Photo by Patricia Wong
Magazine page courtesy of Rainbow Publications
GOOD FORM: Should teach how to generate power.
MIKE WILLNER FROM OUR BLOG, “GUNG FU BROTHERS SPEAK OUT:”
“Let’s see your form (integrity). How do you move? Do you have power in your technique? Scott and I agree: We can look at pretty much any martial artist do their form for 3 minutes and have a very accurate view on his or her legitimacy.”
Before we enter our discussion, please click on the following link and watch this video first, because we will be discussing the video:
The man doing the Bak Mei (White Eyebrow style) form can hurt you. Your initial impression of the man before he does his form is, he might be the bagboy in your local supermarket. However, as soon as he does his form, his image in your mind is transformed: He immediately becomes a worthy martial artist, who has good technique. After my first viewing of this video, I thought to myself, “This guy has good form.”
This relates to what my Jow Ga brother, Mike Willner, said about us being able to correctly assess a martial artist’s ability (and therefore, legitimacy) by watching his form. I was able to do so by watching this Bak Mei stylist do his wonderful form. Here’s a breakdown of my assessment of his technique:
His movements are crisp and sharp. He finishes each technique with good power, before moving on. He sets in his stances before delivering each punch, grab or block. He gets his hips involved in each movement, therefore maximizing the power and leverage in each technique. As the hips rotate, so does the rest of the torso, exponentially increasing the power of the resulting technique. Without the leverage created by hip and torso rotation, punches are weak “arm punches.” He doesn’t speed up just for the sake of speed.
I’ve looked at other Bak Mei stylists doing forms, and many of them rush through, as if the sheer speed they perform at, can give them maximum power in their form. The truth is for these others I watched, their punches became “watery” looking, lacking maximum extension, power and leverage. They don’t fully finish each punch before moving on. Think of a form as merely a collection of individual techniques. If you were practicing an individual technique, the reverse punch for example—you wouldn’t “let up” on the punch before it was finished, would you? No, you would fully extend after maximum acceleration of the body parts involved through good relaxation, and “finish” with the maximum contraction of those body parts involved, at the end of the punch. Why wouldn’t you do this with every technique in a form—“finish” them, before going on to the next technique?
Many of those I watched doing Bak Mei form had weak punching fundamentals, unlike our man in our video. Their punches were “arm punches,” lacking hip rotation to maximize power. Their techniques start to run into each other before each technique is finished, therefore destroying any chance of crisp, sharp and powerful technique. Their forms have this “runny” quality to them that I spoke of. Yet, the man I’m talking about here, who has terrific leverage, power and extension in his techniques—has good flow and contiguity from one technique to the next. He is able to achieve this good flow without compromising any of his techniques.
Okay, you say, I’m able to tell what “good technique” is–so what? I’m leading to a bigger point here. Mike and I may not be specifically familiar with the form that the Bak Mei stylist did, but we can make corrections in such a form, if the moves are done incorrectly. We are able to do this because there are underlying elements in every move in every form, regardless of style, that depend on universal fundamentals: Is the stance good, does the martial artist generate decent power through correct body component alignment, do the musculoskeletal components accelerate toward a climax of contraction at the end of every punch? Maximum acceleration in itself, is a function of maximizing relaxation until the very end of the technique.
There’s another point I’m leading up to, and that is—I can teach any style. Of course, there are limitations if I don’t know the form. However, I can state unequivocally, that I can teach the most important element of form: How to correctly do each technique from a fundamentals point of view. In fact, I have done this when I wasn’t familiar with the forms I was evaluating in students.
Before I opened my own school, I was a disciple of Sifu Richard Chin’s at his New York City Asian Martial Arts Studio, where we taught Jow Ga kung fu (my style) and an Okinawan style called Kuen Do Ryu. After we lost our lease for our Wooster Street dojo in the Soho section of lower Manhattan, the school divided into two branches, when Sifu left the teaching up to Mike and me at our respective branches.
I moved my branch to the Third Street Music School in Manhattan. At our dojo (or “kwoon” if you prefer) at the Third Music School, where I ran our Asian Martial Arts Studio Downtown (Mike Willner ran the uptown branch), we consolidated both styles into one class. Since we had both Jow Ga and Kuen Do Ryu students on the dojo floor at the same time, I oversaw the teaching of both styles.
Now, I was not familiar with all of the Kuen Do Ryu forms, so how did I “teach” the Okinawan-specific kata? Obviously, I could not correct students on their sequencing of forms I didn’t know—but I could correct the fundamentals of the moves that students performed in their Kuen Do Ryu forms. This is a critical function of teaching form.
One can know a thousand forms, but if one wasn’t taught how to generate good power in each and every moves in those forms, then it was all a waste of time. I was able teach this most critical element of doing forms, because I understand of the fundamentals of the kinesiology of their moves. I could tell if power was lacking, and why. I may not have been able to tell you if a particular move “traditionally” belonged in a form, but frankly, that isn’t important, anyway.
Of course, this deep understanding of mine with regard to fundamental movement wouldn’t be enough, when teaching form. After all, students have to learn the sequence of moves of a form. This was achieved, because I had two Kuen Do Ryu karate brown belts assisting me. These brown belts were Vittoria Repetto and Rick Osborne. With Vittoria and Rick overseeing the sequence of techniques in forms, we were a complete package in teaching good technique.
In the end, forms are just vehicles for teaching good technique. If one is able to generate good power and leverage in form, then ultimately, the specific sequence of moves isn’t all that important. A move could be “missing” from someone’s form, and it wouldn’t matter, as long as the underlying power, flow and speed are good. If one “added” a non-traditional move to a form, it wouldn’t really matter either, as long as the fundamentals of good movement are present—as we saw in the form done by the Bak Mei stylist in the video. I could actually teach that form in it’s most important aspect, without knowing the form: How to do each move with crisp, sharp intent, and how to generate good power in the form. Later.