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By Trevor Dicks
Do We Spend Too Much Time Practising Forms?
For most Taekwondo students the answer would probably be yes, because they would prefer to be doing the exciting stuff like jumping, spinning kicks, and free sparring.
Perhaps after reading this information you may change your mind.
There are a number of words used to describe the ‘pattern’ sequences in taekwondo (ITF) such as - forms, hyungs and tuls. I have used ‘forms’ throughout this article.
If you know the sequence of movements in a form (which movement comes after the previous movement) then it might be said that you know the form, however, all you may actually know is the sequence of moves from beginning to end.
That’s just dancing! - left foot here right hand there etc.
Knowing your forms is, understanding how to deliver each of the individual movements.
If you know how it’s supposed to work you will apply it in the correct manner: That takes time and effort, so the question is… are forms important enough to spend the extra time on? Well let’s find out.
What are forms? Here’s a quick definition:
‘A form is a series of attack and defence movements against imaginary opponents’.
So when for instance we perform Dan-gun, at the completion of the twenty one moves we will have defeated all our imaginary opponents and they are lying around us on the floor (just like you see in the movies).
Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that.
Go through the Dan-gun form with fellow students to act as opponents and you will find at the end that you have one attacker left standing, and worse, you turned your back to him during the form (after blocking his attack with a rising block) and when you come back to ready position at completion, he is actually standing directly behind you.
Let’s look a little further.
Let’s stop there. What do you think the chances are of you being attacked in precisely that way with attackers in those positions?
You have more chance of winning the lottery than that ever happening.
You can see now that it isn’t the sequence that’s important (the dance steps), it’s the execution of each individual movement that’s important, and the transition from one move to the next.
Forms teach you that if you are attacked in a particular way you can practice using a particular and logical defence and counter to that attack.
The point is to practice delivering maximum power in your attack and defence techniques, and maximising power means focusing on…
Stances: technique: start and finishing points: balance: hip twist: tense and relax: breath control: weight dropping: focus: speed (acceleration) and reaction force.
You can’t think of all these things when free sparring or fighting a real opponent, there just isn’t time. But practising forms allows you to take the time to perfect these essential components because you have imaginary opponents, and you don’t have to worry about getting your head kicked off by a real attacker during your practice.
When fighting or free sparring there are two essential components that you don’t get the correct ‘feel’ for when going through forms, and they are, you can’t judge distances to opponents, and, there is no feeling of contact.
You can however fix both these missing parts during pad/shield work and free-sparring.
Another important aspect when training in forms is: the transition between movements.
In order to be able to move fast and smoothly your muscles must be relaxed.
(Test it by punching with your arm and shoulder muscles tensed - you’ll find it’s slow).
Usually at the completion of a technique the muscles are tensed to maximise power delivery.
You must then instantly relax your whole body in order to be able to move swiftly and smoothly into the next movement and deliver a fast technique.
This relax/tense/relax formula is essential if you want to change direction fast and still deliver powerful techniques.
Not all movements in a form are about attack and defence. Some form movements, aid in breath control and muscular tension, such as palm pressing block: and others aid in balance and focus such as bending ready stance.
They all play an important role in your training.
In Taekwondo practice, the mind plays an important role in all aspects of training.
Concentration and the ability to focus the mind is the real secret to the execution of good forms.
The ability to visualise the opponents that you are fighting, gives a real feel to the delivery of technique. So when practising, don’t just perform the techniques – ‘use’ the techniques against visualised opponents.
Forms can be performed in a graceful flowing manner that can look quite remarkable, remember though that all training in Taekwondo is martial art training. If it’s pretty to watch but weak, then it’s dancing. It has to be effective or it’s useless.