Taiji 24 Form Part 1 of 8
By Kelly Maclean
Before I go on to describe Taiji and offer instruction on the 24 Form, I must make a note on spelling. Most people are more familiar with the common spelling of ¨Tai Chi,¨ which is the Wade-Giles system of romanization, rather than the Pinyin system, ¨Taiji¨. I prefer the Pinyin system for two reasons: Firstly, it is the system which has been officially adopted by China, and secondly, it leads to a pronunciation of the word that more closely resembles the way a Mandarin speaker would say it.
Most people who begin a study of Taiji come to the art for a gentle form of exercise, to improve their health and manage stress in their lives, or because they are interested in Oriental philosophy and meditation. These are valid reasons to practice Taiji, but one should recognise that Taiji is a martial art, and though it is generally practised slowly, every movement has an application, in terms of self defence. One may not have any interest in fighting, but understanding of the applications ultimately helps one to do the movements more correctly, and engages the mind by focusing intent. Focusing intent also enhances the health benefits of Taiji practice, as it increases and directs the flow of Qi, or vital energy, in the body. Thus, Taiji is also a form of Qigong. Taiji is not merely a series of callisthenics, but also a mental discipline, and an art. The wonderful thing about Taiji, is that it works on so many different levels, and answers different needs at different times in one's life. Ultimately, Taiji is a rich and deep field of study of the self.
Taiji is considered to be an internal martial art because it concerns itself with what's going on inside the body, such as the regulation of the breath, a sense of balance, an awareness of the feeling inside the body, and the cultivation of internal power through relaxing, and opening the channels that carry Qi through the body. Taiji is practised slowly to develop control, awareness, and to build internal power. (Of course for self defence, one has to move as least as fast as one's opponent, and hopefully a little faster.) External martial arts concern themselves with muscular strength, speed, jumping high, punching with force, sometimes yelling, and generally hardening the body.
The 24 Form is a simplified routine based on the movements of the traditional Yang style form, commonly known as the 108. (There are five traditional styles recognised in China: Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao, and Sun.) It is a good form for beginners, as it can be learned in a relatively short period of time and is widely practised throughout the world. Yang style is characterized by broad open postures, graceful lines, and a smooth even pace of movement.
Before starting to work on the 24 Form sequence, you should become familiar with some general principles and basic stances.
One of the most important principles of Yang style Taiji is to maintain an upright posture, an upward energy at the top of the head, and a feeling of lengthening through the spine. Secondly, it is important to cultivate a habit of dropping the elbows, and allowing the shoulders to sink downward and relax. Do not pull the shoulders back; allow the chest to sink so there is a feeling of openness between the shoulder blades. Think of breathing into your abdomen (the dantian). Relax the waist area, allowing the spine to twist gently. In Yang style Taiji, the feet should not slide. Place in the feet consciously. There should not be a lot of up-and-down movement. Over time, your movements will become more coordinated, smoother and more connected. Postures should be clear, but the movement between the postures are just as important as the postures themselves. Your face, and especially your eyes should reflect a calm alertness. Train yourself to relax and pay attention to your experience.
I recommend practising the following walking pattern until it becomes very familiar, before attempting the 24 Form. Start from a left bow stance (left leg in front) facing west. Sit back, lifting the toes of the left foot, and turn the left leg outward about 45 degrees to the south-west corner. Then shift all the weight onto the left foot, and step in with the right foot to form a T-Stance. Now step out with the right heel to form a right bow stance to the west.
Repeat the pattern reversing left and right. Sit back, pivot, step into T-stance, step out to bow stance. The T-stances will face the corners, while the bow stances are all on a railroad track facing west. Try to minimize rolling in the feet, and pay attention to the movement of the hip joints: the leg bone is meant to swivel in the hip socket; the knees are not meant to twist. Feel the connection between your feet and the ground. Concentrate your weight in the centres of your feet.
