Practice Time and Form Repetition

Practice Time and Form Repetition

Postby Audi » Sat Mar 06, 2004 4:51 pm

Hi all,

At various time on this form, I have heard contributors mention both the large amounts of time that great practitioners spend practicing each day and the number of repetitions of the form they perform. It is also frequently mentioned that such large amounts of practice are not only beneficial, but actually required to reach certain levels of achievement. Although such statements can be inspiring, they can also be depressing for those of us who cannot dedicate the better part of our waking moments to practicing Taijiquan.

I would be interested in exploring what you folks feel are the quantum gains one can achieve by increasing one’s level of practice. In other words, what is the minimum practice level to achieve what level of benefits? Approached differently, the question could be thought of as exploring whether practice time and number of repetitions of form have a smooth and proportional relationship to benefit.

To help clarify my question, let me provide a few of my opinions. First, I find even small amounts of Taijiquan to be beneficial in order to work out kinks and change my mood; however, I find doing the complete long form distinctly more beneficial than doing parts of it or than doing shorter forms. As has been suggested before on this board, I would guess that this is related to the 20 minutes of exercise time that fitness experts have been recommending over the last few years.

I also think that there is a big difference between daily and weekly practice. I would think that anyone practicing on a weekly basis can have fun, but will not derive many health benefits or progress much. Again, I would think that practicing a minimum of three to four days a week would be necessary, as is recommended for other types of exercise.

I also find that doing the proverbial three consecutive repetitions of the long form do indeed provide three different flavors of practice and probably do greatly accelerate assimilation of principles. I have not had a similar experience with repetition of the weapons forms, but this may be because I have not practiced them sufficiently. I have not been able to practice push hands on more than a sporadic basis and so cannot comment on what learning plateaus might exist in this respect.

Any thoughts?

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Postby eastgul » Sun Mar 07, 2004 2:19 am

I have found that it is best to practice at least once a day. If you are only interested in the health benefits of Tai Chi then you should practice the form as slowly as possible(over 15 minutes). If you are interested in the martial arts aspect of Tai Chi then you should practice the form a second time. The second time the form should be done as quickly and as correctly as possible. Do not sacrfice doing the form correctly in exchange for speed.
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Postby Audi » Mon Mar 08, 2004 2:46 am

Hi Eastgul,

Thanks for your response.

I find your reference to 15 minutes as "slow" a little surprising. Are you referring to forms based on what Yang Chengfu taught, or some other type of form? What form do you do?

I am also curious about your comment on doing the form "correctly" when you do it quickly. At present, I never do the form quickly, but I am not sure that I could claim that I do it "correctly" even at my 20-25 minute pace. Doing it at a faster pace would seem to just magnify my deficiencies.

Do you find a clear difference between doing from "correctly" and from doing it "incorrectly"? In other words, do you feel that, when you do your fast version of the form, you do not sacrifice any important accuracy or correctness?

Take care,
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Postby yangchengfu04 » Tue Mar 09, 2004 7:50 pm


You know, it's funny to me. I keep reading about people who do the 108 YCF form in 20 to 30 minutes. This puzzles me because I try very hard to do my form as reasonably slow as possible, but cannot for the life of me get it to last longer than 14 minutes! Maybe, it's because I'm missing some details, or just my lack of experience I suppose.

I would love to make the form last 20 minutes though... that's what I'm striving for.

Does anyone else do the YCF form in around 14 minutes (and you're not conciously rushing it)???

