Northern Shaolin Hand Forms
The first forms that you will learn are the Three Foundation Forms. These are easier to learn than the later Ten Core Forms. The Ten Forms are quite athletic and challenging. Few people are ready for them when they start training in Kung Fu. The Ten Core Forms assume you are well coordinated, strong, and flexible with skill in foundation stances, kicks and leaps. To ensure that the new student is ready for the Ten Core Forms the Foundation Forms are taught. The three Foundation Forms in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu are Spring Steel Legs (Tan Tui), Connecting Steps (Lian Bu), and Small Circles (Xiao Yuan).
These foundation forms are each famous forms in their own right:
Spring Steel Legs or Tan TuiSpring Steel Legs is an impressive beginners Form that teaches you the horse and bow stance and many powerful punching and kicking techniques.
Connecting Steps or Lian BuConnecting Steps or Lian Bu expands your stepping length and skill.
Small Circles or Xiao YuanSmall Circles builds great hand coordination.
Overview of the Ten Forms of Northern Shaolin
The Heart of the System
The Ten Forms are the heart of Northern Shaolin. These forms are unified and consistent in their style. The Ten Forms are an encyclopedia of martial arts techniques. Learning all Ten Forms is a great achievement. Mastering them is the work of a lifetime. Although it takes awhile to learn them all the good side is you get to keep learning really cool new moves for a long time. It is like a good book; once you get started you don’t want it to end too soon! The construction and design of these forms is very deep. The longer you spend with them and the more you put into them the more they will gradually reveal their mysteries.
LengthIn the Northern Shaolin Kung Fu Ten Core Forms five are short and five are long. The five short forms contain about forty techniques. The short forms are #4 Penetrating Heart,#5 Martial Practice, #6 Close Fighting, #7 Plum Blossom, and #8 Jumping Step. The five long forms contain about eighty movements. The long forms are #1 Enter The Gate, #2 Leading Steps, #3 Riding Horse, #9 Connecting Links, and #10 The Method. Because the long forms are also much more complicated and athletically challenging they are really three times as hard as the short forms. Athletically challenging means many high kicks, low sweeps, leaps, balance moves and difficult combinations.
OrderNowadays the the Northern Shaolin Kung Fu forms are usually taught in reverse order of difficulty. That means the easiest are learned first and the more difficult are learned last. This order would be 6, 7, 8, 5, 4, 1, 2, 3, 9, 10. In the past people may have learned them in numerical order. Apparently the numbers were added long after the forms were created. One can also practice them in numerical order. In this case there are three long forms and the five short forms and then the remaining two long forms. In this way the short forms provide a break between the long forms. Regardless of the order during practice if all Ten Forms are performed in one session that is a major workout. Sometimes it is nice to practice the preparatory forms first and they serve to warm up the muscles and loosen up the body for the later forms. Then practice the short forms and finally the long forms. this way you are really ready for forms like #1 Enter the Gate with its many kicks or #9 Connecting Links with its acrobatics.
Unique MovesAll of the Northern Shaolin Kung Fu forms contain movements that are unique to that Form mixed with moves that are shared by the other Forms. When describing a form as emphasizing or teaching a certain skill we refer to the unique movements or combinations found only in that form. These unique techniques are usually about 20 -40% of the Form.
So, most of the form will consist of moves shared by other forms in the Ten Forms. The shared moves are generally foundation techniques that one needs to practice many times to build solid skills. Although they are repeated, they are usually repeated in different combinations. By repeating the foundation moves in different combinations the forms are more interesting to practice. They also prevent you from developing predictable patterns of movement. This is important because if you become predictable you are vulnerable to an observant opponent who will take advantage of your habitual patterns and set you up. In any battle, the element of surprise is the most important advantage you can have.
Northern Shaolin Kung Fu systematically breaks the patterns established in earlier forms by introducing variations on those patterns in later forms. In addition, the 20 - 40% of the moves that are unique in each form are actually incredibly valuable because they give you variety with which to achieve surprise and because many of them are really deadly. There are so many different techniques that you can choose a diverse set to personally specialize in. Ten People can pick their favorite moves to master from the Northern Shaolin Kung Fu system based on their body type and personal preference and all ten will have completely different fighting methods.