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Forms vs. Fighting

I get this a lot: “I just wanna fight. Not waste time learning forms.”

OK, I understand that way of thinking—for beginners. And I agree, however you will only remain a beginner if you keep that mindset.

That’s not true! What about UFC? Those guys don’t practice forms. They just fight and get better.” I hear that a lot too, or, “Bruce Lee didn’t do forms. He studied every art and threw out the unnecessary forms.” Both of these are false statements.

The whole forms verses fighting thing is really a moot point. The argument comes from totally misunderstanding what a form is. A form doesn’t mean hundreds of moves. A form is simply techniques linked together. Look at boxers. They don’t have forms per se but they shadow box with a flurry of hooks, jabs, crosses, uppercuts, and they do it over and over again. And guess what? Over time, the moves become totally embedded into their muscle memory, which is the point of forms or drills training.

In the UFC, each week these great athletes train like crazy, repeating the same techniques in the air, on bags, then on each other. Is that not forms training? And Bruce Lee did Wing Chung, a style which has forms. Wing Chung gave Mr. Lee his base as a fighter. Without forms training, how else would those techniques have gotten into his body? Michael Jordan practiced millions of free throws without even holding a ball. Tiger Woods practices his swing without hitting a ball.

Do you see the point? Forms training is fighting. It’s putting the techniques into your body so you don’t have to think about them. Many times, in fighting with my kung fu brothers or my students, I’ll do something and say, “Whoa, where’d that move come from?” It came from forms. I didn’t make it up. The problem is when an instructor can’t pull the moves from the forms and then show you how to actually use the techniques in combat. In that case, yes, from a fighting perspective, forms are useless.

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3 Responses to “Forms vs. Fighting”

  1. angelinka Says:


    To get the forms into your muscle memory, you have to practice it every day. True or false?
    If it’s true, should we repeat the forms more often in class?

  2. Ja Gow Zack Permenter Says:

    Yes, you are correct, to put forms into your muscle memory, you have to practice them at least once a day. In my humble opinion, class time is for learning forms, not practicing them. We should all be practicing our forms at home, with the intent and thought of the application of each move.

  3. Sihing Wintor Says:

    I totally agree with Zack, that we need to be practicing our forms on our own, outside of class (especially once you get to advanced and only have two class days). I also can see Anzhela’s point of view as well – it is nice to practice our forms in class when we have our Sihings and Sifu there to make sure we’re not practicing them incorrectly and to fine tune things. I think that’s where finding the balance between class time and on our own is very important (hard too).