Forms in Practice

Practice your forms. Whether they are called, kata, pinan, set or dance, you must use them in your training. The old masters developed forms as a mnemonic aid for remembering their martial arts techniques. Practicing forms has a variety of benefits.

They serve as a record of the art’s techniques in application and motion. They allow the student to improve their cardiovascular system by producing a mild aerobic workout. Forms, done correctly, also teach proper breathing patterns. Many forms are very long, requiring proper breath control to maintain maximum flow and power. By combining handwork, footwork and directional changes in routine patterns, the student develops the ability to use any of the techniques they have learned interchangeably. These routines develop proper stances during changes in balance that affects the fighting ability of the practitioner. Finally, forms serve as a standard to which an instructor can gauge student performance and evaluate student abilities.

Elements of Forms
Any system of martial arts contains numerous techniques. So many techniques that it would be nearly impossible to remember them while you attempt to encode the movements into muscle memory. A form, made up of a set pattern of movements, allows the brain’s natural grouping ability (called ghestalting) to capture and retain the information. Therefore, forms act as a mnemonic aid.

Black belt in stance

Black belt in stance

Similarly, forms are records of techniques in application and motion. Each portion of a form represents a defensive maneuver against an imaginary opponent. These defensive maneuvers are called bunkai. In more advanced forms, each movement can be interpreted several ways. The diversity of these applications demonstrates the adaptability and finesse of the form.

Most techniques can be combined in any fashion. However, forms establish a basis for combining techniques into one continuous movement. Most people understand that forms represent combat with imaginary opponents. What few realize is the combat scenario has been preset to use several martial concepts. Key concepts are repeated throughout the form.

Forms can be used to improve one’s cardiovascular system. Performing one form will not elevate your heat rate to that required of a full-fledged cardiovascular workout. Rather, performing forms in several times with full power and intention can achieve significant results. Unlike aerobics or running where the pace is an even rhythm, forms have pace changes. The rhythm is dynamic. This represents combat more accurately and allows the heart to condition itself for an irregular pace.

Most pre-Black Belt forms in Kempo are not very long. The importance of proper breath control should not be diminished by this fact. In the longer, advance forms, breath control is crucial. Martial techniques are not limited to the coordination of muscles, bones and tendons. They also coordinate with breath, balance and intent. Breathing at improper times can limit the effectiveness of certain techniques. All forms have established breathing patterns that coincide with the physical movements.

Spontaneity in techniques is directly related to the proficiency you have with the forms. When the form is second nature, you can perform any of the bunkai instantly. The natural flow you gain from knowing techniques at this level allows you to smoothly combine different sections of various forms effortlessly.

Martial art techniques are useless without proper stances. In the early forms, there are only five stances to remember: twist, horse, cat, half-moon and crane. At every point during the form, you must be in one of the five stances. Imagine being able to take a photograph at any point during the form. This photograph should depict the student in a proper stance, fully balanced and focused. No other position is acceptable.

With the number of students a teacher has to keep track of, forms serve as standard to measure student progress. Each rank has a required form. This form reflects the level of understanding a student has. If the student does not comprehend the bunkai or can not perform the necessary movements, then they must continue practicing the form. This provides the teacher with a standard to gauge student performance and evaluate student abilities.

An Alternate Practice Method
When you perform the kata or pinan, visualize that you are in a fight for your life. Opponents are attacking you from several angles. You react. In the first Kempo form, 1 Pinan, you half-moon and block with block #7 or #8. Then half-moon forward and punch with the Front Two Knuckle Punch. What is happening here?

The best method for seeing the effectiveness of forms is to use them on an opponent. Find a partner. Face each other in half moon stances. The uke (attacker) half-moons forward with a Front ball Kick to the solar plexus. The tori (defender), from a half moon stance, will block with a #8 block, half moon forward and then Front Two Knuckle Punch to the solar plexus. Does this sound familiar? It should be, it’s the basic move from 1 Pinan. Practice all your forms in this manner. And here’s how.

A good routine would involve a small, five-move section of a form repeated 10 times a day. The next day, tackle the next section of five moves. Repeat this pattern until you complete the form. Once you finish the form, move on to your next form. You can develop all of your forms in this manner. Remember, never neglect the beginning forms, they contain advanced concepts and proper martial arts techniques. Mysteries to be discovered.

Another method for developing your forms involves power and focus. The old masters have specific strikes at each step in the form. With partners, get focus mitts or a heavy bag. Situate your partners at each angle or position in the form. Now run through that small section of the form hitting the bag or focus mitt with power, accuracy and focus. Run through small sections of any form in this manner. Be sure to help other students with this type of workout too. This forms-development workout will improve not only your forms, but also your sparring and overall ability in the martial arts.

Forms are important to the development of a good martial artist. Try these new (actually ancient) twists in your kata practice. You will find that Kempo punch techniques (Kempo waza) make up forms. Each step in a form is a Kempo technique, so practice them as such. The methods given above will help you develop and analyze these techniques.

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