1) Question: Are there different schools or sects of Tai Chi?
Answer: Tai Chi Embodies a comprehensive set of knowledge, developed and handed down by our learned predecessor with mystifying principles and profound philosophical learnings. The Tai Chi movements are scientific as the principles are based on scientific fundamentals.
Our predecessors developed the art for improving human health, warding off sickness, slowing down the aging process, achieving longevity and defending one self.
All this benefits mankind and society.
Good character formation is promoted. An adherent imbibed with the Tao (or philosophy as a way of life) of Tai Chi would contribute towards proper governance of the country and universal peace.
Tai Chi is not a martial art meant for bragging and antagonistic purposes. A Tai Chi exponent would need to understand the principles and philosophy of Tai Chi. No one should deviate from these principles and philosophy.
The movements can be developed and modified but the principles are eternal.
The external forms may differ from person to person but the principles are standard and unvarying. Because of this, there is no basis for differentiation by schools. Instead, a spirit of a single family should prevail. Common interest of art should take precedence over personal interest.
An open attitude should emerge, bearing in mind the spirit of the founder and the predecessors to propagate the philosophy of Tai Chi throughout the world so as to improve the health of mankind.
2) Question: How should we practice Tai Chi in order to reach accuracy?
The gap between accurate and non-accurate achievement is wide.
Remember the words of the old master, Wang Tsung Yueh that the body must be naturally and vertically balanced bearing in mind the principles of being relaxed, rounded and awareness of the various parts of the body.
During practice of the set movements, one must be careful, conscious or alert, observant, and must feel where one is moving. Otherwise there is form without substance and deception to people. To achieve accuracy, the principles of Tai Chi must be followed in addition to correct methods of practicing.
A good master is necessary coupled with one’s own constant research. The art must be learnt progressively having to be on firm ground first before advancing to the next step.
Personal requirements are also important. One must be determined, confident, persevering and motivated.
A secure means of livelihood and having normal environment coupled with single-mindedness, constant learning and practice and clear understanding of the principles thoroughly - all this will lead to achievement of accuracy.
This is in contrast to those who want to learn fast, who concern themselves with the external forms and who learn and practice sporadically. Those hope to learn first and be corrected later not realizing that it is worse than having a new person learning from scratch.
Others take the principles of Tai Chi lightly or superficially and liken the art to a common exercise, drill or dance. All this has form but no substance.
One’s body must be likened to a perfect machine where a wrong spare part will affect the operation of the machine.
The founder of Tai Chi has said, "Achieving the Tao is important, acquiring skill in the art is secondary; not learning my Tao, he is not my student."
Therefore also important would be honesty and righteousness or a good moral character.
3) Question: There are different forms of Tai Chi. Are the principles different?
The founder created the art. But through the years, the forms of Tai Chi have differed: some have 24 basic movements while others have 37; some have 64 set movements and some have 72 while others have 108 movements or even 124. There are long sets and short sets.
Movements have been large and expansive and have been small and compact. Some emphasized high postures others opt for low ones. Somme practice slowly others practice at a faster pace.
All this divergence is written by men.
What is important is that the principles remain the same.
Different masters with different temperament have been following the basic principles through the ages. They have engaged in continuous research and training. They have reviewed and improved the art until the ultimate objective is achieved where form becomes formless, limbs are no more important, brute force becomes non-existent and stiffness has given way to being fully relaxed.
Character formation has advanced to the sage of "non-self" and of non-resistance so that the whole body is used and hands are no more used as hands. Youthfulness and longevity are attained.
It is not easy to master correct forms as the chi and the principles of the art are internally harmonized.
Harmonization is also to be achieved between the upper, middle, and lower parts and between the left and right of the body.
Even though difficult it is relatively easier to master correct forms compared to acquiring skill in the art. This is so as in training or practicing there are a number of normally undetectable parts of the body that are difficult to keep under control from the aspects of speed, timing, rhythm, and balance.
Because of this, skill in the art is difficult to acquire.
But then as the founder says, "Understanding one portion of the art would mean being enlightened on all portions or parts. Then all schools and sects become one."
4) Question: Is it better to practice Tai Chi more frequently or less frequently?
There are no extremes in Tai Chi.
The essence is in the training method. If the method is not correct, it is no different from ordinary drills with a lot of time spent but relatively little achievement.
So it is not a question of practicing more or less frequently but practicing correctly.
