Thursday, 29 March 2012

Short forms versus long forms

I was recently reading the blog of an old friend I used to train with occasionally, and went to China with. He was lamenting all of the new 'short' forms that were being invented by various Masters around the world. Pick a number between 4 and 19, and there is probably a short form  with that amount of moves in it!

He predicted that these forms would get shorter and shorter until there was hardly any movements left. This got me to thinking. Was this a good thing? 

So what does this trend indicate, and how does it bode for the future of Taijiquan? I gave this some consideration. Obviously, it poses some confusion for beginners. Which form is correct? What are their merits and drawbacks? 

Many people would argue that martial arts need innovation, or else they will die out. This is true. But none of these new short forms have any new movements in them. They are merely older movements in a different order. So innovation is not the reason why these forms have evolved.

Practicing a short form means you take more rests between sets. You also have fewer moves from which to pick up the basics. Therefore, you are less likely to get a good workout or solid technique from the exclusive practice of a short form. So they do not improve your physical condition as well as a long set.

The changing demands on our lives are the reason for these forms. Students have less and less free time to practice. Therefore a shorter form will be helpful. I also believe that modern people give up too quickly. A short form will give a student a more immediate reward of the feeling of achievement at having completed a milestone. Once they are 'hooked', the teacher can then offer them a more traditional long form.

When looking for other examples of this, one only needs to listen to modern pop music and compare it to 'traditional' Classical music. As our attention span decreases, and the spare time available shortens, so do the songs. Do I enjoy modern pop songs? Some are OK. The pop songs I enjoyed from the 70s and 80s that are still being played are great!! However, none of them compare to Beethoven's 5th or Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries.

So am I worried that all these short forms will dilute Tai Chi? Well, perhaps they will initially, but everyone still recognises that the traditional forms are the best. These short forms must stand the test of time. For the real value of martial arts is not inventing new tricks, but patiently discarding all things that do not work - improvements by subtraction. A teacher teaches a student to become good by eliminating the student's bad habits until whatever is left is good Tai Chi. The same will happen with these forms. What does not work will be dropped, and what is of true value will always shine through.

Saturday, 17 March 2012


When I start with new students, I go through the usual guidelines about loose fitting clothes that allow the body to move freely. Then I say the following:

"Once you take up Tai Chi, you begin an endless search for the perfect pair of shoes."

Usually, everyone laughs. But there is genuine truth in this. In my many years of practice, I have tried all manner of Tai Chi and martial arts shoes. They all have their advantages and their drawbacks.

A pair of Tai Chi shoes should be well-fitting to keep the foot secure, but not constricting in any way. They should allow you to grip the floor well, but also allow you to slide or twist your heel if required. Your shoe should allow you to move your ankle freely, yet support and protect from knocks and blows. The sole should be thin enough to allow your feet to feel the floor, yet it should also be thick enough to support the arch and protect you from some of the more powerful stamping moves.

Once you find a shoe that really works for you, the chances are you will wear through them in a few weeks, because you feel so confident using them. When you do wear through them, you go back to the sports shop, only to find out they are discontinued!

After a long period wearing a pair that were ok, I recently bought a new a pair that are fantastic. They are light, comfortable, grippy, supportive and padded in the right places. They were also very cheap because - guess what? - They are a DISCONTINUED LINE !!!!

Oh well, back to the drawing board. I'll enjoy these while I can. The search will continue when I wear them out.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Sound and Movement

This is how I discovered one of my most effective training tools. I am telling you about it, because I believe it has applications that may help you make significant change in your life.

It starts back in 2010, when I started experimenting with music as an aid to focus for Tai Chi. Following a visit to the Monroe Institute, I was keen to see if the binaural beat technology that they used for personal exploration could be used to supplement martial arts training. I decided that any verbal guidance would be off-putting, so I opted for using Metamusic; specially adapted music designed to bring about changes in brainwave states.

There are many titles available, so I purchased a range and set about testing them on myself, until I finally decided to use "Indigo For Quantum Focus" written by J.S. Epperson.

At the time I had 3 separate Tai Chi classes, all with similar levels of skill and at roughly the same place in the curriculum. Class 1, I decided to have no music at all (control), class 2 were given normal inspiring music (a mixture of standard New Age and Tai Chi music). Class 3 were given "Indigo for Quantum Focus" to listen to while practicing Silk-reeling and Zhan Zhuang training.

I expected a general lift in performance for groups 2 and 3, given that they were having music to focus on. However, I was very surprised when Class 3 all said "What IS that music?" They were all surprised at the effect. Amongst the feedback I received was a greater ability to focus on the movements and a more intense awareness of the body (kinaesthetic awareness).

As the weeks of the study continued (10 weeks in total), class 3 moved on significantly more than the other two classes. The measurable benefits were as follows:
  • Increased focus of attention.
  • Increased ability to relax while the body is under sustained pressure.
  • Heightened awareness of 'Chi' circulation.
  • Greater sensitivity and observation of one's partner during pairs work.
  • Greater group social cohesion.
  • 22% lift in retention rate (the number of students who don't skip a class). 
As a result of the above trial, I now integrate "Indigo" into regular sessions where there is a need for sustained focus and relaxation. There is no doubt within my mind about the efficacy of binaural beat technology for enhancement of the experience of internal martial arts.