A Modern Understanding of Traditional Forms Training (AKA Why are Forms Important?)

Written by John Baisch, Founder & CEO

There has been a long argument of why or why not to use “Forms” in your martial arts regiment.

Having been on both sides of the fence, it took a long time for me to really understand why forms are one of the key components of martial arts. When I was younger, I was all about sparring and self defense drills. With my inexperience, I figured that although some forms were “cool” to practice, they only took time away from “Real Fight Training,” especially since I had been in more than “a few” fights and had figured I had “redeemed” myself from a really bad loss when I was younger.

Then I came across someone that I knew could beat me. Not like one of my seniors beating me at the school, this guy gave me flashbacks to a serious beating I took that made me change teachers to being with. By chance, I noticed he favored his weight on his left. It wasn’t some great moment of tactical enlightenment; it was something that registered in my brain.

Now, I’m not going to tell you I broke out in some traditional stance and rocked his world with the movements of a form. But, I was able to instinctively use what the practice of forms had taught me. First, I left that intimidated feeling I had behind. It was more of the attention to detail, without conscious thought, which had helped me. Things just “happened.” This was different than just reacting like I would have during earlier fights or sparring at the school. This time everything flowed in my head, as well as my hands and feet. In the end, I was able to walk away, without seriously hurting the other guy. For days after, I thought a lot about that feeling, and didn’t figure out why this particular situation was different. It wasn’t until Monday rolled around and I was doing my forms to warm-up for the upcoming classes when it clicked. I had done these things so many times I really didn’t “think” about what I was doing, I was just “aware” what I was doing.

Forms actually increased my ability to not just to fight, but to also assess my opponent and be aware of what was going on; to not just have good reaction, but to have flowing reflex to an ever changing situation. After figuring this out the hard way, I started to truly understand what else forms training was teaching me:

  • Attention to Detail: Attention to technique, proper execution, breath, required target zones, measurement of step, stance, distancing and space.  All of this will bleed into the rest of your martial arts training
  • Concept of Combat: Understanding the concept of constant and inconsistent movement, multiple opponents and multiple points of direction, the ability to change ones point of focus, and the awareness of the next position.
  • Thought (and/or meditation): Minding ones rhythm, intensity, controlling your thought through execution of form, and the ability to focus on technique in order to silence other mental distractions.
  • Conditioning: Enhancing ones range of motion, using stances to stretch while also strengthening, proper breath to increase cardiovascular fitness, and focusing on techniques to train your neurons in order to change “reaction” into “reflex.”

Call them what you want; Kata, Poomse, Hyung, Forms, etc.. Training in them is a major lesson of the paradox of martial arts training as a whole. They are and are not fighting, forms themselves are not “combat,” but training in them excels your combat training.  This is why we train with them.