Why Are Forms Great?

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

  1. YouKnowWho

    YouKnowWho Valued Member

    One of my friends has learned over 200 forms. I have learned over 50 forms myself. IMO, the more forms that you have learned, the more burden that you will have on your shoulder. It's too heavy for you to carry. But you don't want to drop it off your shoulder because you do spend a lot of training time into it. You will end up to be the slave of your forms.

    Today, I don't train any of my forms. I have created about 50 combo drills. Every day I just drill my 50 combos 20 times each.

    Most of the drills that I train don't come from any of my forms. For example:

    - right jab, left cross, right hook, left hook.
    - right hook, left uppercut, right hammer fist, left hook.
    - left front kick, right roundhouse kick, right side kick.
    - left foot sweep, right inner hook.
    - shin bite, reverse shin bite, foot sweep.
    - left downward parry, right comb hair, left arm wrap, right head lock.
    - ...

    I don't mind to repeat what my teacher had taught me when I was young. If I just repeat what my teacher had taught me for the rest of my life, it will be like I just stay in the elementary school and refuse to graduate. At one point of my life, I have to start to live for myself.
    Last edited: May 19, 2021
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  2. icefield

    icefield Valued Member

    I think it's pretty clear how Wang felt about forms from this quote
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  3. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    Thanks for posting those quotes, icefield. Interesting to see dissenting voices in Chinese martial arts.
  4. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    Those things don't look the same to me at all.

    The Philly shell uses the shoulder to deflect punches, not the forearm, and I didn't once see Ben Askren go pigeon-toed or have his stance so wide that his mobility was severely diminished.

    It looks like vague reaching to me. Like "hey, look; he has one hand pointing up and one pointing down. it's the same!" or "Hey, his feet are kinda far apart; it's the same!".

    In terms of technical function, it doesn't look the same at all.
  5. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    As someone who uses the kung fu wing arm all the time I can cheerfully say that the use and form are identical at boxing range. the shoulder and outside the arm is used to deflect and protect strikes from the outside while the top of the arm and fore arms used to deflect and protect strikes from the inside. Both are achieved with a minimal but movement of the body trunk. The part of the arm that is used is dependent on the height of the attack.

    This highlights your problem. if you cannot see that the horse stance used by the wrestler is identical in form and function to that used in hung gar. you will never see kung fu in fighting.

    If you never see the kung fu in fighting you will never see fighting in the forms. so forms will not make sense to you.
  6. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    This is a profound truth.

    For me the reason that I practice forms is three fold. because of the joy of practicing them. Because they are an important teaching aid for my students. Because I never stop learning and I am constantly finding new things in the forms.
    Flying Crane likes this.
  7. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    Learning is a personal journey . what is right for one person is not right for all. what is right at one time may not be right all of the time. this also happens to be true for most things in life.
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  8. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    The weight distribution and structure are different in both examples you gave. This makes them functionally different. This is simple stuff, the muscles being activated are not identical, no esoteric sensei talk needed.

    Maybe you just need to find better examples to show the similarities.
  9. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    I agree that it would be "esoteric sensei talk" which is as I understand it code for a slander on my charter as a teacher. if! I were saying that there was a mystical difference between kung fu and other arts. but I am not. I agree that this is as you say simple stuff. The Philly shell is a way of using the body to slip and deflect strikes and so is the wing arm. the key to both of them is not moment of the arm which remains passive but the active moment of the body and the way that this creates opportunities to counter attack.

    someone punches at you. you deflect the attack with a minimal rotation of the body. you hit them back. all simple. Nothing esoteric. all the same.

    Please explain how these stances used bellow are different.

    When I say your problem is that you cannot see the applications in the forms this is not an attack on you. Nor is it an esoteric "ah! only the Enlighted can see the truth. " It is simply that I have learnt martial arts from being taught technic and being shown where the technic is in the forms. It is a way of learning that works for me . this is what is "great" about forms. if this way of learning does not work for you that is ok. there are plenty of other ways to learn. It is manifestly obvious that a person can be a great martial artists without learning a single from.

    However you asked the question what is "great" about forms and my answer is because they contain the moments and applications of fighting. The problem is that if you personally cannot see this then you will never see the benefit of forms. so you will never get an satisfactory answer to your question. This is a problem for you if want to know the answer to your question.
    Last edited: May 20, 2021
  10. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    To say that Ip Man is performing something identical to the Philly shell requires the definitions to be so vague as to make it meaningless from a technical perspective.

    The main difference between the wrestling stance and the horse stance you posted is the position of the head in relation to the knees. One is strong and balanced (the wrestler), and the other is not.
  11. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Well-Known Member

    Thank you for the link, first off. I will start by saying that I know very little about Yiquan, and even less about Mr. Wang. His is not a name that I was familiar with, prior to your posting this. I did a little internet research on Yiquan to familiarize myself with its fundamental concepts. I always take Google-fu with a grain of salt, but it's something.

