Forms - Why we do them?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by mrt2, May 21, 2018.

  1. mrt2

    mrt2 Purple Belt

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    Posting on the General forum. I saw a similar thread on the Kenpo forum, but figured a lot of folks, myself included aren't familiar with Kenpo, so figured I would open up the topic in the general forum.

    Forms seem to be a part of a lot of traditional martial arts. At my school, they seem to be pretty important, as in, you had better know the forms for your rank. And it is something we do in every class, no matter what else we do.

    So, what is it? Is it a teaching tool? Or a way to teach students how to practice by themselves? There might be something to this, as you do need to execute movements and master various stances. And, there are moves in the forms we don't do in sparring, or anywhere else.

    So is it vestigial? Put another way, are forms are, in fact, a kind of kinetic history lesson? A way of teaching students not just what practitioners of the art do now, but what they did in the past?

    What are your thoughts?
     
  2. jobo

    jobo Grandmaster

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    At the core, they are a tool to Teach patterns and for that they work very well, think of them as dribbling a ball through comes or probably more accurately leaning a dance, that gets you to the right place at the right time in the right position.

    But then you touch on certainly an Elliment of truth, the forms exist because they exist , they have been passed down with out explanation, so rather than build a form that covers useful movement, people have analysed the movement and then tried to find a use for it, and some are really silly interpritations, But the problem lies with the interpreter not the form.

    So great them as what they are, mostly sensible movement patterns with a few " mystery " moves that defy explination, but might just serve a purpose one day
     
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  3. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    this is a topic that has been whipped to death over the years. but im game to talk about it again.
    the first reason at the top of my list from a traditional perspective is that forms are a method to pass along the fixed behavior pattern of the style.
    every style has behavior/ mannerisms / ways of moving, that are distinct to the style and sometimes to the individual teacher.
    if we think about music there are distinct qualities between blues, jazz, classical, rock ect. we can tell the difference between blues and heavy metal because of the "feel" of the music. in fact it is these qualities that we use to categorically separate and label them as blues or rock. but if we only look at notes, tempo, harmony. pitch or dynamics there is no definitive way to categorize music other than intrinsic feel.
    in the same way every style has a "feel" to it. punching the heavy bag or doing partner drills or sparring is not an effective method to teach the feel of the style. forms preform this function.
     
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  4. skribs

    skribs Grandmaster

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    There's a few different reasons I've seen martial arts use forms:

    • Some arts use forms as a way to practice drills by yourself. For example, if most of your class time involves one-step drills with a partner, the forms mimic those drills, but by yourself.
    • Other arts use the forms as a way to pass down the curriculum. If the art teaches it, it's in your forms.
    • In Taekwondo, our forms focus on exaggerated motions of the techniques and deeper stances, to essentially work on the precise version of every technique. Typically in a fight your form won't look like this, but since people generally regress to the mean under stress, overdoing the technique in a form can be good practice. So in Taekwondo the forms focus specifically on muscle memory and details of the technique.
    • In Taekwondo, other forms are designed just to look good. While they have real martial arts in them, that's not their primary purpose. (Similar to how you watch Shanghai Noon for Jackie Chan's comedy chops more than for his martial arts skills)
    • Other arts have forms that I'd more consider drills, as their forms are only a few steps each.
    Now, there's probably more that I'm missing, but in order to discuss the effectiveness of a form, you have to know what it's purpose is.

    It's going to be an entirely different thing if the form is essentially the contents list of your art, and another if the form is just designed to look pretty. It's a completely different discussion if your form is the homework you can use by yourself, vs. if it is the purely technical foundation of the art.
     
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  5. Touch Of Death

    Touch Of Death Sr. Grandmaster

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    With Kenpo, sometimes the form is the problem.
     
  6. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    I actually think both of these are good descriptions. The second description is good for describing those forms that really are just about learning a pattern. There will be some principles (weight shifts and such) that are inherent in the movement, even if the individual moves are disputed. The idea of dribbling through cones is more how I use forms. The idea is to focus on the principles during forms - I'm even okay if a student changes the form a bit, so long as it follows the principles. There are movements I put in for specific reasons, and I want them to follow those movements, but there's a fair amount of room for altering the "freeze frames" (what you'd look like if I made you stop at a specific point) to either personal preference or to accentuate something different. If the forms aren't being done in a group, I'm even okay with students changing angles and directions to work on something different.

    IMO, forms are a base for exercise and exploration. Whatever the instructor uses them for, the student can also put them to their own use (or can choose not to bother with them beyond what is required to work with the training system).
     
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  7. Danny T

    Danny T Senior Master

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    Forms are used for different reasons.
    For me they are but a method to catalog the main principles, movements, positions, etc of the system.
    We tend to use more sequencing of specific movements, drills, and sparring to develop skills than forms.
     
  8. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    To continue the analogy, a teacher will tend to use specific training exercises to work on key elements of each musical style. That's the forms.
     
