OPEN HAND FORMS
Open hand forms provide the foundation for health, application and improved mental focus for the Kung Fu practitioner. They link together basic stances, strikes, blocks and kicks into one long continuous movement. The open hand form can be viewed as a type of "shadow boxing" where you are applying technique against an imaginary opponent.
Open hand forms can be practiced a number of ways to enhance health and develop martial conditioning. If worked slowly it will build static muscle and connective tissue strength and correct natural body alignment. Correct alignment will help the body work in its most efficient way and will help enhance internal energy flow. Efficiency in self-defense allows the martial artist to stop an altercation as quickly and appropriately as possible.
If worked at medium speed, the form will help to increase dynamic flexibility and power and enhance a feeling of expansion and contraction that is the basis for how the body is trained to generate power. It also allows the student to start getting a feel for continuous movement which works the respiratory system and increases blood flow. Continuous movement also trains the martial artist to respond to an attack with a number of counter techniques – one after the other after the other etc.
Working the forms at full speed develops stamina and anaerobic capabilities. It starts to develop dynamic and elastic muscle responses. The student gets the sense of how to use the entire body and the connectivity of the body for effective counter offenses – penetrating power when striking, kicking or blocking- full body momentum when sweeping or throwing.
Sequences that make up parts of the form can be worked separately as a means of getting a feel for practical self-defense. The practitioner can take a sequence, have a partner simulate the attack the sequence represents and then practice applying that self-defense to get a feel for its practical uses.
Certain aspects of the open hand forms repeat, but then end up at a different end point. Because of this aspect of form practice, along with the memorization of the proper movements, the form sets are great tools for increasing mental clarity, recall and concentration.
What Is Shaolin Kung Fu Form Practice
Shaolin Kung Fu, at its most basic, is a means of self-defense – first for the human body and second, to protect the Buddhist Temple. It is also a physical exercise that a allows a person to enter a meditative state through physical movement, resulting in the development of a human being’s fullest potential. The Kung Fu forms lay the foundation or core on which the more esoteric aspects of the complete practice is built upon.
These forms are so potent in their practice that even people with little physical health and internal stamina can, with consistent effort, fully blossom into strong human beings. The Kung Fu forms can develop a person with no power and no inner confidence into one who can, for example, fully engage in real combat if needed.
Under careful examination, one can see the physical sets are not diluted with empty and flowery movements, loud extraneous noises or sloppy or muddy techniques. At their highest level, the Kung Fu forms are a series of simple and unadorned physical movements embodied with spirit. These are the Shaolin Kung Fu form’s most defining characteristics.
To build a solid Kung Fu practice, the Shaolin Temple has three stages involved in forms practice.
The first stage consists of the practitioner’s outward appearance. The movements are drilled over and over to perfect the coordination, contour and alignment of the physical structure of the exercise. This is done to correct and ensure the person practicing develops the correct physical strength, flexibility and connective tissue strength.
The middle stage involves uniting the spirit with the fist. To transform that which is of the spirit, which is in essence invisible, into the sphere of activity and conduct. To be able to transform incapability into capability. In other words, to make the impossible possible. To practice the belief in possibility and potential.
This means to be able to create a shield against harm when there appears to be none. To control the enemy in imperceptible ways, in ways they cannot fully comprehend. To strike a man without appearing to strike him. To have the ability to meet the opponent with formlessness.
The last stage involves learning how to be diligent, careful and attentive in everything one does according to the Buddhist way. To bring into the "fight" a combination of the Buddha’s instruction of the Eight-Fold Path with the development of the Buddhist heart and mind. This "fight" or "struggle" is the struggle against evil or wrong-doing among mankind. Shaolin Kung Fu is a method of using the doorway of martial art exercise as a means of entering the practice of Chan meditation.
Throughout this three stage process, a higher intelligence is being developed. This higher intelligence is the unification of martial practice with universal wisdom.
Shaolin Kung Fu form exercises consist mainly of small but robust, concise but powerful movements. The combinations recruit powerful momentum within terse and compact organization. The entire sequence is meant to be executed in a brief period of time. The main focus of the exercise is to concentrate as much force or energy within the human body towards a single objective or target. The entire sequence should be completed with one breath.
This exercise is beneficial to produce vitality, health and stamina for all kinds of tasks, not only martial arts. The process of training this way also increases a person’s strength of mind and spirit in any type of endeavor they pursue. Their internal energy will increase. Once this vigor is developed, a lack of practice will result in a noticeable decrease in health and stamina.
Forms practice also teaches the concepts of front line and angled attacks, when to advance and retreat, and what velocity to come in at in order to exhaust your opponent. It teaches when to "disappear" and when to take advantage of favorable conditions.
To understand the form is to understand the power that resides in the body. One learns to produce the utmost amount of momentum and power in order to trick your opponent and prevent your capture. One aspect of the practice is to develop the highest degree of destructive force. The other aspect is to develop the highest degree of benevolence to others and the ability to defend others.
The Shaolin Temple did not always exist as a place to practice Kung Fu. Exterior pressures,chaos and politics sometimes forced its near extinction. (Over the years of its long history, like a bull laying in the grass, it rose up again and again.) One only needs a rectangular space about 6 meters long and a half meter wide to practice Kung Fu. Because of this, large training areas or elaborate Temples do not need to be the setting for the practice.
Shaolin Kung Fu, and all the abilities it can develop,
can be practiced anytime, anywhere.