Thank you.
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Postby Wushuer » Tue Mar 09, 2004 11:14 pm

I train forms fast, slow, medium, very fast, very slow, everything in between, for many different reasons. There are valid reasons for training at all these speeds, but it's certainly a "best" practice to do form training slow and deliberately.
One note, I do not just practice TCC, I live it. I do my best to incorporate TCC into every moment and every movement.
You do not have to be training forms to be doing TCC. You can do TCC closing a car door, you can do TCC driving that same car (circular movements, you're holding a wheel, you do the math), you can do TCC standing in line at the grocery store (standing meditation, one leg balancing, these things are subtle you could talk to your line mate about the weather and practice balancing on one leg, or both, they'd never know), you can do TCC taking a shower, going for a walk...
Get the idea?
Why do you have to be doing form practice to be doing TCC? I sure don't carry my sword around with me, but I can train wrist motions with a pencil and a vivid imagination, if it's all I have while sitting at my desk waiting for a phone call.
My point is that if you can increase your "practice" time to "all the time", then you will never lack for practice time.
Form training gets boring, trust me, after a few years. Want to liven it up? Incorporate what you've learned from your form training into your every day living movements.
TCC becomes "alive" this way, practical, useful. Not too many of us are really ever going to need it's miraculous martial abilities, but we sure could use some help walking across that icy doorstep, or opening the door to our house, or helping a little old lady across the street...
If you do this, you don't have to worry about "practice time" anywhere near as much, you're living the skills in your daily life, very soon they become one with you in a way that "form training" simply cannot match.

Just my two cents.
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Postby JerryKarin » Wed Mar 10, 2004 4:52 am

I try to do a minimum of two rounds/day, with each round taking about 25-30 minutes. I usually do them from 5 to 6 a.m. When I have time I like to do 4-7 rounds/day, but lately I rarely get that much time. Sometimes I can't even manage two. I've been riding 20 miles a day on a bicycle so that also cuts into my practice time... I do notice significant health benefits when I get in two or three rounds without stopping. When I do 4-7 my taiji improves noticeably (unfortunately the effects wear off if I slack off). The effect of 7 rounds a day for several days running is similar to attending a seminar and doing lots of practice in between the lessons. It's actually not that difficult to do three in the morning, two at noon, and two more later on. The problem is getting the time free.

I used to rush through them in 15 to 20 minutes but I trained for about a year with a tape I made of Yang Zhenduo calling out the moves at a seminar and since then my pace has stayed pretty steady at about 27 minutes/round. My advice would be to not get too hung up on the duration - do what feels natural and good to you - but pay attention to regularity. Forcing yourself to go very slow can put you in a bad mood and distract from the focus. Also it's important to not just put in time, letting your mind wander, but really focus on the 10 essentials or a subset of them as you do the form.
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Postby Shi Tianren » Wed Mar 10, 2004 9:08 pm

I thought about this one day myself. As I was always told that the long form takes 20 minutes to perform. So I brought my stop watch out with me one morning and tested it. I did the form at a fairly slow pace, didn't rush through it at all, but when I got done, only nine minutes had past.

Nine minutes!

Maybe something was wrong with the watch, but that was fast. It definitely didn't feel like nine minutes. It really didn't feel like anything.

This was just an interesting observation though; but I experience the same problem. Perhaps, the speed isn't so significant has is the way the form is done.

Shi Tianren
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Postby yangchengfu04 » Wed Mar 10, 2004 9:50 pm

I like the idea of "living my Tai Chi" instead of just doing my TC while practising the form. I will try to incoporate it into my daily activities.

I timed myself again last night and this time it took exactly 15 and a half minutes.

One thing I notice is.........The more "corrections" I receive from my teacher, the more details there are to do in the form. Thus, the form gets longer. This may be true in my case because when I first learned the entire form I did it in around 12 minutes; then 13 minutes. After a while, and more corrections, I've been doing it for 14 minutes. Now, maybe I'm progressing because I'm going over 15 minutes.

Just thinking out loud here...
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Postby Michael » Thu Mar 11, 2004 8:11 am

Hi folks, I have been away for awhile and I always like this subject.

Awhile ago I used to do 20 min of sitting meditation and then three sets six days a week. Each set taking about 30 minutes. The last one might be 45 min depending on what I was looking for.

Once a month I would do eight hours of training. Standing, then 45 minutes of stretching, followed by three sets. and then sitting meditation. Would then eat and do chores. Then Light stretching--warm up mainly, followed with single movement practice, then by Sword and Saber. Lastly two more barehand sets, the last one of about 45 minutes in duration. Some more light cool down "stretching". Finishing it all off with twenty minutes of sitting. You can see why I did that only once a month. That last set, even though usually pretty tired was the one when would get the most "insight".

