Is there a benefit to learning MORE forms?

skribs

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I find forms to be useful. Even in as much as I don't see a direct application in the Taekwondo forms, there are a lot of benefits I still see. I understand that the forms:
  • Help us work on our stances and technique by building muscle memory
  • Exercise our brain to work on memorization and attention-to-detail, which is most important for young and old students (i.e. under 10 or over 50)
  • Work on the communication between our minds and bodies so our body can actually follow the directions our mind is giving it
  • Work on balance, coordination, and specific conditioning
However, my opinion is also that after a point, there are severely diminishing returns when learning new forms. Learning a handful of progressively more difficult forms will reinforce the physical and mental exercise, but learning a larger variety of forms I don't see as much more useful.

It's not just my school, but at a lot of Taekwondo schools I see this happen. My school has the 5 Kibons, 8 Palgwes, 8 Taegeuks, the Yudanja, and variants of the Yudanja. I have 28 forms so far (not including weapons). My old school had dozens of Exercises (mini forms), 5 Kibons, 8 Palgwes and 8 Taegeuks just to get black belt.

I've also seen a lot of schools online that have various combinations of the forms from different sources. This is especially common in dual-certified schools (i.e. an ATA/KKW school) where you have forms from both affiliations, or maybe the instructor came over from a dual school and retained most of his old forms. Maybe the forms come from a smaller organization before the Master was ranked in the larger organization, or maybe they were created in-house.

Whatever the reason, I don't personally think there's much benefit in having more forms. I think after a point, the diminishing returns really start to kick in. Your mind already talks to your body, you already have built the attention to detail, the stances, the muscle memory, and the balance and coordination. If you already know a dozen forms or so, what is the benefit of continuing to learn more forms, instead of spending more time on drills and sparring?
 

Kung Fu Wang

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If you just treat forms as books, of course the more books on your book shield, the better knowledge that you will have. If you don't treat form as book, the more forms that you have learned, the more burden that you will carry on your back.
 
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skribs

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If you just treat forms as books, of course the more books on your book shield, the better knowledge that you will have. If you don't treat form as book, the more forms that you have learned, the more burden that you will have on your back.
One thing I learned in school - books are heavy. Only carry the books you need for the next class. The rest can stay in your locker.
 
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It depends on the forms, and it depends on how many you already have.

So where is the point where you say each of the following:
  • We don't have enough forms
  • We could get by with what we have, but more would help
  • We have enough forms, but a few more wouldn't hurt
  • We have enough, we don't need any more
  • WHY DO WE HAVE SO MANY????
 

ravenofthewood

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Sometimes my students ask about my training and whether black belts have forms. Their jaws invariably drop when I tell them I know 40 forms. Technically, I know 19, with variations.

My school learns our in-house form for white belts, the 8 Taegeuks, and the standard yudanja poomses. However, each level of black belt learns how to do some of the basic Taegeuks backwards, mirror (e.g. il-jang does down block, punch to the left to start, mirror starts with down block, punch to the right), and mirror backwards. While doing this may seem like useless make-work, it is actually incredibly beneficial. Knowing how to do a form backwards allows me to be working with one group and quickly identify an error in another group by mentally rewinding. Knowing how to do a form mirror helps me to demonstrate tricky sections of a form in a way that students can see better. And they are fantastic mental exercises which help to really understand the subtle nuances of the form.

We also teach in-house created forms for different types of techniques. We have a form for blocks, closed hand strikes, knifehand strikes, kicks, and stances. These allow us to isolate each type of technique in a different situation and really focus on our technique.

I think it is more valuable to know a small number of forms and learn to look at them different ways than it is to learn a vast number. By the time I hit black belt, memorizing a form was not much of a challenge. But by turning the forms backwards and mirror, I gained greater attention to detail and mental flexibility. Those aspects are challenged even more as I watch newer yudanja do backwards/mirror forms and help them find the errors.

I do think, however, that different forms focus on balance and coordination in new ways. For example, first dans often struggle to keep their balance for the slow diamond blocks in Keumgum. Third dans, however, generally have a rock solid Keumgum diamond block because they have had to learn to do the fast Pyongwon diamond block without falling over. Another example would be between Koryo and Pyongwon. Koryo has the challenge of doing a side kick and landing in the next move, but facing the opposite direction of the kick. Pyongwon applies this same principle, but makes it significantly more difficult, with the front snap kick--back kick--double knifehand sequence.

