“When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.”
It’s not about how many moves you know, it is about how many details you can do on one move. These days people are learning repetitive forms which amount to nothing other than a performance. If you are training to be a performer then that is great, but if you are training to become an advanced martial artist then this could be seriously detrimental to your development. I have met several traditional masters who abide by the belief that forms create a robotic response that in an actual fight would be almost useless. When you are training martial arts or Qigong you are training for habit. We are creatures of habit, what you do repetitively over and over again will become a natural habit. In a form you might repeat the same moves in sequential order hundreds if not thousands of times. Thus, you have created a habit to move your body in that exact sequence. The opposing philosophy is that you learn each movement one by one and then learn to piece them together on your own. Think of weightlifter who has to constantly break up their routine to avoid falling into a dead end where their development stops. They have to keep changing in order to stop their muscles from becoming complacent. How this applies to martial arts- once you have pieced together each movement, then you break up the order again and again until you have gone through every possible scenario. You also try each movement in the 8 directions and then put them together to move in the 8 directions. For example, try high, then go low, go diagonally, backwards and forwards. In this way the body never falls into a rut of dead repetitiveness, but you are still refining the same movements.
“Too much horsing around with unrealistic stances and classic forms and rituals is just too artificial and mechanical, and doesn’t really prepare the student for actual combat.”
My master taught me all the movements and then forced me to put them together on my own. I asked many times for how to put them together but he refused and told me this was what I had to do. I now appreciate this approach as the details I learned on my own from this was invaluable.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
This leads into the principle of detailed training. For example, we have the 48 Month Palms. It takes 6 months to complete each palm. Why? Simple, there are so many details for each palm. In correct practice if you train according to tradition and our training method by the end of the 6 months you will have done a minimum of 14,000 strikes of the same palm. This is 200 strikes 3 times per week for 6 months. You see, each palm has many details and to teach all the details in one lesson would leave the student confused and a sloppy palm. We have a system of details in which we teach the student. For example, first we get all the physical details of the palm until the student has this in their muscle memory and does not have to think about it anymore. Each detail of the palm will be added one at a time until the student has a “body of knowledge” of that detail and is ingrained into his/her habit. Next we add the energetic flow of each palm. Where it is generated from, where it manifests. After the energetic flow we will add more imagery such as imagining you are striking a large bear. Other imagery is imagining your body is a bow and your striking palm is the arrow. Once these details have been practiced we add the spirit. The spirit is manifested in the eyes. The eyes pump wide open upon striking. It is like a train’s hydrolics that are pumping. The whole body and spirit must be aligned into that single palm strike. Let’s look at Dan Huan Zhang (Single Palm Change) for example. Dan Huan Zhang (The Single Palm Change) is made up of 2 main components- Dou Zhang (Shaking Palm) and Dragon Back exercises. Once the student has done literally thousands of repetitions of these movements separately they will be ready to put them together into Dan Huan Zhang (Single Palm). Only after the student has learned all the main details of Dou Zhang and Dragon back will they be ready for Dan Huan Zhang.
While the student has been training the palm work they are also separately training stepping methods and breathing techniques. Once these are practiced until natural habit, then the student will be ready to combine them and make their own natural forms.
As you can now see, by training isolated exercises allows you to go deep into the details of that exercise until it is habit. Once this is habit and learning to combine and link them together, you can create a multitude of your own natural forms that fit you, thus creating your own style based off of principle. Then this becomes formless forms.
Martial Arts and Qigong in Bali, Indonesia