Understanding Tai Chi Moves

Each tai chi form can be broken down into a series of separate moves. This makes it easier for both teaching and learning.

There’s considerable variation in how long or complicated an individual move actually is. A move is typically a combination of actions, as in the “Brush Knee and Twist Step” move. Hence, a 24 Move short form is more complicated than its name implies.

Its possible to analyze each tai chi move in terms of:

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Its general purpose

Its energy flow

Detailed fighting application (for martial artists)

Understand the Move Purpose. Its easier to learn and to retain a move it when you understand its purpose. Typically, this will be a martial application.

Be aware of these applications, even if practicing tai chi for health or for relaxation. This is a way to deepen your tai chi practice, and to move it from simple choreography to engaging the energetic of tai chi.

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Understand the Energy Flow in the Move. Tai chi is all about internal energy flows. It’s always useful to go back to this principle and to examine the energy flow and body mechanics in a move. Is the body compressed and storing energy or is it open, expanded, and releasing energy outward? Is the energy release in one direction, or is it a combination, such as outward and downward at the same time?

With these patterns--whether practicing for health, relaxation, or for fighting—you can check how your actual movements are helping or hindering the energy flow of the move. With experience, you’ll find that even a minor change can dramatically impact energy flow, for better or for worse.

Fighting Applications. Martial artists have another task as well—to break a move down in detail to its different applications.

Perhaps there’s an initial hand strike, followed by a forearm strike, an elbow strike, and finally a shoulder strike. Maybe there’s a joint lock with an optional throw.

Tai chi moves may have easily seen, overt applications but also embody other, optional applications. When you’re comfortable with a move, try varying it to emphasize different applications.

Classic Tai Chi Moves. In the next pages, you’ll find analyses of several different tai chi moves. They describe some of the behind-the-scenes action which might not be easy to pick out at first. The information will help to explain what experienced tai chi practitioners are actually doing.

Commencement. Almost all tai chi forms begin with a Commencement move. Typically, four major tai chi energies are found in this move, which readies the practitioner for the rest of the form.

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Single Whip. This is another well-known tai chi move. In some styles, the martial applications are clear. Other sets may emphasize its open, meditative aspect. Read more about the energy flow and the martial applications of the Single Whip here.

White Crane Spreads Wings. The White Crane has an important role in both Chinese mythology as well as in many tai chi forms. Read about the White Crane Spreads Wings movement here.

Once you understand a move and have mastered its mechanics, you’ll be able to deepen your tai chi practice.

Next: Read about the tai chi move, Single Whip.