Man’s Obsession with Forms

Being a teacher and a practitioner, over the years I have observed some changes. One of these has been the change from no belts to belts of every colour and variety. I’ve seen stars, stripes, you name it, but there have not been too many improvements in quality, practicality or reality. I’ve seen people trying to learn ten sets or twenty sets. I’ve seen lists that have more than thirty sets. It boggles the mind.

How in the world can a man possibly master that much material? It’s obvious to any intelligent person that you can’t.

In the Chinese arts, the styles are so varied that a lot of schools mix from other arts something they have learned. In a good many cases, they have totally conflicting theories. When mixed in that way, you are asking too much of yourself.

This would be like mixing boxing and wrestling. You would be good in neither one nor the other. To get a general education in Chinese arts can be good as it can help to determine your natural abilities. But to see no cohesive glue in what one decides to stick at, with more forms than days in a month, how would one possibly react to a situation with conflicting ideas?

Forms are not the do-all and end-all. In the end, in a real-life situation, jumping kicks, etc. will not cut it. Most confrontations are in small areas; they are quick, close and dirty.

In most areas of Asia, the arts are designated based on percentage of exercise versus percentage of practicality. An old student and friend is learning a type of Chinese boxing with one form. This is not for everybody, but it’s simple and it’s practical. I am not suggesting that this is the ultimate. Unless you don’t sleep, work, or have a life, anyone suggesting huge quantities of forms to learn would scare me. Forms and how many you know does not make a martial artist better than one who knows but a few. Learning a load will not protect you from harm. This comes from doing what you do well. If you whip out a list of forms and a rank certificate and show it to a mugger, this might make him die from laughter before he takes your money. Too many worry about a title and how many forms they have learned.

Neither of these mean anything, if all you do has neither reality nor a solid foundation.
Pak Mei Pai