Tai Chi Curriculum

Sash Ranking System for Ancient Wisdom for The New You’s Tai Chi classes
by Shifu Andrew Plitt

     Although Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) traditionally has no colored sash ranking system, I felt it was necessary to create this system to make sure my curriculum is structured and my students get the most out of their training. 

     This system not only allows my students and me to keep track of their progress, it also encourages each student to continue training each skill that they learn.  As you can see from the list of requirements there are 3 levels to each sash.  When a student tests for the 2nd level of a sash, they must retest the 1st level skills.  When they test for a 3rd level, they must retest the 1st and 2nd level skills.  This encourages each student to review and refresh his or her skills frequently, and facilitates better learning.  

     When a student is moving from the "beginner sashes" (white - orange) to the "intermediate sashes" (purple - blue) he or she must retest all skills learned in the "beginner" section, then test for their 1st level Purple Sash.  When a student is moving from the "intermediate sashes" (purple - blue) to the "advanced sashes" (red - black) he or she must retest all of the "beginner" and "intermediate" skills, then test for the 1st level Red Sash.

     My desire is to make my students fully capable to teaching Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) anywhere in the world and be able to offer real substance (rather than just a form or two) to anyone interested in learning from them by the time they reach their Black Sash.  But I do want to emphasize that the sashes are not the point here.  The knowledge and skills are the point and the sashes are just a way to offer structured learning and accomplishment recognition for my students.

I do require my students to test unless they are interested in only the health benefits of Tai Chi then they are more than welcome to stay in the "beginners" group (No sash to Orange Sash) and learn everything they need to know to enjoy the health benefits of practicing Tai Chi.  

Required Book for Testing Students:  Students wishing to earn sash ranks will need to purchase the book, “Tai Chi: The Perfect Exercise” by Arthur Rosenfeld, before their first test because there will be required reading from this book for each sash test.  This book may be purchased from any source the student desires, although Amazon.com seems to have pretty good prices on books and might be a good place to start looking.  I understand that people have busy lives and I am not trying to make life more hectic by assigning “homework,” which is why the required reading sections only need to be completed before sash tests.  There are usually several months that pass between tests, so the small amount of reading should be very easy to complete.  When I read this book I was very impressed with the way in which the author presented many of the foundational concepts of Tai Chi in very easy-to-understand terms.  He covers just about every basic concept you will need for your Tai Chi training and does so with respect to other styles and points of view.  I feel that this book will not only help clarify questions, but also act as an aid to your practice times away from class.  There will not be a written portion to the sash tests, so the information in the required reading section of the sash test is for your deeper understanding of Tai Chi.  The only proof of reading that I will require is that you bring your copy of the book to each sash test and that you verbally affirm that you have completed the reading required for that test.  On a final note, it should be remembered that this book is written by a practitioner of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, while the majority or our learning is in Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan.  This is important to note because some of the things in the book will not fit exactly with what we do, but the concepts contained in the book are beneficial regardless of style.  So you will come across things in your reading that are different, but I see this as a benefit because this will cause you to form questions that you might not have thought of otherwise, and it will give you a wider perspective of the world of Tai Chi beyond what we do in class.  That being said, this is a book that I would recommend to all of my students, whether they are planning to test or not.

Below is an incomplete List of Sashes and the Required Skills a Student Must be Proficient in to Receive the Sash.  (It is an incomplete list because the requirements for most of the upper sashes are still in development and will be posted when they are finalized)

White (beginner): 

Level 1
  • Zhan Zhuang Qi Gong (Standing Like a Tree Qi Gong)
    • Correct movements into posture, correct posture, and correct closing movements as well as an understanding of what you should be focusing on during this Qi Gong
  • 8 Fundamental Stances – Static  (Ji Ben Ba Shi)
    • Able to hold each Stance for 30 seconds 
      • Horse Stance
      • Bow & Arrow Stance
      • Sitting on Crossed Legs Stance
      • Four-Six Stance
      • Tame the Tiger Stance
      • False Stance
      • Rooster Stands on One Leg Stance
      • T-Step
  • Wushu Salute and Its Meaning
    •  Explain the meaning of the fist
    •  Explain the meaning of the Hand
    •  Explain why they are held the way they are
    •  Explain where the thumb of the left hand should be and why
  • Required Reading
    • "Etiquette" P~195-197
    • "Classes" P~197-200
    • "Introduction- What is Tai Chi?" P~1-17
Level 2
  • All components of Level 1, plus the following:
  • 5 Stepping Practices – Solo and with a partner (Wu Bu)
    • Stepping Forward
    • Stepping Backward
    • Stepping to the Left – Inside and Outside
    • Stepping to the Right – Inside and Outside
    • Keeping the Center