To sum up, I think it is more beneficial to know a small number of forms, add on more difficult forms to challenge your body in new ways, and be continually looking at the forms in new ways. It is less beneficial to stockpile many forms at the same level.
 

dvcochran

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One thing I learned in school - books are heavy. Only carry the books you need for the next class. The rest can stay in your locker.
This hits the nail on the head. Lighten you load to free up the capacity to learn.
I am at the point the I worry less about staying polished on the lower forms. The Yudanja form set is deep. There is much more than what is seen on the surface. The how may not seem extremely different but there is a Lot of why in them.
We also learn the MDK forms that are very traditional and have a more JMA lean to them.
 
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We also learn the MDK forms that are very traditional and have a more JMA lean to them.

I have to say, I've watched some videos from the "Karate Nerd" on youtube (Jesse Enkamp), where he reviews the kata performed by Karate pracitioners, and I've seen some of the forms from Kung Fu guys posted on here, and in my opinion they blow away what Taekwondo tends to do with our forms (especially Kukkiwon).

I'll watch a Kung Fu video of the "beginner form" and it's like if you took three of our advanced forms or two of the yudanja and put them all together. Or I'll watch a Karate form, which is even more precise than our forms. I was watching one that was done by a green or blue belt, where they have several steps and stance changes and have to maintain the same hip height throughout. They looked more physically demanding than ours, and they each seemed to have a theme (which ours really feel disjointed).

It's not enough to make me leave to go to a Karate or a Kung Fu school, but man does it make me jealous to see the forms they do sometimes. Or at least to wonder that if that's what they teach a beginner, why do our beginners sometimes struggle with Kibon Il Jang, which is just the basic I-shape with down blocks and punches.

Sometimes my students ask about my training and whether black belts have forms. Their jaws invariably drop when I tell them I know 40 forms. Technically, I know 19, with variations.

My school learns our in-house form for white belts, the 8 Taegeuks, and the standard yudanja poomses. However, each level of black belt learns how to do some of the basic Taegeuks backwards, mirror (e.g. il-jang does down block, punch to the left to start, mirror starts with down block, punch to the right), and mirror backwards. While doing this may seem like useless make-work, it is actually incredibly beneficial. Knowing how to do a form backwards allows me to be working with one group and quickly identify an error in another group by mentally rewinding. Knowing how to do a form mirror helps me to demonstrate tricky sections of a form in a way that students can see better. And they are fantastic mental exercises which help to really understand the subtle nuances of the form.

We also teach in-house created forms for different types of techniques. We have a form for blocks, closed hand strikes, knifehand strikes, kicks, and stances. These allow us to isolate each type of technique in a different situation and really focus on our technique.

I think it is more valuable to know a small number of forms and learn to look at them different ways than it is to learn a vast number. By the time I hit black belt, memorizing a form was not much of a challenge. But by turning the forms backwards and mirror, I gained greater attention to detail and mental flexibility. Those aspects are challenged even more as I watch newer yudanja do backwards/mirror forms and help them find the errors.

I do think, however, that different forms focus on balance and coordination in new ways. For example, first dans often struggle to keep their balance for the slow diamond blocks in Keumgum. Third dans, however, generally have a rock solid Keumgum diamond block because they have had to learn to do the fast Pyongwon diamond block without falling over. Another example would be between Koryo and Pyongwon. Koryo has the challenge of doing a side kick and landing in the next move, but facing the opposite direction of the kick. Pyongwon applies this same principle, but makes it significantly more difficult, with the front snap kick--back kick--double knifehand sequence.

To sum up, I think it is more beneficial to know a small number of forms, add on more difficult forms to challenge your body in new ways, and be continually looking at the forms in new ways. It is less beneficial to stockpile many forms at the same level.

Those seem like interesting ideas. But at the same time as you expand with the variations, could you not also contract in the originals? Unfortunately I know that's kind of difficult when you have to meet Kukkiwon requirements.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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WHY DO WE HAVE SO MANY????
Every time that your teacher wants to teach you a new form, you should ask him:

- Why do I need to learn this form?
- What will I gain by learning this form?
- What will I miss if I don't learn this form?

You want to grow tall. You don't want to grow fat. Going through elementary school 5 times won't earn you a PhD degree.

