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Find Function in Your Forms: Part 2

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

In “Find Function in Your Forms: Part 1” I shared my training background and mentioned the different style’s forms we are considering as we look for their function. Seeing as how Kenpo is my base art, we looked closely at how the American Kenpo forms work towards enhancing your self-defense preparation. The basic message is that when performed with intention and specificity, Kenpo forms are clearly designed to ready one for a wide array of attacks.

The American Kenpo forms start with the intention of establishing solid basic habits and later build to the execution of more elaborate moves for self-defense as the practitioner becomes more learned.

Now, let’s consider katas from the other arts mentioned in part one, TKD and Karate. The forms used in Tae Kwon Do and Coszacks Karate vary greatly from the advanced Kenpo forms but share similarities to the lower-level Kenpo forms and sets, respectively. To start, we will focus on the TKD forms.

Tae Kwon Do forms, especially the earlier katas in the system, are built upon moving around a basic pattern with a simple block followed by a strike.

For example, the first form is essentially a downward block followed by a step-through punch. The second form follows the same pattern, with a ball kick added to each action. (These forms are much like those of Shotokan Karate) As the forms become more advanced, the blocks become more varied, and the following strikes become more advanced in application.

The TKD forms are very different from the Kenpo forms. A major difference is the heavy use of their front stance and back stance. These are often done with the feet far apart and the knees deeply bent. (This varies depending upon the TKD federation.) To play devil’s advocate, trying to perform self-defense techniques in this fashion would likely prove ineffective and dangerous. The deep stance and chambered hands would be a major detriment in combat.

The practitioner’s mobility and ability to deal with a secondary attack from an adversary is extremely limited in this practice. This was something that troubled me greatly when I first began my study of TKD.

Eventually, I was able to justify in my mind the stylistic considerations of the TKD forms as a means of developing leg strength and flexibility. After this change in mindset, I was better able to assimilate the improved kicking strength and advanced targeting from the many repetitions of the forms. The other benefit of the deep stance transitions is the development of hip rotation on punches, thus increasing punching power. For self-defense training purposes, I found the main benefits of TKD kata training to be improved leg strength, flexibility and punching power.

Moving on to the Karate forms, my first exposure to the Martial Arts was Coszacks Karate. It should be noted that Coszacks Karate is an American Marital Art influenced by multiple arts, with its strongest and most pronounced roots in Shorin-Ryu Karate. What’s interesting is that the Coszacks system is heavily Kumite focused, and the Katas are unique to their system, sharing little similarities to traditional karate. The best comparison of the Coszacks Karate forms is that of the “sets” of American Kenpo.

In American Kenpo, the sets focus on one objective and work through the many options available to that focus. For instance, In American Kenpo there are “blocking sets one and two,” “striking sets one and two,” and “finger sets one and two” to name just a few of the sets. As the names imply, each set focuses solely on either blocks, punches, or open hand strikes respectively. The sets are performed predominantly from a horse stance, though movement out of horse stance does happen in some instances. Coszacks Karate mirrors this style of training in their katas. The majority of the katas are performed from the horse stance, but the forms do have the practitioner chance directionally.

As the Coszacks practitioner works his way up through the forms, more actual fight like movement and advanced strikes are added. Blocks and intricate footwork, though occasionally observed, are not heavily present in their forms. In a nutshell, the Coszacks Karate forms are designed mainly to teach the various strikes to be used in the system. The positive impact this can have on real-life self-defense situations is the engrained formation and deployment of weapons when needed. One could deduce from the Coszacks’ forms that perhaps their philosophy is “the best defense is a great offense.”

As I look back upon the lessons from my TMA forms training, I’m happy to say that the Coszacks Karate katas are excellent at developing the skill of weapon formation and basic delivery. The TKD forms are amazing at improving one’s leg strength and hip mobility (both very important for TKD’s specialty, kicking). And American Kenpo forms do a great job establishing footwork and basics of movement while simultaneously making the practitioner visualize and prepare for a multitude of altercation possibilities.

The lessons learned in forms combined with the other aspects of traditional martial arts training makes way for a more capable martial artist. The most important thing to remember while practicing forms is to hold the goal of your kata training in mind as you execute every move with clear intention and explosive intensity.


Ian Lauer

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