(This was an answer I gave to Micheal, who was wondering how to keep training forms with out growing stale. Thanks Micheal. All of your questions make my blog better.)
Well much like the bicep curl, even though you do the same movement, the result is different. Repetition is like continually filling a large vase with a drop or two of water a day. Doing the same forms may not exhaust your body, but it will most certainly exhaust your brain...followed by your spirit.
So what I do is think of the movements of a form like parts of a car. Sometimes it's best to isolate a single movement from the form and then place on the workbench so that it can be examined. Examining each movement under the lens of purpose. When you understand the purpose of the movement you can begin field testing it in other scenarios.
For example take a single strike that you need to practice from the form. Then surround yourself with targets i.e. swinging heavy backs, fruit, falling leaves, shooting tennis balls, bubbles etc.
Using the same single technique to attack multiple possibilities is not only good for repetition, it is also pretty fun. You won't even remember how tedious the move is when you are defending your life from angry bees. (I do not support attacking bees....but sometimes sh#@ happens)
No matter what the technique is, it must be adjustable for varying surfaces, heights, environments as well as angles of trajectory. What if you have to do the movement against someone taller, shorter, in a phone booth, under a table, on loose gravel, or wet grass? Testing each possibility of movement gives you a better understanding of the energy and also more advantages against your attackers. Practicing on ice for only a winter will give you a significant advantage against someone whose never had to fight on ice before. Then you are able to lure people into your areas of specialization and expertise....like batman.
This is the most obvious form of isolating a movement. But it can also be done in other ways. When you isolate a movement and place it on the work bench, you are examining the energy of the move. When using "peng" or the extorting palm, we can see that the purpose of this movement is to first deflect, and then invite in order to off balance my target. So the signature of the move is Deflect and Invite in order to off balance my opponent.
By taking the roots of this energy you can use this attack while you are having a conversation with your boss. Of course in the internal arts the more subtle the more powerful. So when he asks you to do something you don't want to do, deflect it...but just barely. Then invite it in from another angle that favors you, but still appears to be favoring him. You will find yourself in a better position when you use the right technique at the right time. Though it seems like a different function, it is the exact same technique. By using the technique in more forms than just physical, you will add almost a magic enhancement to the attack. This is because every physical movement must first be processed through the mind. So the more ways the mind has seen it, the better it is at performing it physically.
Take a move and isolate it on the workbench and you can do anything. Practicing the forms again and again is like trying to hack the energy signatures into your brain. Tons of code that has to be deciphered and eventually organized and then reorganized. Putting it on the workbench is where we can really find our specializations. I told you an example of how to use Peng in a conversation, but you could also use the same energy signature of deflecting and inviting for painting a picture, feeding a child, walking the dog, writing a poem or finding a job. Let your mind fantasize deeply into the technique because it is what will bind you to your purpose.
Also you can take the technique and map out alternative pathways both before and after the movement. What happens if you use a low kick before the peng stirke? Or an overhand elbow afterwards? You can use the technique as the period at the end of the sentence, firing multiple attacks and ending it with the technique. You could also use the technique as an feint or opener it a variation of different combinations. If "A" is the technique we wish to practice, then we can use "A-C-C-T" or "T-C-C-A. Arrange the attacks or defenses in as many ways as possible, but just don't take the "A" out. This is probably one of the most and important but overlooked pieces of combat preparation. It is also repetition that doesn't feel like repetition. We may be very efficient at a technique, but are unable to find a launching point for it. Using varying possibilities before and after the attack, create a series of smooth paved roads for the most unpredictable situation.
Of course every technique can also be used with a weapon so when you are practicing technique "A" see what happens when you grab a pipe, sword, rope, or jacket to use it as a weapon or a shield. Then begin asking yourself questions: Can I do this technique on the run? Can I get up from the ground and use this technique? Can I use this technique on the ground? What is the most lethal way to use this technique? What is the most non lethal way? Is this technique good against 5 opponents?
You can isolate several movements from the form and reorganize them for the day, week or month. We should feel that we own the form and that the form doesn't own us. It is our blueprint to do what we wish and desire.
There is nothing more important than repetition. But repetition that doesn't change is unnatural because everything in our universe is changing. So it is up to our minds, to teach our bodies, how to change our practice without changing the signature of the movement.
Learning to do the same form again and again is much like learning to love someone day to day. It is easy to find something or something new, but easy in terms of love and kung fu is never powerful. We must learn to see the one's we love through refreshed and renewed eyes, so that we never take for granted how much they mean to us. Love is a gift, just like your forms.