That is, the central equilibrium must be vertically maintained. Every movement must be disciplined such that the posture is vertically balanced. The principles remain unchanged: There is straightness in a curve and vice versa.
There must be constant learning and practice, understanding the principles and the less obvious points. Mastery of this will produce skill naturally.
There is no question, therefore, of practicing too much or too little but rather of practicing correctly.
5) Question: Is it correct to practice the art fast or to practice it slow?
The earth rotates at a constant and specific rate. Similarly, Tai Chi should not be practiced too slow or too fast but should be practiced comfortably.
The human body must be moved naturally otherwise there would be weakness. If the practice is too fast, breathing is affected resulting in uneven respiration, breathlessness and the heart pulsating too fast.
If the practice is too slow, the limbs and the joints become stiff. Chi is blocked and is locally stagnant: intent or consciousness is employed but the Chi is not flowing.
Internal force and chi must be synchronized.
Internally, there is the harmony of the libido, energy, chi, and spirit while externally, the mind, consciousness (or intent) and body are also harmonized and in turn both the internal and external harmonies are synchronized.
Muscles must be relaxed and all parts of the body are naturally without tension.
It is not possible therefore to say practicing fast is correct or practicing slow is correct as this has to be based on the standard or level of achievement of the student.
One must practice until the whole body is relaxed and comfortably balanced. Once there is internal and external synchronization, then the question of slow and fast in practice is unimportant.
At this stage, one gets the feelings that the upper portion of the body is like the drifting of clouds and the lower portion is like the flowing of water.
Consciousness is continuous and is harmonized with movement. All parts of the body are natural and are unified. There is then no question of being fast or slow.
6) Question: Is it correct to have either high or low postures in the set movements of Tai Chi?
The art of Tai Chi does not distinguish high and low postures, but is rather based on the idea of four "balances" or equilibriums:
1) balance in the magnitude of the posture or movement such as both sides of the body must have "balanced" amount of spatial displacement when moving;
2) accuracy or precision achieved simultaneously by all parts of the body;
3) bodily balance when moving or turning
4) steadiness particularly when moving.
External and internal balance or harmony must be cultivated where there is no slanting of the central axis of the body.
When hind force is invoked, the hind knee being bent will move up or straighten slightly though the height of the body remains unchanged.
This is so as consciousness (or intent) and chi would "close" centrally instead of coming up while the bended knee is used to adjust accordingly.
Consciousness is used to lead the muscles in relaxing. Joints, muscles and ligaments must then be loosened, relaxed, and "thrown" open but still linked. The body is then erect and comfortable.
Consciousness is also used to "move" Tai Chi principles to all parts of the body. Having achieved "four balances and eight steadiness," the question of high and low postures is then answered individually.
7) Question: How can substantiality and insubstantiality be distinguished between left and right or between top and bottom parts of the body?
The muscles, the skeleton, and the nerves are parts of the body system.
When practicing movements, the use of consciousness to sink and relax the body is most important.
The center of gravity is moved while preserving the uprightness of the central axis of the body. It is important to focus on steadiness, tranquillity, relaxation, and rootedness.
The internal movements propel the external movements in a continuous or uninterrupted fashion. Internal force is generated with turning movements.
After a long time, the whole body is in balance. When left and right is distinguished, one is substantial and the other insubstantial along the pattern of "cross alignment."
For example, together with the distinction between top and bottom parts of the body, when the left upper part of the body is substantial, the left lower part is insubstantial and similarly when the right upper part of the body is substantial, the right lower part is insubstantial.
This pattern of cross alignment is used in shifts of the center of gravity from one leg to the other. This is similar to the "cross-roads" of the nervous system.
When moving chi, therefore, one must separate substantial from insubstantial, move the step without moving the body or moving the body and not the hand.
If in moving a step, the body also moves, then it is not separating substantial from insubstantial.
If in moving the body, the hand also moves, then the shoulder and the hands are not relaxed.
It is important to follow the principles of using consciousness to propel movement. The top and bottom, left and right portions of the body must be coordinated.
A rounded grinding stone may move but the center is not moving.
All the parts of the body become one system characterized by lightness and agility, roundness and smoothness, even respiration, alternate opening and closing like that of the sea where with movement from one part of the sea, all parts are also moved.
The movements are guided by consciousness and are properly regulated like the regular movements of the waves in the sea.