Why Practice Forms?
In order to answer this question we must first understand what forms are.
Forms are combinations of many techniques, put together and arranged by the creator to closely resemble their experience of a real fight or the necessary components needed to develop the student in the style. The creator of a form must be an expert in a given style or at least an expert in the style that he or she is creating the form for. The creator of this form must have experienced enough to see the advantages and disadvantages of the form, its techniques and sequence of steps or maneuvers. Within every form lies multiple levels of techniques and most may be hidden to the un-experienced student or teacher. Although there are hundreds of possible combinations and applications for the techniques in a form (only limited by our imagination) most forms will have at least three levels of application for every combination in the form (unless the form is specifically for strength or breath building).
The FIRST LEVEL is the simplest and most obvious application of movements that generally contain the fundamental aspects of the style.
The SECOND LEVEL is a little deeper and not so obvious. For example a form may contain a one legged posture which allows the practitioner to kick but this kick is not actually executed in the form itself. Many experienced practitioners and teachers can usually see through this level and decipher the applications on their own.
The THIRD LEVEL is the most difficult to see through and usually requires a master instructor to extract the true essence of the application itself. This third level is considered to be the essence of the style and contains the most effective techniques as well as the core principles. These third level techniques often require much more interpretation from the master instructor and often involve more steps than those actually performed in the form. Therefore, these techniques need to be analyzed and explained in greater details by the master of the style.
Having an understanding of what forms are almost explains why to practice them, but why not just learn and work the three levels of techniques? Why go through the trouble and hard work in learning the actual forms?
In essence forms:
1. Preserve the true essence of the style and its techniques as taught by the original creator, thus forming a medium in which the styles foundation, techniques and understanding can be passed down from generation to generation.
2. Trains the practitioner in the methods and techniques that are unique to the style. As the student practices the forms on a regular basis, he or she starts to build a solid foundation and develop the required energy that is particular to that style.
3. Help to build patience (since most forms are difficult to learn and require a lot of time to master), develop endurance and strength (since most forms are long and require a great deal of effort to execute correctly), as well as help with understanding movement and how energy flows.
4. Help students (at advanced levels) to develop proper intent (a sense of enemy). As students advance and start to understand exactly what they are doing with an imaginary opponent, they can start to develop a sense of realism in their forms that bring the form to life and makes it highly effective. As a student starts to understand how to execute the techniques in the form with the proper power and balance, the form will start to take on a life of its own. This is where the role of the master is needed to make sure that the life the form is taking on is what the original creator designed it for and not growing in its own directions away from the style. It is easy for us to mix what we believe it is with what it really is and change the energy, techniques and purpose of the form from that of its original purpose.
5. Are stylistic in orientation. Teaching students the expressions, gestures, nuances of movement, which differentiate one style from another, hence, mantis from monkey or long boxing from short boxing. This section is usually referred to as the flavor of the form. Each style has its own unique flavor and characteristics that make it unique.
6. Are developmental in nature. This is one of the most valuable categories but often overlooked and underestimated by the student. This is the section that builds power, speed, stamina, agility, coordination, flexibility, proper breathing, a sense of direction, the ability to feel comfortable in unorthodox positions, as well as distribute the chi evenly throughout the body. There is almost no problem in the martial arts that can’t be solved by diligent, intensive, and sustained practice on an adequate collection of forms from a legitimate kung fu system.
Kung fu has been practiced for thousands of years, if there had been a better way to transfer the techniques, philosophy, energy and understanding of a style (besides forms) the great masters of the past would have figured it out. In a time that people studied kung fu for eight to ten hours a day everyday, they surely would have discovered the best possible way to transfer the style from generation to generation and that way is through the medium of forms. That is why it is important that the students treat each form as a priceless legacy from history. Cherish them as you would a valuable work of art and work them with enough diligence to extract the true elements the original creator has installed in each and every one of them.
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