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Tiffany Chen, the well-known martial artist and daughter of Tai Chi grandmaster William CC Chen, has produced a video detailing the Yang style of Tai Chi.
The DVD beings with an introduction by Tiffany Chen, explaining her background in mixed martial arts and what lead her to Tai Chi. She also offers a helpful account of the theories behind the practice of Tai Chi and its benefits. In her one words, it is, 'a series of slow, flowing movements that have been practiced and changed over many years to cultivate health and balanced energy'
The DVD teaches in a rich and carefully thought-out visual style, with the learner able to observe and follow Ms. Chen and other experts as they run through the various forms. She performs all the relevant moves slowly and clearly; but there is also a detailed audio commentary that details at every point the required changes in balance, breathing and movement. In order to develop both correct movement and breathing, two different audio tracks are available, with one focused solely on a physical description of the moves and the other detailing the breathing routines that accompany the movements.
The Yang-style short form of Tai Chi featured in the video consists of a 60-movement form, and the DVD explains each part of those 60 movements. For the DVD presentation the form is divided into 11 segments. While there is, of course, the option to run through the complete form in one session, what is particularly helpful is the option to study each of the segments individually. Learners can watch and follow along each segment, which is repeated 3 times. This is ideal for beginners, since it enables them to learn the form in small manageable steps. As students become more confident, they might then choose to watch each segment in succession, without repeats.
.A further helpful innovation is the option of watching the movements in 'mirrored' form, so that the image of the screen is identical to the student's spatial orientation; students can directly copy the instructor's form, moving in the same direction as it, without having to mentally reverse the image.
For more advanced students who do not need such a step-by-step breakdown of the movements but who are interested in the Yang-style form, there is the option to watch the full form in real time. The video can also be watched without audio commentary and with only the background music. The bonus features on the DVD offer further insight into the Yang style, and include a biography of Tiffany Chen as well as a list of the 60 movements taught on the video. This list of moves features such exotic names as, 'White Crane Spreads Its Wings' and 'Playing the Guitar'.
Although the DVD has much to recommend it, with many features that make learning without a face-to-face instructor easier, one or two issues are worth noting. Firstly, as with any instructional workout DVD, although each movement repeated three times students might find the pace of the demonstration a little rapid; I found myself wanting to replay the DVD when confusion about the form arose, but without someone around to operate the DVD player, the learning experience was a little stop-start: I was forced to break posture and fumble with the remote control. This might not be such a problem for those with some prior experience of Tai Chi who are less likely to loose their bearings so easily.
Secondly, while the visual production is elaborate and striking, with the forms performed against a desert and mountain backdrop, the artistic ambition of the direction sometimes affects the learning process. The camera angle often changes while the instructors are demonstrating the forms, and this changing of angle and image before movements have been completed might disturb some students. While I was struggling to cognitively process an image and produce the relevant bodily movements, the image often disappeared as the director cut to a new, initially disorientating, image.
Finally, the voice-over instructions were not always easy to comprehend in real time. Tiffany Chen provides great detail regarding the appropriate changes in posture, forces and breathing, but some beginners might find such detailed instruction a little overwhelming as they struggle for bodily control. Still, this problem will no doubt recede as users become more familiar with the forms and listen to the commentary a few times.
In summary, the DVD is an excellent insight into the Yang-style of Tai Chi and should be particularly recommended for someone interested in learning this form. The demonstrations are complete and clear and the voice-over richly informative. Perhaps the ideal audience for 'Step-by-Step Tai Chi' is the student who already has some experience with Tai Chi and who is comfortable with the camera changes and the speed of the demonstrations. The DVD would also make an excellent supplement for anyone taking a Tai Chi class but interested in further instruction while practicing on their own.
© 2009 Andrew Lambert
Andrew Lambert, Dept Philosophy, University of Hawaii