I read something interesting in this interview with Chen Xiaowang, originally published in the October 1996 (vol 20 no. 5) issue of T’ai Chi Magazine.
He’s talking about silk reeling and he says:
Chen commented that many people practice the Chen style in an overly exaggerated fashion making very big movements. He said these kinds of excessively large movements lead to a separation of one part of the body from other parts of the body and is incorrect. A common mistake, he said, especially among those who do the Xin-jia or new frame is to do movements in an exaggerated manner and make a lot of small circles and loops. “That shows that they don’t understand the principles of chan si jing.”
Tai Chi Magazine
I’m not sure what to think about that. It’s pretty well understood in Chinese martial arts that you often practice big and use small. The best way to practice a movement is to start with it in a large, exaggerated way, but then over time you do it in a more refined way and it becomes smaller.
A quote from my teacher I’ve always remembered is:
“In the beginning my circles encompass the whole universe but at the end I roll them up and put them in my sleeves.”
However I think perhaps Chen is not talking about this. I’ve seen a lot of people who do Tai Chi (and particularly Chen style) in a very bendy, rubbery, gyrating way. I think he’s saying that too much of that can often lead people onto the wrong track. And more specifically, he’s saying that if they’re doing this then it’s because they don’t understand the basics of silk reeling.
Now silk reeling is quite a Chen style-specific practice. I don’t think you even need to do it to practice Yang or Wu style, but if you are doing it, I bet it’s very easy to get sidetracked into doing lots of small loops and circles. But really the process should be about being minimalist. Cutting out the inessentials until the movement is pure and simple, while still being effective.