The traditional way is to first put the building blocks in place – a strong unmovable base, co-ordinated movement, agile footwork. Cultivate the correct energetic qualities – weighted at the bottom, light at the top, expanding from inside to outside and fullness in the dantian. With this basis develop an understanding of Taijiquan’s different types of jin or trained power – peng, lu, ji, an etc. Form training enables one to develop correct posture, to synchronise the different parts of the body and to increase co-ordination to the point where action is characterised by integrated whole body movement. The traditional insistence upon a long period of form training is Taijiquan’s means of developing optimal movement skills and conditioning before beginning push hands training. It is wrong to assume that the learner can achieve a high level of push hands ability just because they train hard. They may develop strength and improve endurance, but what are their movement patterns like? Throughout the course of their lives, most individuals develop poor habits of body mechanics and lose the original mind-body unity, suppleness and naturalness that were their original innate state. Trying to function with inefficient posture or motion is akin to driving a car with the handbrake on. If you are driving your car with the handbrake on, the way to boost performance is not to put a bigger engine into the car, it is to release the brake.
If an activity is practiced with poor form, the poor form will be part of the information recorded in the individual’s motor programme. Beginning to train push hands, with its complex patterns of movement, before correcting these bad habits means that these inefficient habits of motion are inevitably carried over into the newly acquired movement skills and are further reinforced. Physical motor programmes, therefore, must be developed and refined so the practitioner can perform effectively under varying conditions and high levels of physical and mental stress. To return to the car analogy, only when the car is running as well as it should in the first place does it make sense to “soup up” the engine. Consequently, it is much more efficient to first inhibit and release poor habits and then, building on this foundation, train push hands. The physical structure and the movement quality gained from form training provide the basis for all subsequent skills.