Different Styles - Different Movements
William C. Phillips

Is it possible to evaluate a different form through the lens of your own form?

An anonymous reader asks:

"I saw someone doing a different style and he did his movements different than we do them in Cheng Man-Ch'ing style. Is he wrong?"

My answer has to be, that I cannot say. I may have no expertise in the other style. Each style has its own movements for its own reasons. You would have to consult an expert in the style you saw to know if the movement was done correctly for the style. Good technique in one style may be bad technique in another. (For an example of this, see last week's question on proper knee position.) You only know for sure if you seek out an expert in the style you are asking about.

Basically, there are two different Tai Chi life paths that people follow. One, the path I have chosen, is to study one form mostly throughout one's life. I know a little Chen style and a little Yang long form, but my primary expertise is Cheng Man-Ch'ing style. The other way is to study all the styles. Many people go this way, as well. If you do, you need to be careful that you do not mix them together. If you mix them, you are not being faithful to any style. If you keep them compartmentalized, you can benefit from all of them. It is just a good idea to penetrate to the essence of a style before moving on, and this can take some time.

Before I studied any Yang long form, I had been studying Cheng Man-Ch'ing's form for 20 years. And because of that, my teacher, Master Zhang Lu-Ping, was able to say to me that since I had truly learned to be soft over my many years of study of Cheng Man-Ch'ing form, I was ready to learn about the quality of hardness (like yin and yang, soft and hard) and could better understand his lessons on martial application. If I had begun my studies with Master Zhang before I had captured the essential softness of Cheng's form, it is very likely that I would have had much more difficulty understanding what Master Zhang wanted of me.

In conclusion, each form has its own methods, its own movements, and it often isn't possible to judge what you are looking at when looking at it through the lens of your own form. Tai Chi principles are universal, across all styles, but Tai Chi movement and technique is not. When in doubt, consult an expert in the form you are considering to determine its correctness.

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In T'ai Chi,


William C. Phillips began his study of the martial arts in 1965. He currently holds a 7th degree black belt in Karate, and a 5th degree black belt in Ju Jitsu. He began his studies of Tai Chi in l967, studying with Prof. Cheng Man-Ch'ing from '70-'75. He became the most junior student ever to become a teacher in Cheng Man Ch'ing's New York school, the Shr Jung. Sifu Phillips became interested in the field of holistic health in the early 1970's, when a lifelong allergy problem was alleviated with Chinese herbal medicine. Since then, he has studied widely in that field as well. Sifu Phillips is available for seminars, lectures and demonstrations. He has produced two very successful Tai Chi DVDs, and is currently working on a book on Tai Chi form and a third DVD.For more information...

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