Understanding the Movements List

Movement Explanation

The list below is of the traditional movements for Wu Style Tai Chi 108 Slow Form, the lessons in this classroom are based on these movements, you will be studying three movements at a time for ease of learning. Pay attention to the name of each movement, these aren’t just used for fun but as an aid to learning, to help you remember and understand each posture. Learning the name sequence is like learning the alphabet, once you know the letters of the alphabet it is easy to remember the next letter in the sequence.

abc picture Learn Your ABC's
The letters of the alphabet have a set sequence that never changes, so has this traditional tai chi form, this works to your advantage. If I ask you what letter comes after G in the alphabet you will say H, if I ask what two letters come before N you will say L M. In this same way if you take the time, to not only learn the postures, but also to memorise the names of the postures in their sequence, then it will be easy for you to remember the movements in the form. Then when you are practicing in a park and come to section where you can't remember what comes next, you then go through the sequence in your head, the same way you would do when remembering the alphabet, and the answer will come.

This does not mean remembering the whole lot right now, we are learning three movements at a time, so it is just three names that you have to remember, and you can do this at your own pace. You can also print off the movement sequence list below and bring it with you when you practice as another means of aiding your memory.

Another thing to notice is that the different postures have been given very specific names, unfortunately the meaning of many has been lost in translation from Chinese to English. You can see this with names like no. 12. Block & Punch, which are more descriptive of the actual application of the posture then anything else. If you look at posture names like no. 4. Grasping Birds Tail and no. 8. White Crane Cools Wing a whole new world is opened up. These particularly names are not pointing towards the application of the posture, so what are they pointing towards?

village picture Original Roots
Lets look back at the original roots of Tai Chi, it was originally practiced within villages and these villages used it to protect themselves from bandits, thieves and any kind of attack. Tai chi was then only taught within these villages and families, was taught 'indoor' from teacher to disciple. So how does a teacher describe the experience of a particular posture? What it 'feels' like? Any experience we have is 'felt' so the best way is to compare it to what the student has already experienced; this is the same method I use today when teaching Tai Chi and Meditation. These elders taught by using metaphors and experiences within village life, notice when you look at the movement list below how the different names describe the experience of this.

The names refer to things that could be observed around the village as well as stories that people were brought up with as children. For example, if you come from a European based culture you may have grown up with Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. If you grew up with this notice all I have to say is Tortoise and the Hare and you already know the meaning of this, what is it? It is slow and steady wins the race - pace yourself. Notice how complex the meaning that is contained in those few words. In the same way movement no. 4. Grasping Birds Tail contains deeper meaning of how the posture should be practiced.

The story of Grasping Birds Tail is this, long ago there was a master who used to practice his Tai Chi listening skills using little birds. He would place a small bird on the palm of his hand, lightly touching the tail with the other hand, then he would listen through touch to the feeling of the birds feet pushing against his hand as it tried to fly away. Every time the bird pushed against his hand with it's feet he would sink and move with their force. In moving with their force the bird could find any ground to push off and could not fly away.

Understanding this story we can see that the name is pointing to the way the posture should be performed and as well the 'experience' of performing it correctly. The palm when performing Grasping Birds Tail should be facing up, so the little bird has a perch, our second hand should be touching lightly, so as not to hurt the bird. The movement should be gentle and even so as not to startle the bird, and our listening skill should be high and attentive to the slightest touch or change of balance. This is the expression that the elders were pointing towards with this posture and it is all hidden within the name, we should not neglect investigating this.

pipa picture More then a Name
Other names are not coming from a story but rather an observation of life around the village. For example movement no. 3. Hands Play Guitar can be more accurately translated as Hands Play Pipa. A pipa is a Chinese musical instrument as in this picture, it has a long neck and a wide base, while playing both hands are engaged with the instrument, one high and one low. This gives the image of how you hold your body, erect but relaxed, hands in position, one slightly higher then the other, relaxed yet alert, sensitive. The pipa appears in other tai chi forms such as Wu Tai Chi sword. There is a movement called 'Old Man Carries Instrument', the instrument is a pipa and during this posture the sword tip is held low, close to your body and you take small steps forward. The imagery here is of an old man carrying his pipa down to the park, it is too heavy for him to lift so he holds it just above the ground taking one small step at a time. The name again points towards the expression of the posture.

