Form, or Kata, I personally don’t refer to it as Kata due to, I don’t teach Japanese systems, but you gotta admit. Their names for stuff are pretty cool. Kata, Sensei, Ninja, Samurai, Robot… what a great language.
Lately, I’ve been flooded with Kata love, from Jujitsu players, MMA competitors, and all sorts of other martial artists. I’m so happy to be able to not only share this stuff, but also share the ways I adapt them to be practical.
Bringing up forms (kata) in an MMA situation is a gamble. We’ll often get the “this isn’t practical” or “that would never work in the octagon” argument. When that mental resistance shows up, it’s tough to see past it, the wall has been built. However, there are ways we can break through without having to scream “COME AT ME!!!” as we Kata their brains out… that never works.
I agree and disagree with their argument, and hold a ton of patience for the young athlete, or martial artists that just wanna get in there and start “hitting shit!!! I was once told that Kata was “silly.” This particular student would rather spar… They were waiting to get a hip replacement and had already had 2 shoulder surgeries. I had to remind them, “Thinking that getting punched and submitted over and over, until you have bad shoulders, hips, and knees is a path to power, or a long life… What is that?” Well, that’s not silly, but you know… that’s silly. He doesn’t train anymore, because he can’t really move without pain.
“Pray for the loss of ignorance”
Forms are a great study in movement. You can always practice your movement. Shadow boxing, push ups, sit ups, jumping rope. These are things we can do on our own for functional movement. However, they lack in creativity and eccentricity. Once you nail your push ups, burpees, or jumping rope… when does the art come in? Furthermore… When do we study other efficient or healthy ways to move with root, power, and eccentric angles? THE DETAILS. It’s all about the details. Martial arts is an art, and the details will change your game. If you’ve ever done even the smallest amount of practice you’ll know that if you’re off by even a centimeter, then you’re off.
This is the wisdom that forms (kata) hold. Yes you have to memorize them. We have a blanket over our culture now that just seems to hate memorizing things. It feels like dance class, and we’re here to fight, not dance. Really, if you think about it, in some ways, fighting is just dancing with someone completely out of rhythm. Jujitsu is just bad contact improv with a willful shitty chiropractor.
Watch fighters that don’t spend enough time practicing movement on their own. When under stress they often resort to old habits. Whether it’s thuggish insanity, losing their footwork, losing awareness, or forgetting to breathe. The basic default, head down start swingin’. Hopefully, when their eyes open they’re on top, hopefully, they can finish before they start seeing spots and start fighting for air.
Muscle memory, relaxation, breathing, posture, joint mobility, foot work. I can’t tell you how many times someone has thanked me for showing them something in a form that was a concept they already did naturally, but they just needed a couple details to make it effective. “I do that all the time, it’s just nice to train it as a technique.” They Yoga mind is great for this practice… LEARN TO FIND THE SEQUENCE.
We have to first experience the movement itself, then challenge it. As the Kali masters say, “Do the exercise” Fighting is sloppy, but, “Do the exercise.”
Some ways to challenge your movement are:
- Simple psychological pressures: such as time, or the presence of someone else watching.
- Pad work: start with still targets, then moving targets, using footwork, adding defense, etc…
- Add in an opponent: Start slowly to begin deprogramming old habits and building new, more productive ones… Have a teacher there that can catch it when you just start swinging. Go slow, use discipline, we’re here to build productive habits while under stress. You can call it threat, play, challenge, or “fighting”, whatever… I just call it stress.
Martial arts is a tried and true vehicle to teach us to be able to widen our lens and still observe, relax, and adapt to nature. Nature can be peaceful or violent. If we freak the hell out when times get rough, we’re missing the point. Use form to develop your toolbox, then slowly up the pressure to integrate new and productive habits. It’s a way of making stress a good thing… it can be a good thing. I made up this quote I think people should put it on calendars and new age bathroom walls, maybe the kitchen… I probably may have heard something similar once or twice…
“Stress is inevitable, being weird about it is optional” (it’s a hit!!!)
When we’re challenged… What do we resort to? Are we cool with that? Could we make it better?
When would you ever use it because, that would never work?
You’re right… even trying to remember your mom’s maiden name when being punched in the face is pretty damn hard. We’ll practice our whole lives to try and get our techniques up to a 60/40 efficacy. When would you use a deep horse stance in a fight? You will more often than you’d think. Do you ask that about you’re Burpees or sit ups? (usually people don’t question things that make them “buff” or hurt when executed in a controlled environment, like chokes or arm locks… but you gotta sink em, this is a game of centimeters)
Exercises are to build an attitude or specific function. To think that those stances are to be fought from vs snapped into for a split second to gain balance and structure when it’s challenged is again, missing the point. This is a part of widening your lens to understand the difference between exercise, skill building, integration, and application.
