All types of martial arts have some “shrouded in mystery” foundations, but it’s always fun to read and research the origins of various practices, down to why we wear karate gi or tae kwon do dobok. The choreographed sequences in all styles of karate, kung fu, tai chi, tae kwon do, and other martial arts are always one aspect beginners ask about.While there are some martial artists who don’t think forms are that important in advanced practice, there is general agreement that forms are important for beginners. They provide the physical, mental, and spiritual self with important benefits that lay the foundation for further practice and development.
Depending on the school you’re part of, forms might constitute a primary or secondary part of your practice, or even be relegated to “here’s training that people used to do in the old days”. Forms, when done properly, are a way of developing muscle memory for the specific type of training that you have undertaken. Combined with partner work, forms give you a strong foundation of action and reaction. The patterns of strikes, blocks, and kicks impart the movement vocabulary particular to an artform and give you an elegant way to train them in combination.
Forms train form – you’re striving for perfection, in accuracy, in balance, in slow versus fast motion, in transitions, in tension, in release. These are all things you can work on even if you don’t have a lot of time and are training alone.
When done with intent, forms develop your focus and memory. As you advance, you learn longer ones, building your mental skills. In some schools, you’ll develop your own sequences as part of advanced tests and training. This process provides a deep understanding of how movements connect and flow –or don’t flow – into one another and is an artform in itself. As you practice, so will you learn.
The cliché you might have heard of forms being a moving meditation became a cliché for the simple reason that it accurately reflects the experience of many thousands of martial artists. As you learn and memorise more movements and sequences, you will find that their physicality gives way to a quieting of the mind while you practice.
Whether you experience forms as mystical, practical, or something else entirely,will be found in your actual practice of them. So don your karate gi or your dobok and find your own way within this beautiful practice.