Form, Kata, Taolu, Set, in different styles they are called by different names, but they are an integral part of most traditional martial arts. Sometimes students wonder why they should put the effort into practicing and mastering these choreographed sequences of fighting movements. Well this article will give you the top ten reasons…
1. Fighting Fitness
Aside from sparring, there is no better way to develop the fitness you require for fighting than practicing forms. When you practice forms you use your whole body and develop the specific strength, flexibility and agility required to perform fighting movements. Activities like running and calisthenics are great for building fitness but don’t come close to the benefits of form practice. If you want to increase your fighting fitness, try replacing one of your other fitness sessions with a session of just practicing forms. If you would go running for an hour, try practicing forms continuously for an hour instead. You will be amazed at how tiring it is (my guess is that you may not be able to do it initially, you may have to build up to it); you will also be amazed at how it quickly improves your fighting fitness.
Forms consist of sequences of fighting techniques. There are vast numbers of possible fighting techniques within any particular style. Practicing forms will help you to remember these techniques so they stay fresh in your mind when you are in sparring or fighting situations. It will also develop fluidity in performing the movements and muscle memory so that with enough practice they will come quickly and naturally in the appropriate situations.
Forms are not just about individual techniques, but also how you put techniques together into sequences. By practicing forms you will become better at transitioning from one technique to another and develop a smooth flow in your fighting movements.
4. Movement principles
Embedded with the forms are sophisticated movement principles that help to develop your fighting effectiveness. It is an interesting exercise to draw out individual principles from the movements within forms to examine them and understand them better. When you do this it will often take hours to fully explore the principles embedded within one short sequence. Practicing the form gives you an efficient way to be constantly reviewing and further developing these important movement principles without having to break down each individual part each time.
Some of the movements within some forms are very challenging. Learning these forms is a good motivation to develop our athleticism, and practicing them is a constant challenge to maintain it.
An important part of fighting effectiveness is intent – thinking clearly about where you want to strike, the damage you want to do with your strike and so on. Forms are a great opportunity for developing this intent. As you practice the form you can imagine you are performing the movements on an opponent and the intended damage. As you play this out in your mind, your body becomes more skilled at doing what it needs to do to achieve the intended results. Forms are much better for doing this than sparring. In sparring our intent is to NOT hurt our partner, so while we practice our fighting movements in a live, fast and unpredictable situation while sparring, we do not get to practice any kind of damaging intent. Because in forms our opponent is imaginary, we can put as much damage into our intent as we want.
7. Connection to history
Forms act like a kind of living book. They contain the wisdom, knowledge and insights of those who have gone before us. When we practice forms we open ourselves to benefiting from this wisdom on a deep level. We also pay respect to those who have contributed to the development of our style.
8. Self expression
While we pay respect to history when we practice old forms, we also have the opportunity to learn to express ourselves with these forms. While the structure of the form may be set, we have the ability to still perform the form in our own way. We can adapt the speed and rhythm and other aspects of the form to suit ourselves and find within it our own self expression. As we progress we can go further and as well as practicing old forms, or forms created by others we can create our own forms to more fully express ourselves and the principles that we have learned and developed.
9. Demonstrate Knowledge
In many martial arts schools including Long White Cloud Kung Fu, forms are an important part of the grading system. So of course another important reason for you to practice your forms is to prepare for moving up at your next grading.
10. Teach Others
The last reason in our top ten is to help you teach others. Forms really are an efficient and effective way of teaching martial arts techniques and principles. At some point in your martial arts journey you may be called on to teach others. The better you are able to do the forms yourself, the easier it will be for your students to learn from you.