There is a certain progression in learning tai chi. Beginning students first learn the form. This is a flowing sequence of 37 movements which takes about 10 minutes to perform. The movements are learned slowly, so the principles can be learned alongside the choreography.
Regular practice of the form allows the principles to become embodied and natural.
The class may also include some gentle warm up and loosening exercises based in qi gong, and exercises to aid the learning of the essential principles upon which tai chi movement is based.
Slow, mindful movement promotes a letting go of tension and a natural quieting of the mind and body. The resulting calm and centred mood allows the internal energy to sink, promoting stability and groundedness.
After some experience of form the partner exercises are introduced. Sensing hands is a method of learning to understand the energetic interaction with another person; how to yield to their force, neutralise it and maintain balance and harmony.
In emphasising a soft approach to this exercise, Cheng Man-ching, wished to tilt the balance in the direction of using internal energy, rather than hard, muscular force. Therefore this exercise is practiced in a way that is appropriate for all levels of fitness. A further partner exercise, Da lu is a form of sensing hands with moving steps.
It is hoped that the co-operative partner work facilitates in practitioners the development of healthier, less conflicted relationships with others, as they learn to stick to and divert incoming force rather than resisting and blocking.
More experienced students can then go on to learn a sword form which teaches rooting while stepping more quickly, and extending energy and awareness to the tip of the sword. There is also a highly enjoyable, co-operative fencing practice in which the practitioners, keeping their swords in contact, play with sensing gaps in their partner’s awareness and energy.