Why Practice Forms?

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Photo credit to Kalon Wang (Instagram: hellokalon)


By: Matthew Lee

Written July 9th, 2018

“I won’t even argue if forms are better or worse as methods to train for these benefits or goals, because an argument could honestly be made for both, depending on your relative perspective and opinion; but to ignore the practice of forms altogether because of this, is in my opinion an arrogant and disrespectful perspective.  Forms are certainly not the only way to gain these benefits, but they are still a great way to achieve them.  After all, I got and experienced all these benefits by tracing them back to my root in forms training, so I will always give credit to that as my foundation in martial arts, no matter what.” —Quote taken directly from the write-up

Abstract: Forms are a popular practice of martial arts, but they are often misunderstood by many, including martial arts practitioners themselves.  In contemporary times, especially in a world where combat sports such as Muay Thai, BJJ (Brazilian jujutsu) and MMA (mixed martial arts) are at the forefront of martial arts effectiveness, the practice of forms has been antiquated and outdated.  However, forms work, and practice is also often underestimated in the martial arts benefits it can provide.  This write-up is written to list and explain tree reasons to support the practice of forms, as well as its utilities and benefits.

In the past year, I have been questioned by people I know, as well people I don’t know, “Why practice forms?”  Ironically, forms training, or the practice of routines of choreographed or preset movements, is observed to be the most popular market of appeal for the traditional martial arts industry, as opposed to self-defense.  But in today’s world, where combat sports like boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, BJJ (Brazilian jujutsu) and MMA (mixed martial arts) have cemented their place as the tested and most effective ways to learn how to fight, forms have virtually taken an opposite position in the martial arts world.  This brings into question why forms are even needed anymore in martial arts practice today.

Before I continue, it is important to state that I come from a background of, and am most familiar with Chinese Wushu, or Chinese martial arts, as my discussion for this write-up will focus on examples from this umbrella of martial arts.  Semantically, Chinese martial arts has also more popularly been called “kungfu”, or “gongfu” (功夫; gōngfu) in Chinese.  Although Wushu (武术; wǔshù, literally “martial art”) is the more literal and accurate term for Chinese martial arts, and “gōngfu” actually means “skill”, the latter term has been used to refer to traditional Chinese martial arts styles, whereas Wushu is used to refer to modern Wushu, a standardization of Chinese martial arts for sport.  Modern Wushu today has been standardized into disciplines; Taolu (套路; tàolù), the practice of forms and sequences, and Sanshou (散手; sànshǒu, free hand), the practice of freestyle sparring and scientific martial applications, also known as Sanda (散打; sàndǎ, free fighting).  Because this write-up, my focus of discussion will primarily be on, but not be limited to, the practice of Taolu.

First, as I have stated multiple times in previous write-ups, forms or Taolu are not the same as fighting.  The late Wushu Grandmaster Cai Longyun, who was famous for fighting and winning public matches against foreigners, has been quoted as saying in the Kung Fu Magazine article “Huaquan” by Emilio Alpanseque, “Even in my early days of training, when we spoke about routine practice and fighting training, both were clearly defined as separate entities.”  I even stated in a recent write-up, “So, You Want to Learn Martial Arts: What Is Your Goal?”, that learning to fight is better served investing in some kind of direct fight training, which I defined as with learning how to manipulate and affect another human body some method of live drilling and applying techniques with or against pressure and a resisting opponent, and which the practice of forms alone does not do.  Again, this begs the question, “Why practice forms?”  It’s a valid question, and it’s worth answering.  To this end, I have put together three different reasons on why to practice forms.

  1. They are training tools

One of the biggest explanations as to why forms are not the same as fighting, is that they serve to train the body, rather than directly focus on fighting skills.  So then the question becomes, what kind of training, and what benefits are gained exactly?  These purposes and benefits are numerous, since Chinese martial arts are holistic systems that could encompass multiple goals, rather than just one.  Most obviously, in and of themselves, most forms can be a reasonably good workouts when performed with some level of intensity.  Modern Wushu Taolu is perhaps one of the greatest examples of this, as most forms demand a great degree of anaerobic endurance, requiring a high amount of physical output and intensity in such a short amount of time.

