Kung Fu/Forms Practice question
Hello Sifu. I'm rather confused about something which I am hoping you can assist me wtih. My martial arts learning has been based in my forms practice. Combat techniques, health techniques, etc. Lately I've been running across people telling me things like forms practice is old and outdated, that my system of forms are not effective or based in reality, some nit picking at my forms even though my teacher as OK'd them, etc. I'm wondering, now, what is the purpose of forms? what is the point of it? or is there any point to it. Can you tell me your opinion? Thank you.
Thank you for choosing allexperts and for your question. Yours is a very good question and I've heard some variations of it from time to time. Believe in who you are and what you do, when people try to derail you with such non sense let that be your start bell to jump up and train rather than think about the toxins people try to pour into your mind. Its not a new question, comment or factoid people like to hash over and over ad nauseum but it is one that you can rise above and toss into the waste bin rather than entertain it in your mind. Sometimes it has to do with promotion of an agenda or plan. If someone repeats an agenda over and over, it is hoped it will be accepted into the minds of those they are pandering to. Be an individual and rise above it, have confidence in what you do and how you train. Don't wear the blinders that are offered. It doesn't matter to me because it won't change how I practice or what I do. It does not matter if one agrees, or one hundred agree, or no one agrees, I will still do what I do, teach what I teach and say what I say. I don't try, or need, to proselytize or convert anyone over to my way, and I won't do so to you either. I tell people to try things, sample it all. Like clothes, some fit and some do not fit. Like food, Some like one kind of food, but not another. It is individualized, and it does not make the one you do not care for wrong. I don't have a need to convince anyone, I am confident in what I do and I'd suggest if you are confident don't worry about people. People have an unfortunate capacity for saying the kinds of things you are talking about. So, I will start my answer by saying, don't worry about what people say, if they persist and/or disrespect you, or if they disrespect your style, or if they in any way disrespect your instructor, then they are toxic. No further need to engage them or waste time, move on.
You didn't mention what system you practice but it does not matter, a great many systems use forms. And, yes, forms are how we codify techniques. You have a sequence of moves that are a collection of “solutions” to an aggressive action, a counter attack, a defensive move, a pre-emptive offensive move, perhaps a few techniques chained together. There are other things within the form, flow, breath control, working with internal energy, etc. The form is also a workout when you repeat it over and over. Eventually you can also flow and "free form" as you practice. Both are important. One is simply a tool box of techniques. The other is an understanding of the tools within the form which allows for the ability to conversantly and seamlessly move from one technique to the next in a spontaneous, seamless manner. Which is how you would need to react, perform and apply those techniques in a real, live situation as it transpires. Reflex can be trained to be rigid or it can be fluid, changing and adaptable. Using the form as the tool it is meant to be. However, do not become a slave or vassal to the form. After all, who is the master, you or the form?
An individual was once talking down forms to me and how it was “BS” and useless. That is fine, that is their opinion, everyone has opinions. I didn't argue with him, I said, “that is an interesting point.... how do you learn to do things, such as addressing a punch being thrown at you, a kick, someone pulling a knife or gun on you, you know, stuff like that”. He said, what do you mean?” I said, “well, how do you train to handle that kind of situation? Do you have techniques, certain skills and responses you drill and hone for those kinds of situations?” He said, “well, of course” I said, “OK, then you are practicing short, 2, 3 and 4 move forms – you are doing short forms". There are 2 far ends of the spectrum. We can be so married to a form and forms practice that we miss the utility of what is actually within that form, the tools and using them. That is pragmatic and practical. Or, in this persons case, thinking the form is so useless and, likewise, miss the point that forms are filled with combat sequences and applications, that forms are simply a tool box or chest filled with great tools, and that any sequence of moves you do, even 2 moves, is a form.
Here is another example. Imagine someone walked into your workshop or garage. They look around and say, "what a shame, you have all your tools in the wrong places and out of order". You are a skillful craftsman. The tools are in a logical arrangement that clearly works for you. Yet it's just been declared that the manner in which you store your tools outweighs and invalidates what you do with those tools. Not logical, and it does not invalidate what you do. It does not matter what order your tools are laid out in. What is important is your skill in accessing and using each and every tool. Don't worry about what people say and believe. People say and believe all manner of things. Spend more time practicing and less time thinking about small matters of unimportance.
You are skilled with the tools in your tool box not because you simply posses the tools and tool box. Not because of how you have your tools hung up, arranged or positioned in your tool box. They are simply tools and you, you are skilled with them or you are not skilled with them. Simple as that. Obsessing on where the tools are is like straining at the proverbial gnat and swallowing a camel.
So the form is, essentially, a “tool box” of techniques or “catalog” of techniques to put it simply. If you open your tool box and you need a screwdriver, if a hammer and/or a saw is laying on top of the screw driver, I do not have to use those tools to get to the screwdriver. I simply reach in, move things and pull out the screwdriver. Pretty simple concept and easy to understand, don't you think?
I hope this has given you a bit of an answer and some things to think about. Naturally, if you have other questions, please feel free to contact me. You can reach me here on this forum where everyone can view the question. Or, if you prefer, you can reach me via e-mail found at my website.
Have a great day and thank you for your question.
Sifu Richard Mieir-King