I met with my SP last weekend and we did some forms-practice, in preparation for the tournament (I did mention the tournament coming up, didn't I?). We video'd each other doing our forms. Last night I watched the DVD for the first time.
I SUCK BIG TIME. Which is distressing enough on its own, but what's worse is, I had no inkling of the ways in which I suck. Okay, I knew about the lax hands, but I had no idea of how much excess movement I was putting into everything--elbows flapping like chicken wings, ankles flopping like dead chicken necks, hips wiggling around like I'm in a hula competition.
Tai chi is supposed to be about efficiency: a minimum of strength and movement to get the job done. I've known this for a while. I thought that was what I was doing. Of course it's been a really really long time since I saw any footage of myself doing form. Sit's told me a couple of times in the last year that I was using "too much hand movement" and I thought I'd curbed that but apparently that was only the tip of the iceburg.
I called up my SP and said, "Why didn't you tell me I was lurching around like Johnny Depp in that lousy pirate sequal and with just as little purpose?" He said he didn't feel comfortable criticizing my form. And I go, "Look, buddy, who else is supposed to tell me these things?" since Sit rarely hands out individual instruction unless you ask for it and replace his roof first.
But what REALLY has me worried is that both my SP and my Sifu seem to think that my staff form is one of my weaker forms, and when I watched it on DVD I thought it was the most clean and precise of all. My SP says I don't have the body movement coordinated yet, but at least I'm not waving my limbs around like semaphore flags. Furthermore, everyone generally agrees that the fan form is my best form, but to me it looked pretty damn loose. So it's hard to know if what I see as incorrect, others see as simply my "style."
The irony of this is that I probably started getting floppy in my form because I've been doing more application this year. Because I'm generally smaller and lighter than my opponents I've developed the habit of putting a little English on my body movement: turning left slightly before turning right, feinting back before going forward, etc. In some movements that's appropriate but I suspect I apply it too universally, because Sit's always telling me, "Too much movement!"
So I could claim that the sloppiness in application has been spilling over into my form. But that assumes my form was clean to begin with, and I'm not that arrogant. My SP, trying to make me feel better, said that everybody's form degenerates over time, especially if you're not constantly practicing and checking yourself. It's like a kinetic game of "Gossip"--where the movement morphs a little with each repetition, until it's barely recognizable anymore.
I could also claim that the rounder, more advanced forms I've been learning over the last nine months have contributed to the breakdown in precision of the older, squarer forms. In college I had friends who went over to England for a year of study and came back with these clipped little pseudo-accents that took some months to fade. I could assume it's the same type of thing going on with my forms--I've adopted a new accent without realizing it.
So I don't know what's causing it, or what I should do to fix it. It deserves to be said that I'm primarily comparing myself to my sparring partner, who has a very clean, minimalist form, but who could stand to loosen up in application. He's a rock. I'm water. We need to meet somewhere in the middle.
A really big mirror would help. So would another three weeks of 24/7 practice time. After much hemming and hawing I registered as an Advanced competitor. Pretty ballsy, considering this is my first major competition (I've done two small local ones). The rules state that if you've had more than 4 years of training that makes you Advanced, but everyone knows which of the masters encourage their students to downgrade themselves in order to win more medals. I've been doing taiji since 1999, but I've only been with Sit since 2001, and I missed most of 2002 and a good chunk of 2004. That still totals out to at least four years, and I couldn't bring myself to lie.
Sigh. It's times like this when you really feel the size of your pond.