How To Remember the Tai Chi Form When You Are Practicing Alone

by Stuart Shaw
(Toowoomba, Australia)

I often have my students ask me, "I keep forgetting the form outside of class when I try to practice on my own. How do I remember the Tai Chi form?"

Of course what happens often is that the student will practice only up to where they can remember and then stop. Thus their private practice time is severely limited and early progress can be inhibited or, as often happens, the student gets discouraged and gives up entirely.

Normally I would just give my standard response to this sort of question, "Practice more." But I got to thinking about it recently and wondered if there could be a way to help this process.

The years I have spent as both as a professional entertainer and speaker has taught me a few things about how to remember spoken scripts, and perhaps we can cross-reference this to learning and remembering the Tai Chi form(s).

As a speaker the very last thing you want to do is try and remember a script word for word. If you do that your presentation will be stilted and artificial. The audience will hear this and will undoubtedly get "turned off" losing you the opportunity to effectively communicate.

You want your presentation to be "alive" and "fresh" ... just like you want your Tai Chi form to be.

So the "trick" to learning and speaking a professional presentation is to use the "power of threes". This means you break your whole presentaion down into divisions of three. An easy example is:

~ Introduction
~ Body
~ Conclusion

A rather boring division but it serves its purpose. Now what you do is you give each division a "sub-script"; in other words you give it a memorable narration that tells you what you should be doing during each division. So it could look like this:

~ Introduction - "This is where I introduce myself and the topic and get them feeling good",
~ Body - "This is where I get stuck into the nitty gritty and empower them with some hard facts",
~ Conclusion - "This is where I remind them of all the juicy points and call them to action".

Then you break each division into a further 3 divisions, making 9 in total. Once again you give these subdivisions a sub-script.

~ "Introduce myself and my company"
~ "Share an interesting and humorous story"
~ "Outline what I am going to present"

~ "Share a story that disturbs them, makes them think"
~ "Outline some scientific research that backs up my claims"
~ "Share some testimonials of people who have succeed using my service/product"

~ "Link what I am saying to the individual needs/emotions of the audience"
~ "Present the opportunity to get involved"
~ "Call them to action"

Of course each of these divisions can be further broken down into threes as well.

So the idea is to just simply remember the narration of which division you are in and then let your knowledge and expertise of the subject come out in a natural manner. My years of experience shows that this produces a much more engaging and effective presentation which of course results in your audience more receptive and willing to act on your final "pitch".

So how can we do the same for the Tai Chi Chuan form?

Well coincidently in the Yang style Tai Chi Chuan the form is naturally broken into 3-parts as designated by the Cross Hands gesture. I have heard that some teachers have given the narration to these three as Earth, Humanity, Heaven in alignment with the Taoist three cosmic spheres. Maybe this could work (??).

Then you would have to break the sections down into groups of three and give them their own narration. EG:

"Earth" Section:
Sub-Section 1 narration: "Awakening the morning light"
1. Preparation Form
2. Beginning
3. Grasp the Bird's tail
4. Single whip
5. Raise Hands and Step Forward
6. White Crane Spreads its Wings

Sub-Section 2 narration: "Striding forth following the sun"
7. Left Brush Knee and Push
8. Hand Strums the Lute
9. Left Brush Knee and Push
10. Right Brush Knee and Push
11. Left Brush Knee and Push
12. Hand Strums the Lute

Section 3 narration: "Gathering the silken cord"
13. Left Brush Knee and Push
14. Step Forward, Parry, Block, and Punch
15. Apparent Close Up
16. Cross Hands

Please note that these narrations are just my personal poetic license at play though I have tried to give them some sort of relevance to "what's going on" in the form during these stages. Of course you would do a similar sub-dividing of the remaining 2 thirds of the form.

So perhaps in this way, if they can remember the narration of these sub-divisions, the student may be able to remember the form more readily, leading to more time in private practice, leading to more expedient growth and learning.

This is merely an idea of mine and I would very much appreciate any reflections or views. Or if you personally have any hints or tips on how students can remember the form quicker and easier than please share them by commenting below.

Regards, Stuart.


Previous Comments (from old commenting system):

My memory remedy
by: Anonymous

As former military, private investigator, and current actor; I have been exposed to a variety of ways to memorize.

I do agree with the idea that different patterns of memorization work better for some than others, but there is ONE key element that people should remember to take into account when it comes to memorization. That, is cementing the material into long term memory.

The most important thing to remember in this is that it's only in short term memory as long as the material is reviewed. So, in order to cement the material into long term, one must rely only on their ability to recall it.

Since the taiji form is a physical action, and not written down. This has to be translated from paper to the physical action, but the same principle applies.

While at practice, after learning a move, or practicing the form with the rest of the class, it will still be in short term memory. The student is able to rely on the accuracy of the others, and corrections from the teacher in order to correctly complete the form.

What the student needs to do in order to cement the form, is to work it on their own. Start from the very beginning, and finishing with the last movement known.

If the student runs into a problem, and forgets the movement; simply wait in the position, or start two movements back and try again. Do this until the movement comes back, and it will then be cemented. It may take five minutes, even ten minutes, but maintain diligence. When the movement is remembered, start from the beginning and run all the way through it. (If after enough time has passed and recollection is still evasive, get the movement from an outside source and start from the beginning.)

It's better to not cloud the mind with too many details, but to remember the form in as simple a manner as possible.

For somebody seeking photographic memory assist. They can learn the names of each technique, and repeat them as they move through them.

This is something I also have found to be helpful in the past; if I have forgotten a movement in the middle of the form, but can complete the form... I go ahead and complete the form. Sometimes, by moving past the tough spot and relieving myself of the stress of forgetting, it comes back. I then repeat the form with the recently recalled movement. That helps to KEEP it in long term memory.

Hope this helps.

More comments...
by: Stuart Shaw

As always I have cast this question about my networks and have received some good responses:

>> Learning lao jia in China, I would repeat everything I had been taught every day until the next class (usually in the weekends), when I can to training I would do the form until I didn't understand what was going on, but I'd jump in again once I saw something familiar. It took me about a month to learn the first form (and then another month to correct it). The key is to keep trying instead of giving up. If you don't do your homework and don't pay attention to what your teacher is trying to tell you, you will never get anywhere.

>> when learning. learn a few movements and practice at least 9 times then add more, start from beginning to where you left off 9 times and add more, etc.
also, dont think when your learning it. let the movements become body mechanics. practice it until it becomes natural, then analyze it.
3rd is practice practice practice. we were always told, do it one million times. when you feel you got it, start over.
also take notes, write it down in words you understand

Another inovative idea...
by: Stuart Shaw

>> When I was starting out I followed one of the memory tricks described by Derren Brown, by associating the form to a very familiar story - for example, getting up in the morning. Thus "lazily tying coat" becomes "putting on bathrobe", "brush the knees" becomes "pick up the cat's bowl", "step up to seven stars" is "adjust the temperature in the shower". If you follow the form as you perform these actions every morning, it soon sticks in your memory. Though the cat does get a bit perplexed.

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