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The Sequence to Learn Tai Chi

The correct Sequence Of Learning Taijiquan
By Erle Montaigue

When we first begin to learn Tai Chi, many expect instant miracles. But it takes time for Taijiquan to even begin to have any appreciable effect upon your immediate physical health and your mental health. The reason for this is that Taijiquan is indeed the supreme form of qigong. However, it takes time for a new student to actually be 'doing' Taijiquan as opposed to learning it. And there is a big difference.

When one learns Tai Chi, he or she is in complete physical and conscious mode. I.e., you will be thinking about every movement just trying to get the physical movement correct. This is not doing Taijiquan. It is said (by masters of past) that to think is to block the Qi. In fact, conscious thought is the same as physical tension and physical tension blocks or impedes the normal flow of Qi. This is why we are told that we must attain a state of sung while doing Taijiquan.

Sung is that state that one gets into just before sleep, not quite awake and not quite asleep. Some call this an alpha state. Or, I like to express sung as being when we cannot feel the body moving (when doing Taijiquan). This state is difficult for the beginner (under at least six years training) to attain when you learn Tai Chi alone. So, in order to gain the great benefits that this ultimate of all Qigongs has to offer while we are still learning tai chi, we have basic or standing qigong.

This form of qigong will give you the benefits of Taijiquan at a basic level while you still learn tai chi and not perhaps getting all you should from your practice as yet. Once you have attained a high level of Taijiquan practice and are able to perform the form without any conscious though of where to put the hands and feet, how to step, where to step to etc, then you can begin to lessen the time spent doing basic standing qigong. This should take anywhere from six to ten years and even now that I have been practicing Taijiquan for over 30 years, I still perform my standing 3 circle basic qigong daily. Not for so long nowadays, but I still feel that I need it in some small way.

The three circle basic standing qigong is the qigong that all beginners should begin with. No matter how difficult it may seem at first, you should simply stand there. When I first began my training, I was told nothing, just stood in the position and the master then walked out. I dare not move from this position as I was in the master's house. I did not know until later when I became one of his closest followers that he was watching from a secreted room upstairs to make sure that I did not move. If I had moved my arms down or had taken a break, he would not have taken me as his personal student, only one of the others.

You will get the shakes. This means that you are doing it correctly, it will feel like shit and you will perspire profusely, especially from the fingertips. Every time the master walks over to you, you will be praying that he now stops you from this torture, but he will not! Not at least until you have shown that you are worthy of such torture! And that your Qi is activated so that you are not doing this for nothing. He might feel your fingers, or stroke your arm, or back. This is his way of seeing how your level of Qi is going. Only when it is sufficient and you are shaking like a leaf, will he motion for you to stop. Then he sends you home!

Well, you all know that I am not such a taskmaster, and I feel for my students, however, every now and again, I will just test you out to see how your level of Qi is going.


Learn Tai Chi: Advanced Qigongs

There are many other qigong methods that will only be given when the student has attained a high level of basic qigong. The basic qigong should be practiced for at least three years before going on to the advanced qigong, and only when the teacher is satisfied that the student is up to the more advanced methods. The reason for this is that these methods are not only physically more demanding but also can do you any damage if done incorrectly, whereas the basic qigong cannot harm you in any way, unless it is done very incorrectly. The advanced Qigongs usually involve the one legged stances so it is important to have an instructor who knows what to look for in order to not cause any harm.


Learn Tai Chi: Push Hands

It was customary for the beginning student to not begin push hands before he or she had reached the end of the form training. However, I now believe that it is beneficial for one's training to begin learning push hands at the end of the first third of the form, so that the push hands will form a backdrop for your form training. In this way, your push hands will enhance your form and visa-versa. Only the beginning student should try the basic single push hands, as there is no value in going on to any of the advanced methods too soon. Advanced push hands, either single or double should only be learnt and practiced after the student has reached a high enough level in his or her form practice.

In the beginning we train in push hands at a purely physical level to attain a high degree of upper body tone. Remember, that the old masters and students in China had already good body tone from working hard in the fields from early morning, whereas we in the west tend not to. It is the push hands at the physical level that gives us this level of body tone which then enables us to go on to the more sensitive levels or listening with the skin. Again, one should stick with basic single push hands for as long as it takes, and not go on too soon as to do so would keep you in the realms of the physical for ever more, never entering the wonderful world of the internal.


Learn Tai Chi: Small San Sau

This wonderful exercise should be learnt after one has learnt the physical movements of the third 3rd of the Yang Cheng-fu form. This exercise is on eof the best that I know of for developing what is known as fa-jing, the 'motor' of dim-mak. Small san-sau teaches us many of the pre-requisites of any internal martial art such as timing, balance, and power. The timing allows us to not think about where to strike, it just happens when it needs to happen for any given self defence moment. Balance is what we get physically as well as internally. Without balance, we would never be able to defend ourselves physically and without internal balance we would never be able to defend ourselves against pathogenic attack. Without real power, we would have to rely upon huge muscles where the strongest physical person wins. With intern power, it does not matter how small one is as we rely upon an internal power generated from the tantien through the practice of Taijiquan.

As one's small san-sau level increases so too does one's Taijiquan level and so on.


Learn Tai Chi: Old Yang Style Of Yang Lu-ch'an

When you learn tai chi it is at this stage that one begins one's training in the Old Yang Style. This is the first Yang style of Taijiquan invented by Yang Lu-ch'an. Originally it took around 6 years just to learn the physical part of this form, then further time to take it internally. Now, when one learns the Yang Cheng-fu form, it takes around 2 to 3 years to learn the physical movements of both forms. Yang Cheng-fu (the first form that one learns) changed his father's form so that all could take the great benefits from Taijiquan and not lose the original essence. Unfortunately, others took it upon themselves to change this form even more, thus losing the essence of Taijiquan.

Once one has begun learning this form, it is also time to begin double push hands, which takes you even further into the pre-requisites of internal martial arts.


Learn Tai Chi: Large San-Sau

This form done as a solo exercise as well as a two person set it is pinnacle of the training methods from Taijiquan. It teaches us at a basic level, how to deal with physical attacks from all kinds of directions and with all kinds of weapons. At its most advanced level, this form is the greatest of all for learning about life and how to deal with any confrontation. It will give you total balance as well as total timing and power.

This exercise should be given when one is through learning the Yang Lu-ch'an form and knows it physically fairly well without having to think about the movements.


Learn Tai Chi: Da-Lu (The Great Repulse)

This exercise is the greatest for teaching us about the Four Corners. Whereas push hands teaches us about the four major directions, this teaches us about the corner directions and how to defend against attacks from these directions.

This exercise should be taught when one has reached an acceptable level of physical double push hands.


Learn Tai Chi: Qi Disruption

I was once of the opinion that it is important to have at least studied the Yang Cheng-fu form before embarking on learning these original internal martial arts forms of which there are nine.

Of course, the beginner will never understand what there are about especially the fa-jing part and the advanced qigong that one must know. But at a purely physical level, these forms will enhance one's training in general and to a certain degree one's health when done at a basic level. And ONLY at a basic level. The more advanced methods of these forms should NEVER be attempted for at least 6 years when you learn tai chi.

These are the original forms from whence all other internal systems came. You cannot get any more original than these. You can see elements of all three major internal styles within these nine brief but very complicated katas or forms.