This is actually a post of mine for a discussion forum, but I thought I might share it with you.
Taijiquan, it comes in so many flavors and colors.
How much of this is the superficial? How much of this is the internal?
Luchan displayed different forms than Chen style, though my understanding is that he was above average intelligence. However, and more to my point, the forms of lines of transmission that come from students of his, differ in each and every case to some degree or another. Thus we have today several so called "styles" that can be traced back to Yang Luchan through his sons or students.
It occurs to me that the expressiveness of the form work centers around the postures as a theme and that the forms as we know them in orthodoxy are questionable as to their veracity regarding historical authenticity and accuracy, particularly if personalizing and individually manifesting the form or techniques is an authentic transmission.
It seems that standardized forms are for group classes, allowing the class to have a line dance approach to form work, allowing potentially thousands to participate at once, although class sizes tend to be smaller.
But another method seems to be teacher to student transmissions that are of a one on one nature and are not made in a one size fits all manner. It seems that sometimes this type of one on one transmission took place and forms were altered or even created for a single student, who later teaches that form as a by the numbers piece to a large group of people. This approach is still difficult, so the form was modeled to be challenging enough to allow progressive benefits but easy enough to learn to do without years of special conditioning.
With the one on one approach, years of special conditioning is rather typical. However with the group approach this is not practical to do in the same detail and so a one size fits all approach becomes more ideal.
This group approach is public, ergo the very fitting title of public form.
However I was told that every time I lift my leg and step a certain way in the public form, that it hides or has or holds a kick, and I was also told that there are other simplified reduced moves in the public form. When I do a form and insert these kicks and motions in a more complete manner, two things stand out immediately, the first is that conditioning is required, the second is that each move needs to be down perfectly or it won't flow properly, thus the moves must be learned not as a sequence, but as postures.
Finding someone capable or willing to study in the one on one and step by step manner should be very difficult. The type of student who does well in the class may not do well one on one, and the type of person who does well one on one might not do well in a class.
I believe that this teaching issue has as much as anything to do with why there are millions of people who practice, but what seems like less than one hundred masters alive today.
Conveyor belt approaches lead to a uniform product that has the right shape but lacks the fine craftsmanship of a custom piece.
Custom work alone produces works of art.
It is as true for the sword, as it is for the martial artist.