Forms: technique or theatrics?

OldKarateGuy

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This board seems pretty slow, so I'll toss out something that has been bothering me for awhile. At a recent, very large TSD tournament, I was judging for most of a day in ring which (based on rank of competitors) seemed to be nothing but Sip Soo (Jitte, Jutte). I personally thought that most of the competitors I saw feloniously murdered this form. They seem to have replaced karate technique with theatrical moves, which had nothing to do with anything remotely resembling genuine karate. Fcous was not intended to demonstrate how to correctly focus a technique, but was a grunting and growling intended to impress the watchers with a competitor's fierce spirit. The same with facial expression. I thought maybe I was witnessing a Haka war dance before a rugby match, for all the wild ferocious faces. Some of the moves included such low stances that no one could possibly move effectively from them. Overall, I felt most of the performers had totally missed the essence and the meaning of the form. They were, in my opinion, demonstrating their ignorance.
BTW, I was usually a minority among the judges, since my scores were just about the opposite from the rest of the panel. As the head judge (in my ring) told me, "I reward loud kihaps and spirit." Well, what about stance? Footwork? Timing?
So, my questions: Have we turned traditional forms into a form of theater or dance, where arbitrary movements are favored for their artistry or spirit, over proper fighting technique? When we add little flourishes and fancy hand movements, which do nothing to show karate, but seem artistic and pretty, are we still doing karate? When we reward tournament performances like I have described, don't we do a disservice to our art, because we create incentives for theatrics over technique?
What's your feeling about this? Your experience? Should we create some new performance art, maybe more gymnastics than fighting art, and call it "Forms?"
 

Cyriacus

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I have one thing to say: Bunkai. Because not everyone buys the theatrical stuff.
Its not different to McDojos. Live and let live. Pursue what interests you, and dont bother worrying about the rubbish.
 

K-man

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It would be interesting to ask them to demonstrate an application for one of their 'fancy' moves. What I mean is, if you look at tai chi you see low stances and 'strange' movements, but those movements in a martial style of tai chi are highly significant. If they have a realistic bunkai for their kata then ok, but as a judge you aren't going to know that. I have witnessed the same here with kata being changed until it looks like a different animal. Is that 'artistic expression' or kata done badly? I don't know, but it is one of the reasons that I have little time for competition based karate. :asian:
 

clfsean

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BTW, I was usually a minority among the judges, since my scores were just about the opposite from the rest of the panel. As the head judge (in my ring) told me, "I reward loud kihaps and spirit." Well, what about stance? Footwork? Timing?

Out the door with the washwater & baby...

So, my questions: Have we turned traditional forms into a form of theater or dance, where arbitrary movements are favored for their artistry or spirit, over proper fighting technique?

Yep. In tournaments I've been too lately, yes. I'm a CMA stylist now but my roots were TKD with the pyongahn sets. I appreciate & respect highly good karate, Japanese or Okinawan. Now I'm afraid it's getting harder & harder to find, replaced by "gymkata".

When we add little flourishes and fancy hand movements, which do nothing to show karate, but seem artistic and pretty, are we still doing karate?

If it's there, you're already performing it. If not, well ...

When we reward tournament performances like I have described, don't we do a disservice to our art, because we create incentives for theatrics over technique?

Yep.

What's your feeling about this? Your experience?

MA since 1981. Originally old TKD. Spent a little time in JMA

Should we create some new performance art, maybe more gymnastics than fighting art, and call it "Forms?"

They did ... it's called XMA/Power Rangers.
 

SahBumNimRush

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We don't participate in many competitions anymore, and it may very well be because of this. We, as a branch school, can only participate in competitions that our KJN approves. Since we where his patch, any tournament we go to, is in effect, a stamp of approval from our KJN on what the host is promoting. So we don't go to competitions that support the "gymkatas", XMA, Musical forms, etc.. . What I tend to see in the handful of competitions I go to, are style well rooted in good technical standard, since it is what all of the judges are judging on.

Personally I'm wondering how you could make Shipsoo flashy? I may have to browse Youtube for versions of this form.. .
 

