martialkerry (martialkerry) wrote,


A number of years ago, my first instructor became frustrated with traditional forms instruction (i.e., one form/kata/poomse per rank level, to be memorized for testing).  His biggest concern was that the younger students, in particular, were missing the point of form practice.  Most of them focused on memorizing each form just long enough to test on it, then wanted to grab the next one as a sort of trophy.  A more worrisome minority either had such a hard time memorizing the forms, or became so anxious about performing them during testing, that trying to "force" them was counterproductive.  Either way, students really weren't getting much out of the practice, as far as he could see.  So he started by reducing the number of forms, then eventually gave them up all together.  He figured that anyone who wanted to practice that way could make up their own patterns, and that was as good as, if not better than, learning traditional forms.

Watching our students, I agreed completely with his concerns, but felt (and continue to feel) that kata practice is worthwhile for many reasons.  It helps teach stability in stillness and in movement.  It helps us learn to coordinate and separate our body elements.  It lets us isolate and study individual movements to learn more about how to generate speed and power.  Practicing traditional forms connects us to our martial arts roots, making us a link in the chain connecting past to future.  And, as my new teacher pointed out, if they do nothing else, they're a great way to condition our legs. 

I missed practicing forms, and was delighted to learn that I would be taught a whole bunch of new ones at NKA.  The first 3, as it turns out, are pretty basic variations off my old "Chongi", so those I picked up pretty quickly.  The first Pinan form had some tricky bits -- it's asymmetric in the beginning, for one thing -- but came along without too much stress.  The second Pinan form is the one that has my brains leaking out my ears, and the one I am joyfully grappling with.  It's a great mix of simplicity and complexity, with some fascinating patterns and sequences that are just similar enough to ones I know from other forms to really mess me up.  It's a total blast to play with.

It also led to a sort of time-delayed epiphany.  I was practicing it the other night while one of the black belts was watching.  He was a little surprised that I was working on it -- it's the green-to-blue belt form, and I'm a white belt -- but understood when I explained that I was sort of working at my own pace with my instructor's permission.  Seeing that I had the basic pattern down, he offered to teach me the next form in the series.

I didn't even have to think about it.  I thanked him politely and said -- very honestly -- that I really need to work this form for a while.  And this, to me, is the best part of forms practice.  Yes, I have the pattern.  Yes, I can execute it adequately.  But I don't own the form.  I haven't explored its intricacies or played with its energies; I've barely begun to think about the bunkai.  I haven't asked it enough questions yet and I certainly haven't answered the questions it's asking me.  It doesn't live in my bones.  Those are all things I want to spend time doing; those are the things that make forms practice more than a strictly physical endeavor and bring it into the realm of self-expression, into art.   Ultimately, that is the point of forms practice, for me at least. 

Thinking about this just now, I bet that I'm able to reach these insights because of my prior training.  My first instructor took a pretty traditional TaeKwonDo approach to black belt poomse: you learn one form for each new black belt level.  Because testing intervals increase over time, students wind up spending a lot of time with each new form (compare the 4 forms I've learned in the last 8 years with the 4 I've learned in the last month . . .).  I've had time to grow accustomed to dedicating years to individual poomse, to understand the value of that sort of study, and to love it. 

I'm glad beyond words that I have the opportunity to experience that joy again.
Tags: bunkai, deep study, energy, forms, kata, poomse

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