Forms: The bridges, frameworks and scaffolding of life

By Eugene Clark
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 6, 2018
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People play Tai Chi in Ziyuan county, Guangxi province. [Photo/Xinhua]

Good form leads to substantive improvement in almost all activities of life. Now in my 70th year, I have resumed playing tennis after more than a decade.  

In essence then, forms fulfill many different functions.  They provide a checklist to keep us from making mistakes. They promote quality. In our 24/7 existence and knowledge explosion, forms provide a form of information and knowledge management. They provide structure that enables us to organize thoughts.  Forms enable us to learn more efficiently.  They enable us to make sense and system out of the millions of phenomena that confront our senses.  Form is the foundation of habit. "The habits of life form the soul, and the soul forms the countenance," wrote Honore de Balzac, French novelist and playwright.  Forms enable us to design and build the system and structure on which our individual and national dreams become reality. At the same time, forms are not rigid.  

In Kung-fu and Tai Chi one becomes stronger, builds endurance, improves balance and improves concentration by learning to practice various forms.  

In swimming, Terry Laughlin has pioneered his "Total Immersion" techniques which are all about the aesthetics and form of swimming.  After a mediocre record of swimming results notwithstanding very hard work, Laughlin discovered in his decades of coaching that effective swimming was more about form – shaping your body as you glide through the water with minimum resistance than it is about pulling and kicking. Applying his techniques in his own adult life, Laughlin has now won many national and international titles.  Learning to improve your swimming is about learning to improve and focusing on form.

In weightlifting, too, form is as important as strength and good form means reaching one's full potential and minimizing the risk of injury.

Another area of activity in which form is all is dancing.  One of my favorite memories of China is seeing hundreds of people engaged in ballroom and other forms of dancing in the park in the evenings. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed: "We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once." Dance provides a non-verbal representation that helps to interpret how we feel about life.  More than that, the mere act of dancing can bring delight and provide the spark that can lift our spirits and help us to re-discover the simple joy of movement that we experienced as a child. 

Form is also crucial in communication.  Unfortunately, today schools in the West seem to have de-emphasized the importance of grammar, punctuation and spelling which provide the structure, the signals, the forms, which support and help to make clear our message. This point was illustrated in Lynn Truss' popular: "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" 

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

"Why?" asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit.

The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. "Well, I'm a panda," he says. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. 

"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

Ironically, in today's environment of online blogs, posts and other writing opportunities, everyone can be a writer and publisher.  Thus, the need for effective writing and communication skills is more important than ever if we want to be effective in communicating our message.  

Form also plays a major role in business. A business method is a type of form. Moreover, forms enable a business to function.  For example, a worldwide business needs consistent use of forms in order to ensure it captures all the necessary information to be able to market to the right customers, fill the order correctly, deliver the product, track progress, ensure quality control and much more.  In E-commerce, web forms play an important role. For example, they allow visitors to get in contact and to send information, such as an order, a catalog request, or even a query, which is passed on to your database. 

Literature and art are highly dependent upon forms that each have their place and role. As French dramatist, Jean Anouih, argued, "Life is very nice, but it lacks form. It's the aim of art to give it some."  In poetry, for example, content and form combine to create meaning through a poem's physical structure thus determining what it looks and sounds like, how it rhymes and conveys emotion and other content through the form. Different cultures have different forms as evidenced by China's history over thousands of years. 

Forms also evolve and change over time as they adapt to new realities. Equally as important, these forms offer the instructor a consistent framework from which to teach. Forms carry the foundations and essentials of the historical teachings necessary to correctly imitate, perpetuate and build on the art and accomplishments of the past and adapt them to meet the needs of the present.

In music, the form of song allows for one to hear the voice of the artist. Different genres of music, (e.g. Chinese Opera, rock, hip-hop) reach different audiences and have their own forms and ways of expressing emotions and conveying meaning. Music is the most powerful form of communication in the world. It brings us all together and transcends race, culture, nationality and other barriers.

In the practice of law, courts have particular forms that must be complied with in order to maximize the efficient and effective administration of justice. Commercial lawyers also use forms to ensure that contracts and other legal documents cover all of the points and meet all the requirements in order to achieve their purpose. 

Politics/Governance.  There are also different "forms" of politics and governance.  Countries with different history, context and culture have devised different methods and means of organizing and ruling themselves.  Each form also has its strengths and weaknesses and thus there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution that is suitable for all nations and all contexts.

At their best and used appropriately, forms and substance unite and overlap to promote the highest form of excellence in all things. Through forms, we are able to constantly transform and improve ourselves and our performance, draft better contracts, write new poetry, create business innovations, communicate more effectively and create better lives.  

Eugene Clark is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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