August 27, 2014 The Tension between Flow and Content in Form Training

In the moving form no sooner has one posture appeared and been executed in a distinct and exact manner, than it disappears and dissolves seamlessly into the next posture – the taiji student becomes a shapeshifter. Posture is the beginning point and ending point of movement, whilst movement is the transition between the postures. Both the individual postures and the transition movements must adhere to the all-important structural principles (See article on Posture Testing). As a result there tends to be a paradoxical tension involved in correct Taiji form practice. On the one hand, there are precise static postures or stances, and on the other, the ceaseless, flowing transitional movement. No sooner has the static posture appeared than it disappears – there is a dynamic tension occurring here between form and formlessness, yin and yang. The tempo of this type of movement is captured in the Taiji saying: ‘seems to stop, does not stop’. This is one reason the form is done slowly and mindfully, because it is building in such detail whilst, at the same time, moving continuously.

Hence, the form is not empty choreography – there is a lot going on. Often those practising ‘popular’ or ‘pseudo’ Taiji are attracted to the tempo and flow of the movement but lack knowledge of the precision of the postures, and so it deteriorates into flowery, overly-loose movement. In authentic Taiji, beginners often struggle with getting this balance of flow/even tempo with precise structure right, often finding that the detail being built into the postures interferes with the flow, and as a result pauses are created in the form. Eventually more advanced practitioners manage to synthesize these two aspects and their performance of the set makes a quantum leap forward. The synthesis of flow and precision produces an incredibly graceful form markedly different in quality from a flowery one. The gong (power) is clearly present within the graceful, flowing movement. 

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