As another example, I would like to cite my interview “From A Platform Judge’s Point of View: An Interview with Mark Lorenzo About Sanda”, where I interviewed Mark Lorenzo, a former Guoshu (国术; guóshù, traditional Chinese martial arts, literally “national art”) lei tai (擂台; lèitái, traditional Chinese martial arts full-contact fighting, literally “raised platform”) champion, and nationally and internationally certified Sanda judge under the USAWKF (United States of America Wushu Kungfu Federation) and IWuF (International Wushu Federation), respectively.  It is also worth noting that Mark also has a training background in Northern Shaolin (北少林; běishàolín), which traces its curriculum back to the Nanjing Central Guoshu Institute (南京中央国术馆;Nánjīngzhōngyāngguóshùguǎn) established in the Republican era of China.  In the interview, Mark states, “…the forms and the stance work builds up leg strength, it builds up punching movement, body mechanics, kicking proficiency…it’s just in the same way that I think that that can be one tool, to train, it’s just like a boxer using a speed bag.”  Indeed, the deep stances in northern styles of traditional Chinese martial arts, which are also the basis for most styles of Taolu under modern Wushu, can train basic strength and endurance of the large leg muscles, namely the quadriceps (thighs).  The additional strong emphasis in both kinds of systems are also prime benefits to training flexibility and leg dexterity, which can translate well into learning and training kicks.

Another benefit of forms training is that of body awareness.  Jin Young, a Wing Chun (永春; Yǒngchūn, literally “eternal spring”) stylist with the YouTube channel formerly known as Chinaboxer, now “Developing Invisible Armour”, once had a video (which I cannot find anymore, leading me to believe that it has been taken down) where I recall he defined martial arts as, “the study of movement and position.”  This definition always stuck with me and is one that I have come to refer to, because as various martial arts styles have evolved with different goals, fighting and otherwise, they all involve the physical practice both movement and position, in some way, shape or form.  In “So, You Want to Learn Martial Arts: What Is Your Goal?”, I used my personal experience with examples of holding positions such as zhanzhuang (站桩; zhànzhuāng, literally “standing post/pole”) and mabu (马步; mǎbù, horse stance).  When practiced, both postures can help train and condition proper and healthy body mechanics, such as good squat and hip hinge mechanics, which can get rid of unnecessary pressure on the knees and ankles, as well as resultant health problems, as they did for me.  There is also the activation of the lower spine, as well as the suspension at the baihui (百会; bǎihuì) point at the of the top of the head (as though you were being pulled up from a string at that point), to work on good upper body posture.  From this, getting a physical understanding and feeling of how the skeletal structure should be aligned, and how to move efficiently without wasted motion, depending on the style being practiced, gives way to body awareness.  This in turn gives way various health benefits, as well as improved coordination and body control, especially to those individuals who initially do not have a good physical grasp of either of these values.  BUT, it is important to note that these values are easier said than done.  It is not enough to simply mentally understand the logic and explanation behind these principles, it is important to practice and do them, to gain the physical understanding and feeling as well, and therefore we train our forms.

