Thursday, July 28, 2011

Forms are for Idiots, I do Real Martial Arts

Let us look at some famous names in the development of Martial Arts in the modern world.   This might give us a clue as to why some cling to Forms in their training, and why some have abandoned them.

Bruce Lee:  “When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.”  Bruce Lee felt that one needed to “master” an art, any art, then shed the constraints of that art to develop a “style” that is not a “style” or “form” that is “no-form.” (Taken from Fighting He stressed that a particular view point could hold back your development, once you had mastered that view or style.  This was a function of his training in Hong Kong, where he learned a style and there were no options to its performance. One way for everyone.  He suggested that this type of training, past mastery, was a waste of time. Traditional learning including forms should be confined to learning while obtaining mastery.

He also stated that conditioning is a required part of martial arts training, but made no connection between forms and conditioning.  He suggested running was the best form of conditioning.

Gichin Funakoshi: Gichin Funakoshi was the founder of Shotokan and introduced karate to Japan in 1917.  In his master's text, Karate-Do Kyohan, he explains succinctly “… since the purpose of learning kata is not just for the sake of learning them but for the tempering and disciplining of oneself…”  Funakoshi links mental and physical exercise in to the practice of forms.

Master Funakoshi also states, "True Karate-do is this: that in daily life, one's mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility; and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice."

Thus, in a traditional martial arts like karate, it is a body and mind thing, not just a way to pound someone into submission with attitude. In fact, the attitude of a karateka is humility. 

One of my own instructors once told me that if the instructor had no reason to do a form, then they were probably not worth learning the form from.  

Master Liang in Tai Chi Chuan wrote, “Taijiquan is a healing/martial art that combines the martial arts movements with the Qi (Chi –energy) circulation, breathing and stretching techniques. …. The same techniques that were capable of developing internal power for combat, also proved to be effective as life prolonging, healing and rejuvenating exercises."

Seems like in the most serene of all forms, according to many martial artist, Health, Fitness, Power, Stretching, Prolonged Life and Exercise are evident, along with Combat.  Imagine that.  Combat application side by side with exercise, in a traditional martial arts for over 2000 years.

Master Liang - Tai Chi is Real

One of my friends was a student at a Tournament school.  He learned nearly NO self defense, just sport karate.  When he was introduced to a style that had self defense he had what psychologists call a significant emotional event.  I can understand how someone might feel when they find out there is more to life than sport.  That started him down a 20 year path to teaching an art that is no art.  He teaches Self Defense, devoid of basic training that forms supply, because his personal history was fraudulent when it comes to forms.
When my wife and I went to Krav Maga certification, Level 1, and failed the first time, I might add, we were exposed not for the first time to the prevalent attitude about the uselessness of forms.  We were told that Krav Maga, if it was a martial arts, was Big on Martial, short on Art.  Everybody laughed. I heard this at each level of certification training.  The assumption was that forms were art, and art alone.

Another associate was trained in Kung Fu for 20 years, only to find out later that his instructor was not a master of Kung Fu in China as advertised, but rather a cook.  He too found a traditional instructor who introduced him to a balanced martial art, found that self defense could be real, and started to collect self defense systems.  He shunned forms, because of his earlier experience with a master cook.

 Honestly, most of the people I have met that no longer teach Traditional Martial Arts, have made that choice because of poor instruction in their past, or financial pressure to succeed with the up and coming American Past Time of MMA.

Why do we continue to teach forms?

These are the reasons I was taught by my instructors.

 1) Breathing is critical to fighting. It needs to be practiced until it happens in stress and movement with out thought. First the skill, then stress, then situations.  Students learn better or learn at all if you teach it that way.  Breathing is also a fitness issue.  Stress reduction and life itself depend on it.

2) Muscle memory is not learned by single application of any techniques. 10’s of thousands of repetitions are required before there is even the beginning of skill. Asking your body to use the muscle it has in ways it is not used to, requires new strength as well, if you wish to prevent injury.  This is a Fitness Issue.

3) If you can not do a technique in slow motion, you can not do the technique. The control of your body is a critical and necessary part to any martial arts technique, and ONLY forms require a stylized controlled approach to those techniques. Control of your body allows you to concentrate your force the way you want to, where you want to and with the power you want.  Otherwise, you have to give up control of the fight, and attempt to overcome the attacker with undirected quantity. Like a cat in a bag, trying to fight its way out.  Massive motion.  Random effect. This requires strength and conditioning that Forms provide.  This is also a fitness issue.

4) Fighting techniques of a particular combat style are completely contained within that style's forms. If you master the form, its stances, movements, techniques, breathing and intent, you have the basic foundation necessary to bring the techniques to the floor and to an attacker within a purely self defense application. The task of teaching individual variations and situations is overwhelming to students and instructors if there is no bank from which to withdraw fully formed and mastered techniques.

It is easy to teach someone something new, if it is a combination of what they already know. It is nearly impossible to teach something to someone if they have no point of commonality to the material.

5) Exercise – No martial arts can be performed without fitness as part of the goal. What good is it if you can not sustain the effort. What good is it if you die young from excessive fat or excessive injury in training.

6) Group Support – everyone is different, but unity is maintained when doing forms together. Because nothing succeeds like success, learning is enhanced when in a group format.  In addition, self confidence is also enhanced when performing with others.  You either are giving or getting help the entire time.

7) Art. If you need that explained, then you are missing a large section of your life. Beauty is an end unto itself.

Picture Credit: Barbi McCoy, MAK
To say that there is NO social, economic or spiritual component to our continued desire to teach forms, however, would be dishonest.  We strongly believe that a good business provides a good product that has been tested and proved to the public.  We do NOT change what we are doing just to be more acceptable to the public.  We do not travel the path that others travel, just to travel it.  We do not want to catch their wave and ride it to the shore.  We have always wanted to change the world, one student at a time.  Two years ago, Karate schools were like restaurants.  One or more one every corner.  Now MMA schools are like that, and very few karate schools exist.  Traditional Schools are the Purple Cow within the herd. We do still teach karate.   We are doing what is best for our students, what we were created for.

Don't get me wrong.  We teach MMA and cardio classes too.  We also teach Tai Chi.  Whatever it takes to help someone be safe and be fit.  Longevity in all of its aspects are the goals of a martial artist.  (Mos of our MMA students also take karate.) ... Moo.


If you would like to read what we think about how god acts in our lives, check out our "Does God Serve You" blog.  If you are looking for some humor, check out our "Find the Malfunction" blog.

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