Sunday, 16 November 2014

How many forms are enough?

In my time as a student of Taiji, I have had the privilege of being trained by highly regarded and highly skilled Masters. Their approaches to what to train their students however are poles apart in some respects. One focused on learning just one form for each discipline i.e. one barehand, one sword etc. The other teaches a range of different forms e.g. Yang style 8 step, 16 step, 24 step etc. This is not a discussion about which is the best. In my view both of them have contributed immensely to my Taiji practice and still do today. There are however "arguments" in the Taiji world as to which is the best way. I would like to put forward some pros and cons for both systems.
In the first option we have the one form teaches all. The pros for this system means that there is no distraction about how many forms do you know and this enabled time and practice for the deeper levels of Taiji e.g. more push hands and internal training of which there was plenty practice. It also took the pressure off having to know a wide range of forms. It very much focuses on the principles of Taiji and the internal aspects that make the art what it is. The second option of learning a wide range of forms from 8 - 88 steps also has its benefits. Although the same moves are used, training them in different patterns and from different angles gives a person a broader view of the way these moves can be used. It highlights that you won't always follow a brush knee twist step with a strum the lute posture, for example. Another benefit I find is that by learning a range of forms then the moves are done on both sides. This is something that I personally struggled with initially and I know my students do too but with patience and perseverance it is possible to make both sides as equally good.
The dangers of both options for me are as follows: the first option of just one hand form means that the moves are always done in a set order and it is easy to get too comfortable with that pattern. Usually where someone is learning just one form it tends to be the long form of whatever style. In Yang style (the style that I learned)not many of the postures are done on both sides. I feel this is a disadvantage to learning just one form. The main disadvantage to the second option is that the Taiji focus can become about how many forms can you do. There is a view sometimes taken that the more forms you know the better that person is at Taiji. I don't agree with that at all. It also makes the form more competitive in an unhealthy way. The only person we really need to compete with is ourselves. In the end it all comes down to the attitude of the individual but no one system is better than the other. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to learn under both options.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The form is not Taiji!

That sounds like an outlandish statement but I read something by Michael Gilman the other week that said just that. I read this to my students before we headed off for coffee and cake at a local cafe and asked for their comments and thoughts. I can't recall specifics but the conversation that took place around the table was incredible and for me very spiritual. So before I give my take on the form not being Taiji can I just say that giving people time to talk about their Taiji has been a really good move. I remember watching a video about a Taiji master and after each session he and his students would go and have tea and talk about what they had been practising and although it is essential to physically practice, it is also essential to analyse and discuss experiences that occur in Taiji. I am loving our conversations just as much as the practice.
To go back to the title of this post. I agree with this statement if the form is just a sequence of moves performed or copied in a ritualised way. There is so much more to Taiji and without the intention and focus of the mind and movement of the Qi then the form is just a set of movements. Nothing different from doing an exercise class. However that is where we all start and although at times it is difficult to grasp a move it is actually the easiest bit of Taiji to learn. How far we take our Taiji is a personal choice and for some doing the form is Taiji and it goes no further but there is so much more out there to discover if we want to take the trouble and we have the time and commitment to do so.
For me it is so important to keep pushing myself. I love exploring what this art has to offer and I am so satisfied with the fact that I will never know it all but that I can keep trying and digging deeper. I find the whole thing exhilarating and exciting. I've done lots of types of exercise in my time and nothing comes close to what Taiji has to offer. I am so lucky to have found Taiji and to have the opportunity to share it with so many wonderful people. It would be great to see your comments about Taiji and the forms so please share your thoughts and lets keep the conversation going!