Forms and Concepts
In this article, I would like to talk about two aspects of your Taichi training, that while an important and necessary starting point, can become traps that can impede your progress. We all need a starting point, and depending on how you learn, you will probably need one or both of these learning methods. The two basic types of students are those who learn "outside-in", and those who learn "inside-out".
Outside-in learners find that using forms is the way that comes naturally to them. The learning of forms gives a good physical starting point to work from, so that they can learn to relax and move in a more natural way. That will then allow them to concentrate more on the flow of energy, which in turn, leads to doing real moving meditation. This type of practice will be necessary at first, but too much attention to putting the body in an exact perfect posture is where the trap lies. Yes you do need to do the form properly, but the form is not the be-all and end-all. Too many people get hung up on physical perfection at the sacrifice of energy flow.
Another mistake that is very common is trying to exactly duplicate your instructor or Master who is teaching you. Everyone has a different physical structure for one thing, so trying to duplicate what you see another do exactly, makes no sense. You must also take into account the level of the person you may be trying to duplicate. Anyone who advances over the years will have changes take place in their forms. Often, the higher the level the less motion, the slower the speed, and the smaller the frame, although again, you cannot make rules in this regard. The point here is that again, you are focusing on the wrong thing.
Inside-out learners are different in that they start out more by feeling and less by physical motion. Often the forms come more naturally, so the focus is more on the concepts behind the forms, such as the flow involved. Here the practice tends to be more based on those concepts, and applying them to the form practice. One problem that can arise here is that, like the forms, the concepts become too much of a focus. As with the forms, they are guidelines. You can end up "too much in your head", rather than using true feeling as you practice.
Another trap I have seen students fall into is becoming too "spacey", for lack of a better term. If you are trying to put the concepts you learn into practice, you have to stay centered and use true feeling. Often students will set out to practice meditatively, but they are not centered or focused. A student can falsely believe they are really deep in meditation, often based on imagined feelings. It must be a sincere, centered and focused meditation to be real. Otherwise you are again putting emphasis on the wrong thing.
These two types of learning and the traps you can fall into are not exclusive. As with anything, you may fit into one or more of the categories above. The main thing here is to understand that while forms and concepts are need in the beginning, they must not become what Taichi is about, or what you follow. They are only useful in as much as they get you to the point that you can feel, and then allow the energy move you. That is why the Taichi Classics talk about emptiness, and the Tao Te Ching talks about reduction. You have to let go of forms and concepts to do real moving meditation. You cannot attain the highest levels of your practice if you become mired in these traps, so from time to time, it is a good idea to do a "reality check" on your practice to be sure you have not gone off the path.