Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When You Own Your Form

The video above is of our resident Tai Chi Chuan master, T.Y. Pang performing some freestyle Tai Chi and Bagua.
Experienced Yang Tai Chi stylists will recognize he is way off script, and loving it.

Back in the late 1990's our group was fazing out of hard-style Karate and into the softer arts. This is a natural progression for seasoned martial artists, regardless of style. Of course, it takes years to achieve.

When I started learning Tai Chi Chuan, I was still looking through the prism of Karate eyes. The movements appeared martial, but confusing and I sought application in every move. That can be frustrating with the differences between Karate and Tai Chi being so extreme.

So the process is to just run the damned form. Over and over, thousands of times.
What helped me is something that was never allowed in traditional Chinese arts; train with other masters. In my case it was in the sister arts of Tai Chi which are Xingyi and Bagua. I was fortunate to have attended seminars with people that can actually fight, such as Tim Cartmell and his students.

Gradually, I understood the purpose of the movements and applications. One art informed the other and I saw huge similarities as well as subtle differences.

In Pangs form performance above, he has abandoned the structure of the form, and that is the ultimate goal.
The form eventually becomes your manifestation of art.
Inside your head you have all the applications. You have the imprinting, the muscle memory.
Now you are ready for the Zen experience that the form provides;
You "own" the form, it is yours.


Sean C. Ledig said...

Chogyam Trungpa wrote in "The Lion's Roar" that reciting a mantra can be a way of purifying yourself and sharpening your mind. But after a while, sticking too faithfully to a mantra can be another form dirt, especially when you're doing it just to get through it.

After reading it, I realized I could substitute "kata" or "fist set" or "form" for "mantra" and it made a perfect analogy for forms training. Yes, you should practice it, but you shouldn't be a slave to it any more than a monk should be a slave to his mantra.

Zacky Chan said...

Nice! This inspired me to run through the bagua forms.

Sean C. Ledig said...

Here's a joke about forms and the futility of blind obedience to a system or an instructor, courtesy of my Yau Kung Mun sifu, Don Weiss.

A Kung Fu student in New York City was learning a new set from his instructor. The form was very fast, powerful and aggressive. The instructor would charge forward three or four steps, punching and kicking each time, then hop back three or four steps and charge forward once again.

The student asked his instructor why he jumped back every few steps.

"I don't know," the instructor replied. "It's just the way my sifu used to do it back in San Francisco."

One day, the student took a business trip to San Francisco. While there, he paid a visit to his instructor's sifu and asked about the new form he just learned.

"I don't know why we jump back after charging forward," the sifu said. "That's just the way our grandmaster did it in Hong Kong."

As luck would have it, the student was continuing onto Hong Kong after concluding business in San Francisco. In Hong Kong, he visited the sifu's grandmaster and asked him about the form.

"Grandmaster, why do you charge forward three or four steps, then jump back three or four steps and charge forward again?" the student asked.

"It's just a habit I got into some years ago," the grandmaster replied. "You see, my apartment was very small and if I didn't jump back after charging forward, I'd crash into the wall."

Dojo Rat said...


So true.
I have watched videos of people who have learned forms from very, very large Chinese masters.
They all hold their arms extended outward like their portly master, elbows out etc.

Hey, learn from an obese master and...
That's the way it should look...