Do Kata/Forms Define the Style?

isshinryuronin

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Many schools teach kata and represent them as being the foundation of their style. Yet, when you watch (or do) the workouts or sparring, it looks nothing like the forms! Why?

The simple answer is the three K's (kihon/basics, kumite/fighting, kata/forms) used to be ONE thing but became three separate things over time. In the beginning there was fighting: Defenses and counters against strikes and grabs. These combinations were linked together into forms for ease of practice and transmission of the techniques. Nobody knows what the workouts were like prior to 1920, but probably consisted mostly of two-man drills of these combinations (along with variants). The self-defense aspect, fighting, practice and kata looked the same (because they were) and all used the same techniques as taught in that style. Kata=fighting=drills.

When karate was introduced into the schools, things had to get simplified as classes were huge. The self-defense aspects were minimized; instead, simple execution of the individual moves was emphasized in repetitive drilling, taken out of context from the kata! Furthermore, the kata themselves were approached from a more exercise viewpoint as well. The latter 1930's up to the present saw increasing development of karate as a sport. This entailed a change in short range into longer range techniques and removal of many dangerous techniques. Fighting became sparring. Even kata had become performance sport, the execution overshadowing their self-defense applications - but they still retained the essence of their original purpose as defining the style.

By 1950 the division of the three K's were complete. Basic practice and sparring no longer looked like kata. In fact, a case can be made that sport sparring competition became its own style with little or no relationship to kata. TKD people, however, may say their drills and sparring do look a lot like their forms and I would agree. I think what happened was that instead of the style being a reflection their forms, their forms are a reflection their style. In other words, karate drills and sparring evolved AWAY from forms whereas TKD forms evolved TOWARDS their drills and sparring, or at least along with them. I have no idea if my TKD brothers would agree or disagree with my analysis. It's open to discussion.

As far as karate is concerned, kata (and their bunkai - true application) truly reflects and personifies the style. The fact that many see kata as just a leftover from times past is not kata's fault. It's just we've lost sight of our roots and have come to be conditioned to see today's karate as commonly practiced as "actual" karate and kata as the family's strange aunt. It's like a kid wandering off in the store and saying, "My parents lost me." But there is no reason that kata cannot be the major focus in karate being a self-defense art. The stomps, twists, gouges, elbows and knees are just as effective now as 200 yrs. ago. Indeed, there are several sensei today that stress the original style of karate combat and not the competitive incarnation. One can follow any path they want. I'm just showing how the other paths came about.
 

hoshin1600

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I think the reason the style doesn't look like sparring is because of sparring. The two are not the same and did not evolve at the same time. Watch any old footage of martial arts fighting and its pretty bad. There was no golden age of TMA where the fighting was better than it is today.
I believe the idea of single techniques being interwoven into the creation of forms is a fallacy.
 

skribs

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I think some of it may depend on the style.
 

Gyakuto

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Buddhism, particularly Zen, has two distinct identities. The psycho-physical aspect (meditation implementing optimal posture and correct breathing - tanden soku, mindful working - samu etc) and the woo, woo (rituals, chanting sutras reading out liturgies, prostrating before various images etc). The former is actual Zen, the latter are supernatural practises often adopted from indigenous religions of the host country. Thus Chinese Zen (Chan) has a different flavour to Korean Zen, which different to Japanese Zen. The woo woo gives them their unique flavour.

Martial arts mirror this almost exactly: Free sparring techniques is the practical essence of the art, kata/forms are the ritualistic, indigenously-tinged aspect. Some will argue these aspects support one another, others will throw out the woo woo and adopt only what is effective (for effective fighting).

(Incidentally, have you noticed that when you look at different martial arts sparring, they look almost identical. There was a youtube clip demonstrating this, but I cant find it anymore!)
 

Gyakuto

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I didn't directly answer you question存orry!

Yes, I do think kata/forms define a style.
 

Bill Mattocks

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Many schools teach kata and represent them as being the foundation of their style. Yet, when you watch (or do) the workouts or sparring, it looks nothing like the forms! Why?
This is a tough one. I'd like to say that my sparring is as you say - looks nothing like my kata. But it is (it is my conceit to believe) that the foundation of my sparring is indeed based on my kata and kihon. How I move, how I generate power, my stances, and so on are taken directly from my kata; but not in clearly obvious ways.

Kihon and kata practice have taught me how to keep my balance while moving, breathe, and settle before striking. I bring these with me, as they've become part of me now. I even settle my weight and get my stance right when turning a door knob and pulling a heavy door open. It's weird, but I've caught myself doing it. I even do it while gardening, using tools to dig in the soil in more efficient ways that are kinder to my joints and body.

In other words, I think (or I hope in any case) that my karate informs everything I do. Sparring is just part of that. Yes, it looks the same as everyone else sparring, but in subtle internal ways, I think it maybe different.
 

Flying Crane

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I do not believe that kata/forms define the style, but it seems to me that people often place that identity on them.
 

hoshin1600

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As I've already stated in another thread, I belive the "style" is an intangible quality or an underlying essence. The forms are a manifestation of that.

I also belive that "forms" as a concept pre date the martial application. If we are to take the Chinese legend with even the slightest bit of face value. Bodhidharma traveled from India over the silk road and taught the Chinese monks yogic postures and practices to keep them awake and fit. Chinese politics caused military refugees to hide in the temples. The martial techniques become incorporated into the forms. And here we are today.
My thesis is that stuffing martial techniques into a preexisting format, warps the movements.
Try creating a long format solo form for bjj techniques. It just looks dumb. It's not the same.
So why does sparring all look the same?
Well, sparring is a thing. It exists as a format with certain rules. The rules condition the exchange. Thus take karate sparring and change the rules, you get MMA. Which doesn't look anything like Tae Kwon do sparring. Using the scientific method if you show me the rule set I could give a pretty good evaluation of what the exchange will look like.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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I also belive that "forms" as a concept pre date the martial application.
I believe open hand form came from ancient weapon fighting techniques.

