Tips on how to memorize a form

Many of my beginning Tai Chi students complain that they find it difficult to memorize the form. Here are some tips from my own teacher, Sifu Ted Mancuso, who has over 40 years of Kung Fu experience and still accurately recalls hundreds of forms.

Guest post by Sifu Ted Mancuso

Forms are pre-arranged sequences of martial movements. The trouble is that you may not have any experience memorizing sequenced actions. Here are a few tips for making this a pleasant learning experience.

1. Always face the same direction when you start the form.

2. Concentrate on the physical, let all the other stuff come later.

3. Your first question, every time, should be about your feet. What stance am I in? Most beginners are obsessed with the hand motions; but they don’t mean a thing without proper stance. In old China the teacher might teach six months before allowing his student to remove his hands from his hips. First is foundation, then build!

4. Most beginning forms are about twenty five movements long, or about two minutes of execution. Select small groups with three to five actions. Practice them then add another section.

5. As you review, go back to the beginning each time to reinforce it. As you practice, the first section will become more natural and that alone will give you confidence to continue.

6. Stay in each posture for a set time, like one complete inhalation and exhalation. Don’t go faster and faster, go slower and slower.

7. Tell yourself a story. “I hit him in the nose, sat back, then kicked to the knee.” If the height and direction are about right the story is fine. If you figure out a meaning for that move in the form and it helps you memorize, more power to you.

8.  Imagine an opponent. He doesn’t have to be doing anything to you but it gives a direction, “He’s over by the corner.” Of course his position will change but as long as you know where he is you have won half the battle.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask about a movement again and again. But your half of the bargain is to pay attention to what the teacher says and let your anxieties go away for a while. Don’t be afraid to “practice wrong.” Your teacher is only a lesson away, you won’t ruin your Kung Fu in the meantime.

You do have to memorize the forms. Otherwise it would be like studying a foreign language without remembering any words. But, with a little perseverance, the process becomes easy and fun—as it is for most people. We’re here to help you in that.

Just try, a strong heart always wins out.

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