Tai Chi is a higher level of Qigong, a moving meditation technique. It may look easy, but there are many layers in it, and behind the outside simplicity you will find the infinite inner complexity. That is why this style took over the world - it offers you a lot, much more than one can possibly achieve in a lifetime.
Tai Chi (Tai Tzi) means "the great limit". Tsuan means "fist". The fist of the great limit. The "limit" is a metaphor here, as many other things in Chinese philosophy, there is no limit, but only our quest for it.
Here you will learn Tai Chi Meditation technique of the style Yang, called after the master Yang Lu Chan.
What you will get? The inner balance. It seems like a small thing, however it does change people's life to the best. First of all, Tai Chi improves people's health, both mental and physical (read the disclaimer, and contact your family doctor, if in doubts).
There is a saying, that the "thought is real", meaning that whatever you think can become true. This is not quite right. The thought is real, if it is the ONLY thought, if we focus on it, fully. Most people cannot do it, as there is always some "mental noise" present in their heads. Qigong and Tai Chi can help you to "empty" your head. Then you need to just tell yourself, what you need - and your body will respond.
Tai Chi helps us to gain control over our emotions. The "normal" person, when trapped in the negative emotion - stays there. A Tai Chi (Qigong) person is always aware of his / her state, and can change it, any moment. I don't think I have to tell about the influence our negative emotions have on our health - it is well known.
Tai Chi is not only the self-healing and meditative technique - Tai Chi Martial Art is among the most powerful combat techniques. However, the first step is still to learn to control the energy flow in your body, the "chi". Without "chi" it will be just the wrestling. You should not expect to learn to fight after you learn the "24 forms", as it is not intended as a self-defense technique, however, it will help you a lot, if you continue studying the "inner" styles of kung fu.
One disadvantage the book has, when you compare it to the live class is the fact, that in the class the teacher can repeat the "rules" many times. Like "keep your back straight". In the book I can only do it here and there, otherwise the book will be too long. Nevertheless, there is a reason teachers repeat these rules, and the reason is - the students, especially the beginners, break these rules EVERY time they can. This was your fair warning. Learn the "rules", or find some other name for what you are doing, as it is not going to be "Tai Chi".
In the text, I am referring to some Chinese Pressure Points located on the energy meridians.
In Tai Chi, you will find references to 3 so called dan tjans: the lower dan tjan, the middle dan tjan and the upper dan tjan.
The lower dan tjan is located 4 fingers (meaning - width of your fingers, not length) below the belly button, more or less at the central plane of your body. On the surface, below the belly button, it is represented by the point called tsi hai (the list of important points can be found at the web site).
This dan tjan is the most important in Tai Chi and Qigong, most of our work has at least something to do with "awakening" it and bringing energy into it.
The middle dan tjan is located at the middle line of the body, at the level of the heart.
The upper dan tjan is located between eyes and about 2 inches in.
In Qigong, we work a lot with middle and upper dan tjans, but here, in Tai Chi 24 Form we will only mention them for geometrical references, as "bring your hands up at the level of your middle dan tjan".
Before we begin with Tai Chi 24 Form, we need to learn how to walk. This is very important, and if you do it wrong, then your Tai Chi will be no more than aerobics, and a very slow one, too. In this chapter we are going to learn Tai Chi Postures, that appear as the final positions between steps. In the next chapter we will take a look at the Tai Chi Steps, and in the "Rules and restrictions" chapter we will learn some more rules, that you should apply, while doing Tai Chi Meditation.
In Tai Chi, we can not walk on the straight legs. So we bend our knees.
After you have bent your knees to bring your center of gravity to the "comfortable" depth, you are going to walk WITHOUT jumping up and down, your center of gravity should (almost, there are few exceptions) always move parallel to the ground.
Your back should always (again almost always, there are exceptions) be straight, and your coccyx should be turned forward (no exceptions here).
I am going to repeat this one in "rules" chapter below, but nevertheless: the knee is ALWAYS on top of the toes of the fully loaded foot (one that has 100 % weight on it). Not to the side, and especially not inside.
Pronounced "din boo", as in "book".
The 100 % of weight is on the back foot. In the "classical" din boo, the back foot should be at 45 degrees to the direction your body faces. By the "body" we mean hips, as all moves in Tai Chi are done "from hips", or (which is just another way of looking at it) from the lower dan tjan.
The front foot should point the same way your hips are facing. This is one of the most important rules (see "Rules and restrictions" chapter), when the foot is "empty" (no weight on it), it is always pointing the same direction with the hips. You turn your hips, the empty foot turns, in the same time.