Ultimately, the training of forms, whatever the style or goals one may have, aims to train optimal movement and positioning in some way, shape or form.  It is worth noting that, as with any eccentric training method, which forms practice very much is, the movement patterns and positions trained are heavily exaggerated compared to their real-life application in live situations.  On the difference between forms and application, Cai Longyun said in the Kung Fu Magazine article “The Big Dragon with the Magic Fists” by Gigi Oh and Gene Ching, “‘…when you execute a straight punch in taolu [forms], you must also have a good bow stance.  But in combat, you cannot wait to get into a good bow stance and then punch.  You must just punch.  You have no time to set up perfect footwork.’”  But there is a reason for this.  Three-time US Wushu Team member in Taolu and two-time US Wushu Team member in Sanda, World Wushu Championships silver medalist and Pan American Wushu Championships gold medalist Jason Liu, who was a former senior of the Wushu school I used to go to, as well as Sanshou coach for my college’s Wushu club for a few years, once said when coaching Sanshou practices, that “Forms are always an exaggeration.”  It is important to note that Jason was referring to Wushu/more “external” (外家; wàijiā, literally “external family”) arts, where “external” refers to the training focused on purely physical techniques, as opposed to “internal” in Chinese martial arts, which refers to the training of qi (气; qì, vital energy), intent, spirituality, deeper skeletal musculature and tendons closer to the bones over the larger muscle bellies, and literal internal organ health.  Much of this is done to push the physical limits of the body, to gain greater utility of the previously mentioned benefits and goals, although in actuality, the full degree of difficulty of these movements and positions will probably never actually applied exactly how they are trained.  However, the more we train these optimal movements and positions, the more conditioned we will be to apply better and more efficient movements and positions in general in real life situations, and the better off we will be.

  1. They introduce fighting ideas, without actually fighting

When I say that forms can introduce ideas “without actually fighting”, this can cover two different kinds of contexts, for two different kinds of people that would want to learn martial arts for different focuses: those that are learning the martial techniques without having to worry about fighting at the time, and those who simply don’t want to learn how to fight.  This goes into the personal goals that one has when practicing martial arts and what they want to achieve.  In my recent interview with Jason, “Wushu, MMA, and ACL Tears: An Interview with Jason Liu”, Jason said on this, “…like we talked about, everyone has different goals.  So…you know, when you just get down to it, some people just don’t wanna get punched, they don’t wanna do Sanda.”  It is worth noting that the active practice of forms did not come about until their dissemination to the more common folk into contemporary times, when the Chinese martial arts began to move away from their more primal, warlike and pure combat roots.  But while we have already established that forms aren’t fighting, this does not mean that there isn’t a relationship between the two in complete martial arts training.

The idea of martial applications in Chinese martial arts is controversial because there are many different interpretations of how to use movements and techniques from forms.  Most follow a certain logic that can be easily followed, where the martial application on another human body, directly correlates to the coordination of the corresponding movement in a form.  One example of this the gongbu (弓步; gōngbù, bow/front stance) as a basis for throws, which I feel is the most applicable stance to fighting from Wushu.  This is seen and demonstrated prominently in Shuai Jiao (摔角; shuāijiǎo, traditional Chinese folk wrestling), which is said to be the oldest Chinese martial art, and the root of all Chinese martial arts styles, and draws many parallel techniques with judo and jujutsu, such as various trips and hip throws.  Another example of this is the chambering mechanic in many movements of Wushu, most popularly as chongquan (冲拳; chōngquán, straight punch), which is shared with Karate and Taekwondo.  There is a pushing and pulling mechanic behind chambering, which not only adds to the power of a strike, especially when applied at close range in a self-defense situation where one is being grabbed by an opponent but can also be applied in wrestling and grappling ranges as well.