DMcHenry

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I'm with you "OldKarateGuy", and one of the reasons I don't attend tournaments. I'm an "old karate guy" too, having started training in the mid '70s, and I don't care at all for the flashy gymkata performances that are very popular now. I'm sure very few would be happy with me if I were asked to sit in as a judge, and I would most likely tend to deduct points for each additional Kihap etc. I see. Sure it takes athleticism to do acrobatics, but it's not my idea of good/quality martial arts.
 
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OldKarateGuy

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@Dr Rush,

I didn't think any of the additions or changes did anything but destroy the meaning of the form, but some were obviously added for some dramatic flair, or in a misguided attempt to show strength and focus (including some serious grunting and growling). There were almost random twisting hand movements, which did nothing to demonstrate some genuine technique, but which sort of resembled a dancer's hand movements. I also found some of the preamble and finishing moves to be ridiculous...snapping one's heels together like a soldier in a bad war movie, or marching stiff legged out to the center of the ring. How about screaming at the panel, "JUDGES, MY NAME IS..." blah blah blah. Ki-ahps that went on...and on and on, at about a bazillion decibels, and sounded like the sound track to Jurassic Park. Couldn't we just do that in a more normal tone of voice?
I was reminded of those awful MA shows from Orlando that used to be on ESPN about 4 AM, with somersaults, weapons with lights, music, and the like. I don't really want to put them down, if that's their normal, but maybe we should coin a new phrase for such displays, because I just do not think they are karate.
I've always enjoyed watching kata/hyung, performing myself and teaching to others. I'd like to think that traditional forms contain real directions for fighting, although there are obviously some moves and some forms which do this better than others. I'm sure that we all know some form or some move that simply defy an easy application. However, watching the various iterations of Sip Soo at the tournament, I could not help but think that almost none of the competitors saw any connection between the form and fighting. The form was some arbitrary series of moves, meaningless except for some subjective quality that involved lots of tension and lots of yelling.
BTW, I don't want to post a video demonstrating what I mean (although there are more than a few available), because then I'd be pointing at some individual. That's not my intent. But obviously, this kind of stuff is creeping into my organization and others too. When such become the standard, we all lose I think.
 
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Flying Crane

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I've commented about this in other threads, even recently, but I'll say it again here.

Martial arts were never intended to be performance art. Using martial arts as performance art is a new thing, and that includes forms competition.

This stuff was a big secret just a couple of generations ago. You didn't want anyone else to know what it is that you know or how good you are at it, because then the other guy would have an advantage over you if you ever had to fight him. So you never showed this stuff to anyone. It was a real secret.

Forms were never meant to be seen by anyone, much less an uneducated audience that just wants to be entertained. Forms were never meant for entertainment or to demonstrate to anyone. They were meant to be a training tool that you used to help develop your skill in training. It doesn't matter what an audience or a tournament judge might think about it. All that matters is that it is helping you to develop your skill. Nothing else. It could be the ugliest or visually the most "boring" form ever created, but if it helps you develop good skills then it's tremendously valuable, regardless of what an audience might think of it.

I realize that forms have become something of a vehicle for demonstrating the spirit and flavor of one's martial system. But really, asking to see someone's form is a bit like going to place a bid on a new house, and asking to see the contractor's toolbox first. Forms are part of your toolbox. They are not the house.

I know what you are talking about, this is a new animal. This is not what martial arts were meant to be and it is being altered. Just be clear on what you are doing and what you want out of it, and don't get involved or connected to the other stuff.
 

Tez3

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With the gymnastics being put in by predominately young people is this perhaps something to do with marketing and bringing money into a school/club? Rather than just being a 'crowd pleaser' perhaps it's also a 'parent' pleaser. Often parents wince when their offspring spar and they will often say they don't want them doing much of it (?) they'd rather their children learn katas. If those katas are then gymnastic in tone it looks as if the children have learnt a great deal plus it's similiar enough to what is seen on Power Rangers and the like so hey it must be good!
I don't like it I have to say, not just because I can't do the gymnastic stuff but because I also love kata and Bunkai and enjoy seeing things done properly which may be boring for some but I find riveting.

