Forms – Will they disappear?

The world of martial arts is ever changing. The old techniques are still taught while many new methods are evolving with the needs of a modern world. In the beginning it was very simple. The arts were taught for a person to protect themselves against “animals and other humans.” Over time they evolved into a form of military combat used mostly by the protectors of royals. When the common people started learning the arts they had to practice in secret or at night so as not to be discovered by the powerful. In order to continue the practice they had to hide their techniques in forms so the oppressors would not know what they were doing. The evolution continues today as we watch fight sports and amateur tournaments modify and utilize the moves for competition. The problem is that, in my opinion, we are evolving away from forms.

All students of the traditional martial arts that practice forms have been taught about hidden self defense techniques contained therein. Yet when they are practiced many students will ask about a particular movement, “Did they really do that in a fight?” When they refer to a move that makes no sense to them and the teacher’s explanation offers no help either, they will always wonder why they do these “dances.” When a student is told that a move is a block and they know they would never use it in a real fight they truly loose a little faith in us all and start to move toward a system that is more suited for a fighter. There is nothing wrong with those types of programs if one wants to be a fighter but not everyone will stay in a rigorous fight training school. They just want good self defense. When they go to a self defense class that doesn’t do forms and perhaps includes firearms training they get what they want but the forms are no longer being passed down.

As instructors we all understand the aesthetic values of form practice such as breathing, conditioning, timing, and balance. Probably one thing I recognize in the value of form is the practice of moves that allow me to grow old in much better condition than many people my same age. The long stride of the forward stance keeps me from walking at a snails pace and the regular movements of forms help promote good flexibility and strength. However the understanding of the real self defense has been lost. I see this problem as two fold.

First, it is our responsibility as instructors to not just rest on our black belts and teach kids to fight in a tournament. We should endeavor to understand what we have already learned and are teaching, and not just learn another form for yet another promotion. The other problem is that there is no longer a need for the secrecy and that is where the defense classes that don’t do forms are so attractive to the unknowing prospective student.

As a traditional artist I truly love the forms we do but without good explanations for what we are doing we will chase our prospects to those other programs. Without the need for secrecy we have lost the need for forms. The students will get what they want from another program for a little while and then just quit. They will never understand the true value of “Lifestyle Martial Arts” or what a life study of the arts is really all about.

Contributions by: Master Rick L. Crose

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