    Regarding your comments above: I agree with these notions, other than the fact that I am not personally worried about what others are doing. I believe the observations are accurate in many cases. What others do and how they train isn't something that I get worried about, but that's a different matter. I can find agreement in those observations. I believe that many people approach the practice of forms/kata/poomsae with the wrong mindset, at least if combat skills is what they are striving for. It seems to me that many people see forms as a product, in and of themselves. They see the practice of a martial art as the learning of a complex choreography (the form), which is the endgoal itself. The form is then treated as a performance art, done to impress an uneducated audience or to win a medal in competition against others who are doing their own performance art. They then collect many of these, all done in the same manner, thinking that somehow practicing this choreography will (almost magically) instill them with formidable skills. The choreography of the form itself becomes the whole purpose of the martial training. In my opinion, this approach to forms practice is misguided and does not reliably lead to martial skill. It often leads to a collection of forms, and not much else.

    I would agree that heavier focus on fundamentals and application of those fundamentals is a more reliable way to develop skills. This alone can be plenty in the way of developing useful fighting skills. I would echo @Tom bayley when he says that nobody needs to ever learn a single form, in order to become a skillful fighter. Full truth, that.

    However, a misguided approach to forms, regardless of how widespread, does not mean that the practice of forms is pointless. I find them to be useful in proper skill development, once the foundation is strong and a reasonable understanding of how to use the fundamental skills is already in place. Then forms become a tool (that would be one tool among many, not the only tool that one needs) that can provide a more challenging way to train the fundamentals, in a moving and changing and dynamic pattern, that helps reinforce those fundamental skills. They also provide a vision of what is possible within the methodology of the system being trained by suggesting (not mandating) solutions to certain encounters, and for those who find them interesting and enjoyable as part of practice, they provide a motivation to simply keep practicing which is important in a world where too many distractions give us every excuse to stop training. Forms also provide a platform (again, that is one platform, not the only one nor the only one that can be useful) to train by oneself, when partners are not available, the value of which should be obvious after this last year of Covid.

    In my opinion, people often collect too many forms to be useful. It is easy to get spread too thin, practicing too much material, that none of it gets the attention it needs. A better approach is to understand how to get a lot of mileage from less material. I believe that a small number of forms can be part of that training. An endless of list of forms becomes pointless. A small number of forms, trained correctly, can help you understand certain lessons of movement, power generation, and transition. I don't know what the magic number is. But I will suggest that if you haven't figured out these lessons after practicing perhaps a half dozen forms, then learning another dozen is unlikely to be of help to you. In that case, either you are approaching your forms training incorrectly, or the instruction you are receiving is poor, or forms are a bad method for you and you ought to train in a different method that does not use forms. On the flip side, if you have learned the lessons after learning a half dozen forms, then you really have no need to learn another dozen, even if your system has them. They have served their purpose and you don't need any more.

    So now back to Mr. Wang and Yiquan. As I said, his is a name I was not previously familiar with. He has been deceased for about 58 years, longer than I have been alive. I do not study in his lineage, nor in his method. So what he thought, honestly has little (zero, actually) impact on my training. I have found my own sifu to be rock solid and offering sound instruction, so that is where I get my information. And of course I always use my own intuition and contemplation to evaluate what I am taught, regardless of the source. After 37 years of training I am more than comfortable making my own evaluation of things so I certainly never follow anyone with blind devotion. So I guess an appeal to Mr. Wang as some kind of authority in this matter is rather lost on me.

    Mr. Wang passed away in 1963. I did not see a date for when that interview was conducted. However, it was clear that it was after Mr. Wang had travelled throughout China for some 40 years. So I am going to assume it was sometime later in his life. Perhaps it was in the early 1960s, not long before his death. I think we need to look at events that transpired during that era, that probably had an affect on what Mr. Wang was observing in the Chinese martial community.

    The Chinese governement created Modern Wushu beginning after 1949. This was a recreation of the older martial methods into a modern cultural expression for performance and competition. The forms in Modern Wushu were based on the older fighting forms, but were changed and altered and re-created with the emphasis on aesthetics and athletic performance. The fighting integrity of the older forms was removed or at least its relevance was ignored and its loss was considered immaterial, when the new Modern forms were created. The result is essentially a gymnastics floor routine with a kung-fu flavor. The government placed heavy emphasis on the Modern method in an attempt to standardize the practice of martial arts in the nation. The athletes in Modern Wushu were not intended to be able to fight with it. Fighting was not the point. Performance and aesthetic competition were. In its support of Modern Wushu, the government began to discourage the practice of the older, traditional, fighting methods. That is when a marked deterioration in the quality of the older methods became prominent, as fewer people were willing to practice an older method that the government wasn't exactly friendly towards. Later, when the Cultural Revolution set in, the practice of the older methods was actively persecuted, resulting in even more deterioration as few people kept those methods alive and had to practice in complete secrecy for fear that their neighbors might inform on them. People tended to disappear when they were informed on. But this happened after Mr. Wang passed away.