The front foot touches the ground with the base of the toes only, the heel is up. If you draw the line from the heel of the back foot to the base of the toes of the front foot, you will find, that this line going the same way hips are facing.
The front foot can be away from the back foot, or it can be near the middle of the inner edge of it - there are some fine distinctions and terminology to use, but for our purposes it is the same din bu position.
In the previous position, the heel of the back foot and the base of the toes of the front foot were on the same line.
In this position, the front foot is shifted outside a little bit. If you move your front foot back in din bu position, it will meet the back foot, the middle of the outer edge of its sole. If you move your front foot back in sui boo, the heel of the front foot will pass the heel of the back foot, at a very close (perhaps, a 1 millimeter) distance.
A "sideways" position. Weight is equally distributed between both feet. As we cannot say which foot is "empty", there is no restriction on the way your toes are pointing, it is possible to turn them to the sides a little. However, if you can, keep your feet parallel.
You don't have to go down very deep, though, if you can, make it low, with your thighs parallel to the floor. Most people cannot do it - if they do it right, and it is OK.
By "do it right" I mean: a) back is straight and coccyx turned forward. If you turn it back, your low back will have the S-shape, and this is where your Tai Chi Meditation progress stops. b) Knees on top of toes.
Pronounced "goon boo", as in "book".
The weight is 70 % on the front foot, 30 % on the back foot. The knee of the front foot on top of the toes (it means - if you project it down, the projection will go there). The back is straight, no bending. The hips are turned in the same direction the toes of the front foot are. The back foot is almost parallel to the front foot (it is just a little bit turned outside). If you draw two parallel lines on the floor, and project the center of gravity on the floor, too, then it will be in the middle, between these lines, NOT closer to the line, that was drawn through the front foot.
The main idea of Tai Chi is to follow the dao, where In turns into Yan, and Yan turns into In. The leg, that has weight on it is tense, it is "Yan". The "empty" leg is "In". We walk in such a way, that In and Yan are constantly changing places, allowing your legs to do a lot of work, without getting tired.
So make sure, when you have the "empty" foot, that it is relaxed as much as possible.
Hands, on the other way, should always be relaxed.
Bend your knees at the "working depth". Bring your hands a little bit to the side (about the width of the shoulders), in front of you. The angle between your hands and the plane where your back is should be 30 degrees. Palms down.
Hands should be "floating", as if they weight nothing, wrists should be straight. Elbows (it is one of the "rules") should not be pointing to the sides, instead, they should hung down, relaxed.
Move your weight on the left foot. Do an "empty step" forward and a little bit to the side with your right foot. The heel goes down first.
This is VERY important point, so let's talk about it in details. In Tai Chi 24 Form (see below, in "rules"), only the empty foot can move (there are exceptions, every time it happens, I will explicitly warn you). So before we do a step, we need to move all our weight to the other foot. ALL of it.
This is not the way people walk on the street, they bring their foot in the air in front of them, and then fall on it. In Tai Chi, it is called "double weight" and is strictly prohibited. There is a martial explanation for it - when you are "falling", you are off balance, and your opponent will use it to his advantage.
So, we need to bring our foot forward, and to put it on the ground BEFORE we begin shifting the weight. Which means, that the length of our steps depends on how deep down we brought our center of gravity, when we were choosing the "comfortable depth". Of course, one can sit down, do a step, and then go up... In Tai Chi is called "jumping up and down" and is illegal, too. From the martial arts perspective, when you "jump up", your balance is compromised, when you "jump down", your ability to move is limited.
As for the "energy" point of view, if your center of gravity jumps up and down, the In does not turn into Yan, when you change legs, so your "dynamic meditation" is compromised, too.
After you have brought an empty foot forward, move your weight on it. To do it, first straighten your left knee, while bending the right knee. When you did it, bring your left heel up, and only after that, lift your left foot.
Note, that as our empty foot should always point same way hips are facing, we can step forward and to the side, but the toes should still point forward.
As before, we should avoid the double weight. It means, that we should transfer the weight smoothly, and should NOT push with the back foot, to move few more inches forward (if you have to push against the ground with your back foot, in order to lift it, it means that your step was too wide).
Note, that you go forward with your lower dan tjan, keeping your back straight, and your coccyx turned forward.
Finally, bring the left foot towards the right foot. From this position you can do another empty step - with the left foot, so do not put it down.
