Sunday, November 27, 2016

Training the 32 Form

Last January I started learning the 32 Form as the next step in my Tai Chi practice. Sifu Wu's approach to teaching Tai Chi is to start with a basic form and progress through a series of forms that get more challenging and incorporate more advanced moves (by contrast, some schools will teach one form and focus on refining that form over time).

The 32 Form is an intermediate form that is the follow-up to the Yang 24 Form. While it is composed mostly of Yang-Style movements, it is a combination form that incorporates Chen, Sun, and Wu-Style movements.

I wasn't all that interested in learning the 32 Form initially. I know students who want to continually learn new forms (form junkies :) but I've always been the opposite - learning a new form takes time and effort that I feel could be better spent on refining a form you already know. Since I already knew the Yang-Style Long Form, I didn't see much point in learning an intermediate form that I would eventually stop practicing but Sifu Wu recommended that I study it so I did.

One emphasis of the 32 Form is lowering the stance in order to train flexibility and strength. As I was learning the form, Sifu Wu had me work on longer/lower steps during my stepping training and added in some stretching exercises to loosen up my ankles, hips, and hamstrings. Once I learned the form, Sifu Wu cut back my Zhan Zhuang training because the form training provides some of that training benefit (don't worry, I still do plenty of stance training).

While I still think that learning a lot of new forms is not a good use of valuable training time, I must admit that the effort I put into learning the 32 Form has been well worth it. I've come to really enjoy the form and it has provided a good venue to incrementally increase to my training level. Eventually I'll learn the 48 Form and move on from the 32 Form but I think it's going to be a while - I still have a lot to learn from this form.

Technically, now that I've learned the 32 Form, I should move on from the 24 Form but Sifu Wu has recommended against that. The 24 Form is ubiquitous (classes, competitions, demonstrations, ...) so it's useful to keep in practice. I now use it as a warm-up, going through it few times in a higher stance and then moving on to the 32 Form.

As a final note, Sifu Wu has just released a 32 Form DVD and you can check out a demo of the full form from the DVD on her YouTube channel:

Sunday, November 13, 2016

From 9 to 5 - Preparing for Kung Fu Tai Chi Day

It's been a while since my last post (I had a busy summer and fall hasn't been much better) and I have so many things I'd like to write about that it's hard to know where to start but I decided to pick up from where I left off in my last post with the Kung Fu Tai Chi Day event.

Early last spring, Sifu Wu told me that she had decided to have her school participate in the the Kung Fu Tai Chi Day event and asked if I'd be interested/willing to compete in the event. After looking over the event details, I decided to compete in the Yang 24 Form competition.

Due to time constraints, the competition only allowed 5 minutes per participant. The standard pace of the 24 Form is 6 to 6.5 minutes and it was left up to the individual competitor to decide whether to do the form at a faster pace (completing the entire form) or to do the it at the standard pace (ending the form early) - either was acceptable.

I had never trained for a particular pace. When I practiced the traditional Yang Form, I aimed for around 30 minutes but my main concern was doing the form slowly - if it took longer than 30 minutes, that was a win.

In our first session preparing for the competition, Sifu Wu had me go through the form at the pace I go on my own and it turned out I was going at a 9 minute pace or about 50% slower than standard pace. Sifu Wu said that the first thing I needed to do was to get the pace down to 6.5 minutes.

For my solo training, I use an interval timer app on my phone (seconds) so I set up a timer to break the 24 Form into 4 parts of 1 minute and 40 seconds each. The first time I went through the form, I felt like I was racing through it and felt like I was missing all of the details. Over time though, I came to be able to do the form at that pace and realized that there were several benefits to the faster pace.

The first benefit was that the faster pace forced my concentration to be more focused - in my previous training, if my attention wandered, I was going slowly enough that I could catch myself. While I still can't keep my attention from wandering completely, I now have to catch it a lot quicker.

The second benefit of the faster pace was that it prevented me from doing continuous-correction. Before, when I would go through the form, when I noticed myself doing something wrong, I would pause to correct it (e.g. if I hadn't turned my foot out far enough, I would adjust my position before moving on). I hadn't even realized I was doing this but it had the effect that I would never actually fix certain mistakes because I would always just readjust myself - going through the form at the faster pace meant I couldn't adjust around these errors any longer so I was forced to fix them.

The final benefit of doing the form at the faster pace was that it allowed me to link the movements together, making the form more continuous. While I was still moving at a pace where I could do the form properly (i.e. not rushing through it and skipping details), moving faster allowed everything to flow more smoothly, something Sifu Wu has been working on with me (as a side note, Sifu Wu told me that the pace for the traditional Yang form is about 20 minutes - training at the 30+ minute pace I used to do isn't wrong per-se - there are other training benefits with a slower pace - but it makes it difficult to do the form in a continuous manner).

Training for pace, I was able to get the 24 Form down from 9 minutes to 6.5 minutes and, eventually, 5 minutes, which is what I did at the competition. As I progressed, I went from having the interval timer track 4 sections down to 2 sections, and finally, just to alert me to the last 30 seconds of the form.

Now that the competition is over, I practice the 24 Form at a 6 minute pace and still use the interval timer to make sure that I'm staying at the right pace. As I train the 32 Form these days, I also use the interval timer to stay on pace.