Why Are Forms Great?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Discussion' started by David Harrison, Jun 5, 2018.

  1. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    Okay, so I feel compelled to chase this rabbit a bit further down the hole...

    In this thread: A different question about forms, kata and patterns Tom had these things to say about forms:


    Which left me confused. You spot and take applications from the forms, but the forms are not where you get technique from... Forms are not abstracted from reality, but no-one moves in a fight like they do in a form...

    I'm happy to be told that I have very little understanding of how forms work, but how come no-one can tell me how forms work?

    This thread is an open question to anyone who trains forms. I am not going to comment, and would consider any criticism of forms to be off-topic. This is all about bigging-up the utility of forms as a training method. I am particularly interested to see if people from different arts see forms as fulfilling the same function in their training, or if there is a difference of opinion there.

    So I'll go with this format of two questions, but any supplementary material is welcome:

    1. What is the relationship between forms and fighting? Do you see forms as abstracted lessons in mechanics, or techniques as they would be performed in a fight? Does it depend on the form?

    2. Are forms paragons of good form and function? Are the technical ideals of a system contained within its forms? If not, what is the purpose of forms?

    Thanks in advance. :)
  2. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    "Criticism free safe space"

    Maybe I'm misreading tone over the internet, but this reads as dripping with condescension, and may not get people who use forms as fight training motivated to type lengthy posts. There's only so many "I think your training is nonsense, so justify to me what you do" posts from MMAers to the TMA community you can type lengthy responses to, before you get tired of it.

    Especially when we just had this discussion two weeks ago in the karate forum
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  3. Monkey_Magic

    Monkey_Magic Well-Known Member

    This would be interesting to know:-
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  4. aaradia

    aaradia Choy Li Fut and Yang Tai Chi Chuan Student Moderator Supporter

    A lot of people in various threads have talked about the benefits of forms. I agreed with a lot of what was said, but had nothing new to add. Also, I get tired of this debate. I get a lot from forms practice. It is one tool amongst many in my development as a martial artist. My styles and school are forms heavy, but we understand and drill the applications too. We also spar in various ways.

    Frankly, I don't get involved much in these threads because it is an old tired debate to me. And I think that the people so concerned with how other people practice and so invested in telling others their training focus is wrong need to spend more time practicing and less concerned with how others practice. I know its benefits in my life. I know how it helps me and fulfills me and makes my sparring better. If others want to think it is inefficient, whatever. It affects my practice not at all. I will go along and keep doing what works for me. :)

    But yes, David, as a person practicing a different art, I see a lot and agree a lot with what others have said about forms practice and its benefits.

    Mitlov, I hope this response doesn't take away from the theme of your thread, but I am just trying to answer the question presented honestly. I really appreciate your recent few threads about forms from a positive perspective. It is refreshing to have this avenue on here for discussion.
  5. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    Well of course there's a difference in opinion from art to art (and even from school to school within an art) as to what exactly the role of forms training is.

    When I trained in Shotokan, we looked at forms training as training the art's body mechanics such as stance transitions and hip rotations and full-body connection (where I found it useful) and in as a way of training bunkai (application, i.e., using it as an encyclopedia of throws and takedowns and such), where I personally found it less useful, but I know others have had different experiences with bunkai.

    In taekwondo, we straight-up treated forms training as New Zealand rugby players treat the haka. It's a performance art that comes as part of the total package, and you were expected to participate and take it seriously, but we didn't think it would improve your abilities at the Olympic-style sparring competition.

    Interesting comparison for people who take the latter approach to forms training:


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  6. Mitch

    Mitch Lord Mitch of MAP Admin

    I do forms because I like doing them :)

    Most TKD forms are ripped bleeding from Shotokan, so applications can be followed back to their roots, but mostly they're just a mental and physical challenge.
  7. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    Yeah, sorry , it was meant as light-hearted fun, but I can see how it could look sneery.

    The difference I hoped for in this thread would be that there would be no interjections from people who think that forms and kata are pointless. It stemmed directly from Tom Bailey telling me that I don't understand them, while at the same time never seeming to get a clear idea of their purpose and/or efficacy. It is as much the contradictions as the agreements between people who use forms in their training that I was interested in.
  8. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    Mitch, would you be able to change the thread title to remove the "safe space" bit, please? I didn't mean to cause offence.
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  9. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    That's a really good comparison, and just the kind of thing I was interested in hearing about. Thanks! :)
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  10. baby cart

    baby cart Valued Member

    for me, there are 2 purposes of forms:

    1. an exercise pattern to improve certain physical attributes.
    2. a compendium of a style's techniques which contain the style's distinct flavor.

