I mean the choregraphed form, composed of several techniques aped to strike the wind.
I was fortunate enough to meet many talented practitioners and masters in martial arts, they shared with me some forms and exercises that I still practice today.
After all this time, I want to say, whether for fighting, energetic development or for the spiritual aspect, forms are useless.
In terms of fighting, the exercises that modify the main qualities of the practitioner (ie his power and his “heart”), are enough to prepare the basis to approach physical confrontation.
The forms just give an illusion of fantasy and infeasible techniques. They take a precious time to the practitioner who’d better work seriously… But I’ve never met a fighter who had not a good technical training, based on on the practice of forms, or at least on training the body structure. Of course there are a few forces of nature, rather nasty and rough … but they are out the classical practitioners category.
Concerning the use of lines of force, the respect of the structure in the action and the force transfer, repeating forms may be a good idea. Moreover, the fluidity of the moves, not impeded by thoughts since the mental mind had time to integrate the learning process of the form, allow to combine strikes… to keep the balance… hummmm.
I do not speak of single-move training, that we train later to “express the Jing”, but of “danced” forms.
For the work on blood hence energy circulation,we just need to relax, and “it will come” … What an idea to make movements that are supposed to “make the energy circulate” or “open the meridians”! Yet it is clear that certain moves develop and strengthen specific body parts. This development leads to a better circulation, thus an increased flow of energy. Could it be that some crafty people regrouped these moves to extract “forms”? If it has not been done, it seems like a good idea.
The forms that I could discover in the internal arts of taoist influences, those which are not from the day before yesterday, have this feature of brining a balanced circulation throughout the physical structure, “stretching” on the lines of the meridians of Chinese medicine and all that in a minimal quantity of movement. We can do without it, but since it is already there ….
For spiritual practice, which involves only a few people, I will not say anything … but I do not think less.
Forms are of no use for fighting, but their practice will “relax” and enhance the fighter’s qualities. They have an odd position in the practice, unnecessary but essential …
Forms are useless, but without their study, the road seems longer.
I practice the “routine” from the beginning of my training, I believe they are useful.
But it seems to me that there is a paradox about their role: they are not useful for the reasons why they are practiced.
Athletes or combat sports practitioners do not know this practice. They focus on “single moves”, the techniques and their applications.
In the internal arts, training forms is often followed by training single moves. These moves are often taken from forms, and they are trained separately, to enter the “no thoughts”, and to learn to express the force.
Each move is then worked to become more powerful and more relaxed, all that being integrated in the form afterwards.
The exercises and training methods might be enough, as in Yi Quan for example, but yet the taste is not the same.
There is something “magical” in the forms, a spark from the past, a contact with something else.
I am a lover of old or rare forms, for the pleasure of the mind or to learn a way to express the jing in a precise system. In the same time, they seem unhelpful, but nevertheless essential.
Among the teachers I met, none of them was still practicing the forms, or just to teach them. However, they often had a free practice, nourished by the forms they had practiced before. At a certain level of body and mind freedom, the form can not be contained in its pre-determined structure, but without form freedom is hard to find.
The role of “routines” is much subtler than it seems.
There are basic movements, which are praticed first.
Exercises and training methods of internal arts, the “nei gong” and “wai gong”will allow to acquire power and relaxation in these moves.
Then you learn the forms, structured dances that incorporate the basic moves.
In these “routines”, the basic moves are often used differently than in the basic exercises, they are given a further freedom and motion. The connection between the moves, the combinations and continuity of force along the form should be a specific work.
Dealing with the distance and the fighting concepts will emerge from the form putting the basic moves together.
In the internal arts, the basic techniques are often more focused on the body development and way of moving than on basic strikes. The latters are often practiced later in the exercises where you learn to express the force with single moves.
Why should we practice the forms today?
I think there are still three good reasons to do so:
– To prepare the body for movements of the style,
– To combine all the techniques which stucture the style,
– To concentrate the different ways of using the style, in one form.
In the form it will be possible to combine the way of moving, the movement mechanics, the fighting concepts and the way to deal with distance. None of these principles will only be truly visible, they can remain transparent in our practice if the training methods are not known.
The problem is that, over the centuries, the moves have evolved as a moves and not as principles anymore. Which leads to the faxct that a move originally created for a specific purpose, often ignored bythe practitioner, can then be changed without the practitioner understanding the reason. This will lead a more “prettier” form, more suited to the young master, but further from the original creation. Gradually, the style loses its “heart” and nourishes its “coating”.
Furthermore, some techniques that could be used long ago, in a specific situation, are now obsolete. I refer in particular to techniques coming from fighting in armor, or designed to fight cavalrymen, who seem unnecessary in the street today. Unless you’re overcome with bad luck and get attacked by a knight in armor!
Each movement of the forms has to be trained to express the power and speed while remaining relaxed. Without this training, the forms are “empty”, and even if the moves are there, they lack strength and precision, they are useless, but it’s pretty.
For art to remain alive, it must evolve.
A master proud to have a form that has not changed since the creation of style underlies two wrong things: the first is that if his style is appliable, he decreed that the ways of fighting have not evolved; the second thing is that people have become idiots in recent decades and thus unable to evolve or to think.
I repeat it: after mastering one’s art, it is advisable to make it evolve if needed, or to leave it as such.
New knowledge in anatomy, cardiovascular training, techniques to develop proprioception, the understanding of how to increase strength and speed training exwercises… all this can lead us to an evolution the way we practice. If we prefer to ignore all this knowledge and practice like 300 years ago, it’s a choice… which is often a waste of time, a precious time in practice.
“We have to find the right middle in everything”. I think this is the solution. Traditional forms must be fed with today’s knowledge, but we shall not give up the depth of knowledge of the ancients, the magic of passing on the knowledge.
The specificity of many internal arts lies in the seemingly innocent practices.
To develop deep changes in the body and mind of the adept, it is important not to give him too “clear” exercices, otherwise he will try to put strength and speed.
If you can train without “intent” on a transformation, everything is easier. Reproducing moves that express power through an unprepared body, or developing power in a fragile vessel, is like putting a heavy cannon in a boat: at the first shot, the boat sink.
In the internal arts, we give priority to the preparation of the body rather than to its usage. The form will allow test the structure, through an elegant dance which summarizes the theories of the style. After many years of understanding through practice, drills and training methods will feed the form that will “teach” the practitioner.
For all these reasons, the forms “are” the ancient arts, the” soul” of the styles and therefore they are of no “use”.