If I want to create forms for Chinese wrestling, I will just create 3 forms:

1st form - offense technique.
2nd form - defense technique.
3rd form - combo (use one move to set up another move).
 

isshinryuronin

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It is always better to master 5 forms than to "know" 15. Originally, each form was created to teach specific techniques/concepts such as evasion, grab releases, simultaneous parries and strikes, takedowns, internal strength, etc. Once several forms are well learned, one knows the style's system of self defense (plus all the physical benefits gained by doing kata as Skribs described at the end of post #1, and as he earlier states, there is a point of diminishing returns.)

There is no driving reason to learn forms that teach nothing new from the forms you already know. IMO, this is the essence of the answer to this thread's question.

My style has 8 empty hand forms of roughly 30-45 moves each. There is a rich content of techniques to master over the course of several years. After that, there are 2 sai, 3 bo and a tonfa kata that teach a new skill set of weapons. That takes another few years to master and should be enough of a challenge for anyone to learn.

Now, after 15 or 30 years, one may want to learn a form or two or three from other styles to get a different perspective, maybe acquire some new techniques, and broaden their deep understanding of the martial arts. But the bottom line should be quality over quantity.
 

Gerry Seymour

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I think it is more valuable to know a small number of forms and learn to look at them different ways than it is to learn a vast number.
This is my view. I like my forms, but I find most of the value in them is being able to use them different ways. If you have a lot of forms, you have to divide your attention more. I can do the first form in my curriculum at least a dozen diffferent ways, each time paying attention to something different. And I can tune any given form to a specific student's needs by passing along one of those variations.

But there are challenges to be found in having a lot of forms, too. So, is there a benefit to learning a lot of forms? Sure. You get to spend more time learning new things (good for your brain). You have more to choose from when you want to work on something. You get more practice memorizing things.

Whether any of those benefits make it worth learning another form is an entirely individual question. You have to start by asking what all you're hoping to get out of your training, then what compromises you're willing to accept, since most people have conflicting "wants" from their training.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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So what I've found is:

I like learning/memorizing and mastering(not to get into an argument of mastery, if you someone wants that, start a new thread) a few forms. The one's I've 'mastered' are for different purposes, and run the gamut of MA. Beyond that, I don't see the point in practicing additional forms to the point of mastery.

However, I do see a point in learning and understanding new forms. There are always concepts that I haven't discovered/utilized before. And when I learn new forma, by asking questions, I learn more about the style, and also learn new applications of movements I didn't even know existed. But I don't necessarily feel a need to practice it over and over, if there isn't anything that I feel meeds to be practiced in form to improve.

I actually really like kung fu wangs example here, because of that. And I'll compare it to specific political science and economic books. The basic books, that I've found important, I've read multiple times, reaearched and really understand it's details. Those would be the books "in my backpack", so to speak. Then beyond that I've read a bunch of other political and economic books, to understand different viewpoints, or further my knowledge of my own opinions and viewpoints. But I don't need to own those or keep going back to those. And the points that I find important, I can study those specifically more (just like for instance I may study/practice a spinning kick I learned in a form more), without having to go through the whole book.
 

Earl Weiss

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........................... but learning a larger variety of forms I don't see as much more useful.

........................................................ If you already know a dozen forms or so, what is the benefit of continuing to learn more forms, instead of spending more time on drills and sparring?

To a large extent the value may be in what the forms you know provide versus what the new forms you learn may provide. Sparring is not Self defense, and Self Defense is not combat. Are you preparing for all 3? Do the forms you know provide tools for all.?
There is an old saying - Fear not the man who practices 10,000 techniques, fear the man who has practiced the same techniques 10,000 time.
Still, I view tools for preparedness as being akin to the auto mechanic toolbox. He may use 10% of the tools 90% of the time, but when the situation calls for that tool he may use 1% of the time it sure makes getting the job done efficiently easier if he has the right tool.
 

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Interesting thought skribs!

I think as always it depends. If you're learning kata for practical application purposes (bunkai), it would be more opportunity to learn those applications in different ways, through learning different forms (and of course the appropriate partner work to drill them). Not to mention learning more technical potential applications (which, of course could end up being more harm than good, confusion in knowing too many techniques etc).

But for the other purposes of forms, I see what you mean. Once you've learned significant coordination, balance, power generation and body mechanics etc, learning more forms may have diminishing returns, or not as much gained.

