What Good are Forms?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by dvcochran, Sep 8, 2019.

  1. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    There has been some great discussion about whether there is any direct Martial/Fighting value in practicing forms.
    • What is your position, not just your opinion?
    • If they are good and have purpose, explain why/how.
    • If they are purely in the art/dance category for you explain why/how.
    Many of us do them because that was how we learned to perform certain techniques.
    • How do you transfer these learned muscle memory skills into application?
    • How do you defend forms as useful for fighting when they are a very specific pattern and a real fight or encounter is anything but specific?
    For the Non-tradition folks out there, is there anything of value in forms? Or are they more akin to a dead language? They had their time but has that time passed? If so how do you recommend training large numbers of people a certain technique all at the same time? What is your method for teaching a specific technique?
     
  2. JowGaWolf

    JowGaWolf Grandmaster

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    • What is your position, not just your opinion? Position: Critical for training and remembering complex techniques that don't fall within normal everyday movements. There's a potential where the movement will come out during a fight, when the body is in a position and it feels like you should do technique A so you do technique A. It's rare but it does happen. I think it's happened to me 2 or 3 times since starting Jow Ga (maybe 10 years now). I wouldn't count on it to happen in a fight\
    • If they are good and have purpose, explain why/how: In Jow Ga the forms train motion, technique, provides cardio, speed, and endurance training, It conditions muscle and focus.
    • If they are purely in the art/dance category for you explain why/how: For me no. I don't train for performance purposes. I know some do and for them it's an art/performance. Usually you can tell because the performance looks nice. Those who train for function often look rough and not as clean cut as those who do it for performance.
    Many of us do them because that was how we learned to perform certain techniques.
    • How do you transfer these learned muscle memory skills into application? Sparring. I take one technique that I want to learn how to actually use and I try to use it as much as possible during sparring. By trying to use, it I learn from my mistakes but I can also observe how my opponent reacts to it. Which also gives me insight on how to use the technique.
    • How do you defend forms as useful for fighting when they are a very specific pattern and a real fight or encounter is anything but specific? Forms train motion. The same kick that you do in a form is the same motion of a kick that is done in a fight. My belief is that Form Patterns were never made as a step A to step Z fighting pattern. Step A movement may be used independently from Step B and not as a combo. Step A movement may be for a different situation than B. In Jow Ga forms we include actual fighting combinations. Some of the techniques are combos, some aren't, and some combos can be split or broken into individual strikes.
    Form training is not application training and it should never be thought of or relied on as a substitute for application training.
     
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  3. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    I'm going to steal @JowGaWolf 's way of answering this.
    • What is your position, not just your opinion? Forms are a good way to teach and reinforce body mechanics and fundamentals. In Taekwondo, the forms are a more exaggerated version of the techniques, but they help teach the body mechanics. While we use a different style when actually striking in Taekwondo, the stances in the forms translate very literally to our throws and take-downs. There's a form I've known for 5 years in my TKD class, that just yesterday we figured a practical application for one of the techniques in that form. Sometimes it's about getting used to the motion until the application presents itself.
    • If they are good and have purpose, explain why/how. As said above, they reinforce fundamentals, and help teach techniques with a more niche application. They also help with leg strength, balance, posture, and developing applicable speed and power with the techniques. In addition, they can help with memory and attention to detail. I've seen this in our younger students who are growing up and need maturity, but also in our more mature students who are starting to worry about neurological decay. We have had one student who was a brain cancer survivor, who attributed the forms to her surprisingly good neurological health after recovery.
    • If they are purely in the art/dance category for you explain why/how. Even for those students who focus merely on the performance, they are still practicing techniques. If they decide later they would like to learn more about the application, they at least have a solid foundation to build on.
    Many of us do them because that was how we learned to perform certain techniques.
    • How do you transfer these learned muscle memory skills into application? Sparring, and experimentation. When you're see a situation where you could have used a form technique, ask your opponent to recreate the situation and see how the technique applies, and troubleshoot what does or doesn't work from there.
    • How do you defend forms as useful for fighting when they are a very specific pattern and a real fight or encounter is anything but specific? I don't, because I don't need to. If someone has decided that forms are useless, I'm not going to convince them otherwise. In fact, they're right - for them, forms are useless, because they will likely not practice them hard, or enjoy them, enough to get much out of them. In a similar manner, melodic death metal is great meditation music for me, but it's useless for meditation for people who don't enjoy that type of music. I also think it's a problem to over-rely on forms, and not do enough sparring or application drills.
    What you get out of a form, to me, is very subjective. It depends on what you put into it, what your instructor puts into it, and what was put into it when the form was created.
     
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  4. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    If I know 15 different ways to obtain single leg and 20 different ways to obtain head lock, I can create 2 forms, a single leg form and a head lock form. With these 2 forms, I no longer need to remember

    - single leg 1,
    - single leg 2,
    - …
    - single leg 14,
    - single leg 15,
    - head lock 1,
    - head lock 2,
    - …
    - head lock 19,
    - head lock 20.

    These information can be recorded and saved into the future generation.
     
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  5. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    You still need to remember all of them, they're just packaged into a form for you.
     
