You’ve been practicing awhile. You are no longer a novice. Your belt or sash no longer wears stiffly as though it were just a larger version of a bow tie. You now have “rank” whether or not it is formally recognized in your style.
You have accumulated some formal training, too. You may have collected or been taught enough forms that their practice looks to be a little out of hand. You like forms. You don’t want to lose them. You practice pretty diligently your CURRENT form and some others but you feel a little slippage. What to do?
You should understand something. Your teacher may know an ungodly number of forms; some not strictly from your style, some from “cousins” who have a different interpretation, some not necessarily for full advancement. Some forms are even incomplete or trivial. Almost every teacher I have ever had has told me some version of, “I’m not going to teach you this because there’s no new information here.” Rather than “holding back,” your teacher may be lightening your load.
I remember plainly one teacher telling me that he wasn’t going to teach me the Fang Tian (a weapon that resembles and old fashioned TV antenna). Later I was grateful. The Fang Tian form just plainly showed a few basics with the weapon. I am sure there are interesting Fang Tian forms out there, but I have no regret in not knowing one.
Your teacher need not keep his forms in perfect shape. All he has to do is teach them. But, until you become an instructor, the school will require you to perform at a high level. When you have spent time and effort and actually LIKE a form there will be little problem memorizing moves or getting yourself to practice. But even so, the hundreds of movements in specific sequences can be a daunting task. What relief?
- Recognize the key forms from the supporters. Some basic forms are so basic they bear repeated practice. Others are “steps” to higher skills. Lien Bu—also known as Dragon Fist—is a decent form that you could easily replace by any one of half a dozen more that would offer just as much training. Tan Tui, on the other hand, can be logically practiced and bring benefits for your whole life.
- Rotate your forms. Of course practice the newest one. Rotated through the others. You can make distinctions like practicing a more important form two or three times that week and another, lesser form, once a week.
- Look for repeat variations. Recognizing the same section in two different forms can be very useful or highly confusing. You have to note the exact differences and remember THEM instead of the repeated movements.
- Write them down. I developed a shorthand years ago, where I could make at least a rough description of a form with very little effort. This has worked well for me. One point, the more detailed the notes, the less likely you are to read them. Don’t go overboard with details.
- Don’t gang all the weapons sets together. Intersperse them among the hand forms. Contrast can really help with your training rounds.
Part of what makes forms hard to remember is that their order seems odd, some moves weak, others awkward. That is a type of code. Knowing some of the rules might make your practice more understandable.
A. If you are moving to an angle it probably means that you apply that technique at this angle, not that the opponent is from that direction.
B. Repeated sections are meant to attract extra attention and practice. Repeats indicate importance.
C. Legs movements are embryonic techniques. A Cat stance, for instance, indicates a front kick. After all, as the Kung Fu logic goes, if you position yourself correctly with no front weight and perfect balance, you might or might not take the kick, but but the hard work already.
Forms are fun but just remember they are the expression of the skills, flavor usage of the style your are studying.