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.

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