INB #14: The Loop

ph_tedtangle1Here’s a place where you can use your creativity and at the same time benefit your students.

To do this well, though, you will have to understand something about classical Kung Fu forms. Products of an ancient and sophisticated culture, classical forms are simultaneously instructional frameworks and works of art. Like religious music which tries to delight and uplift—Kung Fu forms are meant to instruct and engage. They do this through a format, a structure which is well thought out but as flexible as a three act play.

They employ a series of fundamental structural details like we might expect a movie to have a “hook” at the beginning, or a “love scene” or a “twist ending.” I could write for days on this since I’ve spent a good deal of my life vivisecting forms and considering them as aesthetic and cultural works, just as someone might study ballads, but here is a very brief description of the major components:

1. Refrains: a series of movements repeated as a core theme at different places in the form

2. Marches: sequences of three repetitions which not only introduce moves on both sides but also generally have the performer travel through the form space

3. Morphs: a series of moves or a single action which, every time it reappears, is slightly varied from its previous version

4. Peaks: Movements, generally toward the end of the form, which introduce entirely new actions of a higher level of difficulty to imply further research and act as a “finale” for the set

5. Salutations: both front and back. In the best examples the salutation is varied slightly to reprise some thematic aspect of the form’s flavor

You can, once you really grasp the structure and purpose of forms, be very creative with them. They were meant to have this potential. So here’s what I want you to do…

Your teaching assignment is to search a favorite form and find a “loop”, that is a series of movements—more than one and less than seven—which start from a position and end in a position. Then connect the final movement back to the first one to create a “loop”: a repeatable section. This sequence must be unbroken so you can just repeat it forever.

In other words start with move #1 and go to, say, move #5 then repeat from move #1 again. You can do this in either of two ways. When you come back to move #1 it can be EXACTLY the same as the first time or it can be the REVERSE of the first one on the other side. The best approach? Well, if you are really clever you will create a transition that can do either: continue or reverse.

Now that you have the loop extracted from your form teach it and let the students do it continually for ten to twenty minutes. Keep them at it until they are in the “zone.” When this is happening you will realize how rare it is for students to do, for example, fifteen minutes of CONTINUAL Taiji or Shaolin or whatever. Once they get the hang of it they will be simultaneously accomplishing high repetitions but also keeping aware lest they fall out of the loop.

Not enough? Figure out the interface of the section: what the opponent would be doing. (This is, of course, particularly easy if you start with a duet form.) There is your miniature two person form without a stopping place. Often these make much more sense from the fighting stand point than the extended duet form which, indeed, is just a lot of loops strung together anyway.

You have your loop. You are off and running and so are your students…


Article on Yue Family boxing an ancient art that uses this method of training.


Nowadays, there is a lot written about martial arts; probably more than at any time in human history. But very little of this is at the instructor level dealing with the problems, goals and strategies of imparting the arts. This series, written by martial instructors, will be a frank and directed discussion of such topics. If you are a beginner and new to the martial arts, you may find some of these subjects a little distressing. Indeed, this may be premature for you. The only thing we guarantee is a sincere handling of informed viewpoints.

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