Forms, known as Tao Lu (套路) in Chinese, are an essential aspect of training in traditional Chinese martial arts.
A form is composed of different stances, footwork patterns, blocking movements, evasive actions, and striking and kicking techniques. They represent the real fighting experience of the masters who developed the forms.
A style’s unique characteristics can be clearly distinguished in the execution of the forms that represent it. Thus, Northern styles are clearly distinguished from their Southern counterparts, as are Internal and External styles.
Forms training serves multiple purposes. Forms teach the students to train the body to move in countless different patterns. Advancing and retreating, jumping and dodging, defending and countering in time—and with sufficient practice—become reflexive actions that can be used spontaneously in an encounter.
In order for a form to be functional, it must be deeply understood. The practical application of each move must be practiced repeatedly with a variety of partners.
During Tao Lu practice it is important to imagine that you are surrounded by opponents who are attacking you with multiple techniques. You must maintain the attitude that you are facing real enemies and that you are engaged in a life-and-death struggle.
Imagining that you are engaged in a real battle does not mean that you scowl and make all sorts of threatening facial gestures. On the contrary, your facial demeanor does not change; your intensity must come from within. This attitude is something that can be felt but also clearly seen in the eyes.
Every Tao Lu has a distinctive rhythm, a cadence in the execution of single techniques or combinations of techniques. Long Fist Tao Lu contains fast and slow movements, blending explosive with soft actions. Bursts of speed are followed by sudden stops, and high leaps are followed by light and stable landings.
The performance of any Tao Lu without a deep understanding of every movement, void of a sense of enemy, and without change in speed and tempo cannot be considered martial arts practice. A form practiced in this way is nothing more than an empty dance, merely meaningless exercise that soon will become boring.