    now what do i mean by a style? for me, boxing is not a style, it's a ruleset. within it you can see various styles like the d'amato style (used by patterson and tyson), the shell style (famously used by mayweather jr.), duran's infighting style, prince naseem's wild style (parodied by brian hawk in the anime 'hajime no ippo'), etc.

    aikido is a style of jujutsu
    judo is a ruleset, but in recent years rule changes is forcing it more to the limitations of style.
    BJJ is a ruleset. 10th planet JJ is a style within it.
    wing chun is a style of quan fa.
    MMA is a ruleset. currently the most liberal legally-sanctioned unarmed ruleset.

    a ruleset is something that defines victory or defeat. the "how" aka the preferred method of obtaining victory is the style.

    now with that out of the way, good kata is a compendium of techniques of the style of the creator. it contains a set-up technique, then the decisive technique. in boxing, the jab is the set-up and the cross the decider. iirc, the WTF foundation poomse starts with a gedan barai to the left followed by an oizuki, then continues on to the opposite direction. the gedan barai the set-up, the oizuki the decider.

    as such, fighting using the set-up/decider techniques found in the kata is a good measure on one's proficiency in the style. after being proficient in the style, you find your own style (preferred set-ups and deciders aka your winning methods). that's the basis of the shu-ha-ri principle. the folks of yore did some style-hopping in order to consolidate their own styles (some felt they need more set-ups/deciders to be more proficient, thus they obtain it from other styles). however, proficiency cannot be obtainted without fighting because only in fighting you get certain details and realizations that can break the barrier of the "punch is not a punch" phase (referring to the phases of "punch is just a punch," "punch is not a punch {the minutiae of detail essential to mastery}" and the "punch is a punch {consolidation and mastery}")

    that's why TMA is such a big mess now. the details are lost due to the avoidance of fighting by the practitioners, instead they add on details of aesthetics as the benchmark of good kata. at the same time, their kata and fighting (for example, WTF/olympic TKD) are so very much apart that the details taught in kata aren't nessessary in (TKD) victory. as such, why maintain all the "fighting" details in kata? better look good to impress.

    the other face of kata is the exercise kata. like karate's sanchin. aikido's kokyu. yi quan's standing form. and taijiquan's low and slow taolu forms. they help the practioner gain certain physical attributes deemed nessessary (and sometimes integral) by the style. you can see the modern boxing version of that by watching pacqiao's flurry shadowboxing.
  11. Thomas

    Thomas Combat Hapkido/Taekwondo

    Background - my background in Taekwondo goes back a few years - I am currently a KKW 5th dan whose background goes through Oh Doh Kwan meaning we have done a huge bunch of patterns (ITF forms, Pal-gyes, Tae Geuks).

    The best explanation I heard for forms was that they were a home study guide for the art, where a student could practice the techniques on their own with the 'pattern' and precision of the forms being the technical 'supervision'. Ideally, the forms would be matched up to the belt level and review/introducing the appropriate level techniques for the level so they could be practiced under a very tight set of restrictions ("do it like this!"). So for example, at yellow belt, we have forms with the front kick in it... we work a lot of front kicks in class and students can work them at home in the form with the attendant footwork, movement, and breathing. It all should link in and help form a basic dictionary of the art's techniques that progress and spiral as you advance in the forms. Ideally, good forms work should help students build and maintain a good foundation of skills with an established way to practice them. If you watch students of a (TMA) school practice forms, you should be able to get a pretty good idea of how much work they've put in and where they are in the curriculum.

    Now, if you want them to mean more than that, they need to be unpacked... the blocks of techniques need to be practiced "as is", in combinations, and then broken up to use against an opponent. There is a lot of stuff you can pull out of them (if you look at stuff like Stuart Anslow's work, there is a wealth of self defense techniques and ideas to unpack as well).

    For me personally, I always enjoyed patterns and they served me well during times when I couldn't get to a school or when I just wanted to stay active in my basement. Many of the 'chunks' of patterns are ingrained in my muscle memory and come out when sparring.