I should mention that like Wushuer I also do the set at different speeds depending on the mood. I would describe them as "slow", Very slow", "kind of fast". I do short sections "very fast".

I have not been able to this routine for about two years...due to the back, which is almost back--sorry. It is pretty tough but if you can find the time I highly recommend taking on some long day training. Your legs will really ache but it can be really worth it.

Today I try for two complete sets and bits and pieces through the day, single movement and meditation are still a part of my daily practice. I am working towards returning to the eight hour practice but being heavily involved these days in Cold Water fisheries and serving on two boards of directors it is tough sometimes. But the time is there......

Like Wushuer says "living it" has great benefits, whether driving the car, just walking you can "practice". I can practice while filling sand bags in the River (stream rehab).

I have said this before, but there is more time in the day to do actual "form" practice than we often realize. It may not mean three sets it may be two. You can always do Brush knees on the way to the Kitchen or any single movemnent practice in the same way. Your companions may look at you strange, but they get used to it, as they have gotten used to you already. What is one more little quirk? Ha!

Nine minutes? Fourteen minutes? Work on slowing down, the slower you can go, the faster you will be able to go later and still maintain the principles. Especially early on in your practice, but it is true no matter haw long you have been doing taiji, The slower you go the more you see, or rather, the less you miss.

The point of all this is this, no matter what the activity, the more you put in, the more you get back. You have to realize what you want from it and be willing to put the time into it to achieve those goals. ANd if you can find that way to "live it" you can be practicing all the time. When there is conflict or emotion do you get caught up in it, or can you stay calm relaxed, detached, but still completely involved? This is practice.

[This message has been edited by Michael (edited 03-11-2004).]
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Postby Wushuer » Thu Mar 11, 2004 11:19 pm

The idea of putting the motions of TCC into everyday life is not mine, by a long shot. I have no idea if it's a "standard" training method at WTCCA's, but at least my Sifu used to lecture about this all the time.
The idea isn't, exactly, to do Brush Knee and Twist Step all the way to the break room, though if you're cow-irkers are good enough not to have you committed if you do that I guess that's a bonus.
The idea was presented to me as not so much a training method, but a way of life.
LIVE the motions from the forms, put them to use in everyday situations. Find motions in your life that match the ones you make in the forms, or alter the movements necessary to do things according to TCC principals to make ANYTHING work according to those principals.
All proper movement is embodied, somewhere, in the TCC forms. All you need to do is find the movement that works in any particular situation and apply that movement using TCC principals, and you're "living" the forms all day every day. They come to life because they've got "practical" applications that you use every day.
In this way, when you "need" the martial from the forms, it will be completely natural to you, because you do it all the time.
Which form would work for opening a door that opens towards you?
How about "Play the Pipa"? It's the first thing that springs to my mind when I try to do this.
Let's examine:
Approach the door, assume a high standing bow stance (you don't want to look too weird here) push forward with your rear foot, use your forward right hand to grasp the knob, twist the knob, reposition your back foot if necessary, hold the knob as you push back with your forward leg and pull the door with you as you go back. Your left arm will be superflous, but that's what "modification" means.
Let me go try that....
Yep, worked just fine.
It works even better on doors that open from your right if you use a mirror image of the classic form, and do it left handed.
It's a modification of the form, to be sure, but it's true to all the principals, and the door gets opened.
That is much more what I had in mind when I meant "live the form".
Incorporate these motions into what you do every day, and your form practice will take a completely new depth.
What better way to bring these forms to life and make them mean something then to actually use them all the time?
The resistance from the door will cause you to find the most economical way to move in that form, which will then feel natural if you ever do use it to press down on an opponents arm or use the backward motion as a pluck.
Don't get your brain locked in stone on any one move to do any one thing, though. There are many, many different forms you can use to do something as simple as opening a door, and many moves for closing one, or for filling a sand bag, or for walking up stairs. This is just the very first Yang style form that popped into my head that might work to open a door (please remember, I have done this with Wu style forms for so long that I don't even think about them. I'll have to start working on Yang style forms for this kind of thing myself.)
Experiment, figure out which motions you can use to do everything around you more correctly according to TCC principals.
It's actually quite fun.
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Postby Audi » Fri Mar 12, 2004 2:20 am

