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Are There Advantages to Short Tai Chi Forms?

The evolution of modern tai chi short forms began in 1956, when the Chinese government created the Yang 24 form in an effort to standardize tai chi curriculums across the country. Since then, there have been countless abbreviated and condensed forms developed worldwide for various reasons, targeting different populations. But the dominant reason is to make tai chi more accessible to the masses. Some traditionalists and purists look down their nose at short forms, but don't overlook these gems!

So what are the benefits of learning a short form?


There is certainly less to memorize. Especially in this new era of Zoom, the combination of long-distance learning and short forms can reach a much wider audience and feel less daunting.


Long forms are inherently a greater immersion, a longer ritual. They are better "brain food" in that there are more movements, transitions, and details to retain. However, length of practice time can still be taken up with more iterations of a short form. And there is an argument to be made that with extra reps of fewer postures, a short form actually goes deeper. Or to quote Bruce Lee: "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 [different] kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."


Got limited space? Well, a short form might just be the ticket! After all, how many of us have enough open floor space in our house to fit in a short form? I certainly don't! And if constructed carefully enough with options/modifications to address this very issue, some short forms can fit in a really small space.


A short form also opens the door to going slower with less time commitment. To wit: I once practiced Laojia Yilu (the first form in Chen style, 74 postures) extremely slowly, pausing as much as I wanted, taking two hours and 45 minutes to do it once. (I have not been able to duplicate this since!) It felt amazing, but of course it took a huge chunk out of my day. With a short form you could go very slow and go very deep, and still have a reasonable amount of time left over.


Now here's a word that doesn't normally come up when talking about tai chi: FUN. Yes, fun! Ever since I developed my Red Panda Yang Short Form, it just puts a smile on my face every time I practice it. It's like the "perfect nugget" of tai chi: it feels great, and once I get to the end, I can't wait to do it again. I can start the form facing in different directions, I can practice the mirror-image version, I can do just the footwork only with no hands — I can fit in all these variations (and many more!) without requiring hours and hours.


So in conclusion, short forms have a distinct edge over long forms in several ways:


  • More flexibility in managing practice time

  • Can fit in smaller space

  • Goes deeper with fewer postures

  • Can go deeper at slower speeds (less time sacrifice again)

  • FUN


What is your experience with practicing tai chi short forms? Anything I missed?

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