  9. oftheherd1

    oftheherd1 Senior Master

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    As I have said before, I took TKD many years ago. We had some moves that we were told were the art side of martial arts. But when teaching a 4th Dan TKD student some years back, there were about 3 techniques I remember him stopping and relating he knew that move from one of the katas he had been required to do. He had been told the same thing; it was artful. In fact, it had been changed over the years for some reason until it was barely recognizable for the defensive move it was.

    So as @jobo says, some moves have been passed down in a changed manner, for whatever lost reason, with their meaning lost. But I certainly would not ascribe that to all forms. Obviously most moves in forms have clear meanings as blocking, kicking, punching, and turning to defend against more than one attacker.

    Absolutely agree with @hoshin1600 on ways to think about forms, and I also agree on searching the forums. This has indeed been discussed many times. Chances are good you may find explanations from experienced martial artists that may get left out of this thread, simply because there are many nuances from different arts..
     
  10. skribs

    skribs Grandmaster

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    Whereas in Taekwondo, ideally everyone doing the form would look the exact same.

    It's like the difference between playing Bach and playing Mozart. You're not supposed to improvise when playing Bach.
     
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  11. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    says who?
    this is the entire point of my view on forms. in all fairness your the Bach point still stands true because he was a composer not a strict musician.
    as a musician i play the drums. i learned how to play by putting on the headphones and listening to Led Zepplin while banging the sticks on the kit. at first horrible and over time better. (better but never really that good) at this point i can say i play like John Bonham (like ...not as good as :() so if i were to play a cars song it would sound like John Bonham playing a cars song.
    my brother plays guitar he learned by listening to Dave Matthews. when he writes a song or plays he sounds like Dave Matthews. he even tried to write a song that didnt and played it for his wife for critique,,,her reply was it sounded like Dave Matthews.
    so that in the nut shell is the point of forms. you train it until even if your improvising your actions still retain the feel of the forms and the style.

    however this purpose breaks down when we are talking about some styles. the Korean styles is one of those. because of the way TKD and TSD were created and evolved there is a disconnect between the inherent feel of the forms and the feel of the style. The Korean version of the Japanese forms are very monochromatic. but then again that "one tone" can be a feel on its own accord. going back to the music analogy it would be like a drum machine. devoid of any variation or human-ness. but modern music has a particular feel exactly because of drum machines and auto tune.

    Its worth noting that the Asian method of learning is different then our own. we in western society use the Greek method of learning facts and figures and questioning everything. while the Asian method is to apprentice under a teacher and imitate the teacher and mimic them until there is no perceptible difference between teacher and student. the entire method of learning revolves around imitation. this is what forms do really well. we do not learn that way traditionally so this function tends to be neglected and often forgotten.
     
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  12. skribs

    skribs Grandmaster

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    The reason I made the point about Bach is because he was very precise in his writing and precision was very important to him.

    In Taekwondo, at least the styles of it I've learned, every detail of every step of the form is scripted. From how you step, what your hands do during the step, the exact stance you will take when you get there, the timing from motion to motion, everything is precise. Now, for a yellow belt, it might not be that exact, but by the time you do the black belt test at my school, there are literally dozens of details with each individual technique that I am looking at.

    It really comes to a point in our demonstration team, in which not only must you follow the form, but everyone has to be in sync with each other. If one person does a hip-height side-kick and another does a head-height kick, it looks bad. If the timing isn't exact, it looks bad.

    Now, I realize this is a specialized use of the forms, but the training for details and precision applies.

    What you said about the Asian method of learning is actually very interesting.
     
  13. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    Why we do them?

    Form is like a text book such as, "This is a book. What do you do with a book?". There are 2 sentences (combos) in this book (form). Sentence 1 (combo 1) and sentence 2 (combo 2) have no logic connection. You can learn as sentence 1, sentence 2. You can also learn as sentence 2, sentence 1. If you can find the logic breaking point, you can learn your sentences (combos) in any order that you may prefer.

    In this book (form), there are vocabulary (technique) and grammar (principle, strategy). It may be important to learn the vocabulary (technique). It's even more important to learn the grammar (principle, strategy).

    Going through elementary school 6 times won't earn you a PhD degree. Your books should contain different level of information. You want to grew tall. You don't want to grow fat. When you learn a new form, you have to ask yourself, will this form help me to grow tall, or just to grow fat? Try not to accumulate the same level forms and become fat.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2018
  14. mrt2

    mrt2 Purple Belt

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    Interesting. Could you elaborate? I am curious as I come from a TSD background, and now I am learning TKD. I am aware that TSD practices the Pyong Anh forms which, as far as I can tell, look almost identical to forms used in Shotokan Karate. TKD doesn't use those forms, but at least so far as I can tell from my practice and watching higher color belt forms, they look to me like the Pyong Ahn forms, but reworked a bit.

    I have no experience practicing any of the Japanese martial arts, so I am curious what you mean by monochromatic.
     
  15. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    In my opinion, the forms that have value in practice are done to reinforce the principles upon which the system is built, through the medium of technique. What is found within the forms are not the Curriculum with a capital C. Rather, they are techniques that embody the principles and that should work well, but ultimately are only ideas of what you can do. As such, when it comes time to fight for real you have no obligation to try and do techniques exactly as they are found within the form. What is important is that you use the principles, because those are what make any technique the most effective that it can be.

