5.a.xxxvii-practicing-one-form Section

The Value of Practicing One Taijiquan Form (Foundation Form)

 written by Nick Gudge – revised September 2012

 In this article I briefly explore the benefits of students of taijiquan proportionally investing more time in practicing their foundation form and much less of their time in other activities.

All the significant practitioners of taijiquan gained their basic skills through foundation form practice. Many of them have stated this publicly, frequently and unequivocally. For some reason these highly valuable directions from highly accomplished practitioners are glossed over or otherwise ignored. Most practitioners who say they are honestly looking to gain putative taijiquan skills also want to practice a wide range of forms and practice competitive push hands.

Taijiquan skills can be likened to a shape like an egg-timer or one pyramid balanced on its point on the point of a second pyramid. There are a range of foundation skills that form the base of the lower pyramid or the base of the egg timer. From these skills (which you can find a broad description of in the first part of Gaining Taijiquan Skills) a series of progressive skills can be developed. These skills rely on a good understanding of the foundation skills. These second stage skills enhance and refine the foundation skills. I believe both intellectually or from experience, that these second stage skills cannot be developed without the foundation skills. These next skills are themselves a foundation for another stage of skills. Each sets allows the student to progress to the top of the lower pyramid.

The point at which the two pyramids meet is referred to as ‘sinking the qi to the feet’ or ‘overflowing the dantien to the feet’, or ‘flooding the body with qi to all the extremities.’ It is at this point that the significant skills of taijiquan begin to be developed. This is also referred to as beginning the third stage of taijiquan gong fu. This might be argued as the primary objective of all students of taijiquan gong fu who have not yet reached this point.

Today there are many suggestions for the development of these sets of skills. However only one path has provided the results of students reaching this critical point. That is the traditional method of using a foundation form to gain understanding and develop practice. After 25 years of study and research I am unconvinced that, while there have been some excellent innovations in the methodology of teaching and explaining taijiquan, the only general path that exists to skill in taijiquan is that provided by the traditional training route, using an iterative training process to refine and develop understanding.

The basic, foundation skills of taijiquan continue to elude most of its practitioners. I’m not talking about high level skills here, I’m talking about the basic beginner’s skills. The only evidence I have seen to gain these skills is the repeated practice of a foundation form under the guidance of a good teacher. I have seen no evidence for success in any other route. The amount of practice required is considerable. Less practice means either a longer period to gain the skills or failure to gain the skills. Short forms, multiple forms, weapons and push hands have all proven to be ultimately not effective in this process.

Practicing one form allows a depth of understanding that multiple forms inhibit. It provides a steady, incremental process of progress. First the choreography is learned and practiced until it is clear. Then, through a process of correction, the principles begin to be understood. Then the shortfalls in the body like stiffness and lack of rotation during the execution of the postures can be seen and corrected. Then the balance of the body both in rotation and extension can be understood and correction. So the process continues. Without considerable practice, the next step cannot be grasped regardless of the efforts of the teacher. Only when skill levels reach beyond a significant level, then additional forms, weapons and push hands become valuable tools for further development.

Practicing a foundation form will build understanding which will result in increased strength in the appropriate places, especially the legs and waist. It will result a wide range of strength and a different type of strength i.e. coiling strength. It will result in a calmer mind and an increased ability to listen, both inside one’s own body and inside others when in contact with them. It will provide a foundation for further correction by a good teacher. In short, it is the only way forward to significant skill.

My teacher says, one form a day is normal, two is good, three is unusual, five is a minimum for gong fu, ten is good, fifteen is better.

Until the movement of qi is felt in the body my strongest recommendation is practice the foundation form.

Nick Gudge is a student of Wang Hai Jun and teaches Chen style taijiquan (tai chi) classes in Limerick.



If you are interested in reading more about practice you might be interested in the following articles:

Good Practice (3 page article)

Three Reasons Why I Practice Taijiquan Forms (1 page article)

Six Stages of Training Taijiquan Skill (4 page article)


More detailed technical information can be found in my four part series: Gaining Taijiquan Skill (40 page article.)