Learning a new Form
I’ve just started teaching the Heaven and Earth Jian form to a full and mixed house. I have both advanced and intermediate students learning together which makes for a lively and interesting if not challenging class.
The Advanced students have already achieved a good level of skill in other weapons sets including 7 Star Jian. So although they will still be challenged it will be more in the department of memorising sequence and adding additional movements to their existing vocabulary rather than starting from scratch. Still,
I was somewhat surprised at their enthusiasm to take on another form given that they have so much to practice already. They also know how long it will take even with their experience to learn a new form let alone master it. What will make it so much easier for them though is that they already have an extensive movement vocabulary and crucially they have already acquired the essential and defining skills that will enable them to not only perform the form as Taiji but also to catch the methods, meaning and strategies hidden within it. Their benefits will be an increased understanding of how the Jian functions and an improvement in the subtle skills necessary to handle this beautiful, poetic and traditional weapon. In addition, they will be another step closer to achieving all the weapons sets that I teach within the Wu System. Quite some achievement I think.
The intermediate students and those who have only just achieved the Slow Form will obviously be far more challenged. Even though, their enthusiasm is equal to the already advanced students they will find this form, being their first weapons form, complex and demanding on every level. Indeed they will most likely miss much of the more subtle aspects in their struggle to gain simply the shapes and transitions. No matter though since I always say that a form needs to be learned several times before it finally sinks in. Everyone has to start somewhere and no practice or study is ever lost providing it is undertaken intelligently and maintained. It all adds up in the end. It is the ‘gong fu’.
Conventionally, the Dao might be the first form to learn after the empty hand Slow Form but there is a judgement call here. Many students who complete the Slow Form still have not become pliable, soft or energetically connected enough (yin) to take on a weapon that has a distinctly ‘Yang’ personality like the Dao. To do so might just reignite the habit of tension and force that we try so hard to dissolve and re train in the Slow Form. In addition many students are happy just to achieve the hand set. Learning a weapon adds a considerable burden to their practice. My view is if they only ever learn the Taiji Slow Form and one other I would always recommend a Jian form. It’s simply too beautiful to miss.
There is no doubt that most people benefit from learning new forms. A form is both an intellectual and physical challenge and most importantly tests perseverance and dedication. Both are qualities that are expected in all forms of ‘Gong Fu’.Learning a new Form requires a new commitment to the art and renewed dedication to dive deeper into the style/system and yourself! As a teacher and one committed to passing on the legacy of the style, I am very pleased that so many are embarking on this long, slow but incredibly rewarding form.