ISAI The Martial Art of Formless Flow: FORMLESS FLOW and TAIJI CHUAN (TAI CHI)

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Formless Flow now is more than 25 years old.
Until some 15 years ago I still believed that what I had developed is a kind of Taiji Chuan or Tai Chi as many people in the West call it.
Gradually two things happened. The first one was the gradual but fast development of Formless Flow, then known as ISAI. The second one was my own gradually developing understanding that I created something very different from Taiji Chuan. Even Formless Flow was very much according to the most of the principles of Taiji Chuan, it became intrinsically very different art.

Some principles were different. For example, Taiji Chuan demands to keep the body straight and upright. Formless Flow doesn't follow these restrictions but rather pursue bio-mechanical effectiveness and ease of changeability of movements.
One of the most important and easily watchable differences between Taiji Chuan and Formless Flow is the speed of the training and the method of achieving the mastery.
One of the most important features of Formless Flow is the SAIM – Self Annihilating Inertial Motion. This is a most natural motion. It's also the most effective motion which "costs" minimal energy and has maximal variability.
In Formless Flow the student practices to learn the space around him to find SAIM trajectories and move along them. It's something like weaving the net of trajectories in the space around us. Then we learn how the different parts of our body follow these trajectories and skip from one trajectory to another. We also learn how to synchronize movements of different parts of the body, for example of shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers.
Naturally we start learning at low speed. If we have a teacher we learn these trajectories from him. In any case we have to move fast enough to feel inertia and reaction, but at minimal possible speed. We examine our movements quality at high speed to be sure we still move without application of unnecessary power and then improve the motion at lower speeds again. This is a cyclic learning process. Finally, we feel that at any speed everything is done by itself, without any power at all. At this level we achieve high functional value in our study in every field of implementation – Natural Martial Art, Natural Motion Art, Natural Movement Therapy etc.  
Then we can proceed to what I call "post-doctorate" or "dream art". The purpose of this training is to recalibrate sensitivity of our nervous system.
When we perform movements at very low speed our muscles work harder. Then our sensitivity to any changes in the strength of the muscular contraction drops down. This phenomenon is called Weber-Fechner law. Moving along the SAIM trajectories with lower speed and still feeling dynamic relaxation and inertia and reaction forces will increase our sensitivity and responsivity. Then we can improve even further and take our art to the higher-than-normal level.
This is a highest level of training. In this level we can naturally train in theta state of mind. This is why I call this level of training "dream art". This level of practice is a level of mastering of subtle skills and refinements.

In modern Taiji Chuan the process of learning looks quite different. The most of the training in Taiji Chuan is performed at low speed, and often at constant speed, without any notable inertial forces. In this mode of training the muscles work with much higher muscular load if compared to relaxed inertial movement performed in moderate-low speed. As a result, according to the Weber-Fechner law, practitioner is significantly less sensitive to the muscular contraction change.
Over the course of time practitioner develops precision in movements' trajectories according to instructions and demonstrations of the teacher. Another most desired quality is a maximal possible relaxation during the movements. Still, this maximal possible relaxation doesn't mean that practitioner is relaxed. As I described earlier it's impossible until Weber-Fechner law is in power.
Taiji Chuan practitioners therefore can develop increased general sensitivity to the load or muscular contraction, to improve the calibration of their nervous system. This increased sensitivity can improve their interaction with opponent, but has only restricted significance until practitioners don't use SAIM trajectories and feeling of inertia and reaction forces.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens in modern Taiji Chuan. Old Taiji Chuan Masters had solid background of Shaolin Martial Arts, possessed great physical strength and were quite familiar with usage of Inertia and reaction forces. For them training in Taiji Chuan was really "post-doctorate". Their amazing skills really is not what we can see today.
"The T'AI CHI BOXING Chronicle" by Kuo Lien-Ying translated by Guttmann, one of the most important books on Taiji Chuan I have seen, discusses this issue in depth in the chapter "The Question of the Hard and Soft". The words "First Shao Lin's method and then change" (p. 131) describe the "post-doctorate" role of Taiji Chuan in the mastery of Martial skill.   
It seems that in modern Taiji Chuan students rather jump over "elementary school" directly to "post-doctorate". In this aspect Formless FlowTM rather reminds old ways of training, though the natural approach of Formless FlowTM greatly accelerates the learning process.

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