    Forms are not a product. The purpose of practicing forms is not to get the form perfect. Rather, the practice is ongoing and results in an improvement in skill. The concept of a “perfect” form should not be part of the equation. A “perfect” form is irrelevant. However, a teacher can often judge the development of his students skill by watching how the student does his forms.

    A new and more modern development is forms as performance art. These are new forms developed with an eye toward flashy and fancy moves that will impress an uneducated audience, usually with solid and useful technique landing on the cutting room floor. I know a lot of people do these, but they are a completely different animal from forms that are useful in developing fighting skill. People who do performance forms are often good athletes and train hard. But being an athlete is not automatically the same thing as training in useful combative methods.

    I think that a lot of people who criticize forms practice as not being useful have either seen the performance art forms, or they see people who do not understand how to properly practice their forms and just go through the motions without actually utilizing the form as a vehicle to develop their skills. In these cases, I agree that the forms practice is not useful for developing fighting skills. Simply doing forms does not develop fighting skills. First, one must be practicing the right kind of forms, and second, one must understand how to properly approach the training.
     
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  16. axelb

    axelb Yellow Belt

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    From my understanding, the "tradition" of forms largely comes from Chinese martial arts, during a time when it was easier to document a syllabus using a set sequence of movements.

    There are plenty of other martial arts that exist without "forms" but will have a regularly practised syllabus broken up into smaller sequences.

    Nowadays there are so many forms around varying from through traditionally, to the inherered traditional though evolution of arts sequencing in a different order, to the display forms.

    You can progress with or without forms to the same ability, but they still prove as a useful sequence for people who don't want to neglect particular moves in practise.

    In the kungfu style I studied, there was an additional element of "catching" which made it a two person form with varying resistance. I haven't seen much in other CMA or non CMA styles, but I understand that karateka use bunkai to work on sections of a form in a partner format.
     
  17. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Agreed. I drive students nuts sometimes, because I'm focused on them getting the right intent and principles in the movements, rather than them getting the movements memorized.
     
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  18. paitingman

    paitingman Purple Belt

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    In the Taekwondo I practice, forms are about mechanics.

    We practice large, two hand motions in basic stances, such as horse stance, to develop a feel for the basic mechanics of the technique. We practice this daily and build the timing and understanding of what muscles we're using or not using and when.
    The forms put these techniques into motion. So you must take the mechanics you've developed in horse stance and apply them with footwork and other stances. Now you develop the timing of the technique with your footwork and keep developing the balance and body mechanics needed to execute the techniques in an ideal manner.

    We teach little to no direct Bunkai or applications from the forms beyond very basic things. These large motions in the form and basic practice become refined and the motions get smaller and smaller, but hopefully the mechanics and weight distribution stick when application comes. There's a time and place for that practice but we don't stress it during forms.
     
  19. lianxi

    lianxi Yellow Belt

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    I think the most common topic here on martialtalk is without a doubt - 'is a given style or technique efficient for fighting?' When it comes to forms, I feel that it's best to think of them as training, not fighting techniques. In the zen martial art I studied - Shim Gum Do, Master Kim comes right out and says that his forms are 'not for fighting' - the goal in that art, being zen buddhist training, is using martial art to bring your mind and body together through action. A familiar form to many is TKD's Chon Ji - it introduces the down block and the high block, how to step and turn, etc - you don't attack someone with it! If you're preparing for the MMA, then you better train in boxing, BJJ, wrestling, etc. - ie - true, effective fighting techniques that you're going to need. But practicing forms is one way to keep many practitioners engaged in martial arts practice through ritual and choreography - not everyone wants to jump into the octagon. I think forms are extremely valuable in that they keep many everyday people who are NOT interested in fighting, engaged and interested in working out and mastering their mind and body. Martial arts are definitely about fighting, but even if you don't fight, you can do forms and I think that's of great value - after all, martial arts training may be the most effective mind-body training in existence.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2018
  20. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    Yes and i think there is good reason for it. His music is still known today after 280 years and we can still play it the original way as he intended it. if we didnt have a precise template (in this case musical notation) then it would have been lost. the same is true for martial arts. part of the function of forms is to maintain a consistent teacher to student body of knowledge that remains true across time. its not perfect, we still get changes over time but that is more due to cultural differences as martial arts move from one culture to another, and like i said the difference in the way the western culture approaches learning.

    i think this "concept" of scripted details is constant across all martial arts but in reality and in actual practice, its not so black and white. as example one movement in a form i had learnt from my teacher had the hand movement start with the hand in line with the shoulder. when i went to train with his teacher he said ..no ,no start the movement from the center of the chest. then i trained with the style founders grandson and the current head of the organization. he corrected me to do it differently yet again. when i was back in front of my teacher i preformed the action as taught by the style head. my teachers response was...when the heck is that? i explained....yeah well dont do that.. do it the way i showed you. so yeah they are prescribed to be done a specific way,, but often when you look at the style from a macro level ,,not so much. now to be fair there is a lot of leeway given within the American organization of Uechi Ryu. other styles and organizations may have much stricter constraints and may be heavily monitored.123
     

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