THE IMPORTANCE OF FORMS
Kung-fu (and its later outgrowth Tai Chi) is designed to build strength, endurance, balance, self-confidence, concentration, and stress control capabilities. Much of this is accomplished through the practice of forms. Forms (or kuen) are
pre-arranged patterns of movements - many of which were created ages ago. Their purpose is to re-educate the mind and body and aid in the development of the total person.
Many forms imitate the natural movements of animals, as they were seen to move more efficiently than man. Animals have a perfect sense of balance, relaxation and agility that civilized humans lack. Primitive people possessed much the same natural rhythm and motion of wild animals. Similarly, young children possess these natural movements, but eventually lose them as they mature and are influenced by the adult environment around them.
Forms have a distinct purpose. They provide the student with the proper tools for correct body mechanics, motion and relaxation. Equally as important, these forms offer the instructor a consistent framework from which to teach. Forms carry the foundations and essentials of the historical teachings necessary to correctly perpetuate the art.
Many modern martial artists believe traditional forms to be "boring", "anachronistic", or "restrictive". This is only true for the individual who lacks the discipline and imagination to extend themselves within the form's framework. There is more freedom within a form once it is fully understood than one will ever find outside of it. Learning to be creative within the intrinsic of a form is more challenging for the practitioner - both mentally and physically. The practitioner with the creative mind will want to be challenged to make his/her form more interesting. Each time a form is practiced, a new energy should fill it; creating a new dynamic, different from the last time it was performed.
There is always a temptation to take shortcuts or choose a more eclectic route, in lieu of classical training. Many attempt to make the repetition of traditional forms more palatable or simpler by avoiding the "confines" of traditional form training. The result is a regimen that lacks balance and diversity, limiting the student to only practicing movements that are within his/her own "comfort zone".
Moreover, such eclectic methods do little to perpetuate the art as a whole. While such methods may be suitable for their creators, they would find it difficult to teach or pass on anything with real consistency or structure. If it isn't broke, why fix it? Of course, there are those who presume they can make it better, but they are generally unable to exemplify the traditional way first. The hardest or longest path is often the road less travelled, but the journey is often more challenging and more rewarding.
As the Chief Instructor and founder of the Northern Shaolin/Praying Mantis Kung-Fu Association, Michael continues to teach kung-fu and Tai Chi Chuan as they were originally taught at his primary teacher's (Sigung Kam Yuen) old Tai Mantis Kung-Fu Association.