Focus or Definition In Forms

Steel Tiger

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OK, this one is actually hard to describe even though I suspect we have all seen it.

When you watch a new student going through a form have you noticed that their hands and feet seem to not be part of what they are doing? Its like they know a move is a punch but cannot really define it because there is no target. The end result is a hand that sort flops around on the end of an arm. My teacher describes this as not focusing to the end of the fingers.

Of course, with most practitioners this effect disappears with time, practice, and understanding, but for some it is always there. I have been watching some Youtube vids of gongfu forms and I see it time and again from people who are performing quite complex forms, suggesting quite some time in training, but, it would seem, little development of understanding.

One of the examples that brought this to mind was seeing sifu Lily Lau doing an Eagle Claw form and then seeing another teacher doing the same form. The difference was striking. Lau sifu had strength and poise in her form while the other chap didn't. Hand strikes were being retracted before they reached their proper extension (not full just proper), and kicks all seemed to be accompanied by jumps and hops. Everything had a strange light touch which made it all look like a dance.

This tendency leads me to understand why so many people are down on forms. And if this is the only exposure to MAs they get then they are going to be down on any style that uses forms in training.
 

pstarr

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You're absolutely right. Moreover, the fellow whose form is actually incorrect undoubtedly has students who will learn to move as he does...and when it all aflls apart they'll shout about how forms are useless.
 

ChingChuan

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Perhaps this difference is caused because the other teacher didn't practise it enough with a real partner? It's not enough to know what a movement means, you need to have 'experienced' doing it in order to correctly mimic it... After all, doing a form on your own is a bit of a stage play, isn't it - you need to show to the 'audience' that you know what the form is about etc.

Related to this, I see that in a lot of martial arts, the form is treated as 'a form' and not as 'lots of different movements strung together'. They don't train it as a fighting system anymore but they just teach the movements of the form and then you 'know the form' and can pass a belt exam - without understanding what it's all about... That would also cause a performance of that form to look like a dance, because the practioner doesn't know what he's doing anymore...
 

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OK, this one is actually hard to describe even though I suspect we have all seen it.

When you watch a new student going through a form have you noticed that their hands and feet seem to not be part of what they are doing? Its like they know a move is a punch but cannot really define it because there is no target. The end result is a hand that sort flops around on the end of an arm. My teacher describes this as not focusing to the end of the fingers.

Of course, with most practitioners this effect disappears with time, practice, and understanding, but for some it is always there. I have been watching some Youtube vids of gongfu forms and I see it time and again from people who are performing quite complex forms, suggesting quite some time in training, but, it would seem, little development of understanding.

One of the examples that brought this to mind was seeing sifu Lily Lau doing an Eagle Claw form and then seeing another teacher doing the same form. The difference was striking. Lau sifu had strength and poise in her form while the other chap didn't. Hand strikes were being retracted before they reached their proper extension (not full just proper), and kicks all seemed to be accompanied by jumps and hops. Everything had a strange light touch which made it all look like a dance.

This tendency leads me to understand why so many people are down on forms. And if this is the only exposure to MAs they get then they are going to be down on any style that uses forms in training.

I see this mostly with beginners, although some advanced people at times do the same thing. I'm a big believer in knowing what you're doing in the kata, rather than just aimlessly going thru the moves. Of course if the teacher themselves don't know applications, well, how can the student be expected to do any better than they are?

I do feel that its good to go thru kata with a live body. Of course if you don't have someone you can use to attack, its going to required you to visualize whats going on.

So yes, when someone views a kata done in the fashion described above, it gives a poor appearance and the viewer is turned off by what they see. Show someone with solid, crisp, powerful movements, and there will be a big difference.
 

punisher73

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I think a big thing is that many students don't want to spend time on their foundation and really honing in on their basics. Even if you aren't sure of the EXACT meaning of a given movement in form, you should at least understand your basics enough to know that a punch is probably a punch and treat it as such.

It's kind of a weird cycle. The stronger your basics are the better your forms are, and then the more you practice your forms properly the better you understand and apply your basics. Without the proper training and understanding you are doing little more than dancing.
 

kidswarrior

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Lau sifu had strength and poise in her form while the other chap didn't. Hand strikes were being retracted before they reached their proper extension (not full just proper), and kicks all seemed to be accompanied by jumps and hops. Everything had a strange light touch which made it all look like a dance.
Yes, Yes, Yes! If every move (theoretically) can end the fight, you have to wonder how some of the moves in some of the forms we've all seen would do so. For me, it's a matter of intentionality in 'seeing/experiencing' an opponent being there during a solo form, and at some point in the student's training not too far beyond raw beginner, practicing against resistance (as some have said).

But here's another observation, which I hope doesn't cause thread drift because I think it's part of the same phenomenon. Haven't we all seen techniques practiced the same way? With a lack of focus/intentionality, and so lacking reality? I know I battle this in every class I teach.

