Among martial artists there is a lot of debate over the value of forms practice. This is largely because in many martial arts, the forms have no value for self-defense. They teach you to practice a form, but when sparring begins, what you do has nothing to do with what you practice in your form.
Tai Chi does not have that problem. Of course, if you practice Tai Chi mainly for health, that problem is irrelevant. But no matter what your goals in Tai Chi, you must practice form in order to gain a deeper understanding of what is available. Long term, deep practice of Tai Chi makes available to you an understanding of yourself that you do not even suspect at the beginning.
For this reason it is important that you practice form as much as possible - not just every day, but as much as you can every day. I have heard it said that "in China, those who are serious about Tai Chi practice their form 15 or 20 times a day". That was referring to a 15 minute form, which translates into four or five hours a day.
That's pretty serious practice. We're talking about people with a lot of spare time on their hands. It certainly beats watching mindless TV! But even practicing your form once or twice a day bring immense benefits.
Many of my students have heard me warn them not to practice so much at the very
beginning. When you first start out, your understanding the of the form's sequence and essence is so limited that practicing a lot simply means learning how to do it wrong, deeply. That is not a worthy achievement.
My warning should not be used as an excuse for not practicing. Anyone who has
attended class for two months or longer should practice regularly. If you feel
comfortable practicing sooner, by all means do so. If you want to
make true progress, you should practice diligently, as much as you can. Coming to class regularly is important for making progress in your understanding, but by itself attending class for an hour or two a week will not get you far for long.
Practice in the morning if you can, before breakfast. If you can practice at lunch, practice before you eat. If you can practice in the evening, practice before dinner or no sooner than two hours after dinner. Otherwise your digestive processes interfere with the proper cultivation of your qi (chi).
Why should you practice diligently? For one thing, Tai Chi certainly is a health practice even if you consider yourself a serious martial artist. It benefits your balance, your leg strength, your nervous system, your mental stability, and your internal organs. It keeps you young and vital, improves your endurance, and your focus. Tai Chi makes you more aware of the world around you, and increases your enjoyment of it.
If you are a martial artist, form should be practiced in conjunction with applications training and tui shou (pushing hands) training. The form you practice should reflect the lessons you learn in application. In this manner forms practice allows you to practice applications even when alone.
Finally, practice of Tai Chi form takes you to a deeper level of mental and spirtual awareness. It provides emotional balance so you can enjoy more the good things in your life, and be less distressed by the difficulties you encounter. How you experience these benefits is a deeply personal matter, but all Tai Chi Chuan practitioners experience them. If you do not experience them, you are not practicing enough.
Have you practiced today? Go to it!