The Three F’s

I cannot recall whether this was a Jou Tsung Hwa teaching or not, but for me it has a Master Jou ‘feeling’ about it. The ‘Three F’s’ are

  • Form

  • Function

  • Fundamentals

The idea is that these are not legs of a tripod, but more like a Venn diagram; they overlap and interpenetrate.

Function is purposeful design. The primary function of Tai Chi is martial… even though that may not be why we practise it. This aspect is what can be called its ‘intentionality’. Other potential functions can be general health and stress relief, exercise, artistic expression, and spiritual. These are subsidiary and may actually constitute the purpose of our practice.

Form consists of the sequences and configurations of which most Tai Chi practice consists: the Yang 108, Modern 24, Chen Sword, etc. It also refers to the physical details of postures and movement, how we do Tai Chi.

Fundamentals include rooting, integrated movement, correct breathing, the various jins, as well as supporting systems such as the Five Phases / Elements and the Eight Trigrams after which the art is formulated. Some may regard these as ‘academic’. Since they inform performance, I do not. But training protocols of this kind can appear very academic to contemporary practitioners which may be why the Early Heaven Boxing is so little known and the Later Heaven Boxing appears to be extinct.

For most practitioners any or all of the Three F’s can be supported by specific qigongs.

When I came into Tai Chi I was already in possession of a big piece of the martial function. My teachers, as was typical of the time, emphasized form; so that’s how I taught too, when the time came and I was given a certification. I emphasized form, with some function, for twenty years. It was only about ten years ago that I reinvigorated my focus on martial function and started coming down harder on fundamentals.

In my experience, as students become adepts they tend to specialize in one or another of these three areas. Eventually, their personal growth may cause them to refocus and rebalance them. The forms specialist may realize that form is enhanced by the fine detail of function and vice versa. A forms specialist may find that his teaching is enhanced by introducing classical systems of fundamentals, and so it goes.

As sifu I share the same imperative in assuring a degree of balance. I tend to get carried away by the obsessiveness of my enthusiasms. At such times I must rely on my students to rein me in!

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