But others are more conceptual, or “implied”, rather than done in actual practice.  An example of this is the xubu (虚步; xūbù, empty/cat stance), where the front leg is eponymously “empty” of weight, for which there are multiple reasons behind this idea, such as to be able to kick efficiently without risking the loss of balance or weight distribution on said leg, to avoid being swept or taken down, but to also sweep or throw someone in turn when applied with the chambering mechanic of the upper body (although it is important to practice these applications as well in order to be able to use them).  These implications are also the same for tixi (提膝; tíxī, raised knee) leg posture, which at the most basic level, practices standing and balancing on one leg, but also implies knee strikes, leg checks (blocks), as well as kicks, sweeps and throws with the raised leg.  Another concept is that of the physical posture of “hanxiong babei” (含胸拔背; hánxiōngbábèi, “hollow the chest, round the back”); this consists of “rounding out” one’s physical posture, namely by “hollowing”/concaving the chest and shoulders inwards towards the body, and includes the rounding out of the shoulder blades as a result.  This posture forms the basis of virtually all the movements in traditional internal Chinese martial arts styles, such as Taijiquan (太极拳; tàijíquán, Grand Ultimate Fist), also known as “Tai Chi”, Xingyiquan (形意拳; xíngyìquán, literally “shape-will fist”), Baguazhang (八卦掌; bāguàzhǎng, Eight Trigrams Palm), and Yiquan (意拳; yìquán, literally “will/intention fist”), also known as Dachengquan (大成拳; dàchéngquán, Big/Large/Great Accomplishment/Achievement Fist).  In terms of applying it, Jason has shared with me that the concept of compressing front of the upper body, stretching out the back, and stretching the shoulders and elbows forward, which hanxiong babei does, helps to give structure to a fighting guard position that is not easily movable, and further aids in parrying and catching punches.  Prior to this, a senior at the Wushu school I used to go, who specialized in traditional Chen (陈; Chén) Style Taijiquan, helped me find that this same structure helps to make punches more powerful in Sanshou.

Again, it is important to readdress the fact that forms are eccentric training methods of movement patterns compared to their real-life application and call back to Cai Longyun’s quote about the straight punch and bow stance, as well Jason’s quote that forms are exaggerations.  On the esoteric appearance of forms, Cai Longyun said, “‘Taolu is just like a five-word poem and it has its requirements, just like poems.  Is that useful?  Maybe, but it will never be useful to a combat situation on the street when others are trying to take advantage of you.’”  Even in demonstrations, the applications don’t always match the form.  So, then the question becomes, why are the movement patterns in forms different from their martial applications?  There are multiple reasons for this, and the honest answer I can give is, “I don’t know for sure.”  There is the popular statement that forms were practiced to in fact hide the martial applications and fighting ideas of practitioners’ styles from outsiders, with only the true secrets and knowledge being passed down from masters to their most trusted disciples (though to be fair, some schools have “hidden forms” that will similarly not be shown to anybody except for select disciples of the style, so this reason may not be entirely valid or applicable to all forms).  In the Kung Fu Magazine article “Why Forms Fail” by Gene Ching, which featured Master Xiao Jiaze, Xiao spoke on the esotericism of traditional Chinese martial arts.  “‘…Old teachers were conservative.  There’s a saying “jiao hui tu di, ir shi laoshi (教会徒弟,饿死师傅).”  This means “teach it all and starve.”  Conservative masters only taught the real stuff to their private disciples.  They didn’t share it with the junior students.  Take the movement, “Tie back coat (lan zha yi 懒扎衣 – note that here, Xiao is referring to a Long Fist technique, not the more commonly attributed Taijiquan movement).”  The movement in taolu is thought to be a gesture to pull back a robe, like the long robes that men wore in those days.  But the movement actually hides a knee strike.  In taolu, you usually see bigger moves not tighter circles.  Only one disciple learned the truth and was told not to share.  But they need to practice too.  So how could they practice it if they couldn’t share it with their classmates?  In folk styles of Kung Fu or minjian (民間), it is sometimes said that a particular student has juezhao (killing technique 绝招).  The top disciples may have been taught juezhao, but because it was hidden, kept in secret, they couldn’t practice it.  So it is lost.  For taolu, we must practice combat all the time, and cross over to other styles to double-check validity.’”  Today, this type of esotericism from the traditional Chinese martial arts is ultimately what hinders better understanding of these styles, as well as the overall development of martial arts practice and martial artists, so in my opinion, it is best that it dies off.  But this is not the only reason why forms are different from their applications.