  • Required Reading:
    • Chapter 5 Intro: P~97-99
    • "Qi Flow in the Body" P~99-103
    • "Tai Chi Breathing" P~104-106
    • "What is Qigong?" P~106-109 
      • Note: in this section Shifu Rosenfeld discusses a Qigong set called "The Eight Pieces of Brocade" and explains the movements of the set.  The movements that are described in this section of the book are in essence the same as those that I teach, but vary in detail.  This is a good example of the variety that exists in Chinese martial arts and Qigong sets.  For instructions on the Eight Pieces of Brocade Qigong set that I learned and teach please view my "8 Pieces of Brocade Qigong" video series on YouTube.  (If you are up for some fun, try comparing the exercises taught in the book, with the exercises in my videos and try to find the differences.  Make a list of those differences, then try each version of the exercises and make note of the different sensations you feel during each and try to construct a logical reason for why each exercise variation exists based on what it does for the body.)
    • "Staying on a Good Qigong Path" P~110
    • "Belly Breathing" P~113-114
Level 3 
  • All components of Level 1 and Level 2 plus the following: 
  • Yang Tai Chi 24 Postures Form
    • Entire form from beginning to end without stopping.  The form should flow smoothly without any pauses to think about where you are or your next move.  You should know the form well enough that each move flows into the next naturally.   
  • Basic Off-Balancing Concepts
    • Explain the concept of the “3rd leg of the triangle”
    • Demonstrate where you want to lead someone to take them off balance from Horse Stance, Bow & Arrow Stance, and Four-Six Stance
  • Required Reading
    • Intro to Chapter 9: P~191
    • "Practice" P~192-195
    • Intro to Chapter 1: P~19-20
    • "The Iron Lollipop" P~ 21

Yellow (beginner): 

Level 1 
  • 8 Fundamental Stances – moving practice
    • Horse Stance (Wave Hands Like Clouds)
    • Bow and Arrow Stance (Brush Knee and Push, Parting the Horse's Mane, Maiden Weaves with Shuttle)
    • Low Bow/Taming the Tiger Stance (Strike the Tiger)
    • Four-six/Back Stance (Repulse Monkey)
    • Rooster Stands on One Leg (moving across room/walk)
    • False Step/Cat Stance (White Crane Spreads its Wings)
    • Sitting on Crossed Legs/Twist Step (Swinging Fists)
    • T-Step (Embracing the Moon)
  • Required Reading
    • "Specifics of Tai Chi Relaxation" P~22-23
    • "Harmonious Body Mechanics" P~24-26
    • "Rejuvenation and Repair" P~26-28
Level 2
  • Required Reading
    • "Rooted in the Wondrous Past"  P~ 53-55
    • Chapter 2 Intro P~ 39-40
    • "The Importance of Roots"  P~ 40-41
    • "Palm Trees, Gravity, Earth and Space" P~ 41-43
Level 3
  • All components of Level 1 and Level 2 plus the following:
  • 1st Part of Yang Style Long Form (To first transition form [cross hands]) 
    • Entire first section of form from beginning to end without stopping.  The form should flow smoothly without any pauses to think about where you are or your next move.  You should know the form well enough that each move flows into the next naturally
  • 8 Doors (or 8 Jins) of  Tai Chi (Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao)
    • Must explain the concept and show at least two moves from previous training that demonstrate each of the 8 doors.

