For those of you who haven't read my post to the intro's section of the forum, which I assume is most of you, I'd like to start out by mentioning where I am in my martial arts development. When I was very young, I took Karate for several years, although it was through the park district, and I only went to practice once a week (you could go twice a week, but it would cost more). I was only a blue belt by the time I quit, due partly to the fact that I didn't attend a lot of belt tests, which were only held two or three times a year to begin with (I don't remember the exact number). I remember almost nothing from karate, but still feel minor influences from it. Starting in 7th grade, I began fencing, which I continued part until way through my senior year of highschool. At the time I never considered it a martial art, but since it involved sparring, and only sparring (after the first seven weeks), I believe that it has been beneficial to me, at least in that area. For a little over a year, I have been studying Kuk Sool Won at the University of Illinois. I train for about 12 to 14 hours a week, which is really all I can do, given my current belt level (there's an advanced practice on Sunday's), unless I can get some people together to practice informally on off days. I'm currently only a bluebelt. I wouldn't consider myself a very competent fighter at this point, and I know that most of the Goshin Jitsu guys at our school (many of whom have been practicing regularly and intensely for around 6 years) could give me a severe beating, despite the fact that I am continually trying to improve abilities. That being said, I am probably not the best person in the world to be discussing martial arts in depth, since I have not yet learned the intracacies of my art. However, after reading some discussions on this board, I would very much like to throw in my two cents on forms, or "katas" (Kuk Sool Won uses the Korean word "Hyung" for forms, so I will probably use that terminology as well throught this article). First of all, I'm sure almost everyone will agree that the best way to learn to punch or kick isn't by sparring. I would like to begin here, and slowly work my way toward discussing forms. It is easy to see that practicing certain techniques in a live match isn't usually as beneficial as drilling them by looking at ground fighting. If an opponent has full mount, and you wish to reverse your positions, so that you are on top and he is on bottom (despite the fact that he can still keep his legs locked around you), you might want to trap his leg and arm, then push up and over with your hips. This particular technique has much better success in people who first drill simply the movement, then with the added weight of a person on top, than it does in people who only practice it live. With regards to kicking, in addition to the fact that a first time kicker is unlikely to have much success against another opponent, drilling kicks in the air forces the kicker to work on several other things as well. First of all, there's the matter of power. No matter what kind of sparring you practice, I doubt anyone ever deliberately tries to kick his opponent with full force, using the best kick that he possibly can. Such practice would be dangerous. Most kicking in the air should never be done with full force either, but when a kick is in the air done well, I believe you can achieve at last a little bit of what karate practitioners (sometimes) call "Kime", which is supposed to be the power to make a strike deadly enough to kill with one hit. Although I don't think I've ever done a kick quite that good, I often kick in a way, into the air, that I feel is powerfull enough to severely hurt anyone who is in its way. Second of all, there is a matter of balance. Many of the kicks we do in Kuk Sool involve turning your back heel just slightly, relieve pressure from the back knee, and increase the power of the kick. Kicking into a punching bag, or another person, provides a repulsive force that actually makes such kicks easier to do, while remaining standing. When doing these kicks, I believe it is important to have good enough balance to rotate your heel, peform a quick, powerful kick, then rotate it back and return to your original stance. The controll necesarry for doing this is lost when you hit another object. I work on this on my own quite a bit, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, to see just how balanced I am, and just how much controll I have. Third of all, there is the matter of range of motion. I realize that in a fight, your range of motion will probably not be cut short by any more than it is when kicking a bag, or in sparring, but I believe it is also important to feel the full range of a kick, the way the joints line up, the way the power changes as the leg moves outward, and the way your balance shifts at the end. Who knows, perhaps some day you will have to kick someone who moves back farther than expected while you execute the kick, but you still want to hit him. Perhaps you will miss all together, and will need to stay in controll. Or perhaps, knowing how powerfull your kick is at different points, you will want to back up and execute a round kick from a different part of the leg/foot. Much of this can be applied to punching as well. Before I even hit a punching bag, I knew what a strong fast, fully extended (and probably bad for the elbows) punch felt like. When I started hitting a bag, my punches felt a little bit weaker than I would have liked, and I worked to emulate some of the feeling and motion that I had achieved while punching into the air. Having hopefully established the importance of drilling hand and foot strikes before trying them in sparring, I would like to move on to a discussion of forms. At the most basic level, forms are combinations of punches, kicks, and blocks. If nothing else, they should at least provide simple drilling of these moves. A kick in the air is a kick in the air, provided it is done well, and doing it in a form should be no less beneficial than doing it outside of one. In warmups, we often repeatedly practice our forms, after drilling individual kicks an punches. In this case, it becomes, in part, another way of drilling punches, kicks, and blocks, which have already been organized, so that you practice a wide range of techniques. Another reason that we often