This is the opposite to the step forward, except the foot goes back, not back and to the side.
In traditional form hands are at 90 degrees, at the level of the shoulders, palms up.
Move your weight on the left foot. Keep the back straight.
Do an empty step back. When the foot touches the ground, the leg is almost straight. "Almost" means, that the knee should still be slightly bent. However, if we put the foot down on the base of the toes, heel up, then how are we going to move our weight back? The knee is already straight, and we are not allowed to fall on the back foot...
To solve this problem, bend the ankle, so that the foot goes down with its sole (actually, you should try to move it heel down, though of course, it is not possible).
Move your weight to the back foot. Do not bend, move back with your min man point.
Bring your front foot towards the back foot. To do it, first bring up the heel, then the toes.
Let's say, you want to do a step East. Then the initial position will be facing North-East.
Bend your knees, bringing your center of gravity at the "comfortable depth".
Move your weight on the right foot.
Turn your hips (and of course, the left, "empty" foot will turn the same direction) 45 degrees to the left (East).
Do an empty step with your left foot. The direction of the step should be forward and left, at 45 degrees to the direction of the step (we face East, we step South-East). However, as we (our hips) are facing East, so does our left foot, so it steps a bit sideways. The heel goes down, the sole is still up.
Move 70 % of your weight on the front (left) foot. When most of your weight is on the front foot, the "foot faces the same way hips face" rule applies to the back (right) foot. So we need to turn it, so it is pointing forward (or almost forward, as we still have some weight on it). To turn the foot, move the heel outside, rotating the foot around the iun tsuan point.
At the end, we are in the gun bu position.
To do the next step, we need to move our weight (100 % of it) back on the right foot, and to turn hips 45 degrees left (South-East). The front (left) foot goes toes up (not vertical, they just go up a little), and turns together with hips.
Keep in mind, that the rule "knee on top of the loaded foot" still applies.
Move your weight forward, on the front (left) foot, and bring the right foot into the din boo position, so that it is near the middle of the inner edge of the left foot. You should be facing South-East now.
You are in the initial position for the next step. To do it, turn right 45 degrees, do an empty step and so on.
Initial position: heels together, toes together, knees straight, but not locked (just slightly bent). Palms are turned towards the body, touching the sides of the thighs.
In this position, enter the "Qigong state", the state of a complete mental relaxation, with no thoughts. Feel your body growing, and dissolving. Of course, at the beginning you will just pretend to be relaxed, later this state will become natural for you.
"Pull" your body together again, moving your attention and your weight to your right side, at the end, 100 percent of your weight should be on your right foot.
Step to the left with your left foot, but keep your weight on the right foot. As your right knee remains straight, the only way to do it is by putting the left foot on its toes. First, the thumb of the left foot touches the ground, then the second toe (pointing finger), the third, and so on. In the same time, begin shifting your weight to the left.
After all toes are on the ground, keep moving your weight to the left, so that the outer edge of the left foot gets in touch with the ground, first its front part, then the middle, then the outer side of the heel.
At the end, your weight should be distributed equally between left and right feet.
By moving your weight from the thumb, by the circle to the heel, you are creating the initial "spin", as all tai chi movements are based in the never-ending circles. This same circular motion creates the initial spin in your lower dan tjan (feel it, or at least keep your attention there).
Also notice, that the point in the middle of your foot (lao gun, see the list of points at the web site) should not be pressed against the ground, it is very close, but if you take a strip of paper, you should be able to push it under your foot, from inside. That means, that the weight is more on the outer edge of the foot, then on the inner side.
After the weight is on both feet, we need to turn our palms so that they face backwards. To do it, first, lift your baby finger from the surface of your thigh, as if it "knows" where the palm will be, and is going there. Then lift the ring finger, and so on, every time turning the palm, too. The last, thumb is turning.
Note, that all that was said at the web site about the way your palms should be in Qigong, applies to Tai Chi as well. The fingers should be straight, forming a line (not an arch) with the palm. There should be an arch between the thumb and the pointing finger (not a sharp angle), and there should be an arch between the thumb and a baby finger (which means the thumb should not be in the same plane where the palm is).
Imagine, that your hands are very (infinitely) long, that they go down in the ground. Keep your attention at the points dzjan dzi at your shoulders, making sure the shoulders are relaxed and down.
Bring your hands up-forward to the shoulder level, keeping the feeling that they are very long. Then (do not think of long hands anymore) bend your hands slightly, and allow your hands to go down, until the angle between them and your body is about 30 degrees. All this time your palms should be parallel to the ground.