Can't remember if it was Iain Abernethy, Bill Burgar, or Phillip Starr (yes, Sir, I did buy and read your book ;)) who said something like, Live the form. You're right, S-T, one can really tell which practitioners are living the forms, and which are thinking about the next Big Mac--or maybe more graciously, they're just thinking about the *beauty* of the form. For me, forms aren't made for beauty--they were/are designed to disable the opponent Now.
 

Kacey

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Forms are the toolbox that gives you what you need for self-defense - that means you can't just practice the forms - you need to understand the movements, practice them within and outside of the forms, use the movements in step and free sparring to make them your own. If you do that, then you will understand the moves - and that understanding will transfer to your performance.

Also, too many people see forms as something to get through - a meaningless requirement for advancement, something that must be gotten through to learn more. Forms are a teaching tool, a way to practice without a partner - which means you can't just memorize the movements and dance your way through them; you have to understand how each movement works and how to apply it, and then when you are practicing your forms, you have to visualize those applications as you work.

Forms are the basis of many systems - and there's a reason why they're there; why would so many styles have forms (either formally or casually, through sets)? If they were as valueless as many people think, why would they still be in use today?
 

Xue Sheng

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Man I'm getting to talk about this a lot lately

Sandao

Without Sandao you have not got much

Shen = Spirit (Calm focused mind)
Yi = Intention (Focused thoughts - clear thinking)
Shi = proper posture

 

Sukerkin

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I find it very encouraging to see so many whose opinions I respect broach this subject. I've touched on it a few times here at MT in various discussions about kata/forms and I really should have started a thread on it myself long ago :eek:.

I bow to you all.
 

exile

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I think a big part of the problem comes from practicing the performance of the forms in a way that's detached from any understanding of their application. Given the fact that a lot of people don't really visualize their MA's form sets as the documentation of real fighting techniques, but rather as some kind of martial folk dance, that's not surprising. But I think it leads to exactly the problem noted in the OP. For the people I'm talking about, form takes precedence over function, because they don't have a clear idea of what the function served by forms really is.

Once I started learning how to do the kind of analysis of form application that's standardly labeled bunkai, I started practicing forms in a way that corresponds to the street-practical use I envisage for them. So a retraction/punch movement for me represents a trapping and pulling inward of an attacker's limb, and the punch is the payoff (which may be a palm-heel strike or any number of others things), prepared for by the hikite-movement that's typically labeled 'chambering'. And when I practice the form, that's what I visualize happening. When I do a pivot, I am visualizing a throw, and moving as though I actually were holding onto someone and throwing them—because in a lot of the TKD colored belt forms I do, the pivot makes most sense as part of the previous combat scenario (not a mirror-imaging of that scenario to the other side), where the pivot corresponds to the total unbalancing and downing of an already damaged antagonist. By practicing forms that way, and visualizing them in terms of their combat content, I find much more satisfaction and interest in them than if they were nothing more than some sterile set-piece which you had to get just right because... well, as the joke bumper sticker has it, 'there's no reason for it, it's just our policy'.

When I teach beginners, I try to get them to understand, even at a very elementary level, that forms have combat content, and that when you carry out a movement in a form, you need to see your attacker, see the attack coming in, see your defense unfolding in real action. It's never too early to start learning that kind of visualization, even if the techs are still quite basic. As the Brits like to say, begin as you mean to go on...
 

KELLYG

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It's my understanding that a poomse/form is a choreographed fight between yourself and single or multiple attackers, and it should be practiced that way. It is not a dance. Yes if done properly it can be quite beautiful but each from is there to reinforce techniques taught at each belt level. It should show body focus, mind focus, breathing, variation in speed.
Each technique should be preformed as if you are either attacking or defending yourself.
 
OP
Steel Tiger

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But here's another observation, which I hope doesn't cause thread drift because I think it's part of the same phenomenon. Haven't we all seen techniques practiced the same way? With a lack of focus/intentionality, and so lacking reality? I know I battle this in every class I teach.

Definitely. I have had some students who could not integrate the whole body into what they were doing. While throwing a punch they were looking at their feet to make sure they were in the right position, which they were. Its just that they never understood the integration and were distracted by the minutia. It all takes away from the focus of the forms and techniques.



I find it very encouraging to see so many whose opinions I respect broach this subject. I've touched on it a few times here at MT in various discussions about kata/forms and I really should have started a thread on it myself long ago :eek:.

I bow to you all.

I have a question. Hows does this sort of thing manifest in an art like Iaido? I can envision something but my sword experience is with the jian which works somewhat differently.



