The Jing Mo Athletic Association is an organization that has embraced the concept of many styles co-existing under the same roof, a rather radical concept in the early 1900's in China. This is why in the history of Chinese martial art, there are many famous instructors that taught under the auspices of Jing Mo. We also follow this and although our instructors have different specialties and skills, we have no great biases one way or the other.
At our class on Friday nights, for the beginners we have a program of ten forms which we teach. Forms may be also referred to as sets, or kata (Japanese), hyung (Korean), kuen (this actually means“fist” in Chinese). We use these forms as a basis from which a person can become familiar with the Chinese martial arts. There are literally hundreds of martial arts styles, each complete with their own system of forms and various methods of training. Each school places emphasis on certain things which are deemed important to that style. As we like to say in martial arts,“All styles are good.” The important thing for the practitioner is that they find a style that works within their own parameters and mindset.
Forms are meant to teach the beginning practitioner a sense of balance, movement, and where to apply force. The forms also introduce a wide variety of techniques, applicable to both health and self-defense.
Forms are also a way that the masters of long ago would, in a sense, pass down useful methods and techniques for their students to practice. Even very advanced martial arts practitioners may use forms in their training regimen.
When new students begin the study of martial arts, they may use the forms as a vehicle to“see” inside the martial arts. Some forms have been developed hundreds of years ago. Some people believe that forms are very useful, and this is why they have been taught and practiced from generation to generation. In each form students learn basic punches, kicks, and other body movements particular to the style which they are studying. Again, each style has its own emphasis, hence the great proliferation of many and varied styles.
Students can then dissect the form, and discover for themselves which movements they find useful for health, and which are useful for self-defense, or both, the two things not being mutually exclusive. Remember that everyone’s body is unique, so each of us will have a different perspective with which we will approach the meaning of the form. In some forms the self-defense application may be very overt, and in others, the meaning of the move may be very abstract, and almost hidden to the casual observer or someone who does not know and fully understand the form.
When a practitioner is very advanced, they are able to dispense with the form, and react to self-defense situations in a more natural and efficient way. The form may only show you one way to deal with a self-defense situation, but with the many variables involved, the exact body positioning in the form may not apply; therefore, the practitioner must adjust accordingly. This takes thought, and a great deal of practice.
Remember that the form is for the student, and must be adapted by the student. This does not imply that the forms are not important and were created haphazardly. Rather, the student should take the mindset that the forms have evolved in a particular way for certain reasons, and the student should seriously reflect on this, seeing both the usefulness of the form, and also the limitations of the form.
To keep the form alive and fresh to the student, the student might also experiment with varying the angles of the turning, twisting, striking, and kicking movements. Then, what is old and routine, can become new and useful. When you are experienced and have a high level of skill, you may adapt the form to yourself and make it your very own! There is only one you. At least, this is what we have heard said.
A student might also think of a form as a textbook from which they might handle certain self-defense situations. Other variables in a self-defense situation will involve your own speed of reaction, timing, physical constituency, stance, the attacker's stance, outside conditions (wet, dry, indoor, outdoor, slippery, not slippery, dark, light, etc. etc.).
The practice of forms in certain martial arts schools may be heavily emphasized, and in other schools, not emphasized at all. We fall somewhere in the middle.
There are also many divisions/categories/classifications in the martial arts, such as northern/southern, external/internal, Buddhist/Taoist, long hand/short hand, siu lum/modong (shaolin/wutang), fast/slow, hard/soft, leg emphasis/hand emhasis, striking/seizing etc., etc. Other styles will put an emphasis on a particular animal, such as the Tiger and the Crane, or Eagle Claw, or the Monkey style.
We make no claims as to being all things to all people, so again, the important thing is to choose a school that fits your own particular interest. Ours is only one alternative, and we highly recommend other schools if that is your purpose.
One thing that seems to be agreed upon by most people is that most students will get out of the martial arts as much as they put into it. Some people may be more talented than others, some less, but this is where dedication and resolve will in the long run prove much more important than actual ability.
Our school, perhaps being more“external” in nature as opposed to“internal,” emphasizes the energy of movement, rather than the movement of energy.
It also must be said that, in our opinion, it is not important to rush and learn as many forms as possible in as short a time as possible. Certain skills take time to develop. In this way gung-fu is no different from any other activity.
There are many levels of“understanding” a form.
1. The most basic, you can mimic the general motions.
2. Next, you know what the moves are for.
3. Even better, you can apply the moves against someone who does not want you to.
4. You can apply the moves naturally and successfully against someone who is more powerful and quick.
As you can see, this is a step by step process that takes a certain amount of time. Remember that it is a far ways from knowing the letters a, b, c, up to z, and then writing famous poetry! We must all practice to achieve good ability, and at the same time, strengthen our bodies. Lastly, we hope to enjoy ourselves in the process by having some fun and good times.