While bringing hands down, bend your knees, so that you sit down to the "working" depth (Chi Shi). The "working" depth is personal for everyone. Generally speaking, the deeper you sit, the better, but most people cannot do that AND in the same time to follow multiple rules and restrictions (that we are going to discuss). The way it is shown at the picture is fine for an average Tai Chi student.
With your weight still on two feet, turn 45 degrees left, and move your hands a little bit to the sides, as if you are expanding. This feeling of "pushing out" is called KHAI.
Move your weight to the right foot, in the same time bring your right hand up, and turn your left palm up, as if you are holding the large ball. The right palm should be at the level of your shoulder, and in terms of its horizontal position, somewhere at the level of your right nipple. The left hand should be at the level of the belly button, almost under the right palm.
Note, that the elbows are almost straight, this is a general rule in Tai Chi - hands should be "long".
In the same time, bring your left foot to the middle of the right foot. The left foot should touch the ground with the base of the toes (heel up), and (see the rules and restriction chapter, "coordinations") it should point in the same direction your hips and face are facing.
At this point your right foot, left foot, hips and face are facing the North-West.
At this point, the "separation of In and Yan" begins. From your perspective, it means few more restrictions (see below the discussion about a double weight).
Sometimes you will have to bend forward, either because you are not flexible enough, or because the exercise requires so, but even then, do not move up your coccyx. Always have it turned forward, just a little. As the other part of this restriction, the shoulders should not go down. If you bend forward, do it with flat back, keeping your coccyx forward (which means, your low back will be stretched).
The reason for this rule have a lot to do with the idea, that energy channels on your back should be straight. Bringing your coccyx back will create an extra curve in your low back, and the energy flow will stop (or will never start).
Keep your shoulders relaxed and down. Always, except when explicitly told otherwise. The attention should be always paid to the dzjan dzi points, they should not go up.
As explained at this web site, the result of this rule is the "30 degrees" rule. Your hands should not be in the same plane with your back. Instead, they should go only as far as 30 degreed to this plane (except when explicitly told otherwise). If we bring our hands in the same plane with our back (down, up, or to the sides, does not matter), our shoulders automatically go up, which is wrong.
This rule applies when your weight is on the foot. The knee should be on top of your foot, and not to the side (especially, not inside). Tai Chi is known for healing the knee problems, but if you do not follow this rule, you may as well create ones.
There is nothing there to look at. Look forward, at the direction of the exercise.
1. Hip and foot.
Your "empty" foot (one that have no or almost no weight on it) should always point in the same direction where hips face.
2. Elbow - knee.
The way we move our elbows is coordinated with our knees.
3. Palm and foot.
The palm and foot are moving in synch.
Coordinations will be explained in details when we describe corresponding exercises.
In some Qigong forms we do have situations, when you move the "loaded" foot, one that has weight on it. In "24 forms" we do not have it, except for the first and the last forms, that are "transitional" entry and exit forms. In all other forms, you need to move the weight off the foot before you can move it.
A direct result of the previous rule. If we move the foot (which means it is not on the ground at the moment) it should be empty. No double weight.
When walking, do not jump up and down.
In Tai Chi you will find, that elbows are generally less bent, than you would expect, if you had some prior martial arts experience. Thet is due to the fact, that the "energy" is moving better through the (almost) straight hands.
Due to the same reason, you will almost newer bend the wrists, except for the very little angles up or down, or sideways. However, when you push, your lao goon points go forward, which is done by combining the angle at the elbow and wrist.
In some Tai Chi styles there are stops, but even there the chi keeps moving. In Tai Chi 24 Chen style there are no stops. The motions are smoothly flowing into each other.
Elbows should always be "hanging" down. From the martial point of view, the "elbow to the side" is an invitation for an opponent to either kick you in the armpit, or to break your shoulder.
From the "energy" point of view, the "elbow to the side" means, that your shoulders are tense.
Normally, when you are not required to close fist, or do something like that, your wrists should be straight. Sometimes, when the exercise says something like "push your opponent with your palm", even then the wrist should only SLIGHTLY bend, exposing the lao goon point. The more you bend your wrist, the less energy flow in the hands you have.
The fingers should be straight, as opposed to bent, they should not be wide apart, but they should not be touching each other, either.
The thumb should form "two arches". One is between the thumb and the pointing finger, and the other - between the thumb and the baby finger.
