Originating from China, tai chi chuan, also known as tai chi, is a form of martial arts based on movement through a series of prescribed and sequenced positions, which can also be called tai chi forms. These positions are performed in sequential sets of movements, and are sometimes called tai chi forms or tai chi poses. Tai chi positions usually have names that are descriptive of the form of each position. Because tai chi positions are based on parts of nature, some, like "repulse monkey" and "snake creeps down" have names based on animals. Other positions have names like "cross hands" and "parry and punch" that give a description of the bodily action that should take place while performing the position.
Tai chi positions are numerous, and their styles and sequences can vary based on the type of tai chi that is being practiced. It was originally practiced mainly as a folk martial art with local variations in each region of China. Though tai chi features countless types of poses, popular styles of tai chi include Yang, Wu, and Taoist style positions.
Each type of tai chi has movement sets with a specific number of positions. Simplified forms of tai chi include shortened series of 10, 12, and 24 movement positions, but the sequences can include any number of positions. Most types of tai chi have beginning and ending positions, usually called commencement and conclusion positions.
Beginning tai chi enthusiasts who wish to learn tai chi must first work at memorizing and performing the set of tai chi positions that is unique to the style they wish to practice. Learning individual poses is essential to correctly practicing tai chi movement sequences. Though many books and videos exist to help a student of tai chi learn the positions, the proper technique for the poses used in tai chi is best acquired in person from a tai chi master. An in-person tai chi instructor can help the student make sure he is performing tai chi forms correctly and safely.
Slow and gentle in its practice and the nature of its positions and movement, the Yang tai chi is the style generally used for healing and exercise. A variation of Yang tai chi called sword tai chi incorporates actual swords during the performance of the positions. Some disciplines of sword tai chi use a straight sword, and some use curved swords. Yang sword tai chi uses 13 positions or movements for practice, including tai chi positions called Whip, Obstruct and Strike.