Another reason why forms are different from their applications, is that specific techniques and movements are crystallizations of larger concepts but are not the be-all and end-all in and of themselves; rather, they are introductions to said concepts.  Cai Longyun’s quote about comparing Taolu to poetry is apt.  Both can be heavily exaggerated and embroidered for the sake of performance, can be performed to project a large audience, and can be broken down and dissected into deeper meanings, that can be both specific and extend to bigger ideas.  On the surface and by themselves, they don’t yield much utility, but analyzing them, and applying what is useful from them in context, can help them to provide value.  In terms of relating forms to fighting, the breakdown and analysis of forms and the principles behind the martial applications and fighting ideas, can help to discover and train techniques to be used in actual fighting.  Just as having a strong base in literature and poetry and help one grasp the understanding of a language and the various ideas behind them, to use in real life conversation, having training and an understanding of the forms and the principles behind the martial applications and fighting ideas, can better allow someone to better prepare themselves in fighting situations.

As an example, I would like to cite my personal experience with Robert Levin, head instructor of Yizong Bagua Pennsylvania Internal Martial and Healing Arts, and student of traditional Gao (高; Gāo) Style Baguazhang master Luo Dexiu, who was in turn himself a student of Hong Yixiang.  At a seminar hosted in his school by Luo Dexiu himself, Mr. Levin briefly explained to me that the single palm change (单换掌; dānhuànzhǎng) was a “prototype”, to which one could add their own experience and interpretation to adapt and make work for themselves, as Luo did in his own fighting career in old school Guoshu lei tai.  A good portion of the seminar also consisted of two-man drills based on such interpretations that came out of the single palm change movement, which did not necessarily match the pure “form”, but rather the idea and coordination behind the principle of the single palm change.  It is at this point that the original role of forms in complete martial arts practices should be clear; again, they are crystallizations of principles and concepts that can be broadly applied in fighting, in the same way that literature or poetry may use examples to illustrate an abstract concept that could be also be broadly applied.  They are not ends in and of themselves for fighting, but rather an introduction to a given style’s principles.  Ideally, the complete traditional Wushu practice includes sets of basics, conditioning exercises, combat sensitivity drills that relate directly to the martial application of techniques from forms, such as tuishou (推手; tuīshǒu, push hands) in internal styles of Chinese martial arts and chi sau (黐手; chīshǒu, sticking hands) in Wing Chun, and of course sparring, not just that of Taolu or forms.

Yet another example of an application from forms work that is a crystallization of a concept, is the gongbu.  Specifically, when we go back to the example of gongbu, let’s focus on the snapping and powerful transition into gongbu, most often from the mabu, which exists as a method of training power generation for virtually most, if not all external martial arts styles, including those under modern Wushu.  This kind of power generation is typically perceived as emphasizing hip torque to generate striking power with the hands, most popularly with punches, which is very much true.  However, this kind of movement can also be used as a takedown, where the straight rear leg is used to block the opponent’s legs.  This was recently shown to me by Mark while training Sanda, where the technique is initiated by stepping up and into the opponent from a kick catch, a popular method emphasized in Sanda, then blocking and tripping the opponent’s other standing leg by transitioning into the gongbu, thereby taking them down.  Yet, this specific application by itself can easily be countered by fighters with higher levels of skill, by hopping over the tripping.  So, in this case, what then?  This is where technique becomes adapted or changed and is alternated or interchanged with a higher leg reap, rather than simply stepping down into a gongbu.  The same logic can be applied to any kind of transition to gongbu as a throw, which essentially parallels techniques such as the ohsotogari (大外刈) in jujutsu and judo, but can trace their roots back to Chinese Shuai Jiao.  Thus, the technique is changed, but the fighting idea remains intact, to throw or takedown the opponent in this example.  It is this process of discovering and extracting the fighting idea to be adapted and applied from forms, that is important if one has any hope of applying their forms in fighting, by gaining experience through sparring and experimentation with fight training in live drilling and against pressure or resisting opponents.  But, it all starts with the original crystallization of the form, where the fighting ideas are extracted.