I believe hook punch, overhand (or hammer fist), uppercut came from stick fight techniques.



I also believe jab/cross, inside out block, outside in block came from the ancient spear techniques.



At 1.45, he uses left arm "comb hair" to block his opponent's punch.


People used "comb hair" in ancient sword/knife fight long time ago.

 
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JowGaWolf

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Many schools teach kata and represent them as being the foundation of their style. Yet, when you watch (or do) the workouts or sparring, it looks nothing like the forms! Why?
This is a little different for me. Forms and Application in Jow Ga are similar enough that if I do the form, then one can pick out the parts of the form that was used in application. The closest that I can get to your statement is that they don't look exactly the same. Meaning that in form I may be standing in a horse stance but in application I will be moving around.

I think the reason the style doesn't look like sparring is because of sparring. The two are not the same and did not evolve at the same time. Watch any old footage of martial arts fighting and its pretty bad. There was no golden age of TMA where the fighting was better than it is today.
I believe the idea of single techniques being interwoven into the creation of forms is a fallacy.
Hopefully, I'll be able to change the perception on this in the few weeks. When I do Jow Ga sparring, it looks similar to what is practiced in forms and in drills. When I ramp the intensity up it looks more like it. In sparring, I have to intentionally move slower, pull power, and redirect punches so that I'm not injuring my sparring partner. When sparring intensity increases then I can let relax a little more and let the speed and power flow as needed. But it all looks the same to me.

I think the reason that people think that it's not the same is because of 2 reasons.
1. People rarely practice / kata with the focus off application. Most focus on perfection of structure and movement, Things like are my feet to far apart, are my shoulders relaxed am I punching at the right height all take priority over application. When I think about the distance of my feet. I always think along the lines of. Are my feet at good distance to allow me to attack or retreat. Is my stance too high? Does it make me vulnerable in a bad way. If my feet are too close then what can I do to minimize that. As a result of my focus I tend to practice my forms at different heights instead of the "Perfect Height."

When you practice kata/form, then as yourself where is your focus. Are you focused on application or are you focused on the "Perfection of Movement." Everyone should this question because I think it is the reason why some people can not see the connection between application and form.

As for this video. This video doesn't sit well with me. I just can't believe that any culture with more than 1000 years of warring and fighting experience. would only reach this level. Is this what communist China was afraid of? Is this the top level of fighting ability for "Kung fu is for thugs" mentality? I'm just not buying it.

So someone says that these 2 guys are kung fu masters? yet they look like this? And non of what they do look like what is in the forms? Congratulations ladies your fighting ability rivals that of the Kung Fu master's of the 1930's Good thing you didn't spend 20 years to get to where you are now.
 

JowGaWolf

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In other words, I think (or I hope in any case) that my karate informs everything I do. Sparring is just part of that. Yes, it looks the same as everyone else sparring, but in subtle internal ways, I think it maybe different.
This is how I think about Jow Ga. I think since day one of me joining this site, You and I have been of like mind on this. I personally don't see how it work any other way.
If you create your own form from sparring (not the other way around), you won't have this issue.
This is where people screw up. When they train form their focus is no on applications. How mahy times have we seen discussion here where the debate of a form is about how it looks and not about the application.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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A: Dear teacher! In our system, does our form map to application?
B: It may not before today. But after today, all our form will map into application.

Do you want to do the task that teacher A intend to do?

Example of the form and application are the same.



 
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JowGaWolf

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I always wonder that why people my age and older say that there is a double punch in marital arts.

But the younger people on youtube say that there isn't one.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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there is a double punch in marital arts.
If you punch your

- right arm between your opponent's head and his left arm.
- left arm between your opponent's head and his right arm.

You can get a successful "head lock" on him afterward.

I call this "Chinese zombie" guard.

Chinese_zombie.jpeg


Chang_cucumber_vine.jpg


images uploads
 
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Teapot

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With what I practice, theres a peculiar mindset.

A common word used is Jin which is like a type of energy cultivated through time and effort. So, for example, if youre a guy who spends his time wielding an axe to chop logs over and over again, we could say that a professional has developed a Jin for that kinetic action of chopping with that axe. He has done it so many darn times, that theres a very polished quality to it. For all I know, this might even be related to the notion of old man strength.

Whether its form, drills, applications, or sparring, the underlying theme of importance has been Jin.

Jin, on its own, is not necessarily a single martial application although it can be. A simple straight punch can be considered a type of Jin on its own.

However, a single application can be composed of several Jin linked together.

Theres a very unique perspective of assembling and disassembling martial applications. One of the stark contrasts to martial arts such as Judo or Aikido is that a lot of applications in Chinese martial arts do not seem to have names. Whereas, Judo and Aikido seem to have a very organized list of named techniques that can be written down on paper.

But when it comes to the form, for us, its like we take the Jin in from this sequence link it to the Jin in this other sequence and link it to the Jin in the sequence way over there to compose a martial application. This mindset of assembling and disassembling makes it very versatile, but its a rather hopeless endeavor to try to document it on paper. Itd be akin to documenting all the possible ways to assemble the elements of the periodic table into molecules.

For us, the form is composed of named sequences. But while a sequence would have a name, its composed of so many subsets that do not have names.

Its a very in-depth study of the building blocks that make up martial applications and studying the countless ways of chaining them together.
 

Dirty Dog

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I would say that forms provide A definition of the style, but it is not complete.
 
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