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A martial arts form or kata (as it is called in Japanese) is just a series of self defense techniques strung together in a sequence that flows together. Practicing forms is akin to doing rounds of shadowboxing in boxing, just with less of an emphasis on freestyle.

Sil Lum Fut Gar Kuen Form

The truth about kung fu forms – practical training tool or a huge waste of time?

I recently read an article written by a Jeet Kune Do instructor. In this article, he advocated the idea that learning forms or choreographed patterns are a useless endeavor.

My humble opinion is that whenever someone tells you that there is no value in training in a certain way or using a certain method it says a lot about their understanding of the martial arts.

Broad sweeping statements such as those are the equivalent of saying that that it never snows in Las Vegas.

Training in forms is not useless

Forms can teach you numerous things. It can develop many attributes that will help you become both a better fighter and a martial artist. One quality that training informs can develop in you is the attribute of fluidity. Kung fu forms are famous for their flowing and powerful motions.

Executing a set of kata without pausing or stopping between moves will directly translate to being able to fight without stopping. In a real-life self-defense scenario, the ability to flow is so much more important to your success than practically anything else.

Practicing forms or sets will likewise teach you the correct way to block and strike while in motion. Many times students can perform blocks and strike perfectly while standing still but, include footwork and they now must focus on moving multiple body parts at the same time.

Practicing forms are the best way to workout

At the highest level of training, forms practice can become the ultimate conditioning solution.

Just how much of a workout you get out of doing forms will greatly depend on how much intensity and speed you execute the form with. What you put inot it is what you will get out of it.  Imagine a boxer that does shadowboxing. Does he get a good workout? Well of course, his results will aslo greatly depend on the speed an intensity that he puts into hos shadowboxing. Does he practicae at a lackadaisical pace or at a very elevated pace?

Why not just do sparring instead?

I have trained in several systems of martial arts. Some systems and styles will teach forms, then teach and self defense as a separate class. These systems think of forms and fighting as two completely detached entities. In fact, it is almost as if they were teaching an entirely different styles.

For example, if you went to a tae kwon do gym, the first thing they would teach you is the jab, the cross and the roundhouse kick. yet these techniques are nowhere to be found in the form.

They never teach the how to use the movements found in the form in realistic sparring.

Silat Sweeps

In these types of programs, it seems as though the traditional forms have no realistic use. However, the movements contained within the forms of Shaolin Kung Fu each have an explicit application in combat.

If the movements you are learning have no martial function, then you are learning a dance.

Practicing forms has no value?

It has taken me literally half of my life to feel like I have a firm grasp of every one of the forms in Kung Fu. Even these days, I believe that I have a lot of more room for refinement. Shaolin Kung Fu can take a whole entire lifetime to learn and master.

Saying forms has no value is akin to saying hitting the heavy bag has no value.

You could easily make an argument that the heavy bag does not counter or hit back at you, therefore, hitting the heavy bag is useless. The heavy bag is nothing like a real opponent. 

Hitting or kicking the heavy bag will enable to develop the trait of striking with power. Just as Jumping rope will help you develop fast footwork and jogging will develop your endurance. A boxer, will work sparring, heavy bag, double end bag, running, jump rope, and focus mitts all on the very same day.

Forms are just one of many methods you can use to practice Kung Fu.

However, there are a couple of things that training in forms will not help you with.

The benefits of learning forms

Training In Forms Will Not Teach You A Feel For What Is Correct Range Or Distancing.

To be proficient in the martial arts you will need to develop a good instinct for what is the correct distance needed between you and your opponent in order to successfully apply blocks.

Kung Fu forms practice also will not teach you how to flow or follow up effectively. Having the ability to recognize the next target then strike it with power is also an essential skill-set.

It took me almost a full year to learn my first Shaolin Kung Fu form. Occasionally, I tell my students how long it took me to learn the first form. Often time they look at me incredulously and I think they do not believe me.

This intrinsic challenges found in the art of Kung fu are one of the things that initially drew me to it.

However, I also think one of the reasons Kung fu is not as popular in the United States as Tae Kwon Do is, because training in kung fu appeals only to a certain type of person. Shaolin Kung fu appeals to people interested in continuous and constant work and improvement.

 Learning Kung fu is the exact opposite of instant gratification. It takes back breaking work and perseverance to be successful.

Are you looking for true transformation? Then you can be our next student!