On the practice of forms in relation to fighting, and potentially making modern Wushu a more complete martial arts practice, Xiao Jiaze says “‘The problem for Sanda is that the movements are limited by regulations.  Chinese martial arts should be ti da shuai na (kick, punch, throw and lock 踢打摔拿).  There’s no na, so it’s incomplete.  In promoting these new sports, these need to be combined.  If Sanda fighters know taolu, their skills would be better.  The rules should be adjusted’”.  Whether or not the practice of Taolu would directly help actual fighting skills is dubious, as we have already established, it is best to engage in fight training, live drilling and applying techniques with or against pressure and a resisting opponent, to learn how to fight.  But, if Xiao Jiaze is implying that the practice of Taolu can help introduce additional fighting techniques and concepts, as we have just discussed, then I could see this potential benefit of training forms being realized.  This could help bridge the gap between forms and fighting for modern Wushu, as it should be, to become a complete and legitimate martial arts practice.

However, it is important to understand that if one has any hope of learning how to actual use the martial applications learned from forms, again, they must do so with some method of fight training, live drilling and applying techniques with or against pressure and a resisting opponent.  Once again, forms training alone will not help you fight.  It is for this reason that the two skill sets are separate, not just as Taolu and Sanda in modern Wushu competition, but in virtually any major or popular East Asian style of traditional martial arts.  But, practicing forms can provide some insight and interesting study into movement and position in relation to fighting, this time not of the self, but in relation to another opponent.

  1. Because forms are fun

I realize this may seem like a cop-out answer at the end here, but it is an honest one.  Regarding the previous two reasons, you can learn to train your body through other methods, and you can also learn fighting techniques, without having to learn and practice forms, although these are undoubtedly two fundamental focuses of forms work.  So then, why else would you want to practice forms?  Well, because forms are fun.

In my write-up “Is Wushu a Dance: Defining Wushu as a Practice”, I answered, “Sure, why not?” to the eponymous question, and compared both Wushu and dance, including both as a form of self-expression in the artistic sense.  Modern Wushu Taolu lends itself well to the exhibition and performance goals, behind specifically designed for performance as a competition item, so it’s easy to see how the forms particularly in Wushu can be “fun” in the same way as dance.  I would like to quote one of my favorite games from my childhood Shenmue II (シェンムー II; Shenmū Tsū), where there is a brief scene of a Chinese martial arts master, Zhoushan, reading a letter from his former student Zongquan, who writes to his former master, “I…cannot get rid of tune nor fist.”  Zhoushan elaborates the meaning of the letter, explaining, “As those who love songs whistle tunes endlessly.  A martial arts master is devoted to training.”  Just as dancers who live and breathe their art, many Wushu practitioners like me find themselves hardwired and ingrained into moving the way forms, after conditioning themselves to move in such a way.  When I become engaged in listening to K-Pop, EDM (electronic dance music), and Chinese opera (yes, my music tastes vary across the spectrum), I find myself mimicking Wushu Taolu movements that I run through in my head, or shadowboxing, instead of dancing the conventional way.  When it comes to Taolu training, I have always said multiple times in my write-up that Wushu’s literal meaning comes from the two Chinese characters of 武; wǔ, literally martial or military, and 术; shù, literally art or method.  I first pointed out in “Putting the ‘Shu’ Back In Wushu: The Art in the Sport Martial Art”, that术; shù in “wǔshù” was originally defined as the specific study, practice, and mastering of the MARTIAL art, and NOT the liberal artistic creativity often associated with the word “art” in the Western contemporary sense.  However, there is still this sense of “art” in the artistic sense, especially in modern Wushu Taolu.  For the first time, I am going to ignore the former definition of “art” and focus on the latter.  No matter what the goals in training forms, forms ultimately serve as a physical way of self-expression, no matter the individual.

