8 Ways to Memorize the Tai Chi Form: Prevent Memory loss from Aging

April 16, 2015

Memory loss, Aging, Tai Chi

Tai Chi won’t just improve your health; practicing and learning the forms will improve your memory, too. According to Harvard Medical School’s Special Health Report, there are 7 ways to prevent memory loss that is caused by aging:

  1. Don’t smoke
  2. Maintain a healthy diet
  3. Get enough sleep
  4. Take vitamin supplements
  5. Cultivate healthy relationships
  6. Learn new things
  7. Exercise

While most people are usually very pleased to be able to kill two birds with one stone, you can kill 3  birds (numbers 5, 6, & 7) just by taking a Tai Chi class.  New students will often ask me to provide them with specific methods they can use to memorize the forms.  So below I’ve shared with you some of my experiences memorizing some of the movements used in Tai Chi.

1.   The Facing of the Palms

My late father,  Dr. Zhang Lu Ping, a mathematician and Tai Chi grand-master, taught me various memory aids for the placement of the palms. Consider Peng as used in Brush Peacock’s Tail; it is like holding a mirror with the palm facing in. If Peng is used with the palm facing out, you are pushing open a door. If the palm faces in, you are holding a baby. When the palm faces up, you are lifting a plate. When the palm faces down, you are bouncing a ball.

2.   Circles

My father also taught me how to remember circles. There are many circles in the Tai Chi form and remembering all of them all the time is very difficult.  I suggest you consider only two circles, the two directions: clockwise and counterclockwise.

3. Stances

There are six stances in tai chi.

  1.  Opening stance (Ex: Opening form)

2.  Bow stance (Ex: Single Whip)

3.  Horse stance (Ex: Cloud Hands)

4.  Empty stance [with only the heel or the toes on the ground] (Ex: Playing Pipa)

5.  One Leg Standing stance (Ex: Golden Rooster Stands With One Leg)

6.  Laying stance (Ex: Snake Creeps Down)

4.   Arm Transitions: Peng and Lu (Ward Off and Roll Back)

Once you have performed Peng, then you can perform Lu. If you have performed Lu, you must next perform Peng.  If you’ve done an opening form you must next do a closing form.  You cannot perform Peng-Peng or Lu-Lu; it must be Peng-Lu or Lu-Peng. Understanding this will prevent mistakes and help you memorize the form.

5.   Foot Transitions & Weight Transfers

There is always a weight transition between movements. If all of your weight is on one leg, it is not what we call empty.  You cannot lift it. You must transfer your weight to the other leg to make the first leg empty; then you may lift the first leg. Always transfer weight between forms; from full to empty and empty to full.

6.   Associate the Movement with the Name

Whether Single Whip or White Crane Spreads its Wings, connect the form name with the moves that link it together.

7.   Application

Although some students are more interested in the health benefits of Tai Chi, it is often much easier to remember the forms if you understand their martial applications. You might not want to learn how to fight, but the martial applications will help you visualize the movements and memorize the forms.

8. Practice Repeating Individual Movements from the Full Form
Continued practice, learning a little at a time, will move your forms 
from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.

If you want explore your memory further and understand how it works, read two books about memory that are personal favorites of mine (I display them proudly on my bookshelf).

1.  How to Develop a Brilliant Memory Week by Week by Dominic O’Brien. Dominic has won the World Memory Championship eight times.  He was named Brain of the Year in 1994 and Grandmaster of Memory by The Brain Trust of Great Britain

2.  The old classic The Memory Book, by Harry Lorayne.

May you continue to have a good memory and a healthy body as you grow older!

Copyright by Huan’s Tai Chi.

By Huan Zhang

Chief instructor of Huan's Tai Chi and Kung Fu. 6th Generation of Yang Style Tai Chi. 4th Generation of Five Element Tong Bei. Enjoys a good cup of tea, Chinese cooking and travel.