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Should I Practice My Form on the Opposite Side?
William C. Phillips

It would seem logical to perform Tai Chi form both the way typically taught and on the "opposite" side. But is it really such a simple matter?

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One of our readers, James, asks:
"Sifu, do Cheng style practitioners in the US practice the left side, as I have heard a number of different things about this?"

This is one of those questions that has been discussed quite often over the years. Some people like to practice form on the left side, and some do not. And of course, there are styles which are designed and encouraged to be practiced on both sides.

I have felt that, since we play push hands on both sides (both left and right foot back as well as with the left and right hands leading, making for 4 varieties), it might be helpful to do some of the postures that we only do on one side, on the other side as well. These postures include Ward-off Left, Ward-off Right, Roll Back, Press and Push as well as Squatting Single Whip (also known as Snake Creeps Up or Down).

However, I was present when Professor Cheng was asked if he practiced his form on the opposite side. He said no, he did not, and moreover, he did not want us to perform it on the other side either. He explained that it was a matter of the Ch'i Gung of the form. Professor said that, for example, Single Whip, as it is performed in his form, is designed to open the lung meridian. However, when performed from the other side, with the left arm outstretched to the side, it closes the meridian. I do not know the meridians or how they function, so I cannot confirm this, but he was also a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and so he knew what he was talking about.

So in my practice I have avoided doing any of the form on the other side as it was Professor Cheng who said to not do it.

However, if you are practicing other styles of Tai Chi, it may be perfectly acceptable to do this in those styles. Practice with a relaxed awareness of what is happening internally, and you should be able to determine for yourself whether your style is healthy for you to practice its the opposite side.

Have a question for me? Ask it at Ask Sifu.

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In T'ai Chi,
Bill

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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