Recently I had the opportunity to listen to a PodCast that was a debate between two opposing viewpoints on whether or not martial arts forms had any value.
It is a controversial topic to be sure.
Both parties had valid arguments that supported their point of view. So that got me thinking, are martial arts forms really worth anything?
For that matter, are there any martial arts out there of little or no value? With so many to investigate it seemed a very difficult question to answer, there are so many varieties. Some are ancient, some are relatively new. There are arts that specialize in a specific area of development, some are fully comprehensive. It makes one wonder how it ever got this way. How have martial arts evolved to such a variety?
By answering that question we might shed some light on whether or not martial arts forms have any value.
So here goes:
Martial arts are a living entity, as alive and dynamic as the individual who interprets them. They have undergone extensive changes and modifications to get them where they currently are regardless of how new or old they are. They have changed and continue to do so, just as languages do. New expressions, slangs and the redirection of the meaning of words happen all the time in a continuous manner, the same as with martial arts. As long as we are dealing with humans, we are dealing with opinions, interpretations, creativity, differing abilities, preferences, prejudices,… the list goes on and on. But that’s not the only thing. Environment, culture, political views all have an effect on living entities such as languages and martial arts. Therefore, it is easy to understand, how the martial arts could have evolved and continue to do so.
Based on that understanding one can clearly see how you can have bad interpretations of good solid principles and techniques, and vice versa.
“If the right man preaches the wrong way, the way will follow the man and become right.
If the wrong man preaches the right way, the way will follow the man and become wrong.”
Jōshū (Zen Buddhist master).
Therefore, what this is saying is that you can have good martial arts and bad martial arts based on the same sources.
This is also true for martial arts forms. They can be useful or not useful it all comes down to delivery and validation of information.
You see, martial arts forms can contain the following.
- Tactics (ex, closing the distance).
- Principles (ex, hand replaces hand).
- Fundamentals (ex, save time, energy and motion).
- Theories (ex, shortest distance between two points is a straight line).
- Structural alignment, for maximizing power.
- Concepts in conditioning (ex, elbow training, leverage).
- Solutions to potential problems.
All of the above information that is catalogued in forms must properly be delivered. Then the information would have to be quantified and validated in order to be understood and made useful.
Just practising the form by simply repeating motions alone would render the exercise useless.
In conclusion, are martial arts forms practice useful or useless?