Form Police in Martial Arts

Form Police

Form Police

In a recent post on his blog Ross Enamait complains about Form Police in regards to criticisms on the performance of someone lifting 300lb in single arm dumbbell raises. His point is that sometimes you need to go for broke and form is not important at that moment. If you read what he says you’ll see that he puts forward a very decent argument, there are also some interesting comments.

Further, Form Police grievances in the traditional martial arts camp, where form is paramount, run along similar lines. The assumption is that aesthetics are important and that we should strive for perfect technique. Students will be corrected to the nth degree; a hand adjusted here, a stance corrected there even just by a few centimetres. This ensures tidy technique performed in tidy lines working in unison to produce a nice tidy all-kicking, all-punching dojo. If you spend any time on Karate Underground Forum, you will notice this view popping up over and over again.

Emphasis on aesthetics, or form, as Ross says is fine if you’re being judged on it in a competition, but when you’re performing the aforementioned lift, it’s not a huge issue. There may be very good reasons to prioritise over form in lifting and marital arts, for that matter. I once interviewed a friend of mine, a bodybuilder, for a module at University. He was telling me about how he prepared for a lift, a big lift. It was ALL about the lift, shutting down the senses and going for it. He would even do just one repetition; this was to prove to himself he could lift that PR in a given lift. This was an important psychological success, which outweighed (excuse the pun) concerns about form. Of course, he didn’t want to lift dangerously, so form didn’t go completely out of the window.

In martial arts, attention to form is important to a degree, of course. We want to avoid injury while producing as much power as possible. So rather than concentrating on perfecting the form of the kick and ending up with something akin to this, which while showing great balance and looking very pretty it will not get you knockout power like this or even this. So in this instance, at the very least, the Form Police would, by insisting on aesthetics, ensure we had a sub-optimal kick if we ever need to “go for broke”. That’s the trouble with emphasising form over function, the goalposts are moved in a sub-optimal direction.

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6 thoughts on “Form Police in Martial Arts

  1. There is nothing more frustrating than the millimetre finger correction 😦 Or the longer and lower instruction. What’s the point of adopting a stance that you can’t actually move out of without a crane? Sure, it looks good in a dojo with everyone having their head at the same height and their legs spread the same distance and it’s great if they can all move in unison like some kind of choreographed dance but if they can’t actually make a technique work in that position, then it’s all a complete waste of time other than as an aerobic exercise.

    Someone said recently that they liked doing all their basics moving in a really long low zkd because it helped them to move and react more quickly when in a shorter stance during kumite. I tried to explain that this type of fighting is in and out tippy tap and that it probably did help for that, but would it help in a real life situation where the stances and movements would be significantly different?

  2. Well there’s a lot of repetition of nonsense, some 5th dan or something said that ZKD movement assists higher stance movement, that person believes it and passes it on. Silly, really.

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  4. And for some its all about Form over function…The thing that we have to appreciate is that we all train for different reasons and you can’t deny that at a high level there are many martial artist that have superb form and are very functional in application too, others do sadly remain deluded though.

    MMA type training leads to better performance in a shorter time than TMA (generally) but it could be argued that it is a much shallower practice. IMHO there is no right or wrong.

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  6. While I do not consider it particularly important to repeat someone else’s form precisely, it is important to be able to do so. And unfortunately, there is only one way to demonstrate that ability.

    The inability to repeat a form shows that one is not fully comfortable in, and fluent with their own body. This fluency is in my opinion far more important than the standard measures of “practical” training, i.e. overt applications and techniques.

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