Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Form Review

Ah, form review;

My training partners and I live in a isolated rural community. We draw on decades of shared martial arts experience and all have pretty solid backgrounds.
But when we seek new information it requires traveling to other instructors and seminars, often for days at a time.
You gotta' understand; I usually drive my pick-up about ten minutes through farm and forest to various job sites. I never get above third gear.
So Monday when I headed for the mean streets of Seattle to meet with my Xingyi instructor Jake Burroughs, I had to navigate a crowded highway on the rainiest day of the year. At one point I had semi-trucks on each side pressure-washing my truck to the point where I couldn't even see the road in front at 65 mph. I don't know how you fuckers that live in the city deal with that shit every day. It was probably the single-most dangerous thing I have experienced since I almost pulled the Maple tree over onto me with my tractor a month ago.
Forms are a big part of my current fitness program, and I am addicted to the Xingyi forms I am learning right now. But I have noticed how they tend to morph into slightly different versions than they start out at. There's a couple of reasons for this. The first is that because we live in the country and only see our instructors occasionally, we develop bad habits or tend to import other similar techniques into the existing form. Sometimes we find things that actually improve the form, but that also changes it.
Other times the instructor changes an element of the form to something he finds better. This has happened repeatedly with the long 2-person fighting form our Tai Chi Chuan instructor has trained us in, and it's usually for the better.
So on Monday, I had quite a few corrections to my form as Jake patiently watched my movement and asked what the hell I was doing. I had realized that something I had learned in one of the animal forms was carried over into one of my basic 5-Element forms, and it wasn't quite right.
Now, to a beginning student this would probably be frustrating, but I completely realized what was going on.
Xingyi is at first glance a somewhat mundane style that does not get flashy until you learn some of the animal forms. The 5-Elements train vectors - vertical, horizontal, crossing, etc.
When I started learning Xingyi to complete the trinity with Tai Chi Chuan and Bagua, Jake said Xingyi was the easiest Chinese Internal art to learn, but possibly the hardest to master.
Xingyi, like the other arts mentioned requires perfect body structure to bring out the magic of the art. The seemingly simple postures exhibit frighteningly powerful whole-body movement. This requires building a foundation that is much more powerful than what is found in hard-style arts like Karate. It also requires seeking very tight, well targeted angles to disrupt the motion of the opponent. In this respect, it is similar to the vectors and energies in Tai Chi push hands. Very subtle yet effective infighting techniques are employed.
I just love when you think you know something and it is re-introduced to you in a fresh new way, only to get better.
We finished my lesson by starting on a short two-person Xingyi form called "Wu Hua Pao" or "Five Flower Cannon". It's a simple form, yet considering the subtleties described above it's going to take some time to get it right.
So for all you old Dojo Rats out there, don't get stuck in a "one art" rut. If you are an instructor, find some fresh meat to chew on. Pick a companion art, round out your striking and grappling game. Look at your art differently in the light of learning something new and see how your overall program improves. kind of like a "martial makeover", or falling in love all over again.


B said...

This fucker drinks!!!

Dojo Rat said...

A nearly universal trait among martial artists...

Adrian said...

"I don't know how you fuckers that live in the city deal with that shit every day." This made my day! It is the funniest fucking thing I have heard all day. Thanks Dojo Rat.

Steve Perry said...

Even a single art being taught by the same teacher to the same students in the same place will pick up some drift -- the teacher finds a better way and alters it.

Scratch three senior students, you get three slightly different versions. Wait a while and ask them again ...

People who claim to be doing an art that has remained exactly the same for two or three hundred years?

I think they are fooling themselves.

L said...

I agree. When I started Greco Roman, I found that it actually IMPROVED my proficiency when sparring at my other school.

Dojo Rat said...

Hi "L"
I checked out your site. Here's an interesting question:

Could your wrestling neutralize or defeat your Tae Kwon Do in a hypothetical You-vs.-you match?

Sean C. Ledig said...

Hey DR,

I just wanted to say I agree 100 percent with what you wrote about the importance of training on your own. Check out my comments on it in "Tales from the Carport Kwoon" at

lala13 said...

wow, thanks, great advice. I notice too how different masters in THE SAME style sometimes have big differences in the ideal form. So maybe it's not just about trying different martial arts, but different masters as well. But maybe that also depends on how standardized the art is. More power to you!