I've been practicing some of these forms for 23 years, but had to occasionally stop and practice a movement a few times until it felt right. Once or twice, I would skip a movement, realize it a few seconds later, and have to go back and start again until I got it right. Then I would repeat the form to make sure the part that I had skipped was firmly in my mind again. The photo at left shows me practicing a staff form with Eric Schlichte back around 2001, in the training hall we rented from Jazzercise.
As a child -- around age 7 -- my mother had me take piano lessons. My teacher told me that concert pianists who have practiced all their lives can feel it if they skip one day without practicing. The best artists practice every single day.
Five decades later, I understand that the same is true for martial artists. We express our art with our bodies, creating beautiful movement that has specific body mechanics at their core, and a potentially deadly meaning hidden inside circular and sometimes flowery movements.
Forms have been debated by martial artists over the years. When I was young, I didn't see the value. Most of my time was spent focusing on self-defense techniques or sparring.
I was 30 years old before I began to appreciate the technical and physical mastery required to do a form really well. Within the arts that I practice there are some powerful movements of self-defense. To do these techniques well requires strong mechanics and precision and power -- all skills learned through consistent practice of forms.
Yes, practicing a form is like playing a classical piece of music on the piano. Miss several days of practicing it and you can tell a difference. Practice it every day and you'll become its master. You'll become an artist.