Monday, September 2, 2013

Thoughts on Intermediate Forms

I haven't mentioned it much previously but, in addition to the Slow Form, I've learned 3 additional forms in the last year and a half. I call these forms the Intermediate Forms (not a term used by TToPA) because they are taught in rotation in the Monday evening class, which students can start attending after going through the Slow Form class. Here's a quick rundown of the 3 forms:
  • Taiji Dao: If you're not familiar with it, a dao - also known as a 'falchion', 'sabre', 'machette', 'big knife', etc - is around 33 inches long, weighs about 2 pounds, and has an edge on only one side. The Dao Form was the first one I learned after the Slow Form. The dao is a basic weapon meant for the masses and there's not a lot of elegance to it. The purpose of the form is to learn how to express power via the dao (e.g. by chopping and slicing). The first thing that I learned was that the Dao Form wasn't really about becoming proficient with a dao but rather about using the weight of the dao as an external force that changes your balance and quickly points out your flaws (not that Dao Form is irrelevant to learning to use the weapon but, like the Slow Form, it's only the first step). You might not think that a scant two pounds would change things that much but you'd be wrong (well, I was). Of the Intermediate Forms, it's my personal favorite. I'm not sure if that's because I like its brute-force approach or just because it's the one I'm the most familiar with.
  • Fast Form: The Fast Form was the second Intermediate Form that I learned. It's the Slow Form with certain moves modified to be done at speed, with inertia and momentum. Whereas the Slow Form takes about 30 minutes to do, the Fast Form takes about 7 minutes to go through primarily the same sequence. The purpose of the form is to transition the principles of the Slow Form to a more dynamic setting. Like the Dao Form, it quickly points out any flaws that you have in your form. These days I call it the 'Faster Form' because I'm focused on just doing it faster than the Slow Form rather than at full speed.
  • Taiji Jian: The jian is a traditional two-edged straight sword - it tends to be a bit longer than a dao but weighs about the same. Given that a jian has two edges, you have to be a lot more precise with it and that requires a lot of training compared with the dao (which is why they were more the weapon of the elites). The Jian Form was the third form I learned - I've just finished that class and I'm still working on just remembering the choreography.
I faced a few dilemmas when it came to the Intermediate Forms. The first dilemma was whether I was ready to learn them at all. By the time I'd finished the Slow Form class, I felt that I'd spent a lot of time in the previous few years just learning choreography and that it was time to focus on refinements. Additionally, in the literature it's recommended that you not start studying additional forms until you've studied Taiji for at least 3 years and have a solid basic foundation. I debated this for a while but, in the end, I decided to learn the forms for the simple reason that I had the opportunity to. I've never been sure how long I'm going to stay where I am so it seemed like a good idea to learn what I could while I had the chance.

The second dilemma I faced was how much to practice the Intermediate Forms. As I learned the them, I decided to focus mainly on refining the Slow Form and only practiced these forms as much as necessary to remember them (about once a week).

I recently started thinking that, since I had put the time into learning these forms, I should start practicing them otherwise that time has been wasted. A few weeks ago, after going through the Slow Form, I decided to do the Dao Form. I hadn't done this on my own for a long while so I decided to go slow and focus on the principles I'd just been focusing on in the Slow Form. This was the first time I had actually gone through the form without worrying about the choreography or trying to hack the dao with all my might and, to my amazement, it went much better than it had ever gone before. Since then, I've added the Intermediate Forms into my solo practice and I focus on whichever principles I've been working on in the Slow Form. I've found this not only gives a different perspective on the principles but also adds variety to my practice that helps keep me focused.

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