10-Form Yang Tai Chi and Some Self-Critiquing

I’m currently teaching this form at Balwyn Community Centre and am enjoying it immensely. It feels more like a qigong to me than tai chi. It’s very flowing, meditative and is easy to synchronise your breathing to. Also, with my original learnings being long-form Yang-style tai chi, this feels just too short and abbreviated to be a true tai chi form. But nevertheless, it’s lovely to practise – you just need to repeat it about four times.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any videoing, and in watching myself here, I’m reminded why it’s such a good idea to video yourself and have an honest look. I’m also reminded why many of us prefer to wear loose, flowing silks, rather than fitted t-shirts. Traditional tai chi tops hide any manner of sins; t-shirts show them up rather starkly!

For health, fitness and relaxation, my form here is just fine. If one of my students looked like this, I wouldn’t pick out anything negative at all. But given I’m an instructor, and one who has competed in tai chi competitions, I can and should be a bit picky with my form.

The first thing I notice is my tilting head. That’s a hangover from my old calisthenics days and I’ve found it so hard to change. It keeps creeping back in there and I have to constantly remind myself about that tendency (which I obviously haven’t been doing lately). Perhaps more bothersome, from a tai chi framework perspective, is my dropped shoulder when holding the ball. My torso also then tilts towards the dropped shoulder side and there goes my previously solid core.

In thinking about the application of the moves that follow holding the ball, I’m either warding off (grasp the bird’s tail) or tipping the attacker backwards over my leg (part the horse’s mane). If I drop the leading shoulder and tilt my posture sideways then I don’t have a solid core through which to generate and pass on force. My movements will be weak, and if I were to actually do the applications, I’d most likely injure myself. While this sort of critique is a bit theoretical, that’s what tai chi is about. If you don’t have this kind of understanding of what we are doing with the movements, then your form won’t have true intent. Having said that, I truly believe that if you don’t have this intent in your movements, then it’s quite okay, your tai chi is still incredibly beneficial for your mind, body and spirit. But if you do have this intent, you have that special extra something and you will feel the difference.

I won’t do any more public critiquing of myself here, that’s enough! But I do encourage you to set up your phone and video yourself occasionally. Especially if you are in the middle of learning a new form. So often we don’t look like what we thought we did, and if we nip it in the bud, then that slightly wonky move won’t become a long-term bad habit. Don’t be critical and beat yourself up though; that won’t do any good at all. Just acknowledge that there are a few things to work on and go about your practise with an open mind, not a critical one.