Form in Cramped Spaces

Form in Cramped Spaces

Postby Audi » Sun Mar 18, 2001 1:50 am

Is there any general consensus on how to do traditional forms in cramped spaces? Should you delete postures? Add postures? Shorten your steps? Forget the whole thing and do standing postures or qi gong? What about in class, when you realize you are one strike away from having one less push hands partner? Should you just stand up and reposition yourself so that you both have room for the next posture?

I also do non-traditional forms where space and obstacles are not a problem, because I have been taught to deliberately cultivate adaptability and freedom of movement. In trying to derive benefit from standard forms, however, I have never hit on a pleasing solution and would be interested in what others do.

On a related subject, I would be curious to know if most people do form only to one side (e.g., always taking the first step to the same side) or whether symmetrical training (right- and left-handed versions) in form is common.


[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 03-17-2001).]
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Postby Michael » Sun Mar 18, 2001 2:54 am

In regards to adjustment of performing the set in cramped conditions. I am fortunate in that my space at home is nearly perfect. I have to shorten my step either in one brush knee or in deflect downward in the first section and then I end up pretty good for the rest. My problem comes when practicing sword and saber. I find that I very often have to adjust direction and the length of step. Sometimes I have to step back a couple steps to continue. I spend alot of time doing a particular section of the weapons sets a few times before moving on to the next section. I find that if I work on the "energy" in several positions strung together over and over it sometimes more effective than what I get from the whole set. I do miss the continous flow from beginning to end however. It is frustrating at times, but if nothing else it gets me through until spring comes and I can get back outside.

I for one am just beginning the practice of performing Left sets in my "traditional" Yang form. I already do them in my Kuang Ping Yang style. I think it does enhance the training of the nerve pathways so if one needed to use a posture on the left one could quickly and naturally--without thought. It may be that another posture and technique could used instead in a "Left" situation, but it might be a "second" choice to the position that we have not trained to that side.

I think it is valuable, but I don't know if it is necessary. Time is a major consideration if one does a left set or not.
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Postby DavidJ » Mon Mar 19, 2001 7:37 pm

Hi Audi,

If I have limited space I break the form into as few pieces as possible. I try to continue the flow where the breaks occur and to break at different places if I have to use a small space repeatedly.

Some small places have given me a better idea of exactly how much room is required to do each move. I've always considered that adaptability and freedom of movement as part and parcel of Tai Chi.

I try to do the long form to the other side about once a week, and I do mirror images for my students. I know of others, including Master Kai Ying Tung, who do the mirror image moves for their students, and I know of some who do everything on both sides regularly. I have no idea what percentage of people who do Tai Chi do it both ways. Sometimes after the long form, I'll work on three moves at a time, or do 1/6 or 1/3 or 1/2 of the long form to the other side, or more quickly, or more slowly.

There is a certain symmetry built into Tai Chi, but I find doing it to both sides useful.

Have you ever done the set backwards?

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Postby Rafael » Thu Mar 22, 2001 1:53 am

I was watching a clip of Fu Zhongwen's son doing power training for the Yang style form. All he did was the Brush Knee Step and Repulse Monkey. Traditional training helps also. Just practicing one posture at a time over and over again. I do the same thing myself whenever there is barely room to practice, especially at work. A fellow student told me at work she she visualizes the form in her head.

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Postby Blues » Mon Apr 02, 2001 12:36 pm

I have been following this thread with interest. Like a lot of persons, I sometimes find myself in restricted space. This topic raises a question someone my be able to shed some light on. I heard of a "jailhouse set", does anyone have any knowledge of this form? It seems that this may be one answer to the confined space issue.
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Postby AlexPanait » Wed Apr 18, 2001 10:40 pm

Hi, I've been practicing tai chi for almost three years and I recently started practising the form in the opposite direction, I find it pretty difficult. It was like trying to write with your opposite hand and it also feels very unnatural. I think tai chi is (among other things)very much about controlling your body, so you should be able to do the form both ways.
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Postby JerryKarin » Thu Apr 19, 2001 4:13 am

I have also frequently had to practice in small quarters. The problem is basically: it goes too far left in the first section and back too far to the right later on. I try to avoid stopping and stepping back, so I often cut out and insert elements which repeat three times: only do the first of the 3 brush knee moves near the end of the 1st section. If the space is very small indeed I start cutting out Hand strums lute, etc. Later, when there is some danger of bumping into the right hand end of the room, for ex after needle at sea bottom (2nd section), then before needle at sea bottom I re-insert the hand strums lute and as many more brush knee moves as needed to get over to the left side before needle at sea bottom.... I also use multiple repeats of cloud hands to get back to the left.

This sort of thing should only be done in a pinch; it should not be your regular way of practice. For that, it is best to seek out a large enough space, IMHO.

