced all at once.
As an example, in the first few moves of the Yang-style short form, we are introduced to the directions of north, east, and west. We orient ourselves towards our bodies' left and right sides, and upper and lower halves. We move around using both moving and fixed foot positions. We ground ourselves and our skills in moves that have clear techniques and applications.
But by the time we get to the middle of the Yang-style short form, we begin to encounter long, challenging sequences of moves such as Squatting Single Whip, Golden Pheasant, Separate Right and Left, Turn and Strike with Heel, that seem to flummox even the best of students.
At first, these moves seem to have nothing to do with our basic building-block postures of Grasping Sparrow¹s Tail. Most of this mid-form sequence, in fact, is done while standing precariously on one leg or the other. The sequence is almost acrobatic in its athleticism, requiring squatting, one-legged stances, turns, and kicks. These challenge every bit of our balance and alignment. (We should not castigate ourselves; careful observation of professional ballet dancers, ice-skaters, and gymnasts will reveal the same problems.)
Even more significant is that once we begin this sequence of moves, we almost immediately have no reference points left to us from the beginning of the form. We are facing different directions, we are trying new stances, we are swamped with new skills to learn. For a short period of time, we are working "without a net."
What are some solutions? With some care and attention, new and difficult sequences like these can be brought up to a level of practice that matches earlier, easier moves.
Here are some practice pointers:

€ Break down difficult moves into smaller, more manageable units. Search for their commonality with early "building block" moves. For example, Golden Pheasant could be looked at as a variation of Ward Off.

€ Focus on how to keep grounded while on one foot. This should feel no different than when you¹re about to take any step. Concentrate attention into sinking the tailbone and sinking into the feet.

€ Train by gradually adding more challenges. Instead of always going to the maximum (in a turn or a kick, for example), start by doing a modest version. Increase your capacity bit-by-bit so that you can also keep true to the taijiquan principles at the same time

€ Smooth out transitions between moves. Keep the pelvis level, and focus the mind into the root in order to move, step, or turn.

€ Create new reference points. Get acquainted with the diagonal directions (these should be relative to your body and your flexibility, not rigidly linked to corners of a room).

Don't be afraid to experiment by creating exercises to help yourself develop these necessary skills. The key to this work, nevertheless, must be faithfulness to taijiquan principles, discovering your own abilities, and in understanding the dynamics of the moves.

Kit Leclair is a graphic designer residing in Brooklyn, New York. She has practiced taijiquan for twenty-one years.

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Taijiquan Journal (T'ai Chi Ch'uan Journal)