Greetings all,

Yangchengfu04, when I first learned a Yang Style form many years ago, I was taught to do the postures according to particular counts or beats, ranging from two to six. For instance, Play the Pipa/Guitar had two beats, and Ward Off left had six. Most postures had four. I was even told that it would be worthwhile occasionally to do the form to a metronome in order to make sure that the pace was absolutely even. I never got around to doing this and have never heard or read that the Yangs recommended such a thing, but I mention it in case you are interested. The method Jerry mentions is also a good one, if you want to learn to adapt to a new pace.

Wushuer, thanks for expanding on what you believe you get out of expanding Taijiquan through your daily activities. I find it interesting that you feel you can integrate your Taijiquan this way. I have to say that I think of Taijiquan as being intimately associated with my purpose. As I result, I find it difficult to concentrate on something like “Taiji walking” in the abstract. Walking to conserve energy is not the same as walking to preserve a maximum of control. My purpose while walking on ice is different from my purpose in walking on firm ground. Walking to listen to the birds is different from walking to the store before it closes. My steps in the barehand form are not quite the same as my steps in the saber or sword form. In order to reproduce what you describe, I think I would have to use a great deal of imagination to supply an adequate purpose.

Jerry, I think that Yang Zhenduo has talked about using the first rep to loosen up, feeling very free on the second rep, and feeling power on the third rep. Do you feel this? I definitely feel the first two sensations for the first two reps, but the third one feels kind of strange. I have actually begun to feel slightly incomplete if I cannot do three consecutive reps, but find it hard to say what exactly the third rep does differently for me. I do, however, have a tendency to lose my place in the third rep after doing the umpteenth Single Whip. Sometimes, for instance, I have to concentrate on whether I am finishing the first or second paragraph and whether to form a hook with my right hand after Embrace Tiger Return to the Mountain.

Jerry, what about the weapons forms? Have you had much experience doing them with consecutive reps? I have begun relatively to neglect the weapons forms and wonder whether it would be better to replace some of my barehand repetitions with weapons forms. Do you feel one rep of a weapons form equals one rep of the barehand form? I do you find the tradeoffs?

Shi Tianren, nine minutes seems awfully fast. Isn’t that roughly the pace of Chen forms? I would think that at that pace, you are training somewhat different skills from what is mostly trained at the 25 minute pace. For instance, I personally would find it difficult to maintain complete and distinct weight transfers at such a pace without making the form very jerky or failing to extend fully at the climax of the postures.

04 and Shi, do your teachers do form in unison with the whole class at such speeds? If not, does the slower pace feel unnatural? If you have been to seminars, how has the pace felt there?

Michael, what do you feel you get out of solo single movement practice that you do not get out of doing the form? Do you use this to concentrate on specific movements you want to polish, to work out kinks without distractions, or to fill in bits of time that are not long enough to do the full form?

As I have worked over the years at eliminating endless defects, I have often wondered about the wisdom of continuing through to the end of the form, as opposed to suspending a rep in the middle to go over difficult parts. When you lose your balance, should you pick up right from where you left off, or go back over that part and “do it right”? I have pretty much settled on not interrupting repetitions, but wonder when I should be finding time during routine practice to go over specific trouble spots. Even if I reserve some time at the end of the form, I forget what all the problems were and also end up on a little bit of a down note. What I generally do is file away things to work one during my next opportunity to repeat the posture during the next rep in the day or during the next day.

