In any pursuit that requires Kung Fu, you’re constantly striving to perfect your concept, your technique and your skill level. Even if you’ve attained a certain level of proficiency that you perceive to be perfection, there’s still more to learn. Perfection is an internal struggle. It’s not you against the world, it’s you against you.
Form is a “multi-vitamin,” constructed by ancient masters who had immense amounts of experience with fighting, both in actual one-on-one combat and on the battlefield. Imagine the mindset of refugee generals, commanders and soldiers reflecting back upon their battlefield experience. At that time, fighting wasn’t from a distance; it was one-on-one, up close and personal. These were battle hardened veterans recounting what they had learned, trying to distill it into a vitamin pill that someone can take and learn from. This was their nuclear weapon; they weren’t just going to give it away. They hoped the practitioner would be intelligent enough to be able to decipher the form and take off the encryption. This is the origin of form that many people do not understand.
Forms provide multifaceted levels of training. Like peeling the skin off an onion, learning form has many layers. Form allows the practitioner to train basic postures, stances, and methods of attack and defense. Another layer is training through breathing exercises (Chi Gung) that allow you to access your power through the breath. In addition, form forces you to do movements in a range of motion that you may not normally do. Most people are not astute enough to be able to separate the different types, or layers, of training involved in form. What is used for physical conditioning, for internal training, and what is the actual martial component? To discover these different layers, the practitioner must spend a lot of time studying the form and be under the direction of a competent teacher.
Most practitioners that want to learn Asian martial arts can’t understand because they are trying to understand an eastern art with a western mentality. You have to be able to change your mind or you will only learn the esthetics without being able to grasp concepts. Many look at form like a dance movement. They lack the mental imagery that’s required to be able to see the physical martial language behind every movement. In a movie, the director has to see every character’s role clearly. You must do the same in your study of the form. The characters are the various techniques, body positions, angles, types of force (hard or soft, linear or circular) and how they interplay with each other. The interplay determines how you’re going to use your technique. The form is an extension of the practitioner’s mindset.
A form is like a song. As the art of Kung Fu is incredibly broad in spectrum and technique, it’s difficult to practice each movement separately; there aren’t enough hours in the day. Therefor, the ancient masters put many movements together into a form that was easy to remember. It is easily carried forward, practiced and passed on, like a song that gets stuck in your head. This allows the practitioner to remember, study and practice many techniques, all rolled up into one convenient package. As you continually practice your form, it gets internalized, and hopefully over time it becomes instinctive and reactive.
Form is a multi-vitamin from the ancient masters. But a multi-vitamin cannot replace all your meals. In addition to training form, the practitioner must work on all aspects of Kung Fu, from two-man training to sparring to striking sand bags, etc.. As one aspect of a multi-faceted art, training form is a method to study and deepen your understanding of Kung Fu.