    For me though, as I drifted more and more in self defense and had less and less time to focus on two arts (TKD and Hapkido), I have shifted away from forms/patterns (although we use a lot of two person drills in HKD) and away from TKD in general. My view currently is that instead of practicing something that I have to later 'unpack', I can save time and work the techniques as they are needed (instead of learning it in a 'hidden' way and then translating it to current form and function, just start with the modern application). I also got a bit tired of all the forms we were doing and for me a bit of the issue is how many of the TKD patterns don't really match up with how we would spar in the competitive sense. We would train forms and then train sparring skills.... instead of having them match up in the beginning. I always thought it'd be fun to make new TKD forms based around the sparring rules...
  12. baby cart

    baby cart Valued Member

    well, the guys from the way old days don't have the conveniences of video recording, much less youtube. their kata is their .zip and .rar of their style. and they have to pass it personally, no copyright protection from central authorities back then. sadly, some data is corrupted due to the rust from non-fighting as it was passed from generation to generation.
  13. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    I appreciate the clarification. I think maybe "safe space" has in recent years picked up some cultural baggage in the USA that was not part of its original connotation, and may not be part of its connotation in the UK.
  14. Thomas

    Thomas Combat Hapkido/Taekwondo

    Yes... I agree.
  15. SWC Sifu Ben

    SWC Sifu Ben I am the law

    I will only answer for wing chun, although I have done and learned forms from other systems.

    1. Mechanics. It's a series of drills strung together. You take bits and pieces of movements and use them together in execution of techniques, like building a sentence from words in a dictionary. The techniques themselves are not contained within the forms.

    2. I'm not entirely sure what you mean here, but I'll respond to what I think you mean, and the second half I have made #3 & #4.
    The form and your execution of the movement should feed into one another. The form will guide you on how to move in application, and the application will help you to refine your movement in the form. For wing chun in a way there are multiple versions of forms. When you first learn a form you learn the "basic" version. Then as you learn the next form there are mechanics you will pick up you will incorporate back into the previous form. In this way you almost have form 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, etc. as the first form gets refined from all the following forms. You couldn't learn those little refinements properly in the first form with so much new information, and it slowly refines your basic movements as you advance.

    3. For wing chun that tactical principles are contained within the kuen kuit (which very few chunners know or understand). They are guidance on training, fighting, and technique. The forms teach movement patterns. Those movement patterns are then taken into fighting.

    I think one of the mistakes people often make is thinking that the forms are meant to be a replica of things you would do in a fight. If I teach you a few sword cuts or actions with a spear and have you string them together, no matter how I have you string them together you'll likely encounter something different in fighting. There are drills you do with a sabre which are highly isolated movement. For wing chun the forms are the same, they teach mechanics, movements, pieces, not techniques. They are the building blocks of movement which build body mechanics for the techniques.
  16. Mitch

    Mitch Lord Mitch of MAP Admin

    In the TKD I do, the patterns very much promote body mechanics for solid power generation, much as you describe for your Shotokan class.

    On a wider point, there are of course the more recent karate styles that have formulated their own kata. These are based on sparring techniques and can form the basis for padwork and partner drills too, creating a system that feels unified in a way some karate and TKD doesn't.

    I had only very limited exposure, but I think they did miss much of the close grappling and clinch range stuff that is in the traditional kata though. Just my impression. :)
  17. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    By "paragon of technique", I meant that the form, as practiced by someone who has mastered it, represents the ideal movements of the art. For instance, from WC you could take a straight punch or tan sau (from memory, I believe both are in the one WC form people I know who've studied it have been taught) in the form and say "that is how it should look if executed perfectly in a fight".

    Thanks for your post, you make a clear case.
  18. melbgoju

    melbgoju Valued Member

    Firstly, my opinion on this is very heavily influenced by Patrick McCarthy, who maintains that kata were created and should be the culmination of paired training practice. They provide a way for techniques, power generation, mechanics of structure, timing etc... to be practised/pulled apart when there is no-one else to train with. This means that "fighting" (however you wish to define it) creates the form.

    But of course, it's not as simple as that, as kata are not a "fight". They contain the core of techniques that can be used in physical self defence, but the kata/pattern itself is not a sequential fight or combative sequence. I (/we, as in the school I train in) view some kata as containing some entries, things to do once you've entered, potential finishes and some things to do if the previous thing didn't work. Other kata are thought to be built around a general principle (eg: seisan is a direct, impacting kata where techniques off-balance via linear entry or pulling off-balance; kururunfa mostly deals with responses to being grabbed in various ways etc...), or kata may have elements of both.

    As I said, kata contain the core of physical self defence techniques. In the first goju kata I ever learned for instance (saifa kata in case you were wondering), the first movement is an escape/response to a wrist grab (and yes, we practised the technique first, before we learned the first step of the kata. - paired technique before solo reconstruction and rehearsal). But the kata doesn't provide the context for why I was grabbed - it seems to start partway through the conflict. This seems to be the case in quite a few of the kata I know. You need to know the point of what you're doing and how to do it, for the kata to make sense.

