Photo by Patricia Wong
Courtesy of Rainbow Publications
FORMS: Youth fades, forms are forever.
SIFU RICHARD CHIN, 1979:
“I practiced some forms yesterday after not having done them for awhile. It reminded me of what a great conditioner forms are.”
As you know from my “Memoir Part 6,” Dr. Richard Chin was my teacher at his Asian Martial Arts Studio in New York City. I was Dr. Chin’s disciple. You also know from reading my memoir, that both my brother disciple, Mike Willner and I, broke away from Sifu Chin at different times (I left first), because of different conflicting situations, that we each had with Sifu (yes, I still think of him and call him this).
Since I wrote “Memoir Part 6“ and got back into contact with Mike Willner, several important things have happened with Mike and me. First of all, Mike and I have collaborated on a kung fu blog together, which is called “Gung Fu Brothers Speak Out.” The title of the blog suggests that Mike and I (and selective guest authors) will write frankly and forthrightly, about the martial arts. If you check out the topics we’ve covered so far, you will see that much of it is controversial—but from our point of view—true, nonetheless. Readers of our blog can enter their own comments in the form of posts following each article.
The second unintended consequence of both my retrospective look back in my memoirs, and of my reconnecting with Mike Willner, was a rekindling of our brotherhood as fellow disciples of Dr. Chin’s, and a rekindling of an intense interest in the martial arts. I believe that I can speak for Mike as well, on this score.
In the past few weeks, so many of Sifu Chin’s thoughts and voiced opinions have entered my mind. In this short span of time, I’ve gained a much more pervasive appreciation of Sifu’s words from the past, that revealed at the time—his great wisdom and the epiphanies that he himself, experienced then. There’s no other way to say it, other than to state that, Sifu is a great man.
To be perfectly honest with you, these same words were uttered to me recently, by my disciple, Eddie Garcia. You read about Eddie in “Memoir Part 8“ of my memoir series. Eddie is like a son to me. Even so, when he uttered these words to me, “Sifu, you’re a great man.”—I admit to be taken aback by these words of praise.
I find it both ironic and self-revelatory, that after 30 years after breaking off with my teacher, that I now echo my disciple’s exact words about me, in applying them to Sifu Chin. It proves how cathartic, writing my memoirs and reconnecting with my Jow Ga brother, Mike Willner has been—to the point where I can now utter in absentia from Sifu, the words that I couldn’t give voice to when I was his disciple: “Sifu, you’re a great man.”
This cathartic experience leading to a rekindling intense interest in the martial arts, has led to the complete rehabilitation of my “Fook Fu” form. For those of you not familiar with this Jow Ga kung fu(Jow family style) form, Fook Fu is the single most important form in Jow Ga. It is in fact, considered the foundational form of the system. All of Jow Ga’s combat philosophy is encapsulated in Fook Fu. Rescusitating my Fook Fu, has once again, reminded me of the importance of Sifu Chin’s thoughts with respect to forms practice.
Forms practice obviously, is a great deal more than just a great physical conditioner. Practicing a truly great combat form like Fook Fu, ignites one’s combat spirit—the fighting spirit that lives in all true martial artists. It brings forth to the front of one’s consciousness, all that is important when it comes to the practice of techniques that are meant to maim and kill. Killer instinct is by necessity, the driving force in proficient forms practice.
This is the mental part of becoming one with the combat form: The inner knowledge that the moves one is practicing, are meant to be efficient perfection in martial technique. Each move is practiced with one thing in mind: To make each technique as perfect as one’s body and mind will allow—to maximize the damage that each technique can do to an opponent. Muscle memory is our ally in the striving toward this combat perfection—but with the practice of combat forms—power inspired by killer instinct must underlie that muscle memory. That is why forms practice in the combat arts, must be augmented by full-contact (preferably bare-knuckled) free sparring.
Youth fades, but forms are forever.
Yes, I did modify Judge Judy’s “Beauty fades, dumb is forever.” But it was to make the point that although youth subsides, forms can maximize your physical conditioning—as my teacher realized. Practicing Fook Fu has brought this home to me.
Speaking from a personal perspective, resurrecting my Fook Fu had several stages. The initial stage was just trying to remember the sequence of the form. After a long period of not practicing a combat form, one’s muscle memory that once guided the younger martial artist without resorting to conscious thought, has faded with time. Once I got past that initial phase, I began concentrating on getting my rhythm. Combat forms have a certain coordinated rhythm, which occurs naturally, once one’s combat efficiency regulates the way individual moves are done.
The last stage of fully resurrecting a combat form like Fook Fu, is to make sure that each move is done correctly, with the biomechanics of bodily movement in each technique is maximized for power generation. In my case, I’ve also had to deal with how certain age-related changes in my joints led me to slightly alter the way that I approached and adjusted certain movements, as my body would allow.
As the combat artist ages, these physical adjustments to certain techniques must be made, in order to fully restore the flow that a form must have. In my case, an arthritic knee that stubbornly resists movement and range of motion, interferes with “t-stances” where the lead foot in place perpendicularly to the rear foot. These t-stances are low, with the knee of the back leg ideally placed near the bottom of the calf of the lead leg, and are used when pivoting to a change of direction, either 90 degrees or 135 degrees away from the original position. My arthritic knee necessitated a higher stance, and a change in the rhythm of the move. From an analytical point of view, these parts of Fook Fu that require these t-stances are less than a half of one percent of the entire form. All the rest of my form excel in power and rhythm. Believe me, I’ll take that at age 66.
Youth fades, but forms are forever.
The gist of this saying is, that youth and all that accompanies youth—maximum strength, joint functionality and recuperative power—eventually wane as an age-related natural course. Nobody gets a free pass on this. Practicing Fook Fu every day once again, has taught me this: Forms maximize the capabilities of one’s body, regardless of age. This is one of the valuable lessons that Sifu Chin tried to convey to me over 30 years ago, this lesson is finally sinking in. Thank you, Sifu.