  • Required Reading
    • "The Less Tangible Roots of Tai Chi Lineage and Tradition"  P~ 43-44
    • "Transmitting Force to the Ground"  P~46-47
    • "Rooting Through Angles"  P~ 48-49
    • "Top-Secret Tai Chi Movements and Energies" P~ 41-43
      • After reading the above section read the following explanations for Peng, Lu, Ji, and An from a Yang Style Tai Chi perspective.  The perspective presented by Shifu Rosenfeld is from a Chen Style Perspective.  Note how the two perspectives are similar and how they are different. (Click each on to read the description):
    • "Taoist Master and Tai Chi"  P~ 74-75
Orange (beginner): 
Level 1
  • Ability to Hold 8 Fundamental Stances for 1 Minute Each
  • Coiling Sensitivity Training:
    • Both Hands Coiling on Forearms
      • Inside to Outside
      • Outside to Inside
  • Sense of Distance Stepping:
    • Single Cross Hand
    • Two Hands
    • Changing From Single to Double Hands
  • Keeping the Center:
    • Attacker’s Hands on Defender’s Wrists (like in White Sash)
    • Attacker’s Hands on Defender’s Elbows
    • Attacker’s Hands on Defender’s Shoulders 
  • Required Reading
      • "The River of Life"  P~ 136-137
      • Chapter 6 Intro P~ 121-122
      • "What is Tai Chi Sensitivity?"  P~ 122-123
      • "Eavesdropping on a Hidden World" P~ 123-124

Level 2
  • All components of Level 1 plus the following:
  • Rooting Training: Partner holds opponents hand like they are shaking their hand, both in low stance, just using muscle try to pull each other off balance, while using rooting techniques to maintain balance.
  • Yang Side Tai Chi Push Hands: Yin Yang Pattern
    • Solo and Partner Practice
      • Vertical
      • Horizontal
      • Side to Side and Large to Small
      • Stationary practice
      • Rocking Practice
      • Forward and Backward Stepping Practice
      • Circle Stepping Practice
      • Sweep
  • Required Reading
    • Chapter 3 Intro  P~ 57-58
    • "A Special Twist on Flexibility" P~ 58-59
    • "The Towel, The Corkscrew, and The Spine"  P~ 59-60
    • "The Gyroscope we Call Dantian" P~ 60-61

Level 3
  • All components of Level 1 and Level 2 plus the following:
  • 2nd Part of Yang Style Long Form  (To second transition form [cross hands]) 
  • Yin Side Tai Chi Push Hands: Yin Yang Pattern
    • Solo and Partner Practice
      • Vertical
      • Horizontal
      • Side to Side and Large to Small
      • Stationary practice
      • Rocking Practice
      • Forward and Backward Stepping Practice
      • Circle Stepping Practice
      • Sweeps
  • Push Hands: Coiling Stationary
    • Clock Wise
    • Counter Clock Wise
  • Required Reading
    • "Watering Your Mind"  P~ 61-63
    • "Straight Line Vs. Spiral"  P~ 68-69
    • "Spirals In Our Joints"  P~ 70-71
    • "Rooting With a Partner" P~ 50-52

Purple (intermediate): 
Level 1
  • Retest skills from all previous tests plus Level 1 skills
  • 8 Fa Jing Long Pole Practices 
  • Push Hands: Coiling Pattern – Moving Practice
    • Clockwise
    • Counter Clockwise
    • Changing Direction
    • Coiling to shoulder
  • Required Reading
    • Chapter 8 Intro P~ 165
    • "Martial Tai Chi in the Modern World"  P~  165-167
    • "Important Martial Concepts"  P~ 167-169
    • "Tai Chi's Unique Combative Flavor" P~ 185-187
Level 2
Level 3
  • All Level 1 and Level 2 skills plus the following:
  • Partner Punch Deflection Practice (Adhere/stick, neutralize, change, and control jings)
  • Applications for the Following Postures of  Tai Chi Chuan:
    • Beginning
    • Grasp Sparrow’s Tail
    • Peng – Ward Off
    • Lu – Rollback
    • Ji – Press
    • An – Push
    • Single Whip
    • Raise Hands and Step Forward
    • White Crane Spreads Its Wings
    • Brush Knee and Push
    • Playing the Lute
    • Turn Body and Chop with Fist
  • 3rd Part of Yang Style Long Form (Must Perform Entire Form for Grading)
  • Write a paper about the origin of Tai Chi and the origin of the Yang Style of Tai Chi, explain your understanding of Qi, explain whether you feel it is important to practice qi gong with tai chi and why.  Explain the 8 doors of Tai Chi and Zhan Zhuang Qigong, as well as how to practice Zhan Zhuang correctly.   Also write about why you started learning tai chi and what your training has done for you.
  • Required Reading
    • All of Chapter 7  P~ 139-163

Shifu Plitt and His Master Practicing Straight Sword (Jian) Techniques in China