Practicing Taijiquan

By Paul Fretter.

The basis of practice is to first learn the movement and then to put the Tàijíquán principles into the movements.  The principles referred to are the Tàijíquán Classic texts.

To properly understand Tàijíquán it is essential to study the Tàijí Classics, and apply their interpretation into your daily practice of exercises, Forms and partner trainning.

There are three levels (or should we say depths) of practice.  First there is the Human level, where we learn the external choreography of movement and begin to cultivate uprightness (centre of equilibrium), balance and rudimentary relaxation.  Then there is the Earth level where we learn systematic methods of relaxation to develop stability (grounding), the awareness to create movement from ‘within’ and the ability to discharge relaxed force.  The Heaven level is mostly concerned with developing understanding through partner work.

Our syllabus consists of solo exercises, forms and partner training (‘push hands’).

Preliminary Exercises:

Up and Down movement

5 Loosening Exercises

Standing Exercises


37 Short Form

Refined Simplified Form

108 Long Form

Weapons (Staff, Sabre, Sword and Spear)

Partner Exercises (a.k.a. ‘push hands’):

Fixed partner training 

Moving step

Partner Form

The timing of issuing

Receiving force

Semi-free exchange

Taijiquan is a wonderfully simple art to practice as, for the most part, it does not require anything other than your own presence and effort to perform.  No special training hall or clothing are required for the vast majority of practice, and the only special equipment needed is when weapons training.  ‘Simple’, however, does not necessarily equate to being ‘easy’, and a systematic approach is required in order to realise useful benefits.

Learn the sequence… repeat…repeat…repeat

At first is is necessary to learn the choreography of a new exercise, movement from the Form or partner drill.  Repeated practice will ingrain the sequence as a habit, freeing up your attention to work on the next level of detail.

Learn the Accuracy of Movement…

Together the accuracy of position and accuracy of transition comprise the Accuracy of Movement of the Forms.

Put the principles into the movement…

To paraphrase Wee Kee Jin, “you don’t look for the principles in the forms because if you don’t already have them in your body movement you will not find them in the Form.  Instead you should first learn the sequence of the Form and then your training is to put [apply] the Taiji principles into your practice of the Form.

Slowly does it…

Practising slowly allows time to adjust and correct your movement and position.  In general it is best to not move any faster than the speed at which you can properly synchronise.  On the other hand, if you move too slowly you may get ‘stuck’ or tense up.  Everyone’s speed of adjustment is different so, when a group are all practising the Form together, they will move at slightly different speeds.

Improve your solo practice to improve your partner training…

As a basic guide, it is recommended that the total of one’s monthly practice time is divided up with approximately 80% for working on the solo exercises and forms, with the remaining 20% for partner training.  The way of moving in the partner work is the same as the way of moving in the forms and solo exercises.  If you find a weakness in your partner work, seek to put it right in your solo training.

Paul Fretter

Free exchange