drill forms in warmups, is because they are good excercize. Key Cho Hyung, the white belt form, is quite long, and requires quite a bit of work. Going through it several times quickly gives you a very good cardiovascular workout. Going through it several time slowly, especially with low stances works your leg muscles, and gives you a very good lower body, anaerobic workout. The low stances, which we often practice our kicks from outside of the forms, have importance beyond pure excercize. I've heard it said on this form that super low stances lead to bad habits for street fights, and indeed I do agree that super low stances can be a hinderance in real fights, but they aren't always. Even in fencing, we practiced low stances, and when sparing (still in fencing), I used something very similar to kong kyo jase. When grappling, I often find myself in need of additional stability, which can often be achieved by dropping my stance lower. I know that in many instances a low stance can make it difficult to move, or easy to get hit, and I probably would never use quite as low of a stance in real life as I do in practice, but low stances can often mean stability, which is a good thing. And no matter how much I practice incredibly low stances, the kind of ridiculously low stance that would make it difficult to fight, will never feel natural, will always make me tired, and will never become my go to stance for real combat. Practicing stances that are "too low" probably won't develop bad habits. In addition to giving the practitioner the ability to excercize low stances, practicing low stances in the forms gives the practitioner the necessarry traning to be able to move in low stances. No matter how long you practice your horse stance sitting still, there is no garauntee that you will be able to ever move around in a stable manner from horse stance, and there is even a lower probability that you will ever be able to execute a good kick coming out of horse stance. Forms provide this practice. In real life, even though you may never need to do a kick from a really low stance, if you can do a kick from there, you can do it from anywhere. For example, in Joon Geup Hyung, there is a spin kick (dora chagi) which is executed from long stance. This is much more difficult than executing it from a more upright position, but the point is to improve the practitioner's spin kick. Now, I have a pretty lousy spin kick, but I do believe that practicing Joon Geup Hyung is helping me. But what's the point of practicing a spin kick, you might ask? Why do really high kicks that you should, and would, never use on the street? First of all, before I try to make my point, I would like to say that I understand the danger of high kicks, and head kicking. In a tournament last year, that didn't involve ground fighting, I accidentally knocked people down on more than one occasion, when they tried to kick my head, by either blocking, or attacking at the same time. That being said, I don't believe such kicks are completely useless. There is, of course, the argument that high kicks, and spin kicks help stretch your muscles, which is 100% true. Also, as with doing kicks from a low stance, I believe that working on high kicks improves your balance and mechanics in a way that makes low kicks much easier. If you can do a super high kick, doing a low kick should be no problem. However, I believe that working on high kicks may actually give you skills that you could use in a combat situation. Right now I don't feel skilled enough, but perhaps after 16 or 20 years of practice, I will be able to kick well enough, and judge well enough, to be able to perform head kicks, or spin kicks on my opponent. Say what you will about spin kicks, but a study was done, by measuring the damage of various kicks on cadavers, that showed the spin kick was the most powerull and damaging of any kick. In addition, especially when fighting more than one opponent, you may find yourself in a situation where your limbs are not in convenient places, but you still need to push someone away with a kick, or where you realize that an interesting opportunity has presented itself to do a complex kick. Such opportunities may be rare, but the ability to take advantage of them is probably part of what separates a great fighter from a good one. In addition, forms combine movements and attacks in a way that you may not have thought of before, and which is unique to your style. They not only give you ideas on how to combine various strikes and kicks, but give you practice in the execution of something which might be a very effective, but very difficult combination. At the very least, experiencing the movments of forms gives you experience in the type of movements that are supposed to be effective in, and which are unique to, your martial art. Before I began studying Kuk Sool, I moved like a fencer. Now, I move like a Kuk Sool Won practitioner. I have gotten used to more fluidity, and less linearity in my movement, and feel like I can combine attacks and blocks in a way that I never could before. Even if I had found that forms didn't work for me, I would still not be very quick to dismiss them, since they have been in use, and produced quality fighters, since at least 1000 B.C., from when there are records of Greek Pankration fighters using a sort of dance to hone their combat abilities. This may be a modern era, but that doesn't mean that we necesarrily have access to better ways of learning how to fight. We may have pads, which allow us to do harder sparring without getting hurt, but in the past, often times people didn't care about getting hurt. I have heard that Korean warriors used to practice in such a way that a mistake on one person's part could lead to him getting killed or maimed by another. Sparring isn't anything new, and I don't believe that it can truly be a substitute for forms. Similarly, I don't think that forms are a substitute for everything else, but my point is that they are an important, incredibly useful, part of training. And finally, no matter what, I will always love foms. They are beautiful and intriguing, and even if someone here can prove to me that they are of no value whatsoever, I will continue to practice them. Many people may find them to be a great source of enjoyment, and if you are one of those people, that is a good enough reason to practice them.