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.

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