Michael, what does sword and saber practice mean for you? Do you do each one once and then put them away? If not, what have you found best? Here, I have not yet found any quantum difference with respect to the number of consecutive reps and to the sequence in which I do the forms. I cannot discern any particular “practice groove.” I am, however, much more conscious of particular postures that just don’t work right or where I have not figured out where to put my Yi. For instance, in Waiting for the Fish in the Sword Form, I know that I have incorrectly visualized the posture as a full body vertical circle to the left. Because of this, I naturally end with my right shoulder down and my left shoulder up, as if I need to twist my shoulders down to the right, like a seesaw. I cannot figure out the mental shape to give to my body’s movement that will both make them natural and also fit with the principles. I also generally find much less flow than with the barehand form, so that being more relaxed or less relaxed does not seem automatically to translate into a greater feel for internal principles.

Take care,
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Postby JerryKarin » Fri Mar 12, 2004 4:48 am

Yes, I think each succesive rep tends to be difficult in a different way. The first rep is usually difficult for me because I'm stiff and not 'song'. This first rep I occasionally tremble, lose it and stumble or lose balance or blow the spins, etc. The second rep I am usually stretched out, able to sink more and connect better with the ground. I generally don't blow things and the spins and kicks come out well. My concentration improves and I am getting more power and intent into the moves. The whole thing is more connected and I am able to make the various body parts move in well-extended circles, use the waist to drive and feel a kind of connected, drilling effect in the arm rotations. By the third and definitely the fourth in a row I'm getting tired and some new difficulties crop up. Reps three to five (I can't remember if I've ever done six in a row, probably only a few times) are the most rewarding in the effect they produce the following day - a sense of well-being, strength, and youth (I'm 51. If you are in your twenties you probably won't notice the youth aspect!).
Weapons reps are similar but the differences are not as pronounced for me since the forms are completed so quickly.
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Postby Wushuer » Fri Mar 12, 2004 3:59 pm

You hit the nail I was trying to drive squarely on the head. Thank you.
Your "purpose" will be different when you do different things. So, as I said, modifications to proper form are necessary to meet your purpose, as long as the movement stays true to TCC principals.
I didn't say it in exactly that way, but if you read my post I was clumsily trying to get to that exact point.
You're not trying to break a doors arm when you open it, you're trying to open it. So the "purpose" of this movement is to open the door, plain and simple.
Why would you not use TCC movement to achieve this purpose and consequently get in some "practice" time? You can use the old fashioned method of rigidly tugging the door with your arm and shoulder and it will work every time, but isn't it more economical to put your entire body into it and let it flow open smoothly with your shifting weight?
That's what TCC is all about, using your entire body for movement instead of just portions of it. If you can integrate that purpose with the proper movement principals of TCC into everything you do, you've made it to that elusive place we're all striving so hard to reach.
You mention that your "purpose" is different when walking across an icy parking lot then when you are on a nature walk (I'm paraphrasing). That's EXACTLY right. So you won't walk the same way, you'll adjust your method to suit your purpose and as long as the way you walk meets that purpose and stays true to the underlying principals of TCC, then you're where we all want to be.
I'm not suggesting anyone cat walk all day long, but Sifu showed us how to walk using TCC principals during just about any situation. If you think about what you've learned during form and application training, these methods should be self explanatory.
You adjust the movement to fit the purpose, just as you would during applications training. Anyone who's ever done free style sparring or wrestling will know exactly what I mean by that.
Do you use the same movements to do Play the Pipa as Brush Knee and Twist Step? No, you don't. Each of these moves has a different purpose, so they use different motions to achieve them. However, both adhere strictly to TCC principals.
It's the same in everyday movements. You have a different purpose, you adjust your motion accordingly.
You can apply the principals to everything you do. If you use your imagination and intellect, it becomes easier every time until it becomes a natural part of your everyday routine. Pretty soon, you won't evne realize you're doing it.
Isn't that what we're all working towards? Formlessness to form to formlessness? First you have no proper movement or form, then you learn form to learn how to move properly, then you learn how to apply that movement to different situations correctly, then you do it so often you don't have to think about it anymore and just do it.
So, if you go through these steps with every single type of movement you make until you don't have to think about it anymore, you've reached Tai Chi. Now use those movements without having to think abou them in combat...
Tai Chi Chuan.
You're there.
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Postby Michael » Fri Mar 12, 2004 5:43 pm


You misunderstood me. I know exactly what you were refering to in your statement of "living" it. On the physical side your last post to Audi sums most of it well. My last comment on being in some type conflict was refering to one way that life can be practice on the more "consciousness" level.