    So if the interview with Mr. Wang took place in the late 1950s or early 1960s, then it is entirely possible he was reacting to what was happening as Modern Wushu rose to prominence. The practice of hollow forms as performance art and competition, without even the desire to understand how they could be utilized as part of a viable combat method. This is admittedly speculation on my part. But I think understanding a bit of that history might reveal influences on Mr. Wang's opinion.

    As to Yiquan, my simple research indicates it derived from Xing-i, kind of rejected the forms and formalized methodology and somehow embraced more of a "do your own thing" as far as technique is concerned. I believe it is described as something like "natural movement" but I couldn't find anything that really defined what that means. But my research was brief. I have seen reference to the pole standing meditation Zang zhong if I recall, and some references to other exercises which were not described. So let me ask you: If you find Mr. Wang's opinion to be notable and trustworthy, would you recommend an aspiring MMA athlete to adopt this approach to training? I really do not understand how it can lead to skill development. But I also see inconsistencies in how the method is described. On one hand it is described as being devoid of technique and method, but then other exercises are mentioned. So I don't really understand what the method really is. At any rate, I also saw mention that very few students could really follow his method to a high level. He himself came from a background of Xing-i and perhaps other methods, so he had that foundation to begin with. Perhaps that groundwork is necessary before one can be successful in his Yiquan. Or perhaps he was one of those rare and exceptional individuals who could thrive in ways that most of us mere mortals cannot. I think most of us, aspiring MMA athlete or not, would be discouraged with a method that didn't have a solid methodology for developing a punch and an approach to engagement.

    In a nutshell, I don't find Mr. Wang to be any kind of standard that any of us ought to feel compelled to follow. That being said, I can agree with at least some of his observations, but I also believe that his observations were probably being influenced by very specific events that were happening in China at the time.

    Hopefully this gives people something to think about.
  12. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Well-Known Member

    I agree.
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  13. YouKnowWho

    YouKnowWho Valued Member

    A: Is form training important?
    B: It's a great way to build up solid foundation.
    A: Why don't you train your form any more?
    B: I have much more important things to do.
    A: What's more important than form training?
    B: The kick, punch, lock, throw integration. The toolbox building, The entering strategy training. The finish strategy training, ...
    Last edited: May 20, 2021
  14. icefield

    icefield Valued Member

    Wang wrote these articles and opinions in the early 1940s, his views were of a time period was before the 50s or 60s.

    He was talking about the state of Chinese martial arts in the 20s and 30s, way before we can blame the Communists for anything.

    He might have been rare but he wasn't unique and his methods produced fighters who went on to win or medal in the all china full contact events of the 1930s, and won numerous challenge matches through the 30s to the 50s.

    Whether you agree or disagree with him, or decide to use or not use him as a standard bearer is really not important but we shouldn't try to pass off his views as simply an attack on the state of Kung Fu because of the Communist party because that might make us feel better about our own practise, the fact is he was talking about the period decades before, and who he was was quite possibly the most famous fighting master of his generation and a man who produced fighters who won countless challenge matches and national events. Whilst only a few of his students if any reached his level, quite a number became famous fighters in their own right, his methods worked.
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  15. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Well-Known Member

    Ok, I appreciate the context. That answers my musings on possible influences on his point of view.

    it does not influence how I feel about forms nor how I train. None of what I said in any way was an attempt to feel better about my own practice. There was no date on the interview, and I made an honest speculation, that I openly admitted was speculation. I am trying to understand why you would even make such an allegation in the first place. Is it to help you feel better about how you train? By tearing down someone else’s methods? Because that is how it reads.

    you don’t like forms and you don’t need to. No one needs your approval in how they train. Follow the ways that make the most sense for you. That goes for everyone, whether they like forms or not.

    I guess I am trying to understand the point of this debate. It has been done over and over and over and over, often by the same people every time. What do you imagine will happen? All of us who practice forms will suddenly see the light and immediately dump our forms? You don’t honestly believe that, do you?

    people have their own reasons for how they train. You don’t need to like them. But their answer could be as simple as “because I like them” and you have no argument for that.

    Let it go. It becomes unseemly.
  16. Thomas

    Thomas Combat Hapkido/Taekwondo

    I could see the rationale in re-examining them.