From the martial point of view, this is a "splitting block", it "splits" the opponent's attack ("le" in Chinese).
So far, we ended up facing North-West. Keeping your right foot where it was, with 100 % of the weight on it, turn your hips (and of course, your "empty" left foot turns on the spot, as it is synchronized with your hips) West.
Step with your empty left foot forward and left, at 45 degrees to the direction of the motion (which is West). Put is on the heel, toes up-forward.
Here we need to discuss an important implication of the rule "only empty foot can move". If we walk with our knees straight, we will not be able to do a step and to keep the foot empty in the same time! Most people most of the time are walking by raising the foot and then by "falling" on it. It can not be done in Tai Chi, because we will get the "double weight".
So we bend our knees, and keep our center of gravity at the same level, as we move.
First, we do an "empty step", keeping ALL our weight on the back (in this case - right) foot. We need to end up with our feet at the width of our shoulders, and not on the straight line, so we step forward and to the side (at 45 degrees).
Note, that before we stepped, we turned at the right foot. It is very important to realize, that the right foot is now pointing North-West (as it didn't move), and our hips are pointing West. It is not a violation, as the right foot is not "empty".
However, when we step forward and to the side with our left foot, we MUST keep it pointing the same direction our hips point, which means, we step at 45 degrees forward and to the left, BUT our foot is pointing West, and not South-West.
Simultaneously with this empty step, move your right wrist inside (to the left) down and then outside, while your left wrist should move inside, up and outside. At the end, the right wrist should be on top of the left wrist, almost touching it, the angle between wrists is almost 90 degrees.
Note that the hands are "long" (do not bend elbows) during the entire form.
Move your weight t the left foot. When you do it, the left knee will bend, to end up on top of the end of the left foot. Note: in some martial arts, like in Karate, the knee can not go that far, but in Tai Chi the rules are a bit different.
In the same time, your hands should continue moving the same arches they was going, so that the right hand ends up forward and down, slightly wider then the width of shoulders, palm down, while the left hand ends up pointing forward and up, slightly wider then the width of shoulders.
As you move your weight forward, your back (right) foot becomes "empty". Move the heel outside, so that the foot spins counter clockwise around the iun tsuan point, until it is almost parallel to the left foot (almost pointing west).
Move your weight back to the right foot, in the same time turning hips (and the empty left foot) 45 degrees left. In the same time, turn your left palm, so that it faces right, and right palm, so that it faces left. Note, that due to palm-foot coordination (see "rules" chapter), the palm and foot turn simultaneously.
Move your weight to the left foot, first by straightening the right knee, then by lifting the right heel, and only then - by lifting the foot. It is very important (in order to avoid the "double weight") to NOT push with the back foot. That means, you need to coordinate width of your steps with the depth of your "comfortable walking position". If you make a step, that is too wide, then in order to make the next step you need either to push with the back foot (wrong), or to have a double weight, or to deepen your position (but you are not supposed to jump). Therefore, the length of your step is exactly the distance where you can put the heel on an empty foot.
Move your back (right) foot forward, to the middle of your left foot (inside). This is not a final position, as you are going to move the foot forward - right without putting any weight on it.
Move your right hand, according to the palm-foot coordination, so that at the end, when your right foot is near the left foot (sole sliding slightly above the floor), the hands are "holding a ball", exactly as we did before, except this time the left hand is on top.
We have completed the first "part horse's mane" form, and ended up in the initial position for the second one. To do the second one, turn your hips (and the right foot) to the right, and follow the instructions above, this time to the right.
Then do the third "part horse's mane" form. All this time you are moving West.
Important note. The steps, as well as all moves in Tai Chi, are only external manifestation of the internal motion, that takes place in the lower Dan Tjan. Keep your attention there, and make sure, it is always moving.
When we turn at the beginning, the turn changes into the step, and while shifting weight, we begin to turn, preparing the next step. So it is not like step-turn-step. Keep in mind, that Tai Chi is based on the In-Yan symbol, where the In changes into Yan and vice versa, AND the beginning of one of them appears at the maximum of the other (otherwise, we would violate the "no stops" rule).
From the martial perspective, step forward is an attack at the opponent's shin. That means we cannot have our knee "straight and locked", otherwise a counterstrike will break it.
Also, moving weight from the back foot to the front foot is an attack, too. The opponent's leg, if it is at the way, should be pushed away with your dzu san li point (the outer side of your shin). For this reason (and because of the "knee above foot" rule) keep your knee above the foot and not turned inside.