Everything we learn in Tai Chi has a double meaning, or even triple. When we first begin, most people want to know what each movement actually means and why it is there.
The martial application that is inherent in each posture helps the beginning student to learn each movement and posture. Knowing where to put one's hands and why we are standing in this particular way is important in basic learning of the Tai Chi form.
To this end, I have always shown at least one basic application of each of the postures from the form. Some of the movements and postures can seem fairly obtuse and beginners often find it difficult finding a reason for placing their hands in such positions.
There is another more important reason however, for knowing the basic applications of each posture and it is an "internal reason".
In order to do "work", Qi (energy) must move through the body from somewhere to somewhere. If for instance we open a door, energy is directed to our palm and causes the correct movement to do that work. However, Qi has to move through meridians or channels throughout the body, like water moves along a stream or blood through a vessel. There are 12 main meridians or channels in the body and each of these are associated with a major organ such as heart, lung, liver, kidney etc. As the Qi flow through each meridian to do certain work, the organ through which it passes is bathed in life giving energy, hence the healing benefits of Tai Chi.
If then we have a way of directing sub-consciously the Qi through EVERY meridian by doing certain movements that mean some kind of work, we have indeed a potent healing exercise. This is what Tai Chi is!
The old masters made up a set of movements that directed the Qi through each meridian and thus through each major organ in turn to cause healing and rejuvenation of those organs. The old masters in China all knew martial arts for self defence, so their way of making a healing set of movements was also based upon their inherited martial systems.
Being people of great genius and also having great knowledge of the human body and the Qi or energy system, they invented a set of self defence movements that would not only cause one to be able to defend against physical external attack, they also invented a set of movements that would send the energy around each meridian or rather "activate" it in each organ.
So when we perform the Tai Chi form for the first time after having learnt all of the postures, we are told to imagine that we are actually fighting someone and doing those particular martial movements that we have been taught. We only ever have to do this once as it then goes into our sub-conscious. Then, every time we perform the Tai Chi form, we sub-consciously are actually fighting!
Now, here is the science. The human sub-conscious brain doesn't know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. So we imagine cutting a lemon in half and sucking the juice. What happens? All of the same things happen like saliva welling up in the mouth etc., that would happen if we were eating a lemon for real.
And it's this principle upon which the old masters based their teachings. So now, when you practice your Tai Chi form, although you are doing relatively slow movements and very gently, apart from the obvious fa-jing (explosive energy movement, you are actually fighting someone for 20 or 40 minutes! This is how Tai Chi teaches you how to fight without teaching you!
Now we come to Yang Lu-ch'an, the man who invented Tai Chi. He saw a need for another set of movements for when someone had risen to a very high level and had gone past the stage of the sub-conscious fighting movements. He then set about over many years to invent another shorter set of movements which would be based upon each of the main postures of the Tai Chi form. These he would call "The Root Methods" or some translation like that. These Root Methods were short sets of movements that covered many of the more advanced fighting, self defence applications from the form based upon the art of "Dim-Mak" (Striking the death points) and also upon fa-jing (explosive energy).
These short sets were based upon Tai Chi at a much higher level called "Small Frame" and were only meant for the advanced student who had come to this "small frame" level.
These sets or "Root Methods" were inspired and when one learns them, it sort of puts a key into the lock and opens the final door into the very advanced methods of Tai Chi.
We still have the movement of energy around the body, however, these sets also teach the body how to move instinctively in a reflexive manner. Although we learn devastating fighting methods with these sets, we also learn sub-consciously how to deal with any situation at an instant level without thinking.
Some of the Root Methods can be daunting at first as there are many hidden applications to each movement and some are difficult to even recognise based upon what the student already knows of the basic applications. However, once a teach who actually knows these tells the student how they work, it is easy to see how they came from each of the main postures.
Some of the Root Methods are longer or shorter depending upon their importance. Some also add the next one or two postures as, often it is important for the sub-conscious reactions to get a flow from one posture to the next.
The Root Methods teach you about body movement; how to move the body sub-consciously in any given situation, where to place your body in order to gain the maximum amount of power for the least expended energy; how to knock someone out by placing your body into the exact position so that you can shoot off a strike from any position at any time and from any distance away and do great damage.
Each of the Root Methods also works upon the particular organ or meridian upon which the original posture is based. So performing the root methods not only gives you a great physical work out as there are MANY of them, they also work upon your internal energy system thus balancing and boosting to protect you from pathogenic attack. And this is what a REAL fighting system is all about, protecting oneself and family from external attack as well as attack from disease.
So we have three areas of excellence in the Root Methods: Protection from external attack: A great physical exercise workout for the whole body and: Protection from internal Pathogenic attack.