    I learned the Changhon and the WTF patterns over the years. I still do the WTF patterns for my own 'home study' solo work (especially during Covid). Overall, I like that they are fairly short, have some nice techniques in them, and work in some good footwork routines. I prefer the WTF to the Changhon patterns mainly because of the 'walking stance' stuff in WTF forms.

    If I were going to 're-examine' the patterns, I think I would drop some of the repeating techniques (how many times do we do front stance-low block?) and reduce the frequency of some of the funkier stuff ('W-shaped/Mountain block, Swallow Shape block, etc). Then I would add in more kicks (geez.. roundhouse kick only shows up in one Taegeuk pattern) and some combination kicks (like we do in floor drills). I might even add in some spinning techniques (if we can do spinning back fist in a form, why not spinning roundhouse?).

    Since I like the idea of forms as 'home study', I'd really like to see more elements in the patterns that match up to the sparring rules for TKD. I probably wouldn't try to 're-engineer' the patterns to address other ranges (like grappling)... I'd leave that for cross training instead.
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  17. Smitfire

    Smitfire Cactus Schlong

    You see I think the WTF walking stance being changed to be more upright, shorter and 50/50 weight (is that right?) is an example of a change made due to incomplete understanding of what a walking stance is "for".
    It makes sense to change a low stance to a high one if you're in a sparring format that favours mobility and sparring footwork.
    As I understand it "stances" are a snapshot of weight transfer designed as a visual shorthand to convey what the student should be doing with their bodyweight. At a time when students dont understand how to manipulate their bodyweight. Stances shouldn't be held but moved through as needed. In the case of walking stance that can either be projecting their weight forcefully forward and slightly down (to create impact) OR resisting being pushed back (hence straight back leg and heels down...neither of which are needed for power generation but are useful in close clinching).
    Changing it to the upright WTF version changes that functionality.

    Roundhouse doesn't show up in ANY karate kata! :)
    That's because the older kata templates and combinations that made their way into modern kata and thence TKD forms were formulated at a time when proto-karate was a civilian self protection art. All kicks (few that there were) were simple and low because that is what's suitable for that context. Anything high, spinning, etc is a later addition that bears no relation to the more "traditional" looking stuff.

    That's what arts like Enshin karate has done but again that's due to a misunderstanding of how to use the "traditional" (hate that word) techniques. Introduce sparring formats and drills that use the older techniques in the context they are designed for and they'll match what's used in sparring.

    It's not so much re-engineering as a re-understanding. Adjusting our point of view and context. It's like we've been trying to use a screwdriver to hammer in nails for years but now we know to turn the screwdriver around and use it as really intended. It's not re-engineering the the patterns to address things like social violence, flinching, gaining the initiative, clinching, standing grappling, joint locks, escaping, breakaways and brutal close range strking. That's what they contain if approached properly! They were never intended to make you as good a grappler as a BJJ guy, as good a thrower as a Judoka, as good a puncher as a boxer or as good a joint locker as a ju jutsu person. Cross training in those arts for those ends is absolutely a good thing. But old school karate was designed to give you enough of a grounding in those things to be a beginner at none of them and to have enough "game" in those areas to navigate an unwanted violent encounter.

    That's my understanding of it all anyway and they arts make more sense and "fit" together better with that understanding than they ever did before.
    Thomas likes this.
  18. Thomas

    Thomas Combat Hapkido/Taekwondo

    Nicely put... however, I think in the case of (WTF) TKD, it's sort of a cart driving the horse idea. The patterns were basically taken from Karate (and modified to become their 'own' thing) but then the style of sparring has evolved in a different way (and maybe even with a bit of influence from the Korean notion of Taekkyeon sparring ideas) to the point where the typical footwork, combos, and ways of fighting in TKD is different than what the patterns were originally designed for in many ways. The 'walking stance' in the Taegeuk patterns is much closer to the fighting stance used in sparring. For students, getting used to transitioning between deep front (and back stances) and into a walking stance (and throwing techniques from all of those stances is good. It is very different to throw a kick from a deep front stance than from a walking (or fighting stance). In my opinion, the Taegeuks do a better job than the Changhon patterns do of having students practice techniques from stances they'll use in WTF style sparring.

    Yep... and I think again the art has evolved away from its Karate roots quite a bit in the way sparring is done. I'd like to see the forms catch up a bit more... let's have all of TKD's kicks included in the patterns(that people use for home study). And, I would say especially the roundhouse kick because it's used so much in TKD sparring.

    Yes... I tend to fall into the 'let's cross train in areas where I am weak' instead of digging into the patterns to try to make something 'sort of' work by trying to come up with places in forms that 'might' be a proper response. Too often, it ends up being a 're-engineering' or shoehorning a technique from another art into a TKD pattern so we have it covered. I prefer to skip those steps and just cross train in the techniques I need from another art.
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