But then, it's hard to say at what point you've "mastered" all the body mechanics and dynamics, so I feel learning more could shed more light into learning how the body can work, and provide a different context in which to more deeply understand or ingrain said movement patterns.

Some systems have an insane amount of forms... and some have very few, and state that that's all that is necessary. I like the idea of that, but feel it's quite beneficial to have a few more to round that understanding out a bit more. To have others or that main one as a reference point, and expand outwards like a spiral from there.

Even within karate, all the different styles can present very different ways of moving within their form set and bring a certain emphasis. I loved what I've gained from learning the Shotokan-based forms, and learned an entirely different dynamic with Goju ryu-based. Both contributed to a well-rounded development, but still got a lot to learn!
 
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To a large extent the value may be in what the forms you know provide versus what the new forms you learn may provide. Sparring is not Self defense, and Self Defense is not combat. Are you preparing for all 3? Do the forms you know provide tools for all.?
There is an old saying - Fear not the man who practices 10,000 techniques, fear the man who has practiced the same techniques 10,000 time.
Still, I view tools for preparedness as being akin to the auto mechanic toolbox. He may use 10% of the tools 90% of the time, but when the situation calls for that tool he may use 1% of the time it sure makes getting the job done efficiently easier if he has the right tool.

And in KKW TKD, forms are not self-defense either. We have 1-steps for that. The 1-steps use more practical versions of the techniques, use them in context, and use them against a partner to develop distance and timing.
 
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There is an old saying - Fear not the man who practices 10,000 techniques, fear the man who has practiced the same techniques 10,000 time.

Eh, I think it's somewhere in the middle. 10 techniques 1,000 times or 20 techniques 500 times is probably better than both extremes.
 

dvcochran

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And in KKW TKD, forms are not self-defense either. We have 1-steps for that. The 1-steps use more practical versions of the techniques, use them in context, and use them against a partner to develop distance and timing.
Your school does not practice hosinsul(bunkhouse) in the Yudanja I forms?
 

isshinryuronin

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There is an old saying - Fear not the man who practices 10,000 techniques, fear the man who has practiced the same techniques 10,000 time.

SKRIBBS said the middle ground is best, and in most cases, true, though if I had to choose between the two extremes, I would come down on Weiss' side. A good example is former World Champion, Joe Lewis. He rose to the top thanks to just one combination he perfected: High back fist (usually a feint,) grabbing the reacting arm, followed by a mid side thrust kick. It was simply perfection in motion. He did it exactly the same every time, like a finely tooled machine. He would score it two or three times on the same (skilled) opponent inside a matter of minutes. Even knowing it would be coming, they would succumb to it. And, he landed it hard.

Of course, like a good magic trick, there was a lot more to it than it seemed. His speed and control of distance and timing was impeccable. And, even when he scored with other techniques, they were aided by the opponent's respect (fear) for that potential side kick.
 

Buka

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SKRIBBS said the middle ground is best, and in most cases, true, though if I had to choose between the two extremes, I would come down on Weiss' side. A good example is former World Champion, Joe Lewis. He rose to the top thanks to just one combination he perfected: High back fist (usually a feint,) grabbing the reacting arm, followed by a mid side thrust kick. It was simply perfection in motion. He did it exactly the same every time, like a finely tooled machine. He would score it two or three times on the same (skilled) opponent inside a matter of minutes. Even knowing it would be coming, they would succumb to it. And, he landed it hard.

Of course, like a good magic trick, there was a lot more to it than it seemed. His speed and control of distance and timing was impeccable. And, even when he scored with other techniques, they were aided by the opponent's respect (fear) for that potential side kick.

I was on the receiving end of that kick many times. But when Joe hit you with it while training, he always had great control and wouldn't blast you. He blasted people in competition because physiological intimidation was part of his game plan. And he could throw that kick with all sorts of different timing. But he always used to say "If they can't block or counter it, I'll just keep throwing it the same way until they do"

Some might not know, but Joe won Kata competitions several times early in his Karate career. I had some long talks with him about Kata. He shared some interesting thoughts with me.

Remember these sliding puzzles we had as kids?

NumbersPuzzle.jpg

Joe said he thought you should practice Kata like one of these puzzles, rearranging the moves within the Kata in different orders, moving this here and that there and sliding this up or down, left or right. Pretty interesting idea.

Sigh. I so miss Joe. Still kind of hurts when I think of him.
 

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