Modification of the forms

Modification of the forms

Postby rakyat » Tue Jun 28, 2005 6:10 am

Would modifying the forms in any way destroy the benefits of Yang style Tai Chi ?

For example, if you have previous knee injury and you are not able to bend the right knee that low while doing dan bian xia shi (like the logo above). So you only bend the right knee so that it is about 45 deg angle above the horizontal.

Would such modification prevent you from achieving progress in Yang Style Tai Chi?

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Postby shugdenla » Tue Jun 28, 2005 6:06 pm


Yang style has been modified many times and will continue to be modified. You have Yang style according to Manqing, Dong, Fu, Li, Beijing and the list is endless. Fo according to your age, degree of flexibility, and so on.

Success is not about form itself but what you have internalized about the basics.
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Postby psalchemist » Tue Jun 28, 2005 6:21 pm

"Success is not about form itself but what you have internalized about the basics."

In my humble stance, I must fully second that statement. Says so much in so few words. Absolutely~

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Postby Bamenwubu » Tue Jun 28, 2005 7:35 pm

You should talk to your teacher about any modifcations for health reasons you are wondering about, and see what their recommendation for such a situation would be.
You really should get advice specific for you and your injury, and I can't stress highly enough that this advice should only come from a qualified instructor with pleny of experience in training Tai Chi Chuan movements for health purposes. Otherwise you risk doing even more damage to the previous injury from incorrect practice.
That said, and for what it's worth, I have never succusfully gone as low as the picture above in that posture and I have no knee injury. With only three years and a few months practicing Yang family Tai Chi Chuan, I don't expect I'll get there for some time to come either.
That kind of low form takes a lot of practice. One day, maybe, I'll get there. Until then, I practice every day to the best of my ability. Mostly I'm just happy when I don't fall over when I try...
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Postby Kalamondin » Tue Jun 28, 2005 11:19 pm

Hi Rakyat,

I second Bamenwubu’s suggestion that you check with your teacher to make sure you have the proper alignment in the movement (back foot open 45 degrees to the back corner for the bulk of the movement, right knee in line with the right toe and not falling inward, left foot straight ahead and so forth).

But that said, it’s fine to maintain a high stance until your knee heals up—whether that’s next month, or ten years from now. The important thing is to not make the injury worse by over straining it. Build your knee strength (the tendons and muscles surrounding the knee) gradually. The more relaxed you are in your stance, the more qi will flow through the area, helping to heal the knee. But if you force it, it will be tense and the qi will stagnate.

Yang style requires that you keep to the ten essentials and conventions like toe/knee direction in the stances, shoulder-width bow stances, and empty stances with footwork on either side of a center line—but aside from those, there is a lot of room for personal variation depending on leg strength and general health. For example, a beginning student who is a senior citizen with a very high stance who can only do that movement by bowing forward slightly can be said to be doing Snake Creeps Down correctly, so long as they are adhering to the ten essentials, the correct intent of the movement, and have their footwork at shoulder width (no matter the length or depth of the stance).

On the other hand, a young student who is flexible enough to get into the lowest possible variation of Snake Creeps Down will be doing it incorrectly if they just bounce downward quickly (insufficient leg strength to go slowly and evenly), or if their right knee collapses inward, of if they have to stick their rear way out in order to get that low (tailbone not tucked under enough).

My advice: stick to the ten essentials and the footwork requirements but don’t worry about the depth of your stance—that will come in time. Go as low as you can without pain or straining your knee. You will improve more quickly for making haste slowly.

Sadly, I’m talking from experience here—I injured my right knee in January attempting to fa with incorrect footwork. I’m slightly pigeon-toed, which I’ve corrected in my form, but in the heat of push hands, I didn’t notice my toes were pointing in when I pushed my opponent. I ended up twisting my tibia and straining some of the ligaments. So mostly, I’m sticking to a 45 degree bend in the right knee (that’s what feels comfortable) for Snake Creeps Down until it gets stronger. I’ve also had to modify Turn Around and Left Heel Kick because the knee is still too unstable to do that spin. It’s a bit frustrating, but better than re-injuring it, which I’ve done a few times already on account of being impatient.

The upside of the knee injury is that I’ve been able to correct a lot of structural details in my form that I was unaware of when my knee was strong enough to support me stepping incorrectly. Because of the general swelling and pain, I had to develop the ability to listen to my knee and what felt right. I’ve learned that the knee can actually bend more deeply and support my weight with less pain if I tuck my tailbone under, and maintain a strict vertical alignment (central equilibrium and head top suspended). I thought I was doing those things—but the knee pain has forced me to see where I’m not. It’s made my transfer footwork much better (brush knee and push sequence, step up to grasp the bird’s tail, parting the wild horse’s mane) and also improved my stability when kicking. I’ve gotten a lot more from working with my knee and listening to what it can and cannot do than when I had a more adversarial relationship with it.