We can continue with this with the movement 'White Crane Cools its Wing' - Big, majestic and graceful movement, as you can see the names give a description of the expression of each posture, they are not just a name. Each posture has its own character, own expression, the names and stories are pointers to guide us to feel them for ourselves. Another interesting image that pops up throughout the form is the image of the tiger. In the beginning of the form we are fighting the tiger with no. 13. Withdraw & Push actually coming from 'Tiger Springs to Mountain' which has a feeling of the tiger springing and clawing down at the end. Then we find no. 44. 'Fighting Tiger Posture' where we step back into the unknown, trying to hold the tiger off us. Near the end of the form we find movement no. 98. 'Ride the Tiger' and no. 101. 'Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger'. So we start off struggling with the tiger, then we hold it off, we end up riding it and then we shoot it. So what is going on here?

tiger picture Taming Tigers
If we look at the tiger as a metaphor for the mind then it starts to make sense. When training in tai chi we will start to notice how uncontrollable our mind is, we are asked to do some simple tasks, remember the sequence, be aware of our movement and balance. this makes us look our mind square in the face, we come to understand how stubborn it is, how hard it is to be mindful of one thing and of how strongly our old habits bind us to our old ways of moving. Threaten to teach our mind something new, step out of conditioned movement and it bucks and kicks, claws and scratches - this is the process of taming the mind.

Our mind is like a fierce tiger controlling our movement, attention and discissions, it makes us react by tensing, resisting what is, taking away our ability to follow the tai chi principle of non-resistance. Looking at these postures we can see the 'Tiger Springs to Mountain' after which it claws down, during this phase our mind is powerful, in full control. As we move through the form we come to ' Fighting Tiger Posture', at this point of the form our mind is starting to settle, we have some awareness and enter into the battle of trying to hold it back, you can see this very clearly in this posture. As we move towards the end we come to 'Step Back, Ride the Tiger', the imagery of this I find quite comical, one leg on the tigers back, one on its side, arms out to the side for balance, riding along. The last time the tiger is mentioned is movement no. 101. 'Bend the Bow, Shoot the Tiger', this posture suggests we have reached liberation, are free from the mind, no longer have use for its ways and have attained deep inner peace.

As you can see there is so much to learn from studying the meaning of each posture in the movement list, don't take them for granted. Article is Continued Below

Wu Tai Chi Slow Form 108 Movement List

CLICK: Printable PDF Version link

Patterns and Meaning to Be Found

Pay attention when studying this traditional form for repetition, notice when looking at the above movement list that there are certain patterns, repetitions. Notice how movements such as Grasping Bids Tail and Single Whip always appear together, for example look at movements 4 & 5, 17 & 18, 29 & 30, 56 & 57, 68 & 69 etc, we could keep going through the form in this way. Notice how these postures are an ending to a sequence, clusters of movements and also the beginning of the next section. Once you have learnt movements 4 & 5 then you automatically already know movements 17 & 18, 29 & 30, 56 & 57, 68 & 69 etc, in learning two movements you know many movements, this is the way with Slow Form, there are many repetitions. Become familiar with these repetitions, the patterns.

patterns picture The question then arises "why would the founders put so many repetitions in a form?" I feel that they are trying to give us a message; repetition means more practice, what do we need to practice most? We need to practice what is most important. The repetition in the form is there so that we can see what is most important, what is used most in actual application. What we repeatably practice the most is what we will gain the highest skill in. If we list the movements in this sequence we start to develop a picture ( yes I was crazy enough to do this), the movements with the highest repetitions are our staple, the lowest are more situational, practicing Wu Style Pushing Hands makes this very clear.

Different Form Lengths
The movements themselves can be counted in many ways, hence we have 92, 96 & 108 forms, in many different styles, but they are all based on the same movements, it all depends on how you count them. Brush Knee sequence for example can be counted as 1 movement or as 4, Repulse Monkey as 1 movement or 3, Cloud Hands as 1 movement or 3 etc. In reality there are many more movements in this traditional Slow Form then listed, but based on the below traditional list, not taking into account those movements not named if we look then we will notice repetitions. Notably Repulse Monkey is listed twice with 6 repetitions, Cloud Hands listed three times including 9 separate movements all together, Brush Knee Step is practiced ten times and finally we have Grasping Birds Tail and Single Whip appearing eleven times in just the official movement list.

This points to there being more to how the form is put together then just random movements, in this way I encourage you to investigate and study it, then put it into practice to gain the understanding and wisdom contained within - this list is your guide from the past, faithfully handed down through many generations, it is not something that appears for its own sake.

Enjoy your journey

Stephen Procter

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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you

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