Are Karate’s Kata, Kung Fu’s form (etc.) useless?

What is a form or a Kata?

They are substantially predetermined sequences of techniques:

  • Long or short, they are a learning method of the basic dynamics of a martial art, a way to understand how it is possible to connect the various techniques (kicks, punches, etc.)
  • With or without weapons, single or with a partner, their learning difficulty is related to the level of preparation of the student
  • In the ancient world, where illiteracy was widespread, they were also a way of passing on the core fighting techniques to the next generations of students

Note – This article has been asked by one of our Core Course practitioners on Patreon (see how to attend our home study classes here Learn Kung Fu online: a beginner-to-expert course).

What they are not

The forms are not:

  • Practical combat methods
  • Purely aesthetical / choreographic dances
  • Purely ritual movements

What is the point of learning predetermined combat sequences?

Even today there could be many reasons to study things like kata, forms (etc.), let’s see some of them:

  • Martial development – To “rapidly” accustom a total beginner to fundamental aspects like precision, balance, coordination, breathing control, proprioception, etc.
  • Wellness and health – To move our body as no other human activity can do (in a controlled, timed, focused, complete way)
  • Meditation – As Shaolin monks teach us, nothing is better than the research of a perfect execution to start to learn to empty the mind from external thoughts
  • Cultural reasons – It must not be forgotten that many ancient martial arts (from China, Japan, Philippines, etc.) are cultural treasures that must be preserved

A note by Master Kongling – Naturally the 3 last points refer to a not combat directed purpose but this is not the only reason why someone could choose to practice martial arts.

What are the weaknesses of a martial study solely based on forms?

A martial arts’ practice that only involves the study of forms has inevitably these limits:

  • It does not prepare for real combat, not in terms of self-defense, not in terms of sports competitions (read Why martial arts do not work: 5 reasons)
  • It forces us to become predictable in terms of action-reaction and even of timing (an incredibly big gap if we are facing a good opponent)
  • It works on ideal situations instead of dealing with the unexpected (dynamic context, etc.); this means wasting infinite time on something that does not train things like reflexes, adaptability (etc.)
  • Since this is a study that sometimes becomes very complex, in the long run, it is easy to lose sight of the idea of combat altogether to focus instead on too often less relevant details

A note by Master Kongling – A lot of years ago, when I was young and ingenuous, I was convinced that people who could perform amazing “stunts” with so much control, precision and power could not be matched in a fight. I was wrong. People get good at what they do and never at what they don’t do. In other words: if you never fight, you never get good at fighting (read How to learn to fight: all the steps). I have seen martial arts experts of all kinds (including Kung Fu), fall with extreme ease in front of fighters less than amateurs (or even against non-practitioners). From there I started investigating, experimenting, trying to understand what the discriminant was… how could young people, with extraordinary athletic skills, with several years of (high-level) practice behind them, be defeated so easily? The answer was simple: their training had lost the combat focus.

Does 6 Dragons Kung Fu has forms?

Yes, we have some forms but:

  • Their study is potentially “facultative”, they are more like exercises, their function is absolutely less relevant than in other Kung Fu styles (they are taught only in the Core Course, at an advanced level, read Learn Kung Fu online: a beginner-to-expert course)
  • They are more like “hybrid training sequences”; they are never done in the same way (it is the practitioner that must learn to introduce a technique in the right moment and without becoming mechanical)

Why in 6 Dragons Kung Fu, forms are less relevant

We have designed 6 Dragons Kung Fu to be natively taught in the same way as live, as home study.

A note by Master Kongling – The other Kung Fu styles (Tai Chi, etc.), in my personal opinion: beyond the less-than-amateur level can be learned only live. I have made many 1 to 1 lessons with grandmasters: a beginner cannot even imagine how many details there are to cure (even only in a single move, imagine in an entire form). I think is not so honest to offer an online course of a traditional style without saying that the biggest part of the crucial details is not even mentioned (if known). This means to water something that was born as excellence. It is for this reason that our school focus on principles, training and practical applications (read 6DKF: what does it teach?).

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  • Have you ever studied a Kung Fu form?

Author: Master Kongling

Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.

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