I do not have a time machine but if I were to be able to go back in time when Tai Chi was first conceived I would probably not find any form, nor an extensive number of techniques. Instead, I am more likely to find a handful of techniques, unpolished, perhaps a technique or two which might be linked, and usage that is specific to the situation encountered.
Practice would revolve around drilling each technique one at a time. Application would be against an imagined, simulated attack. At a certain time combinations would be discovered; the list of techniques would also grow from practice and with each subsequent real life encounters.
2. BIRTH OF A FORM
As the list of techniques grow someone discovered that stringing them together in a form makes for easier remembrance. A form is also a convenient way to group and store sequences of combinations.
A form then was probably a constant work in progress with additions, deletions, revisions and enhancements by the current generation and later generations of practitioners who would draw on their respective practice, experience and insights to make their art better.
3. ORGANIC VS DEAD
I do not know when it started, who started it and why it started. I will never know. But at some point in time the obsession with old, unchanging forms began.
Current practitioners would claim that their form is traditional, unchanged, old, perhaps even slap a label to give it a royal connection while some would accord street credence with a badass ancestor.
Along the way practitioners forget that a form is part of the range of learning means to an end. If a form loses its function then it becomes ornamental transforming into a dance, an exercise, a impractical relic from the past.
A form is organic, a living collection of techniques that is meant to teach strategies, principles, biomechanics, applications and a host of many more topics that is related to the art of combat. As such, a form is like your personal notebook. You use it to learn, to practice and to refine the same technique over and over again, over the years.
As such, the form that you have learned, your personal rendition of the form, is never fixed nor unchanged. As such, it will always change in many different ways.
4. LIVING KNOWLEDGE
Some systems of martial arts have many forms, each a living depository of knowledge containing a catalog of techniques. Some systems would be built around the concept of a few core, essential forms with additional supporting forms that each highlight a specific specialty skill of the style.
Forms do not all land at once in a completed manner. They are built up, accumulated over time. In some cases, forms are lost over time. In this way a system, a style, no matter how authentic the tradition is claimed to be, is never unchanging.
Today with the proliferation of Mixed Martial Art and ease of cross training we are already seeing some of the traditional styles transformed in the way they are applied, tempered by their encounters with the functionality of MMA.
6. PRACTICE FORMS
When GM Wei learned this Yang Tai Chi from Master Wang he was only taught the long form that is known as the Old Six Routines (老六路). Three years before Master Wang passed away he confirmed that GM Wei had mastered the teachings of the style.
GM Wei extracted a number of techniques from the long form and created a shorter version of the Old Six Routines which we refer to as the 22-form (22式老六路). To aid the transmission of this form GM Wei initially released a book detailing the practice of the form.
Later GM Wei released another book explaining the more advanced aspects of the practice. This second book was accompanied by a teaching VCD.
At a later stage of his life GM Wei created another form, the 37-form (37式老六路). This form is largely spread by his daughters.
By having three forms the art could now be organized along the lines of :-
a) Basic Level : 22-form
b) Intermediate Level : 37-form
c) Advanced Level : long form
7. DEMONSTRATION OF FORMS
Demonstration of the 1st section of the long form by GM Wei :-
Demonstration of the 22-form by GM Wei :-
Demonstration of the 37-form by Master Wei Shiping (GM Wei’s eldest daughter) :-
8. PRACTICING THE ART
Even though there are now three forms in the style, however, to master the art you do not need to learn all the forms. If you are looking to start a school based on the style then it makes sense to learn all the forms.
But if your objective is to master the art then you can learn any of the forms. This is because the essential and most important principles are found in all of the three forms.
If you have time constraint for practice then learning the 22-form will be the best because you can put in more practice in the same amount of time.
For learning of applications the arrangement of the long form makes more sense in terms of gradation of technical difficulty in how to apply the techniques.
My teacher’s advice on the amount of time to practice the 22-form daily :-
a) 1-hour : good for exercise and maintaining healthy body
b) 2-hours : the least amount of time for attaining a minimal standard of performance
c) 3-hours and above : to acquire ability to fajing and skills in application
Additional advice from my experience :-
a) Practice at least 6 days in a week
b) Practice non-stop. For example, if you want to practice the form 5 times over 3 hours then practice without stopping to answer messages or even for a drink. OK, if you have an urgent need for No. 2 in the toilet then that’s a valid excuse 🙂
c) Keep drilling the basics over and over again. You can never get enough of the basics until you begin to experience changes. At this point you need to keep on doing the basics in even greater detail and depth to reach the next level