It's also being found in the horse world btw, dressage is very much along the lines of kata, it was used to train war horses for battle as well as obedience and suppleness of movement, it is also boring for non dressage people to watch so the modern world has decided it needs to be jazzed up because people don't want to see excellence so much as flash moves and music. It has to be entertaining! Sigh.
 

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I used to think the sport krotty stuff was garbage, but now I just think it's not for me. Who really cares? It doesn't affect my training or my approach to training at all. I really don't see why some people get so worked up about it, to be honest.

We can talk about "original intent" until we are blue in the face. Nobody can say with 100% accuracy what the original intent was for anything. We can make educated guesses, but I don't believe anyone really knows (I don't think sport karate was the original intent).

The problem with judging at a tournament (especially a multi-style open tournament) is that pretty much everybody thinks their way of doing things is the "right" way, or "original," or "old school," because their instructor told them so. In many cases, the judge may not know the form they are judging (Taekwondo guy judging a Chinese form, for example). In this case, how can you justify deductions based on the movements in the form or the way a technique is done? Other than judging the physical skill/athleticism or presentation, what can you judge that would be fair?
 

Tez3

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I've never judged at an 'open' style competition, only a 'same' style one..Wado Ryu. We know how the katas should be done, we have the Founder's videos of them as well as a continous line of instructors from him.
I think it does affect us all when the gymnastic style of kata is seen as being correct, for one thing many of us can't do it and then we have potential students coming to learn and finding out that's not what we do. Nothing seems to persuade them we aren't doing it wrong because if it's on the television ie Ninja Warriors, ESPN etc it must be correct. I think the sheer laziness of adding hand flapping etc is also annoying, can't be bothered to learn the kata properly? Stick a few extras in to make it look more entertaining and as often happens when points scoring in sparring, make lots of noise so that it must be impressive. What happened to the quiet dignity and gravitas of proper kata?
 

K-man

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We can talk about "original intent" until we are blue in the face. Nobody can say with 100% accuracy what the original intent was for anything. We can make educated guesses, but I don't believe anyone really knows (I don't think sport karate was the original intent).
There is no 'original intent' in kata. There is just 'the' kata that has been handed down to you. The original kata were/are complete fighting systems. Nothing to do with sport. If you want to put handsprings into your competition kata then go for it. Just realise that you are no longer performing 'the' kata. If you have been privileged to have been taught kata that has passed down unchanged, then you have the responsibility to pass that kata on, unchanged, to those who follow. The reason for this is that none of us know what the original kata meant, other than a collection of movements and techniques. But within that collection of movements and techniques, for those of us who want to follow this path, is a lifetime of study. In a way it's like having access to a museum. Changing the kata is like the curator of the museum going through the displays and throwing out all the moths because they weren't as pretty as the butterflies. :asian:
 

Jaeimseu

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There is no 'original intent' in kata. There is just 'the' kata that has been handed down to you. The original kata were/are complete fighting systems. Nothing to do with sport. If you want to put handsprings into your competition kata then go for it. Just realise that you are no longer performing 'the' kata. If you have been privileged to have been taught kata that has passed down unchanged, then you have the responsibility to pass that kata on, unchanged, to those who follow. The reason for this is that none of us know what the original kata meant, other than a collection of movements and techniques. But within that collection of movements and techniques, for those of us who want to follow this path, is a lifetime of study. In a way it's like having access to a museum. Changing the kata is like the curator of the museum going through the displays and throwing out all the moths because they weren't as pretty as the butterflies. :asian:

I think many problems arise from the forms that were handed down. Most people think they are doing it the "right" way (or teaching it the "right" way), but there are often differences between different schools even of the exact same style.

I liken it to music in a way. It's like covering a song someone else originally performed. Some musicians will play the song note for note from the recording, while others may change certain parts, change the style, or do something else to "make it theirs." It's not necessarily exactly the same, but it's still the song, right? What else would you call it? In the context that it is being performed it's "correct."

