The form in any martial art is a tool to gain self-control and awareness and ultimately an extension of our intention. The tool may be used for self defense, health, or spirituality. No matter what your intent, the form is a tool to be used appropriately in our lives. Master Moy once used the analogy of cars to understand how Tai Chi relates to Lok Hup and Hsing-I. He indicated, “Where Tai Chi is a good solid reliable commuter car, Lok Hup is like a Cadillac and Hsing-I is a sports car.” Extending this analogy further, it is up to us to drive the vehicle we use to reach our destination. Once we arrive we get out and go about our business. We can use these vehicles to go where we need to go in life. We will need to use them repeatedly over time. We will need to maintain them through practice and at time repairs may be needed to keep our practice as efficient and effective as possible. This is where finding good instruction is critical. When that is not available for whatever reason, finding time and someone to practice with is of great benefit.
When watching the forms of martial arts you can see a difference between those who immerse themselves and those who simply go through the movements. It’s not just in martial arts. When observing people play musical instruments, there are those who connect with their instruments and communicate through them while others just play the chords. This observation may be extended to many if not all art forms including science, management and serving coffee. Our art forms express the art of who we are. When we connect with what we do, we become the activity and the activity expresses who we are and what’s important to us. When we express ourselves through our art forms, continual learning happens without conscious direction as the form changes as we change. Thus the vehicles or our practice need regular upkeep.
Upkeep of our forms may come from many directions. The easiest path is to attend a class where the form is practiced so we may obtain corrections and thereby continuously change. I say this is the easy path as it is comfortable having others care for us. Other’s guide us and direct us. While instructing, I’ve seen people get spiritually and intellectually lazy just going to class and obtaining external feedback. The middle path is to attend classes but also seek internal feedback. One of the great things about Master Moy’s teachings was how he helped people to “listen” to themselves and understand the movements from within. He would ask, “How do you feel?” after he gave corrections. Workshops would then attempt to understand what happened for that individual. Having both external and internal feedback helps us to maintain balance on our path not straying too far one way or another. The hardest path is to continue developing when one is unable to attend classes. Before abolishing the instructor levels, Master Moy once commented that an advanced instructor is one who can go off on their own and continue developing. So how does someone continue to develop without the external feedback of a class?
Recognizing the form is a tool is one step along the path towards learning without someone telling you what to do. As stated on the BizOfYou site, we have to “use the tool to the extent it’s useful.” Reflecting on a form’s utility allows us to constellate our experience with our intent an our understanding of what the form can accomplish. Master Moy once said, “To learn and practice Tai Chi, there are three things we need an understanding of: physics, physiology, and science.” I totally got into the comment when it was made and for years afterward as I’m an engineer with a love of anatomy and how we do the things we do. Now that I’ve been out of regular practice for years, the statement rings truer now than ever. As we go about our lives, physiology helps us to understand what’s happening to our body as we grow older. When we have some recurring pain, we can reflect on what’s happening and have a good idea of what may be causing it. We can use physics to understand our posture and its changes as gravity takes hold. We can use the scientific process to understand how we need to change our practice to keep ourselves developing using the observations and speculations we made with our understanding of physiology and physics. in this path it is upon us to apply what we learn in our daily observations. It is up to us to observe, hypothesize and test ourselves. The form is a tool and such needs to be understood for what it its. We have the capacity to continue learning if we decide to.