Which Form Should We Trust?

Master Moy often said, “Trust the Form.”  Which form?  There’s Tai Chi, Lok Hup, and Hsing-I in the Taoist Arts as well as weapon forms, sitting, standing and sleeping meditation.  There are other forms in the Taoist Arts more subtle in nature.  As I watch my kids learn Tae Kwon-Do, I question what is the form to trust there.  There’s other martial arts and health benefiting activities.  What about those forms?

When I was practicing and teaching within the crucible of the Taoist Tai Chi Society, I didn’t question much.  I took the teachings at face value for the most part and was very diligent in practicing all that I was shown.  Over time, I was able to perform a particular set one way and then an entirely different way.  Now that I’ve been on a sabbatical of sorts focusing on family life, I’m left questioning what form to trust.  When I’ve gone back to class here and there over the last few years, I’ve noticed my form can fit in with the current practice.  There’s some nuances I don’t have with the current instructions touted as “advanced,” but I find I’m able to move just as easily and fall into the rhythm of the current teachings.  This leads me to believe there’s a form underneath of the nuances and different manners by which we can practice and cultivate our art forms.

Maintaining strength, flexibility, openness and health is about learning the form within the different appearances that come and go over a lifetime of practice and cultivating health.  I’m finding the form Mr. Moy was telling us to trust is deeper than the movements and corrections given by this or that instructor.  It’s deeper than the “advanced” instructions and more akin to that first movement as a beginner when we are thrilled to learn, open to all instructions and observations.  That spirit of wanting to learn and trying different things to see what works for our body is a form we can follow throughout our lives.  The form we need to trust is where all parts are moving, connected and open.  It is movement without judgement while grounded to what’s needed in ourselves and within the environment around us.  This form is adaptable to whatever external movement we take part in and bodily changes occurring throughout our lives.  This form connects us with the essence of ourselves and the practice we engage in no matter what it’s appearance or name is.  This form is the expression of who we are in what we do.

Observe the form within the movements and direct yourself from there.
Observe the form within the movements and direct yourself from there.

Internal vs External

I had a most excellent conversation with a fellow martial artist about balancing our internal and external work.  For the last two years, he’s been focused on his job, rebuilding his house after the floods, and dealing with his mother passing away.  As he described his focus and use of energy over the last couple years, I got the distinct sense he was putting his life in order externally but not internally.  I shared this with him and he agreed.  He has practiced both internal and external martial arts and has a good grasp on the intent of both approaches to development.

From a pure practicality perspective, there is no internal or external martial art.  We practice both whether we are aware of it or not.  We develop in both manners whether we are aware of it or not.  Our school or practice may focus on one or the other which helps us understand a cohesive system of development.  Of course, maintaining a sole focus on one or the other while exploring the minute details can lead us of the path of balanced development into the proverbial ditch.  We can become lost in the nuances and forget the overarching goal.  In doing so, we can become obsessed with beating people up and winning in the external forms.  We can become lost in letting go of our ego and killing off the external world in our practice of the internal forms. We can lose ourselves in the practice of martial arts, religion and for that matter our careers.

Balance is the key.  We have to have compassion for ourselves while developing it for others.  We have to not lose site of our own objectives while pursing the objectives of our particular practice.  As stated in a Biz of You post from 10Sep15, life is a choice and it’s our responsibility to manage ourselves.  The same holds true in our practice of martial arts. External and internal paths are balanced whether we focus on one or the other. Our particular focus is unique to us and it’s up to us to find a school or practice meeting the needs of our personal development.

Life is a choice and so is balance
Life is a choice and so is balance

Economy of Movement

A Lok Hup instructor once said, “You should be able to stop at any point in the form and be balanced.”  This isn’t an easy task.  I’ve been working on it for years.  The more I work on it, the more stable and grounding the form becomes.  It helps me connect with my surroundings more.  It’s worth trying, no matter what form you practice.  Obviously, if you are doing a flying kick, the instruction is not applicable.  For the most part any of the internal martial arts can use this instruction to discover more connectedness.

Constellate this with the idea out of industrial engineering of walking the process.  In the quest for continual improvement, a process is walked through.  During this, someone sees what the actual work being performed is, asks questions and learns what is happening.  This activity is then aimed at reducing waste and inefficiency.  Process engineering of this nature is about making every step and movement of product count.

I’ve been living this for some time in my life.  I try to optimize my activities so I can squeeze as much life as I can out of the time I have.  Recently, my wife made an observation.  We get up at the same time.  She starts a shower while I go feed the dogs.  In recent times, I’ve been able to get back up stairs by the time she starts her shower.  One morning she said, “Do you even feed the dogs?”  I laughed and shrugged it off, however, thought about it over the next few weeks.  The thing is, I optimize my time by expending as little energy as possible so I can have more energy for other things like getting back up stairs in the morning to do a couple martial arts exercises, stretches or writing before I take my shower.  The dogs just want their breakfast as soon as possible so my leaning of my tasks helps them and helps myself.

As in business, so in martial arts.  If we can use the smallest amount of energy in our movements of the forms, we optimize them.  The movements become more simple and easier to remember if you go without practice for a while.  Forms become more efficient and thus more powerful.  We are told many times by our instructors to keep the form simple or trust the form.  Simple form is efficient form and has a greater impact on our ability to use the form for its intended purpose.  When we move simply, we relax and enable ourselves to do more with what we have.

This is economy of movement.  When we are aware of the energy our movements take, we can more readily take corrections and learn new aspects of the form. We can establish good habits quickly which then become the foundation of more advanced movements using the same form.   When we get lost in all the things the form can do, it can quickly disintegrates into something other than what our instructors showed us originally. The key here is to keep it simple, balanced and use as little energy as possible thereby enabling us to use the form to discover more advanced aspects of the forms or deeper elements of ourselves.  With enough economy of movement the form itself can take on a stillness of sorts where there is not thought required.

This is one of the experiences of the ancient art forms that can incrementally transform our lives.  It occurs when stillness is born from our movements and movement is generated out of our stillness.