I think I try to do it the way you're talking about, if I understand you correctly. I try to perform the form as accurately as possible to the standardized way (in my case Kukkiwon Taekwondo). But for demonstration or competition that may not be the "best" way to do it. Using the OP as an example, I'm sure the competitors perform the way they do because that what wins in that particular tournament or circuit.
 

Jaeimseu

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I've never judged at an 'open' style competition, only a 'same' style one..Wado Ryu. We know how the katas should be done, we have the Founder's videos of them as well as a continous line of instructors from him.
I think it does affect us all when the gymnastic style of kata is seen as being correct, for one thing many of us can't do it and then we have potential students coming to learn and finding out that's not what we do. Nothing seems to persuade them we aren't doing it wrong because if it's on the television ie Ninja Warriors, ESPN etc it must be correct. I think the sheer laziness of adding hand flapping etc is also annoying, can't be bothered to learn the kata properly? Stick a few extras in to make it look more entertaining and as often happens when points scoring in sparring, make lots of noise so that it must be impressive. What happened to the quiet dignity and gravitas of proper kata?

I personally don't care if people who don't know any better have misconceptions about what I do. If a student comes in expecting something different and feels like what we do isn't for them, then it isn't for them. If competitors go to a competition where a more "traditional" performance wins, they will lose, and then they can decide if they want to continue losing, change the way they do forms, or find another venue to compete in the future. I think it's a kind of competition culture. And like ethnic culture, it may be different from your own, but it's not necessarily wrong depending on the context.
 

K-man

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I think many problems arise from the forms that were handed down. Most people think they are doing it the "right" way (or teaching it the "right" way), but there are often differences between different schools even of the exact same style.

I liken it to music in a way. It's like covering a song someone else originally performed. Some musicians will play the song note for note from the recording, while others may change certain parts, change the style, or do something else to "make it theirs." It's not necessarily exactly the same, but it's still the song, right? What else would you call it? In the context that it is being performed it's "correct."

I think I try to do it the way you're talking about, if I understand you correctly. I try to perform the form as accurately as possible to the standardized way (in my case Kukkiwon Taekwondo). But for demonstration or competition that may not be the "best" way to do it. Using the OP as an example, I'm sure the competitors perform the way they do because that what wins in that particular tournament or circuit.
Sometimes it is possible to work backwards and see where things have changed. In some ways it doesn't matter so long as the change was made by a master who understood the original kata and changed it to fit the style he was developing. Guys like Bushi Matsumura, Kanryo Higaonna, Kanbun Uechi, Chojun Miyagi etc.did this. Funakoshi was slightly different in that he changed things to teach in schools. But, if the local guy was to change things to suit the local competition, then that's different. Even then, if he continues to teach the original kata and uses his own variation only for competition, fine.

And, you are right about the changes. I started in karate with Goju Kai (Japanese). All of those kata are slightly different to those taught in Okinawa. Subtle differences but enough to change the original meaning or intent. But again, there is enough similarity to work on application that may well have been part of the original teaching. That we certainly will never know for certain. :asian:
 

SahBumNimRush

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@Dr Rush,

I didn't think any of the additions or changes did anything but destroy the meaning of the form, but some were obviously added for some dramatic flair, or in a misguided attempt to show strength and focus (including some serious grunting and growling). There were almost random twisting hand movements, which did nothing to demonstrate some genuine technique, but which sort of resembled a dancer's hand movements.

Okay, I guess if I am to be honest with myself, I see it at the tournaments I go to as well.. . There are a couple of organizations/schools that stomp with every movement, as if it was demonstrating some sort of power.. . Kihaps that go on for miles.. . I ALWAYS score them somewhat lower, because it makes no sense to me.. . Although, I've yet to see "jazz hands" in kata/hyungs!

I also found some of the preamble and finishing moves to be ridiculous...snapping one's heels together like a soldier in a bad war movie, or marching stiff legged out to the center of the ring. How about screaming at the panel, "JUDGES, MY NAME IS..." blah blah blah. Ki-ahps that went on...and on and on, at about a bazillion decibels, and sounded like the sound track to Jurassic Park. Couldn't we just do that in a more normal tone of voice?

Honestly I would see that as a sign of disrespect. I would never scream at a senior rank, period.