  6. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Orange Belt

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    The old traditional forms definitely have application to actual combat since they are composed of actual combat techniques. True, the meaning of some of those techniques may have become clouded over the years, but for an interested practitioner, they are indeed there to be recognized for what they are - real combat combinations.

    The fact the moves in a form are practiced in a pattern is irrelevant. Just because we learn the ABC's in an alphabetic pattern does not mean a word has to be in alphabetic order. The pattern is there just to help us remember the letters/techniques. We draw upon those to make whatever words are required for the situation, rearranging those letters as needed.

    To best be able to use forms for effective self-defense, break it down into the separate combinations (2-5 moves) and practice them with a partner attacking you. Some series of moves may look dancelike or appear to be against two attackers from different directions for example...

    But actually are a parry/grab with one hand while simultaneously twisting and chopping/grabbing the neck with the other, followed by a front kick. Say the next moves are a turn to the rear, kneel and "block". What's this all about? In this case, not 2 attackers, but now having the sole attacker's punch and his neck in your hands, and kicking out one of his legs, by placing your kicking leg across his remaining leg and twisting and dropping to the rear, an excellent controlled takedown is executed (a possible and effective bunkai from Kusanku kata).

    Of course, most of us have not been taught in this manner, thinking the form was created first, when the combat combinations were created first, then practiced and used as battlefield self-defense - only later being combined into a form. In this light, forms are not a dead language, and many practical self-defense moves are at your service.
     
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  7. Yokozuna514

    Yokozuna514 Purple Belt

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    Forms are a mnemonic learning tool to assist practitioners with remembering techniques in a compact and efficient format. In an of themselves, they will only be as good as the guide assisting you with decoding the forms so that the finished forms are performed as intended and not simply followed rote.
     
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  8. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm curious what distinction you are making between "position" and "opinion". I tend to use those terms fairly interchangeably.

    My view (to use exactly neither of the terms you used :p) is that forms are best used to reinforce movements used in techniques. I don't think they're useful for teaching movement, but are useful for reinforcing movements from technique through repetition. Once you know how a movement is used, your practice of forms should support that (not the other way around).

    Understand that I came through a sequence of training that had no long forms (I never got to them in the Karate I trained), and where the short forms (one-steps are the closest equivalent for most folks) were (mostly) directly related to the application. I added long(er) forms to what I teach, because I like them for students' solo practice. I find they can be used to challenge movement and balance when you don't have a partner handy. I strongly encourage students to vary the intent of their kata practice, to focus on different things they need to work on.

    I don't feel the need to defend forms, in their relationship to fighting. They are a tool that can be used for multiple purposes. I find them useful, and have no issue with those who do not.
     
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  9. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    I like the approach that application -> form.

    Form = a set of partner drills without partner.

     
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  10. Buka

    Buka Grandmaster

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    I wish forms had been part of my training, they look kind of fun and most people I know in the striking arts really enjoy them.

    To me they are the shadow boxing of Martial Arts. Although some will tell you that they shadow box differently every time, that is not what I’ve seen in my experiences.
     
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  11. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    Um...I hate to break it to you, but I think shadow boxing is the shadow boxing of martial arts.
     
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  12. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    If your shadow boxing just repeat a single move, it's just shadow boxing. If your shadow boxing repeat a combo sequence, the result of your combo sequence training can be the same as your form training.

    For example, your shadow boxing can be a combo sequence such as:

    - right roundhouse kick,
    - right side kick,
    - left back kick,
    - left spin back fist.
    - right hook punch,
    - right back fist,
    - left uppercut.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019 at 2:20 AM
  13. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Orange Belt

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    Exactly. Well put.
     
  14. JowGaWolf

    JowGaWolf Grandmaster

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    Don't forget there are 2 man sets which are forms that are done by 2 people
     
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  15. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    My joke went over your head.
     
  16. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    Agree, that is a good analogy which I have heard before.
    I suspect "differently ever time" is easily misunderstood. Each form I know is different in pattern/direction/shape, technique and movement but there are ample techniques that are used in all forms. The latter is what makes the analogy accurate.
    The footwork practice in a form compared to shadow boxing is very different. You could think of them as shadow boxing, cardio, and light weight lifting all rolled up into one. More to it but that is a simple way to think of them.
     
  17. Buka

    Buka Grandmaster

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    The footwork is different, yes. But if you watch a thousand people shadow box - depending if they're trying to implement a newly learned technique - their footwork while shadow boxing will manifest itself in as much of a pattern as in you'll find any Kata.
     
  18. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    How are we defining shadow boxing? Is it what we see in Western boxing? When I practice a few hundred fundamental punches with the stances and transitions used by my system, is that also shadow boxing? Is that true if I use a combo of several punches, vs. single punches repeated?

    If this is also shadow boxing, then the footwork and stance work are one and the same with what our system is built on. Meaning: the footwork is not different from the footwork found in our forms.
     
  19. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    Have anybody seen a form that was created in the following way?

    - The 1st move can set up the 2nd move.
    - The 2nd move can set up the 3rd move.
    - …
    - The n-1th move can set up the nth move.
     
  20. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    Depending on how you define "form", all of our forms in Hapkido are this way.

    If you're looking at a kata that uses blocks and strikes, and how you define that flow and set up, they either will never or will always do this.
     

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