How Many Techniques in Taijiquan?
In the traditional bare hand sequence, the apparent number of techniques vary between 81 and 150, depending on the method used to count and group the forms. Some instructors and writers, for example, will not count repeated forms. But basically, you may judge whether a taijiquan sequence is complete by comparing the arrangement of the names given to the techniques. While the methods of counting the techniques vary, the names and their arrangement do not.
If your instructor has taken out techniques to shorten the sequence, you should practice the sequence several times to receive the health benefits of taijiquan. As was stated earlier, the original sequence was constructed to have enough forms to achieve results beneficial to health; shortening the sequence shortens the time of exercise.
When Do You Practice Taijiquan?
However, if you are interested in developing the martial aspect of taijiquan, you should do the entire sequence three continuous times each morning. But if you are only interested in the health aspect of taijiquan, then the sequence can be performed once each morning.
During the morning itself, the best time to practice is before sunrise so that you can take advantage of the change in the yin and yang energies of the body and the nature around us, which is influenced by the sun. Because the sequence should take at least 20 minutes to perform, it must be done 20 minutes before the sun comes up.
By doing the sequence in a minimum of 20 minutes, the inhalations and exhalations will be relatively equal. Therefore, as beginner, you should aim for your sequence to be completed in no less than 20 minutes. Later, as you become more proficient, you can extend the time. A time of 30 minutes for one sequence is very good. The ultimate goal is to perform one complete set in 60 minutes. To achieve a time of 60 minutes requires slow, but consistent breathing, and a highly concentrated, yet relaxed, profound mind: the practitioner is in a semiconscious state while the body moves slowly.
If you practice taijiquan for improving health only, performing the taijiquan sequence with the proper series of deep breaths while maintaining a relaxed body will have the desired results. In this state, the qi will naturally circulate.
However, if you practice taijiquan as a martial art, once you achieved fluid qi circulation during the bare hand sequence, you should perform the sequence with speed and power. The fast sequence should be practiced at least once during the day. Without performing the bare hand techniques with speed and power, the techniques cannot be made effective.
In terms of the practical aspects of bare hand taijiquan, listed below are major areas which the student should be aware of.
Breathing. If you are practicing taijiquan for relaxation and health only, you may use normal abdominal breathing, which is a better breathing method for relaxation. However, if you practice taijiquan for martial arts, you must use reversed abdominal breathing, since you need to manifest your qi into the physical form. This martial breathing training includes Four Gates Breathing and Skin/Marrow Breathing.
Be careful when you use reversed abdominal breathing. Take your time and above all, try to move slowly, in coordination with the breathing. The breathing should be deep yet smooth and light, instead of heavy and shallow. The stomach area should be relaxed, and the abdominal movement should be natural and smooth. If you cannot satisfy all of these requirements at first, you should proceed gradually and deliberately. First, practice the abdominal movements on a small scale, until it feels natural and smooth. Then, gradually increase the scale of abdominal movement. Normally, this will take about six months to one year of correct practice. If you train incorrectly, you will feel tightness in the stomach area, and may possibly experience pain and an upset stomach. Therefore, you should be very careful when you practice reversed abdominal breathing.
Warm Up. Warm up exercises includes loosening up the joints, torso stretching, and the spine movements. You can also stretch your legs out, and then calm your mind by doing fundamental breathing drills. Because there are kicks in the sequence, the muscles must be properly loosened to avoid injury. To fully receive the benefits of the sequence, the mind must conduct the performance in a tranquil state. Otherwise, too much time will be spent calming the mind during the sequence. The best way to accomplish this is to practice the taiji qigong, introduced earlier, for twenty minutes before doing the form.
Movement. All the movements in the sequence are done lightly and without heavy steps. Each step is done as if the person were on ice: gently and softly. In the sequence there are many moves in which the practitioner must turn his body to an opposite direction without lifting the legs. In these particular instances, turning should be done on the heels, one at a time, in a smooth manner.
Yelling. In the taijiquan sequence there are a few places that contain fast motion and will require that the performer yell "ha." The yell should come from deep in the lungs, not from the throat. While yelling, the lower dan tian must expand. The yell will clear out the dirty air in the lungs. The times at which to yell will be stated in the description of the sequence.
External Movements. There are eight traits that you should keep in mind while performing bare hand taijiquan. These points are smoothness, natural feeling, relaxation, balance, centering, rooting, continuity, and coordination of mind, body, and breath. By noting these points while practicing the taijiquan sequence, you will soon become proficient in taijiquan.
Internal Feeling. Once you have learned the entire taijiquan sequence, you should concentrate on becoming more sensitive to the internal feelings generated during the sequence. Feeling is the language between your body and your mind. The deeper and more clearly you can sense the changes in your body, the better your mind will be at interpreting your inner state and its relationship to your circumstances. This is the key to achieving deeper relaxation, and therefore to leading the qi to circulate through the deep place in your body. This brings health. Furthermore, through this process you can learn to store the qi in the bone marrow, which is essential to storing jin (martial power).
Normally, in order to achieve a deep feeling for each form, you must understand the root and the meaning of each movement. Once you have done this, you can manifest your qi efficiently and powerfully. If you fail to grasp the essence of the taijiquan movements, it is like you are travelling without any destination. This is very similar to the practice of playing the piano. The same song, played by a beginner, will be very different from the same song played by an experienced performer. The difference is practice and experience. Each additional year of practice is an accumulation of gongfu. It is this gongfu that makes the difference. From long practice, you can grasp the deep feeling of any art or subject.
Imagined Opponent. If you practice taijiquan for martial arts, then you must gradually build up a sense of enemy. This is done by imagining you are fighting with an opponent. Such practice will also help you understand the root of every movement. If done correctly, it will make each technique more accurate, and will promote the circulation of qi more abundantly. While imagining your opponent, you must regard your waist as the first master (because it directs the action), your throat as the second master (because it controls the yell, which enhances the manifestation of jin), and your heart as the third master (because it guides the mind).
Finally, as a last reminder, the breathing during the sequence must be smooth and fluid. Never hold the breath. Every inhalation and exhalation should last the length of the form for which it was indicated. The breathing controls the speed of the movements, rather than the movements controlling the breathing. This is extremely important to always keep in mind.
(The above excerpt is from Tai Chi Chuan Classical Yang Style Rev.)