I was reminded of those awful MA shows from Orlando that used to be on ESPN about 4 AM, with somersaults, weapons with lights, music, and the like. I don't really want to put them down, if that's their normal, but maybe we should coin a new phrase for such displays, because I just do not think they are karate.

Yeah, I think those are/were the ISKA grand nationals? Somewhat entertaining, but absolutely not Karate. More XMA, if you wish to use such a ridiculous name.. . EXTREME MARTIAL ARTS, I always here the Macho Man Randy Savage's voice in my head when I hear that.. . LOL.

I've always enjoyed watching kata/hyung, performing myself and teaching to others. I'd like to think that traditional forms contain real directions for fighting, although there are obviously some moves and some forms which do this better than others. I'm sure that we all know some form or some move that simply defy an easy application. However, watching the various iterations of Sip Soo at the tournament, I could not help but think that almost none of the competitors saw any connection between the form and fighting. The form was some arbitrary series of moves, meaningless except for some subjective quality that involved lots of tension and lots of yelling.

I agree, but it's a tough one. I believe this is what the students of some training halls are being taught, and they don't know any different. It is this reason that I think we don't compete at many tournaments anymore. When I was a kid, we used to got to a bunch of them. IJ Kim's North American Championship in Cleveland, OH, S.H. Kim's tournament in Akron, OH, J.P. Choi's Battle of Columbus, K.W. Ahn's tournament in Cincinnati, OH, C.S. Kim's tournament in Pittsburgh, PA, K.W. Kim's tournament in D.C., S.H. Cho's tournament in NY, my KJN's tournament in Charleston, WV.. . they were all solid traditional tournaments.. . Now most of them are gone, or significantly changed. Truly sad IMHO.

BTW, I don't want to post a video demonstrating what I mean (although there are more than a few available), because then I'd be pointing at some individual. That's not my intent. But obviously, this kind of stuff is creeping into my organization and others too. When such become the standard, we all lose I think.

I understand.
 

Tez3

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I personally don't care if people who don't know any better have misconceptions about what I do. If a student comes in expecting something different and feels like what we do isn't for them, then it isn't for them. If competitors go to a competition where a more "traditional" performance wins, they will lose, and then they can decide if they want to continue losing, change the way they do forms, or find another venue to compete in the future. I think it's a kind of competition culture. And like ethnic culture, it may be different from your own, but it's not necessarily wrong depending on the context.

However the trend seems to be that places aren't sticking to what they know and love but rather are changing things to get more people in through the door or to be more modern or perhaps even to win competitions.
 

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First time I saw a "Musical Kata" I swore off tournaments forever. Do Kata to improve your skill. The moment the emphasis becomes impressing others you are lost.
 

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In terms of competitors announcing themselves, some of it may be an attempt to show confidence and just plain be heard... Some tournament floors are very noisy, and I've had a hard time hearing a competitor. That said -- there's a line. I don't personally mark down someone for doing what I assume their instructor told them to, unless specific directions have been given otherwise. Even then, it depends on the age of the competitor; I'll give kids more leeway for not adapting to a rule like that. But the 10 second kiai/kiyup with a punch or kick? Yeah. The kiai is a focused sound generated by doing the technique properly almost naturally, or a sound that is designed to work to bring the body into unity and synchronization with the technique. But -- I generally haven't had to gig anyone for that; if they're doing that, they've often got other problems like stance or balance anyway.
 

jks9199

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In terms of competitors announcing themselves, some of it may be an attempt to show confidence and just plain be heard... Some tournament floors are very noisy, and I've had a hard time hearing a competitor. That said -- there's a line. I don't personally mark down someone for doing what I assume their instructor told them to, unless specific directions have been given otherwise. Even then, it depends on the age of the competitor; I'll give kids more leeway for not adapting to a rule like that. But the 10 second kiai/kiyup with a punch or kick? Yeah. The kiai is a focused sound generated by doing the technique properly almost naturally, or a sound that is designed to work to bring the body into unity and synchronization with the technique. But -- I generally haven't had to gig anyone for that; if they're doing that, they've often got other problems like stance or balance anyway.
 
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