5 stages

There are 5 stages to learning any form:

(i) The pattern

The outline, the sequence of movements.
This stage of learning is often called 'the square form' because it is crude and largely inaccurate.
The form is practiced slowly.

Unfortunately, most tai chi people only learn the first stage, and remain a perpetual beginner.
Neglecting the remaining stages leaves the form meaningless and empty.

(ii) Internal strength

Internal biomechanical concerns are incorporated.
The way in which the body is used is now the concern.
Every single movement is imbued with internal strength.

An understanding of The Way and Its Power, the tai chi classics and taoism is necessary.

(iii) Application

Traditionally, it is said that there are at least seven applications for every form posture.
There are three types of martial application within form: chin na, jing and shuai jiao.
Competence in all three areas of skill is required.
A student must be capable of skilfully applying the form in a thorough and convincing way against an earnest attacker.

Applications must adhere to the tai chi principles (4 ounces of pressure, softness, stickiness, yielding, peng etc).

(iv) Shen

Shen is a vitality that can be seen shining through a person; it enlivens the body and refreshes the mind.
The eyes look expressive and alert.

For 'shen' to manifest, a person must lose all self-consciousness.
There is no more self or other, just movement, just sensation/feeling.
Instead of feeling apart from what is happening, we feel the physics of the movement, the kinetic flow.

(v) Natural

Instead of glossy, flamboyant, outward show, the attention turns inward.
The tai chi is not ornate.
It is simple, direct, flowing and natural.
Within the slow spirals, curves and gentle steps can be found a grace that is difficult to articulate.