    All that's a long way of saying that originally, it was fighting first, forms second (which is what I consider to still be the ideal way to train). But it's not always that way (you can reference my post on the other thread for why I think it has changed). And even I don't always train them this way - there are some forms where I have learned the solo movement first and then the techniques behind them, and others which have no attached techniques in my tradition - we learn them for other reasons (see below)

    I think I've already answered bits of this above; one important (to me) point that I haven't brought up yet is that when doing a technique solo, the kata often emphasise the effort or the feeling of the technique, rather than the outward shape of the movement. For instance in the katas seinchin (also frequently spelled seiyunchin) and superinpai there is a sequence where you deflect, grab and pull in an attack; the shape of the hand is an unnatural, contorted shape - not at all what it looks like if you had someone's arm in your grasp. But this shape is emphasising the direction of force of the grasp and provides the same feeling you would need to effectively hold on to them.

    Kata also contain contextual indicators - the stance sanchin-dachi indicates close-range clinching; shiko-dachi an off-balancing or takedown; an open hand touching another part of your body - where you are being grabbed. When taken within the original context of kata being an aide-memoire to pre-existing paired technique practice, this makes sense.

    But some of the other purposes that kata/forms can provide and I can guess may have played a part in their development are in practising specific mechanics or breaking down complex movements/movement sequences so that parts of them are able to be over-emphasised or honed in a way that paired practice would not allow. If you will allow the analogy with music (I play clarinet and trombone), any fool with a bit of talent and ability can fudge their way through a fast piece; but as many conductors have said to me over the years, unless you can play a piece properly with correct expression and feel, then you can't play it properly. So too with kata - certain sequences are extended, slowed down or over-emphasised (compared to how you would do them against an opponent) to force the student to do the intended mechanics of a particular technique properly.

    So I wouldn't say kata are about abstracted mechanics per se, but more about the correct sequencing/performance of mechanics (although in the school I train in we do consider certain kata to be the reference for a particular concept or method of power generation, although this is more a curriculum issue - sepai is where we highlight opening and closing of joints, seisan expansion/contraction of the torso, but they are what we point to as an exemplar; those methods are found in many different places). And they are about techniques as they might be used in a conflict, but may not necessarily be as the techniques are performed in a conflict and are definitely not a single fight from start to finish (some kata may never contain the start-point at all).

    Yep. My core is goju - we have tanren-kata (sanchin and tensho - but in my school also happoren/babulien from white crane) that train structure, breathing and transmission of force. We have some techniques attached (especially to tensho, where compared to most other schools we have a very rich application component - most likely due to my sensei's sensei training in white crane in Taiwain and in bagua in the 1970s), but the main purpose is not to be for refining/recalling technique. We also use naihanchi ('tekki') for a similar purpose (although most shorin schools have many techniques for it, we don't - we use it for power-generation development).

    We also have training-kata (gekisa mostly) to introduce beginners to movement principles and to stringing complex movements together. Then we have kaishu-kata, which are the main ones I've been talking about above. But, depending on what you want to do with them, kaishu- can be used as tanren, tanren as kaishu- and all can be used as training kata for beginners.

    Forms are not a direct paragon of form (in the sense that you must look like this when you defend yourself); rather they should reflect the ideals of form in order to achieve functionality (I hope that makes sense). The function of a particular technique should drive the form of the kata (if the function is known, of course). As we can see from the large variance that currently exists within karate kata (seinchin/seiyunchin is an excellent example), this does not always happen; or it has happened a lot, but the original technique has been lost to the mists of time, so instructors have altered the kata to fit the technique they want to practise there. I know this has happened to us in saifa kata, where my sensei changed a couple of movements in the kata to better fit the core application (which was the application passed down by his sensei, but was partially abstracted from the kata).

    The technical ideals of a system? Well I'm biased and probably in the minority as I come from a school that has more paired kata sets (formal, pre-defined paired sets of technique sequences) than it does solo kata (14 core solo kata, but around 25 paired kata), so I think that the principles and concepts are what make up the school and that while solo kata can be used to highlight, isolate and practise them, it is the paired practice that contains them.

    But if you don't have paired kata, then the solo kata could be argued to contain them (provided you know what they are already).

    Anyway, those are my personal thoughts on the matter. Sorry if I've rambled too much.
  19. Mushroom

    Mushroom De-powered to come back better than before.

    I treat it as a pre-choreographed shadow-boxing or drills.

    In Pak Mei, we treated it as a belt system. (each school having their own curriculum).
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  20. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    I want to contribute to this thread but I am currently packing the rucksack to go reef and jungle hopping in Indonesia for six weeks. So I might be out of touch for a while.
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