As I mentioned before, “Eight Five form” (八五式) or someone else call it “Long Form” should be a core practice for any serious Yang style Tai Chi practitioners. It is certainly an integral part of our training curriculum. Here is what I see as the progress of learning the form:
1. Learning each movement (式) standalone properly.
There are 37 different movements (式) in the form. Learning, practicing over and over until you no longer need to worry about forgetting the mechanics of any such movement. It’s more efficient that way than always practice in the form’s routine. It’s is better to get 70% accuracy of each movement than 20% accuracy of the whole form.
2. Learning the transition between each movement.
Once you know the individual movement very well than you can move on to focus on the transition of the movements. One of the “Ten Guiding Principle” is “Move with Continuity (相连不断)”. The end of the current movement is the beginning of the next movement.
3. Whole form as one
This is a refinement stage. Now you know how to practice the form mechanically, start being more aware of your control of body (not gravity), always maintain “Central Equilibrium” especially in transition between postures, minimise unnecessary body movement. The form should be practiced slowly and evenly with better precision.
4. Internal development
By now you should have reached a pretty good standard (externally) of practicing the form. Let’s relax the mind and let the inner nature to direct your movement. Start going with the flow of your internal energy. At this stage you will be more appreciative of practising the Tai Chi. Continue such a development will lead you to harmonize yourself with the nature (天人合一)。
Grandmaster Yang Chengfu’s “10 Guiding Principle” should be your ultimate guide of learning the form. The above 4 stages are not isolated and individuals could find themselves be in more than one stages at the time. Learning is a spiral process. It’s going round and round but upwardly. With a good teacher/guidance, individual’s progress is still very much depend on his own effort. Remember Tai Chi practice is not a burden but an enjoyment.