[This message has been edited by JerryKarin (edited 04-18-2001).]
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Postby DavidJ » Sat Apr 21, 2001 1:35 am

Hi Jerry, AlexPanait,

Jerry, I really like the idea, in adapting to limited space, of cutting out moves and doing them at other points in the form. Previously I've only done this accidently.

Alex, do you feel awkward and unnatural where moves are done to both sides in the form - like 'Brush Knee,' 'Repulse the Monkey,' and 'Separation of the Feet?'

Which of these do you consider 'right handed' and which do you consider 'left handed?'

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Postby taijifool » Wed Apr 25, 2001 3:31 pm

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Audi:
[B]Is there any general consensus on how to do traditional forms in cramped spaces? Should you delete postures? Add postures? Shorten your steps?

Ben Lo teaches what Cheng Man-Ch'ing called "the ox-stall form". Mr. Lo points out that, whenever a foot is unweighted to step forward, you can step backward just as well. I have used this principle in motel rooms to go through the entire Cheng Man-Ch'ing form and it works well. Just step back, whenever you would step forward. I have used this with the sword and saber forms as well.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Apr 25, 2001 6:08 pm

Greetings T,

I never heard it called “the ox-stall form” before (I like it!), but that’s what I learned to do also—to merely adjust one’s steps to accommodate cramped quarters. I prefer it to a cut-and-paste approach. My first sifu began learning taijiquan as a young boy in Hong Kong, studying with a number of masters over the years. He said that space was often at a premium in crowded Hong Kong. Some studios were so small that students had to take turns practicing their forms while the others lined the walls. He used to joke that one may need to use one’s taijiquan in a taxi or a phone booth (remember phone booths?), so one should be able to practice in cramped quarters. He once demonstrated nearly the entire form in a space maybe 5’ X 5’. He accelerated the pace in this postage stamp form for demo purposes. Nothing was deleted, not even repeats, and he simply adapted his steps. Once one foot is solid, the empty foot can go anywhere. The ending postures can still be intact. He did this so smoothly that it was easily apparent that he’d probably often had to practice the form this way over the years.

Having myself had to practice in kitchens, living rooms (roll up the rug, move the furniture), driveways, and motel rooms, I can say that this approach is a good one to be aware of. I think there are practical advantages to knowing how to adjust one’s steps. An adversary, after all, will not likely accommodate your space requirements.

Of course I prefer practicing under more ideal circumstances, and I’m fortunate that my regular practice space—my backyard deck—yields the right amount of space. But lack of space should never be a deterrent to practice. In fact, the challenge of getting a good form into a confined space can be very good training indeed.

Take care,
Louis Swaim
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Postby Steve » Sun May 06, 2001 9:59 pm


It has been my experience that the long and low posture works particularly as a training device to lower the center of gravity and train leg strength. Fights, however, seldom occur in areas where there is enough room for the sort of long-range postures we would like to do from the form. However, the essentials of rooting do not change just because you are in a higher posture (hence the effectiveness of the Zheng Manqing form, and the Wu school, both of which use relatively high postures and short stances).

Thus, to balance training with reality, there are a number of things I do when practicing:
1) full form in a wide-open space, where I can do the whole routine at a low posture and with long stances;
2) full form in a smaller space, where I can practice remaining stable regardless of the higher posture, and where I can work on adapting the movements to shorter-range technique;
3) practice the shorter forms from the Wushu repertoire (like the 8, 16, and 24 forms), because these can usually be done in a confined space -- the 8-forms was designed specifically for use in offices, and is easy to practice on both sides; the 24-forms works on a linear model, first to the left then to the right, so it is doable in a hallway;
4) practice simple combinations, which can be done in a confined space (like Grasp the Bird's Tail, or the sequence from Raise Hands to White Crane...) -- which, as a martial artist, helps solidify and internalize these movements.

I hope that helps.

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Postby Iowa gal » Fri May 25, 2001 8:32 pm

I totally agree with your take on doing the form in confined spaces. One of my first instructors challenged me to do the form in the traditional space of the one it takes for a cow to lie down. Since then I've challenged my students to do the form in a hulu hoop. It teaches them to work the angles and to be aware of the substantial and insubstantial. Why not give it a try! Then try to do it quickly as in a real time application.
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Postby DavidJ » Fri May 25, 2001 10:55 pm

Hi All,

I like the "ox stall" version, and the hula hoop version sounds like a real challenge. Thanks for the ideas.

Speaking of phone booths, how did Clark Kent change into Superman in one anyway? Before they were made transparent, (and useless for his purpose) they were often very small.

Jane Golden's website, contains footage of her doing Tung's fast set in a small space. I think it's a good accompaniment to these ideas.


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