Hand form - the 'dance' of Tai Chi Chuan
The Wu Dang Forms 1
The hand form is used in solo and group practise, it trains posture, transference between postures, timing, balance, coordination and strength, as well as the intention. Practice of the hand form massages the body and releases tension, improves tone and circulation, and corrects posture when practiced with awareness, intention, and understanding.
A hand form is the name given to the sequence of set movements (techniques) which for most people is recognisably “Tai Chi” In the days when the traditions were passed largely through oral transmission and imitation, the hand form provided a library of techniques, often placing techniques together in a way that they would be used against a rival system. It is perhaps for this reason that fundamental techniques are featured repeatedly in traditional forms, with differing endings to particular sections, for example Grasping birds tail, followed by Pat the horse high, or, Brush knee twist step. It is important that you recognise the techniques preceded the form, and that in application, each technique may have a number of ways to be employed
With hand form, we have the opportunity to refine our use of the body, to relax in a particular way that leaves the body without excess tension, and without any deficiency; it is in the attempt to achieve what the “Classics” of Tai Chi Chuan refer to as “sung” a state of relaxed readiness;
You may think of this as analogous to a musical instrument whose string must be at the correct state of tone when at rest, so when plucked it sounds the right note. Too much or too little tone produces un undesirable result.
The mental state is also sung. It is said that “The intention (Yi) leads the energy (Chi) and the body follows“ this is known as ‘internalising the spirit‘, by concentrating on the precise way the body is used we quieten the mind and raise the energy
Different hand forms of the Wu Dang School
The Square long form was developed by Wu Jian Chuan to assist with teaching large numbers of students, he would stand on a platform and perform the movement, his assistants would make corrections to the students posture, then the next move would begin and so on.
Each technique is split into a count of 3 (1. 2. 3. ) and the movements are held between the count. This gives a stylised “Square” appearance. This form is excellent for Chi Gung as it effectively introduces “Standing pole” practice within the form. The Square forms are taught first, much as you learn block letters before developing a long or round hand in writing. As in calligraphy, in Tai Chi Chuan, hand form, must accord to the rules and definitions to be correct and legible.
The Wu Dang Forms 2
The Round long form is the traditional form of the Wu Dang school as taught by Cheng Ting Hung (1930-2005) it is descended from the Yang and Wu style lineage, and most closely resembles the Wu family sequence. It is 120 movements long and can be performed at normal speed in about 25 minutes.
Practical Tai Chi Chuan Short Forms
The Short form (s) were created by Dan Docherty to enable competitions to be held where performers are assessed according to traditional criteria within a set time frame. They are more accessible to students as they contain fewer techniques . The first short form is 34 movements counting a loose attention posture as 1. The round form can be performed in around 4 minutes at an average pace.
The second short form was introduced to provide an additional form for competitors . It includes techniques from the long form that were excluded from the first short form, and can thus be used to introduce the missing techniques Counted in the same fashion as above it contains 40 techniques.
Because they are shorter, the new forms are more convenient for many people, but to achieve the same health benefit as the long form, they should be repeated several times, this is true of all styles of Tai Chi Chuan. In this style, the forms are frequently practised mirror fashion, more important for short forms which can work some aspects of the body more than others, particularly for beginners, and of course teachers.
In 2005 Dan approved the use of “Super Short Forms” these are the same as the fist short form but with the end posture brought in at earlier points. These are meant to facilitate learning in institutions where limited term times mean the whole short form is not covered, they provide a ‘complete’ form and can then be added to until the whole short form is mastered.In some systems, people and teachers only practice form. That is not the case with the Wu Dang System, the hand forms take their place alongside other training methods that serve to develop additional skills. Not all these methods need or indeed should be trained to the same extent by everyone, if your interest is in improving health., it is not necessary to develop martial skill to a high degree. However all are integral to a complete understanding of Tai Chi Chuan, as is further study of aspects such as the Tai Chi Classics, Taoist philosophy,, and the myths fables and history of China. To avoid being one-dimensional, I recommend reading modern subjects such as understanding relaxation responses, western physiology, and of course if you teach, methods of teaching and presentation. Ideally we should develop the mind , and our sensibilities, in conjunction with the body.
The 48 Standard San San Applications of Wu Dang Tai Chi Chuan
There are 48 standard techniques of application, they have variations, and may be combined to produce more complex combinations for set-ups etc.
These applications are intended to be studied, understood, and practised in progressive scenarios ranging from cooperative practice, to resistant practice; obviously this needs partners of the right calibre. The practice of the 48 applications, opens the door to spontaneous response, they are not the end of Tai Chi Chuan fighting techniques, but the beginning, the possibilities are endless.