You may also want to practice footwork and upper body movements separately, before trying to coordinate them.
24 Form Simplified Taiji - Section 1
Commencing the Form
Stand with feet together facing north, knees unlocked, arms hanging naturally at the sides, fingertips lightly touching the thighs, spine upright, and the crown point gently reaching upward.
Shift weight onto right leg, and step out to the side with the left foot, to about shoulder width. Shift weight to the middle and settle. Keep your spine upright as you do the movement. Take a moment to still your body and quiet your mind. Feel your feet connect to the ground. Check that your knees are unlocked. Breath into your dantian (abdomen). Feel the weight of your shoulders sinking down, your spine lengthening, and your ears listening upward.
Breathing into your dantian, raise your arms upward, at shoulder width, palms facing downward, to shoulder height. Think about a force from the ground attracting your hands, like a magnet.
Exhaling, bend the knees a little and lower arms to about hip level, dropping the elbows and settling the wrists so that the fingers extend slightly upward. Be sure that the knees do not droop inward; they should agree with the toes.
Wild Horse Parts Its Mane
Breathing naturally, shift weight onto right leg, while describing an arc with the right hand, out to the right, up, and in toward the right shoulder. Keep the palm facing downward. By the time the right hand reaches shoulder level, the left hand sweeps palm up, under the right hand, at about hip height, and the left foot moves to beside the instep of the right foot, toes lightly touching the floor, to form a T-stance. All your weight is on your right leg. Make sure the right elbow is slightly lower than the shoulder, so the shoulder can relax. Palms face each other with fingers pointing in opposite directions. This posture is commonly called ¨holding a ball¨ on the right side.
Left foot steps out to the left side, heel first, to form a left bow stance. As you are shifting to bow stance, separate the hands: left arm swings upward until the hand is at about shoulder level, palm facing obliquely upward; at the same time, the right hand glides downward, passing over the left wrist as it goes, until it reaches hip level, palm facing downward. The elbows are curved. Be careful when stepping to keep the right knee stable. As you are shifting into bow stance, adjust the right foot by turning it inward until you are comfortable, pivoting on the heel. Look beyond your left hand. This completes step one.
Sit back, twisting the left palm down, and turning the left leg outward about 45 degrees.
Move the left hand in toward the left shoulder as you shift all your weight onto the left leg. Keep the left leg slightly bent. As the right foot moves to beside the instep of the left foot, to form a T-stance, the right hand sweeps palm up under the left hand, at hip level. Now you are ¨holding a ball¨ on the left side.
Right heel steps out to the west, to form a right bow stance. As you shift to bow stance, separate hands as before, reversing left and right. This time there is no need to adjust the rear foot, because it is already positioned to point toward the southwest corner. This completes step two.
Sit back on the left leg, twisting right hand palm down and turning the right leg out about 45 degrees, and take the ball on the right side again. Once more, step out with the left heel to bow stance, and separate hands. This completes step three.
Note that up to this point, all of the bow stances are on a ¨railroad track¨ going west.
White Crane Spreads Its Wings
Shift weight onto the left leg, and step forward half a step with the right foot. Place right foot so the toes point to the northwest. At the same time, the hands move to a ¨left ball¨ position.
Shift weight onto the right foot as the left hand presses downward and the right hand swings forward, and up. The left hand will pass the right arm at approximately the elbow. As the left leg empties, swing the right arm back slightly and raise the left knee, sweeping the left hand in front of the knee and around to the side. Place the left toe lightly on the floor in front. As the left foot touches down, the right arm settles in place with the forearm pointing upward, the palm facing the right temple, and the elbow bent about 90 degrees and slightly lower than the shoulder. The left hand settles at hip level, palm facing downward, fingers pointing forward, in the sitting wrist position. All of the weight is on the right foot in an empty stance. Be careful not to let the right foot roll or the knee droop inward. Look forward to the west. This completes the first section of Taiji 24 Form.