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Tai Chi Analyzed

Part II: The Foundation
Part II: Choosing a Style

What makes a Tai Chi Posture Tai Chi?

Now we understand that there are two kinds of Tai Chi, small frame and large frame. We also know that some masters preferred to advocate the chi kung (internal development) aspects of Tai Chi while others strove to engage in both health aspects while retaining the martial uses.

So the first step in choosing a style or teacher is to ask yourself what you are looking for - health, or health and defense. Then start looking from that perspective.

For more messages from Grandmaster, see the Archives.

What are other differences in the styles of Tai Chi that are out there? To answer, we must understand that Tai Chi originally had very few movements; the forms grew over the centuries into many varied movements.

In the beginning Tai Chi was comprised of thirteen postures. There are eight basic techniques and the five directions.
In the beginning Tai Chi was comprised of thirteen postures. There come from eight basic techniques and the five directions. However, as Tai Chi grew as a martial art, so did the number of movements. Certain postures such as Fair Lady, Separate Hands, or Needle at Sea Bottom became part of the Tai Chi arsenal of moves. Generally all styles contain some form of these and other moves which became know as Tai Chi moves.

You must always bear in mind that physical moves are not categorized into Tai Chi moves or Pa Kua Moves, or Hsing-I moves. It is your frame of mind and fighting strategy that differentiate them in actual use. If you look closely you can see similar moves in Pa Kua and Hsing -I. That is why Master Sun incorporated even more of this type of moves into his style.

So when people ask me how they can fully understand Tai Chi, I always tell them to study both the internal and external styles. By learning all aspects over the long course of training, you will come to a better understanding of the movements, their sources and meanings.

Number of Moves

The number of moves differ from style to style. Some styles have as little as 36 postures, while others go as high as 180 moves. The number of movements depends on who the master was and how the various postures were counted within the form.

Some masters felt that to make Tai Chi more useful, certain moves were needed to enhance fighting capability. Other masters felt the original few moves were more than adequate to attain mastery of the concepts.

Movements such as Brush Knee and Twist Left, or Cloud Hands, or Single Whip are repeated a number of times in some styles. However, some masters felt repetition was not needed, so they cut out some of the repetitious moves for the sake of brevity.

Of course there is another view point here to consider: that these moves are repeated for good reason and should not be eliminated because they are the very foundation of the art and can always use refining by repeated repetition.

Some masters believe the art is one sided, since many moves are repeated only on one side of the body. There then is another style known as Lee's modified Tai Chi. Its creator is Master Ying-arng Lee. His version is an off-shoot of the Yang style and has 176 movements. Master Lee felt the form could be improved by practicing the moves on both sides of the body. He felt this was a more balanced why to practice the Tai Chi. If you too feel this way, then Master Lee's version is best for you.

But there is the opposite view point to also consider. It is true that in some forms certain moves are repeated only on one side of the body, nobody ever said you could not reverse the form and master the other side of your body. In fact, I often tell my advanced students to do just that. This way I do not change anything I have learned from my masters. I have been called too traditional in my approach, but it is this very approach that makes me what I am.

You are the one who must decide what is best for you. You have got to start somewhere, and chances are you will change your views points as you grow in knowledge.

Examine as many styles as you can before you choose. It is important to practice a style you feel is good for your mental and physical makeup. Ask yourself if you want to study one of the recognized styles or if you want a unique style that advocates a very different approach to learning.

Whatever you start with, there is no right or wrong choice. Picking a style is like buying a suit of clothes. Before you buy it you try it on, then you know if it fits you or not. Remember you can always change your style later, and the chances are that you will modify your training over the course of time as your grow in experience.

Tai Chi is always undergoing change. Even students of the same teacher have created different styles of Tai Chi - this is how the Sun Style and Wu style were born. As long as there are people there will be changes, there will be variations. You can't stop the growth of Tai Chi. Some styles will be born while others die out; only the best and most famous will remain.

One such style is the Sun style. Master Sun incorporated not only a different style of Tai Chi, but added his moves from his Pa Kua and Hsing-I knowledge. Some think this is a great idea, having all the concepts incorporated into one form, while others feel this is not necessary. If a student is not concerned where the moves come from then there is no problem. However, many others would rather learn Pa Kua and Hsing-I in there pure form and rather not combined the three art forms.

This is yet another choice you must consider when picking your style. Do you want a pure relatively unaltered style, or do you find combined styles interesting to you? Both are good. Again human preference at work.

Tai Chi Variations

Students who have studied the Chinese arts for some time begin to search out the so-called original styles in the due course of time. Traditional style is not the same as original style.

Who can actually say what Yang San Fu taught each student? Who is to say something has not been changed no matter how slight? Actually you can have two people from the same master doing the same style differently. One student may favor high kicks and the other low kicks.

When picking a style, look at it and see if it agrees with your concepts of fighting or chi kung. At first you may not have even the slightest idea of combat strategy, but don't worry - in the course of time and training these ideas will become clear as you learn more and more. Then you will know if you have the right style for you.

We tend to pick styles based on a master's reputation as a teacher or fighter or healer. If the master was a legendary fighter then everybody wants his/her style. Yang San Fu was said to be a great fighter, never defeated, and for this reason many flock to this style hoping to find the secret of Yang's invincibility. This could be said of the other noted styles in Tai Chi.

In fact this is very reason I changed from Yang style to Ch'ang style. Ch'ang was known as China's treasure, an undefeated master who proved his skills over and again against China's best fighters and always won. It was my guess he had a good approach to fighting strategy. So I studied this style, which is but another variation of the an old Yang style he learned from Li Ching-lin, the master of the sword.

I practice Tai Chi for both health and the defense. Ch'ang style fits my idea of Tai Chi both goals. It's good for me, but not necessarily good for you. That's for you to decide.

Of course none of this is to imply that anyone can teach you good Tai Chi. No matter which style you pick, finding a good teacher is the most important consideration. It is the knowledge of the teacher that will awaken you to the marvels of Tai Chi practice.

Therefore, first base your decision on which style suits your interests then look into the teacher's background. Your choice of teachers is by far more important then the style you pick, because in the long run your whole way of doing and thinking will be the result of your assimilation of your teacher's knowledge.

Now go find your style and enjoy the journey.

Part I: The Foundation
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