I think a big part of the problem comes from practicing the performance of the forms in a way that's detached from any understanding of their application. Given the fact that a lot of people don't really visualize their MA's form sets as the documentation of real fighting techniques, but rather as some kind of martial folk dance, that's not surprising. But I think it leads to exactly the problem noted in the OP. For the people I'm talking about, form takes precedence over function, because they don't have a clear idea of what the function served by forms really is.

Yes this sort of detachment of the form from its intent is a big problem, and its is becoming more so with the seemingly growing popularity of things like modern Wushu where the shape of the form is more important than the content.

Interestingly in a lot of ancient cultures what we call forms etc. are often best translated as dances (sword dance, spear dance, spear and shield dance), but there is a couple of conditions here. First is that many of them were part of the culture set of the society and were performed at social ceremonies so, in effect, they were dances. The second point is that the societal environment they existed in was one that involved martial conflict, potentially for the entire community. So the methods embodied in the dances were regularly put into practice. a situation we don't have these days fortunately (and unfortunately).



It's my understanding that a poomse/form is a choreographed fight between yourself and single or multiple attackers, and it should be practiced that way. It is not a dance. Yes if done properly it can be quite beautiful but each from is there to reinforce techniques taught at each belt level. It should show body focus, mind focus, breathing, variation in speed.
Each technique should be preformed as if you are either attacking or defending yourself.

That's right its not a dance, but as you say it can be beautiful. Just take a look at my own arts Swimming Body Dragon Baguazhang I think it goes close to being the most beautiful form I have seen (not my own performances though). But in saying forms aren't dances I don't want to look like I am coming down on dancers. I have seen dance performances with the sort of focus, poise, and strength that any of us would be proud to have in our forms.
 

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I think a big part of the problem comes from practicing the performance of the forms in a way that's detached from any understanding of their application.

a-yup. I'm still trying to figure out just when martial arts became performance arts, for the entertainment of the audience.
 

Sukerkin

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ST, given that nearly all of iaido is constructed from solo kata with only ten partner forms in MJER (that I know), it is vital for the student to have as great a sense of visualisation as possible.

When I use the term 'visualisation' I also include the necessity to conjure up in your minds eye what the non-present opponents are doing in terms of attacks, evasions or other movements. For the more advanced forms, you also have to envisage the prescence of physical objects and barriers.

If this visualisation is not there, the effects are as you described in the OP, except it becomes a dance-with-a-sword rather than a ballet. It is just as obvious to an observer when a student is not visualising as when they are not applying tenouichi or have not grasped some other part of the sword stroke. That sense of definite power and connection with the target evaporates.
 

Xue Sheng

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Just got a big lesson today on this and it was incredibly brief I also got an incredibly brief and very descriptive definition of Sanshou too but sorry that I can't share.

Sanshou has no forms per say but I was drilled today on strikes and without focus, without proper alignement, without form it will not work properly.

Without that the strike is about effective as your average untrained rabbit punch. With all that there is a hell of a lot of power. Of course there is another possiblilty, with out proper focus you will also be in a lot of pain after you stike so again, although it this is from Taiji, sandao is important to sanshou too.
 

exile

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I couldn't decide between a laughing or a crying emoticon as a response to this insight. :bangahead:

Absolutely, and I think I have some idea of what FC has in mind underlying his comment. He's posted on this before. In the modern 'public' face of CMA, government-endorsed and -promoted wushu, even competitive sport has gone by the wayside, and once-ferocious CQ combat techniques have become reduced—I think that's a fair description—to circus performances. In TKD, we're still at the sport stage, but if you look up, say, Chloe Bruce's XMA-style hyung performances, or some of the novel forms coming out of the Korean TKD directorate, it looks to me as though we're not far from there; a lot of the effect of the Olympic-rules scoring criteria for sparring has the effect of elevating gymnastics and acrobatics at the severe expense of combat realism. And given the way the XMA movement has been treating karate, that could wind up in the same hole-ridden boat with wushu and Olympic-style TKD. We start with combat skills and end up with mass spectacle.

It stands to reason that any demonstration of forms which isn't constrained by reality and necessity is going to look artificial. Forms get their 'reality check' from their basis as manuals of fighting technique. Take that away and there's no longer a real-world connection among the various motions involved. If you want to see how this works, watch one of the classic Marcel Marceau mime routines (the prisoner exploring his cell, for example). Watch how brilliantly he creates the illusion of physical reality out of sheer movement. Now get ten people off the street, give the assignment Do a pantomime of [whatever MM did that you watched] and see how plausible it is... MM was a genius; the ordinary person simply does not have the trained reactions and ability to vividly imagine physical situations that's needed to do those motions in a convincing way. Only by vivid visualization will someone's motions become realistic enough to suggest the situation that the miming exercise is supposed to convey.

In the MA domain, that's the role of bunkai, visualization and, in the end, scenario-based training with a noncompliant partner, where you put it together. Without that, there will be no convincing connection between the various separate movements of forms that were designed, originally, not to be pretty, but to show you how to stay alive.