This might seem like a simple attitude of “it’s all in good fun”, or “it all doesn’t matter”, which may be insulting to those who love their practice of forms.  But if there’s one thing that the modern Wushu community (particularly the collegiate Wushu community, but I’m not going to point fingers on an individual basis) has proven, it is that we can have a sense of humor about Taolu, and not take ourselves too seriously.  The same cannot be said for many traditionalists, including traditional Chinese martial artists, who take themselves too seriously, pretend that what they are doing is somehow “better” than what others are doing, which is an altogether arrogant attitude to have, readily believe in their doctrines and dogmatic traditions that limit the practice of martial arts, and often do not consider reality.  Don’t get me wrong, forms training at a high level is hard.  And if you want to get good at it, you must be serious and make a commitment to training.  So, I take what I do very seriously.  Just not that seriously.  At the end of the day, a lot of us are just dressed in fancy pajamas, swinging around fake swords and sticks, indulging ourselves.  We are not literal warriors or gladiators, so let’s be honest with ourselves and not be pretentious about what we do in the real world.

I also realize that unlike the first two reasons, which go into deeper, more intellectual reasons for practicing martial arts, this one only touches on the surface of martial arts.  But the fact of the matter is, most of us who got into Chinese martial arts, Wushu or otherwise, were first attracted to it based on its appearance, me included.  I know of quite a few people who got into Chinese martial arts because of Jet Li, who was a simple Wushu champion turned actor, but nevertheless helped to promote awareness about Chinese martial arts, and still inspired an entire generation of Chinese martial artists.  And we shouldn’t be ashamed about admitting these origins; they are certainly not the be-all and end-all of martial arts, but they are important in opening the door to them.  In fact, appearance has ironically always been important to Chinese martial artists, modern Wushu and traditional gongfu alike, in performances and demonstrations to help promote their respective arts.  Like modern Wushu, many traditional schools have been known to augment the so-called principles of their movements for competition and performance purposes.  The visual appearance of forms also helps distinguish and represent all known traditional and sport styles of East Asian martial arts, so this superficial, surface level of appearances is still important.  Just in the same way that we may be attracted to another person based on appearance, there is nothing wrong with being attracted to martial arts based on the superficial appearance.  What’s important is that you get a deeper understanding and are dedicated to that person, which applies to martial arts as well.  Again, the meaning and content behind forms is undoubtedly important, I have always held that belief and value before most other things in Wushu.  But it is also important to not lose that fun, which often stems from that simple surface level that easily satisfies the human brain.

In the past few years, I have picked up other practices besides forms, namely Sanda, which included the picking up of boxing, kickboxing and wrestling.  But deep down, I’m a modern Wushu guy.  I will always be a modern Wushu guy.  And modern Wushu has its start from forms.  So, no matter what other martial arts practices I will dabble in, I will always subconsciously go back to the practice of forms in brain, particularly modern Wushu Taolu.  In the words of Jason, “…forms are fun.  I wouldn’t do forms if I didn’t think they were fun.”

The practice of forms is the most well-known, and some would say fundamental part, of East Asian martial arts, especially Wushu, modern and traditional alike.  Yet they are often misunderstood by the detached observer of the martial arts.  Forms clearly have a central role in traditional martial arts styles, and many benefits can be gained from them as we have seen.  Granted, it is important to point out that, again, forms alone are not the be-all and end-all of martial arts training, and it is obviously possible to gain all these benefits through other training methods.  I won’t even argue if forms are better or worse as methods to train for these benefits or goals, because an argument could honestly be made for both, depending on your relative perspective and opinion; but to ignore the practice of forms altogether because of this, is in my opinion an arrogant and disrespectful perspective.  Forms are certainly not the only way to gain these benefits, but they are still a great way to achieve them.  After all, I got and experienced all these benefits by tracing them back to my root in forms training, so I will always give credit to that as my foundation in martial arts, no matter what.  Let us celebrate the practice of forms, and acknowledge what they have given us, and contributed to martial arts development.

Matt began practicing Wushu at the age of 7 under US Wushu Academy, and is a coach of the UMBC Wushu Club. He has held positions in national, international, and local modern Wushu competitions, and is currently training in Sanshou/Sanda and traditional Chen Style Taijiquan. He is a four-time consecutive US Wushu Team member and Pan American Champion, and is continually trying to improve himself both as a competitive athlete and as a real martial artist. If you have any questions you would like to ask Matt, please email him at