Thursday, February 02, 2006

Informing On Forms

By Joel Persinger

Forms have been in debate since Bruce Lee reportedly poo-pooed them decades ago. I remember watching Master Lee as he beat the @#$%^&* out of the bad guys on the Green Hornet when I was a boy. When I played cops and robbers with my buddies nobody wanted to be the Green Hornet. We all wanted to be Kato. It’s no wonder that when Bruce spoke people listened.

40 some odd years, a black belt and several instructors later, I’ve been privileged to hear many opinions about the use of traditional forms in training. To Paul Slush (my Tang Soo Do instructor) forms were not as important as the practical application of the art in street fighting. Shrfu Mike Patterson (my Kung Fu instructor) felt that forms were vital. Most of the time I spent in his class was in learning the traditional forms. The same can be said of Stephanie Haynes who instructs me in ITF Tae Kwon Do. In her view you do not have Tae Kwon Do if you do not have the traditional forms. Then there’s Loren W. Christensen (one of my favorite martial arts writers) who acknowledges the usefulness of traditional forms but seems to feel that other, more modern methods might be more effective and efficient. My favorite instructor on video is a fellow whose seminars I look forward to attending. His name is W. Hock Hochheim. Hock’s teachings do not incorporate traditional forms at all.

So where does that leave me? I have great respect for each and every one of these folks and each has influenced my life as a martial artist in a very positive way. Every one of them is the “real deal” and I wouldn’t like my odds if I had to tangle with any of them. But part of learning is using the little grey cells and coming to your own conclusions. So here are mine.

Through the use of traditional forms I have learned balance, posture, focus, an understanding of kinetic energy, the importance of footwork, the application of “coil and release” and patience to name a few. Not to mention the fact that after all the low stances in these forms I’m one heck of a lot stronger. Could I have learned these things in other ways? Possibly, but I didn’t need to. My instructors didn’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to teach me. I learned these things the same way others have learned them for thousands of years and it worked. Without Shrfu Patterson and Sa Bom Nim Haynes, I would have missed out on the golden nuggets of teaching that are found in the old ways.

On the other hand, I have improved my martial skill immeasurably by using the drills and techniques I’ve read about in Loren W. Christensen’s books. I’ve even taken to using them in class. The teachings of Hock Hochheim as taught to me by Adventure Collins have helped me break through some old barriers. My friend and first teacher Paul Slush will always be with me. His no nonsense approach to the fighting arts taught me that straight forward and simple is often the best approach and something doesn’t have to be pretty to work.

For me, it is almost never a good idea to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some old ways of training were harmful to the body. New understandings in medical science and physical training have made that clear. The old ways took more time and we live in a society in which quick results are king. Some new approaches yield martial skill more quickly and perhaps that’s good at times, but what about patience, humility and virtue. It has been my experience that teaching a person to fight is a lot quicker and easier than teaching that same person not to. Words like honor, duty and humility are not understood in a flash and neither are the traditional forms. One gives us time in which to learn the other. As you can see, I have concluded that the traditional forms still have a vital role to play. They certainly aren’t the "be all and end all" of martial arts training, but we would sure be a lot worse off without them.