Playing the Form
Forms, Kata, Poomse – whatever name you know them by, they are a traditional method of training in many systems of martial arts.
The practical uses of Form training (for the remainder of this article, the phrase “form training” should be taken to include Kata and Poomse training) in today’s society have been discussed at length by martial artists and laymen around the world for the past few decades, and with the emergence of modern Mixed Martial Arts competitions, and the practical physical training regimes that go along with it, many ‘traditional’ Martial artists are left wondering why they should bother training this seemingly ‘dead’ method of practice.
In this article, I will be looking at the different benefits of Form training for the modern martial artist, though I hopefully will not spend too much time on this subject, as it has been discussed in depth many times, and I feel I cannot add much more to the Pro/Con debate, aside from my own personal opinions and experiences.
My main focus, therefore, will lay in the different methods of form practice – the different ‘intentions’ as it were.
For the major part of this article, I will be talking about form training from the perspective of Chinese martial arts, specifically Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan). However, I sincerely believe that the information is applicable to ALL martial artists who practice form training, and I hope that this article may add a little more understanding to your practice, no matter what style you study.
Benefits of Form Training
There is a lot to be gotten out of form training. Form’s act as a ‘reference book’ of our styles particular fighting techniques ensuring that the whole system can be readily passed on to students, without omission or degradation.
From learning a form, we can taken single movements, or small sets of movements, and learn how they can be applied as attack and counter-attack against an aggressive opponent. We can practice the application of fighting angles, which techniques work best in which circumstances, which techniques can flow into each other in a realistic and applicable way. This is the most basic level of form practice – learning movements.
Another benefit of form practice is something which, in the Internal martial arts, is known as neigong, or inner work. What this boils down too, is simply the ingraining of certain body mechanics into our way of movement.
From breathe control, to waist movement, to weight shifting. Our forms help to mould our body into the ideal condition for our styles techniques.
Tai Chi is well known for its’ slow moving form practice. It is this slow movement through the forms that greatly aid the development of the “Tai Chi Body” – that is, a body that is soft and agile, and complies with the essential body principles of Tai Chi Chuan.
By moving slowly through our forms, we are able to focus on fully transferring the weight from one foot to another before taking a step. We are able to bring our attention to the centre of the lower abdomen, where we are able to control the movement of the legs, and corresponding the movement of the arms.
Slow form practice helps us to relax and release excess tension in the hip joints, allowing a greater range of motion in the waist, which is where we distribution our Jin (refined power) for fighting techniques. Slow form practice also allows us to pay attention to those oh-so-important small details, such as keeping the shoulders and elbows dropped, tucking the tailbone, sitting into the legs, suspending the head, etc etc.
It is all of these benefits that form practice has on a basic level. And all of these things, when looked into, can greatly improve our practice.
When can also use form practice to train our intention – our ‘fighting instinct’. We can visualise and opponent in front of us, and picture ourselves going through him. This takes form practice beyond the simple replication of empty movements. Intention brings life to lifelessness.
Different ways of Form Training
This goes way beyond simply slow, fast, intention, meditation and so on. One of my Tai Chi teachers said the same movements of a form can be practiced in as many as 20 different ways, depending on what you chose to develop in the moment. Here, I plan on giving a brief overview of four different ways of ‘playing the form’ – each with its’ own particular point of focus.
1) Posture-by-posture slow form – This is the first step in developing good Tai Chi practice. As stated above, this stage develops the basic body mechanics needed in Tai Chi, as well as the primary methods of power. This stage also helps the student to discover “hotspots” of tension in the body, and, using the breath and mind, how to release these tensions to create smoother power.
Every posture is held for anything between 5 and 30 minutes at a time, to allow the student to deeply explore his or her own body as it exists in each position. Where is the tension? Where is the muscle fatigue? And so on...
2) Connecting the form – In this stage, the student begins to take the level of focus and internal body awareness he has developed in the first stage, and apply it to the transitions between the major postures. He or she begins to incorporate the use of small circles in the joints in order to “reel the silk”. This has the effect of connecting and strengthening the tendons, sinews and ligaments that form a major part of the whole-body power we seek to achieve. It is useful to make your movements long and extended in this stage, to truly stretch out and feel the connections.
3) Internal Pressure form – This stage seeks to find and increase the internal force of the body, through holding the postures and using the intention to guide your force forward. In a basic punch position, you extend your intention forward from the face of your face, as if willing your arm to extend further, though without physically stretching your arm further forward.
4) Fast Form – This stage begins to teach the student how the art would be expressed in actual combat. Steps, jumps, turns, strikes, kicks, all practiced with speed and power, whilst remaining soft and relaxed. The circles that we began to work with in stage 2 get smaller and smaller. This stage of form practice will begin to express hidden movements more, such as elbows, knees, gripping etc.
I hope that this article has given you a new insight into the possibilities of form practice. I sincerely believe that these stages can be applied to form training in all styles, allowing practitioners everywhere to bring their training to life in a new way, and gain greater benefits.
~Medway Tai Chi Society~
Medway Tai Chi Society Website
A thousand circles
One more day
This lonely practice
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