A wee rant about precision

There’s nothing quite like misinformation to stir the journalist in me… so when I heard: “We do the medium frame – so it is not as precise [as another form they know]…” it motivated me to set the record straight.

Tai ChiAt some point you will hear reference to three frames in T’ai Chi: small, medium, and large (sometimes also referred to as big). Generalising to some extent (because there is considerable cross-over between the styles) a small frame is characterised by shorter and higher stances and more compact arm and waist movements (the Hao and Wu family styles, for example) and a large frame (some Chen styles) will be more athletic with lower and longer stances, and larger – far more externally visible – movements, with a medium frame (for example, most Yang styles) somewhere in between the two.

Some contend that the larger frames (being more physical) are more focused on the external movements, while the more compact frames help to focus on the internal movements – and they consider the smaller frame to be more advanced (if taught correctly). Others say that the smaller frame, which tends to be favoured older, less agile people, focuses more on health and less on the combative side, suggesting they have different purposes.

My experience shows benefits to both. In some circumstances it is easier to get the principles right with smaller movements – particularly with weight transfers and waist movements – were people don’t have the strength and flexibility to do larger movements properly (without physical strain or ingraining bad habits). But once you are T’ai Chi fit it is often easier to learn how to do a move properly (including the body bows into a move, for example) by exaggerating the movement until you understand and internalise it and then reduce it (with proper structural alignment and movement) to fit the frame you are doing.

So… would a medium or smaller frame be less precise than a larger frame?

The short answer is no.  The move is still precise, regardless of how large or small you make it.
Granted: For someone who doesn’t know what to look for a smaller frame might appear less precise.  The distinction between a medium and large frame would not be that noticeable, but a small frame compared to a large frame could look less defined, with the intentions (and applications) behind the moves less obvious. However, it is important to realise that the external movements that you see are only a small part (the foundation or building blocks) of T’ai Chi - and for the person doing T’ai Chi the moves should be precise and focused, and executed with the same understanding whether in a small, medium or large frame.

That said, a lot of people learn T’ai Chi by assimilation (follow along classes) rather than being taught the detail of the moves, their applications, and the less obvious (or internal) aspects of the art … But if you are taught properly, the movements will be precise – regardless of which frame you’re doing. The ONLY reason any frame (or form) lacks precision is, quite simply, lack of knowledge.

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11 June 2014, 04:35
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