That's one of the reasons why I think that tournament forms competitions have helped mislead people about their approach to these patterns. Beauty is a side effect, a benefit of efficient movement for particular objectives based on real events, either now or in the very immediate future. Going after beauty directly is, I think, a major error. It would be like awarding a ski race to a racer with a very stylized 'pretty' technique, rather than the one who had the best time (and therefore had found the optimal solution to the problem posed by the slope, the placing of the gates, and so on).
 

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ok, for what it is worth, this is my opinion.
for a kata or form to work, there needs to be focuses and power. there is also some separation between, but not excessive separation. the whole idea is to show and train for CQB. The Idea is to train the body and mind for close combat with a trained attacker. so the alinement's of the strikes and all the other techniques must be such that they will deliver maximum damage, even including lethal force injury's if needed!
 

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In the modern 'public' face of CMA, government-endorsed and -promoted wushu, even competitive sport has gone by the wayside, and once-ferocious CQ combat techniques have become reduced—I think that's a fair description—to circus performances.

...

That's one of the reasons why I think that tournament forms competitions have helped mislead people about their approach to these patterns. Beauty is a side effect, a benefit of efficient movement for particular objectives based on real events, either now or in the very immediate future.


Two major hits, right here.

The Circus Performance. I've done a number of performances over the years, both in capoeira and in kung fu. In a way they can be fun but i've gradually distanced myself from them. I really began to feel a bit like a trained monkey doing a circus performance. "Do the trick chimpey, hear the people clap!" I know my instructors never intended it to be like that. Their intentions were to spread the culture and the art by getting it seen. So I don't blame them for it. But I couldn't shake that nagging feeling like I was just on display for the entertainment of others. While the intentions were good, I think the audience often fails to understand the significance of what is being done, and just views it as entertainment.

The tournament competition is another biggie. Mixed tournaments are a conundrum, because most of the judges are not familiar with the methods practiced by the competitors. Theoretically, they are judging based on stances and technique and whatnot, but these can be very different from one style to another, so I suspect "beauty" comes into play in the reality of judging. It shouldn't, but I'm sure it does in many cases. And this leads to the degredation of WHY we practice forms. Instead of using forms as a depository of the techniques of our system, forms become a vehicle for winning trophies. And this encourages the creation of outlandish "flash" kata, designed to awe the judges and the audience, regardless of legitimate and useable and realistic technique.

I really thing martial arts ought to be practiced more privately, and the public demos and tournaments and whatnot would be best dumped. That's my opinion.
 

Xue Sheng

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Two major hits, right here.

The Circus Performance. I've done a number of performances over the years, both in capoeira and in kung fu. In a way they can be fun but i've gradually distanced myself from them. I really began to feel a bit like a trained monkey doing a circus performance. "Do the trick chimpey, hear the people clap!" I know my instructors never intended it to be like that. Their intentions were to spread the culture and the art by getting it seen. So I don't blame them for it. But I couldn't shake that nagging feeling like I was just on display for the entertainment of others. While the intentions were good, I think the audience often fails to understand the significance of what is being done, and just views it as entertainment.

The tournament competition is another biggie. Mixed tournaments are a conundrum, because most of the judges are not familiar with the methods practiced by the competitors. Theoretically, they are judging based on stances and technique and whatnot, but these can be very different from one style to another, so I suspect "beauty" comes into play in the reality of judging. It shouldn't, but I'm sure it does in many cases. And this leads to the degredation of WHY we practice forms. Instead of using forms as a depository of the techniques of our system, forms become a vehicle for winning trophies. And this encourages the creation of outlandish "flash" kata, designed to awe the judges and the audience, regardless of legitimate and useable and realistic technique.

I really thing martial arts ought to be practiced more privately, and the public demos and tournaments and whatnot would be best dumped. That's my opinion.

Look at taiji push hands competitions and look at real taiji push hands. Look at the rules for Taiji push hands competitions and again look at real push hands... they are not the same thing.

My first Sifu was asked to judge a taiji competition many years ago and one of the people did a Wu style form. The other judges, who mainly did Yang 24 and the 48 form look at it and said it went up and down to much. My first Sifu asked them if any of them ever did Wu style, none had. Actually none had ever seen Wu style before. My Sifu said it was very good possibly the best form of the day but the other judges said it was no good and he was out voted.

I use to do stage demos for my first Sifu too and after the second one I felt much like a trained chimp. That and other issues that were going on lead me to leave his school.

To bring this back to post, not that I have taken it away from it.

Many people who do the competition forms of CMA can be extremely Focused and have incredible Definition In Forms albeit they tend to be a bit unrealistic and sometimes downright unhealthy they are very focused and quite correct in their forms
 
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