5.a.xxxviii.-process-of-learning-taijiquan Section

The Process of Training Taijiquan


So you would like to learn Taiji...?

Taijiquan is not about moving, it is about how to move. Where someone moves is only important as far as it aids learning how to move. Generations of taiji students have lost themselves in the search for where to move. It is a path with no end and in itself only minor benefits. The first step is to understand what taijiquan is. (This I have written about in “Gaining the Skills of Taijiquan” so I will not duplicate that effort here.)

This article concerns itself with how to begin to train taijiquan. To gain gong fu in Chen style taijiquan it is said, by the most senior Chen Village masters like Chen Zheng Lei and Chen Xiao Wang, that there are three necessary elements or requirements, a good teacher, good understanding and good practice. Without all three of these, progress will necessarily be limited. So unless all three are present then significant gong fu will not arise. I have written three articles addressing these three topics. To avoid duplication those interested can read these to better understand what is ‘a good teacher’, what is ‘good understanding’ and what is ‘good practice’. To summarise, find a good teacher, improve understanding of what is being practised and practice as much as you can. 

 -summarise, find a good teacher, improve understanding of what is being practised and practice as much as you can.

Chen style recognises six stages of learning taijiquan. These have been well described by Wang Hai Jun and I have adapted and expanded an article written for Wang Hai Jun by David Gaffney. Both these articles can also be read for better understanding.

Wang Hai Jun has provided additional material on the most important skills for beginners. This also would be well recommended to be read before starting to learn taijiquan.

Traditionally the first process is learning postures, the movements of taijiquan. There are many purposes to learning these movements.

  1. To create a physical framework to learn within

  2. To help identify where errors in the body exist e.g. where the body is not loosened

  3. To strengthen and condition the body

  4. To stimulate the development of ‘internal’ understanding and the internal process

For progress to be made gaining understanding must be part of the learning process. I would argue that understanding in a taijiquan sense is only truly gained when it is accomplished in the body and not simply in the mind.

The process of learning I tend to think of a series of steep slippery, slopes and plateaus. The steep, slippery slopes are where the understanding is gained and the plateaus are periods of practice which if completed allow me not to slip backwards. Without the practice I lose the understanding. In Chen village training taijiquan is said to be like paddling upstream: if the student stops practicing they will lose the progress they have made. Alternatively it can be considered as a circle of events or iteration that occurs and re-occurs. It can be described as follows:

  1. The mind learns something, e.g. the choreography of a posture,
  2. Then the body learns it.
  3. Practice happens
  4. The legs becomes stronger and the body looser
  5. The posture begins to change as the mind becomes more familiar with it
  6. The body’s errors can be examined and corrected with a good teacher’s assistance
  7. More practice happens.
  8. The legs becomes stronger and the body looser
  9. The posture begins to change more as the mind becomes more familiar with the corrections
  10. More of the body’s errors can be examined and corrected with a good teacher’s assistance.
  11. More practice happens
  12. The legs becomes stronger and the body looser etc

Unless sufficient practice occurs the legs do not become stronger, nor the body looser, so the next step in understanding cannot be gained. It is not rocket science. The process can be understood fairly easily provided there is no misunderstanding that prevents progress.

The initial process involves learning to understand where the body is stiff and to loosen it. This stiffness is commonly habitual so the mind and body do not recognise it, hence the need for a teacher. The process of loosening the body cannot be hurried. It takes time for the mind and body to grasp and for habits to be reformed and conditioned into the body. For most taijiquan students their practice time is too short for their mind to pass beyond familiarity with the movements to allow for an examination of the body within the movements which create the opportunity for the teacher to enhance their understanding.

What this means is that even with a good teacher little progress will be made if the student does not practice sufficiently.

Many body truths most adults are reluctant to acknowledge. We are much stiffer than we perceive. We are slower learners as adults than we were as children. We do not get it first time. Our minds are significantly disconnected from our bodies. When our minds understand it does not mean we can do it with our bodies. There are plenty of other examples. Training in taijiquan requires us to address these issues. If we choose not to address these issues progress will be severely limited or negligible.

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 you might be interested in the following articles:


The Value of Practicing Taijiquan Forms (1 page article)

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

A Good Teacher (10 page article)

Good Understanding (9 page article)

Good Practice (3 page articles)

Six Stages of Training Taijiquan Skill (4 page article)


More detailed technical information can be found in the first two parts of my four part series

Gaining Taijiquan Skill – Part 1: Theory (10 page article)

Gaining Taijiquan Skill – Part 2: Beginning – reaching Level 1 (10 page article)