Methods of forms practice
While the merits of forms training are debated, the point of this post is to discuss methods of practicing forms, their purpose, what you can get out of them , and how.
Forms practice is one of many training tools. A tool is only of value if used correctly. If you are silly enough to think that after 20 years of practicing your forms alone you will magically be able to fight you are an idiot.
The only way to be good at fighting is to fight a lot. There are many drills (forms training is one of those) that can help you develop skills to work up to that eventuality, but again the only way to be good at fighting is to fight. Once you have some experience you can discover what skills you need to develop. However let’s talk about what you can gain by practicing forms.
In general in traditional arts forms consist of a catalog of techniques. Each system has a set of principles at it’s core. Practicing these forms with the correct instruction allows you to better understand and ingrain those principles and the fundamentals of the system. Many systems teach the forms with a basic footwork, then other footwork patterns to teach other principles and skills. Some systems have an out door version of the forms done on a line but an indoor student is taught that different techniques have unique footwork and positioning on the opponent that are needed for the technique to actually work. You will see people practice forms in different methods such as very slow and flowing and that same person do the same form Fast with explosive power. Both methods are used to develop different aspects of your art. This is a good training method as everything has Yin and Yang.
There can be a difference in the approach of external and internal practitioners. Some external stylist focus their training more on timing, distance, positioning, and their opponents structural alignments more than on their own internal structure. Internal stylists tend to focus more on their own structural alignments and movement. They tend to spend less time on positioning, distance, and timing. Both visualize imaginary opponents as they train the principles and concepts embedded in their techniques/forms.
I constantly hear external stylist explain how their training eventually becomes internal. In my opinion that isn’t exactly true. I had at one time believed it was when I was purely an external stylist. Martial arts is all about physics. While both methods of training can cultivate energy and health, I believe their are principles and skills in internal martial arts that have to be taught. Things like using reeling silk energy,the six harmonies, the thirteen postures.
Forms training should not be a choreographed dance or acrobatic routine. If you are training forms and that is where you are at with them I suggest you seek out a qualified instructor to help you get more value from your training. If forms training isn’t part of your routine perhaps you may want to consider adding some to enhance your training.