Anyway, good luck with it and best wishes for a speedy recovery (even if it is an old injury),
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Postby nanzer » Wed Jun 29, 2005 10:48 am

seconding Kalamondin's comments, i would like to answer your question with another question, just exactly what are the bennefits of yang style tai chi? anyone who has read about the boxer rebellion or heard their master speak about guns, not just automatic, but even the revolver kind, know that physical self defense is probably the lowest and least important benefit you can gain from tai chi. some here may disagree with me, but in my own opinion, modification of the form will not effect the possible benefits of tai chi at all. i have had two different tai chi teachers, my first taught a mixed form with a lot of shaolin praying mantis in it. i later switched to yang family style which i liked much better because the stances are far more natural(read here soft and fluidic) than the shaolin ones. my point is this, even though the forms were quite different, i witnessed that both styles and both advanced students of each art possessed nearly the same abilities when it came to self defense and chi cultivation such as fa jing. in my own opinion, i think the forms are given far to much importance. the forms are essentially there to teach you how to combine the original 8 gates and learn how to work with chi properly. the forms are actually artificial and when you gain true ability, your actual movements in a given situation will be quite different. in terms of self defense, your movements, if natural, will be a complete bastardization of the form. in my opinion, there is far to little discussion about the topic of the chi gong and nei gong work that should be accompanied by the forms training. here is the real bedrock of tai chi, and with out it, you will only be practicing chuan, and not tai chi chuan. i would also add that if you watch any two advanced students of the same school or teacher, you will notice that their forms are not exact. this is because no one, no matter how similar they may be physically speaking to another person, internally everyone is quite different and will have external manifestations in form because of this. so to finish up with my comment, i will say this, try to learn the forms as best you can, it will help you and your teacher to teach you the art. however, in the long run the forms will only become a kind of exercise or meditation and the only real use you will have for the forms is the same use your teacher has now, helping new students along path of learning tai chi chuan.
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Postby rakyat » Thu Jun 30, 2005 11:17 am

Thanks for the replies. It has help clear up the misconception I had earlier that not doing the form as passed down would interfere with chi development.
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Postby Kalamondin » Thu Jun 30, 2005 6:22 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by rakyat:
Thanks for the replies. It has help clear up the misconception I had earlier that not doing the form as passed down would interfere with chi development.</font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Hi Rakyat,

You're welcome. It all depends on what you consider has been passed down. The form is inseperable from the biomechanical and energy principles it manifests. So long as the principles are intact, the form is correct. The low postures of the masters are the result of years and years of individual practice and development...but I'm pretty sure they had to start in higher postures, even if they were very young at the time. So, IMO, even the higher postures are part of what has been passed down, with the understanding that the student should work towards deepening their postures gradually. I believe being sung in a higher posture will be more beneficial for chi development than using stiff strength in a low posture.

Best wishes,
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Postby Bamenwubu » Thu Jun 30, 2005 8:33 pm

As far as I've ever been told there is no compelling reason, either for health or martial arts aspects, to go so low in the low forms. There are transmissions that leave them out entirely.
Now, that said, is it better to do so? Probably. I would not dispute this. Just as jogging faster gives more aerobic benefit than jogging slower to one who has reached that level of prowess, so would going low in low forms return a greater benefits to someone who is able to do so correctly.
However, you still get very good results from being higher up.
You also make a very good point about being sung and maintaining principles being better than forcing your way through.

Merely my opinion on the subject, as always.
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Postby Audi » Sun Jul 03, 2005 5:01 pm

Greetings all,

I would say that the most important part of doing form should be internal, relative, and natural to you. Strictly speaking, external form, absolute distances and angles, and the standards of others do not matter. In fact, focusing exclusively on these is arguable inconsistent with many basic principles of Taijiquan.

However, external supports internal and is the only way for internal to express itself. Doing the postures in a big frame makes it easier to magnify what is or should be going on internally. Going relatively low makes it easier to contrast this with what it feels like being relatively high. Trying to copy someone else’s standard can help reveal where you may have blocked off feelings and movements that should be natural to you.

The simplest thing is probably to find a middle way. I would say to try to challenge yourself, but only within limits that are natural to you. If you do this, your practice should be sufficient and beneficial in all respects. To do more or to do less will probably be harmful and hurt your progress.

Take care,
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