My comment on doing Brush knees or single movement on the way to the the other room had nothing to do with that. It was only about that if one felt they did not have the time in the day to do "form" practice, that there is ways of doing so that does not entail twenty to forty minutes or more. That is "forms" practice not "living it".


On the reps and what I get out of them. My experience is close to Jerrys. I would add that the third one I find more challenging on a concentration level. As you mention about all those Single Whips. I find my mind getting "lazy" so to speak and often becomes "scattered". I find I have to work to get that non actively involved concentration, or rather, "awareness" back. That is the hardest part for me with numbers three and four. I don't think I have ever gone past a "full" four sets--at least as far as I can remember. And deveoloping this "distached awareness" is a big part of what I consider a part "living pratcice" along with the physical part of full body use.

Single movement? Well the value I find in them would be all the one's that you mention and more. I would say my intent quite often cahnges as I get into the practice, the movement actually gives me the "what" I am looking to work on at that time. It may be different from my original intention. Often I just want to strenghten the connections that are already there often it is find where the intent should be in certain forms where I have questions...and I always have questions. This of course changes as I explore the different options. When I do Single Whip in the form for instance. In each section I may have a differnt intent that I explore. In one it may be the throw, in another it may be an arm break, a lock, or more defensive in nature and forge the intent and connections better than I can in doing the forms in sequence. In Brush knees I may wnat to really focus on the combo blocking of the non striking arm. I don' think you can really do this adaquetly in the set as there are so many distinct parts of each individual form, at least not like when doing 30 Brush knees with one aspect being practiced. Another day I may make my focus another part of the the form. Later when I put it together with all parts I practiced idividually--it is very different. I find that the connections become more "powerful"--at least that is how it works for me.

Whether to stop or not when you "flub" something. I guess it again depends on one's intent. Flow is often the intent of form practice. So if that is one's intent, I would say keep going. If you found the screw up distasteful, and flow is not your purpose, well then do that form over and then continue. It is all up to you as to what you want. My thinking is that after the set it is good time to work the individual forms on what one messed up.

Concerning Sword and Saber. I have to confess that mostly my practice of these is often more to do with "maintance" these days more than anything. I in the past really concentrated on Saber. It was my favorite. Now I am finding the sword is really capturing my attention. I have been doing about two reps of sword these days--and working on the problem spots afterwards. You might ask me this question in few months.

Waiting for the Fish. Iam no kind of "expert" believe me. So take my thoughts with a "grain of salt". I would suggest thinking more about the intent of the parts of the move first. That should clear up the shoulder thing. It is a "full" upper move to the left as I see it, but your intent might be in the wrong place. Think of it as a parry and finishing with the wrist cut. In the first part of the move I see the intent in the sword as you turn the waist to the left, you also are moving the intent from the tip down the blade closer to the guard. Your intent here may be out in the tip. When you continue, the intent seems to move from the hand/wrist/guard out to the tip. NOw I do not know if this is "correct" but at this stage, that is how I see the technique being done. See if this helps.?????

There are some other things I need to consider and will bet back ....

always a pleasure!

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Postby Wushuer » Fri Mar 12, 2004 6:46 pm

I see. I did misunderstand what you were saying about "living it", I did understand what you meant by keeping your head when all others around you are losing theres being good training for the mental aspects and was in total agreement, so made no comment.

"Intent", "purpose", same thing.

On whether to keep going or to stop during form training:
I've always kept going. I can come back to a single form and train the kinks out of it later. My "intent" when I'm doing a long form is to keep the flow, the timing, so if I stop and go back, I've lost that.
I get nit-picky about every little thing in single form training. If I blow it there, I stop immediately and fix the problem. There is not such a big issue with flow and timing involved, so you can start and stop as needed.
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