An arm bar is worthless in many situations, just as a jumping tornado kick (Is there such thing as a jumping tornado kick?). If teaching arm bars from the back to law enforcement or a bouncer, perhaps they may feel it’s a good way to harm a mans elbow with your balls…
Just think, if you’re right handed, and naturally go for a right hand armbar, that would mean the guys left is free, to grab the gun on the right side of the cop. Arm bars are a total liability. Everything works when used at the right time. The Tao is all about timing. I feel a form for elbow placement may want to be created so I can not try and defeat an angry elbow and bicep on a sidewalk with the mighty scrotum while your friends are stomping me in the head… and if you’re over the age of 19… What decisions are you making that have you fighting anyway? Yes, violence is real, but getting in fights is hard to do… stay aware please.
Pad Work: I love pad work, but I do feel that many martial artists rely on the pads for balance on the recoil when they hit. When we start sparring or need our martial arts, we haven’t trained how to miss our target and keep in balance, structure, and flow to the next technique with structure and awareness. Also, I feel we hit pads too hard, because yes, it’s fun and feels good… Unless your wrists and shoulders start eroding away. Remember humans have nervous systems, and there are some places that you don’t need to get all John Wayne to strike. I mean I could take a kick to the stomach, but not if the jarring makes an eyelash slip into my eye.
Here are a Couple things I do to make my forms a little more friendly for the tactical or “fighters” mind
I’ve learned a lot of traditional forms. (I mean A LOT) We are aloud to “tweek” them for our lives today. Email me if you want to hash out your dogma. I’ll remind you that your system was created by a simple human that had a lot of time on their hands, a ton of practice behind them, and served a cultural need through their art. You should do the same… practice, observe, adapt, and don’t think your masters are magic. Let them be humans just like you. Things that don’t adapt become extinct. (I learned that fact on a road trip with an alligator and a great white shark)
I keep my hands up: I’ve taken a lot of heat from traditional martial artists due to my little changes when I practice. “that’s not the traditional way”… Nope it isn’t. I’m a traditional martial artist, and there’s a difference between that and practicing traditional martial arts.
Traditional martial artists were observers and will not hesitate to adapt and adopt something that works. Time and time again, and in every corner of the globe coaches are telling their fighters, “keep your hands up!!!” So… when I practice I make that change. The times that I do a “full chamber” punch is to correct my posture after practicing a lot with my hands up.
The “Full Chamber” (pulling your fist all the way back to the ribs or hip) is to balance out the push and pull in your body. It will allow for better breathing and more mobility later. Do them both, you’ll thank yourself.
Remember: The posture of health is shoulders slightly back in line with the ears and relaxed, chin level, weight balanced, the 3 arches of the spine are in line and relaxed as well. The posture of a fighter is more fetal, if your hands were to go down to your belly in a fight, the opponent may just assume you came down with a sudden case of the shits. So take a little time to build the posture of health. Stamina, power, efficiency, and overall well being will increase. You will also look healthy… predators rarely attack prey that looks healthy and aware. That’s some street savvy knowledge I just dropped on you. Posture!!!
I get all “Realistic”: The first way to make me fall in love with a martial art is through irony… I love the exploration of Power and Fragility. We will learn to strike with effortless power, and focus our power into targets that could actually create some serious damage… for real for reals. So as we explore the dynamic range of the human, there will always be the one moment in the form that we “spear hand” at our imaginary opponents chest. Yeah, I take that out immediately. Just make a fist or change the trajectory of your strike to a throat or something.
It’s like going to see a brilliant speaker, and they’re killing it. They’ve captivated the whole crowd, then they just quickly slip in something weird and completely unbelievable. Sort of like a spiritual teacher teaching the golden rule then a quick, “jesus rode a dinosaur” then back to their speech like nothing happened. Wait… Did you just let me in on one of the most efficient and effective paths to health, but still feel it’s a good Idea to teach me to break my hands to protect myself?
I do wonder though, how frickin’ strong hands were in the 1800’s so that they could full out ram their fingertips through a sternum. As a Bagua practitioner, if I were to spear into the hip bone of a human anywhere over 45 pounds, I’d have to opt out of my guitar recitals for the next 3 months. So I just deal and adapt. If warrior spirits haunt you in your dreams… explain to them you’re not a farmer, nor a mechanic, and men’s hands aren’t what they used to be… We type fast though.
Be thoughtful: Ask… Where’s the power coming from in this?
If you can’t figure that out… repeat that one move until you can answer that question.
We’re really missing out now that our teachers speak English. I mean if some of my teachers were to write a blog on Kata… it would say “PRACTICE!!!”
You can ask questions all day, but nothing is going to replace PRACTICE. Things will just start to unfold. Questions will come up… be thoughtful with each step. Take it in pieces.
I’ve taken all my forms and just broke them down into combos. I set a timer and repeat the combo. Because I like shadow boxing. I like varying my footwork between, etc…
Get all AVATAR on it: The five elements is a cheesy way that I approach my practice. Everything from a push up to advanced forms.
Fire, water, earth, metal, wood… These are different attitudes for practice.
- Fire: fast, explosive
- Water: Flowing, sinking, relaxed
- Earth: Slow, rooted, even still… I use weights and go slow
- Metal: Refined, machine like, smooth and precise… no robot dancing.
- Wood: Bendable, extending with roots… think yoga (it’s also martial art)
“Do your practice, all is coming”– Sri Pattabhi Jois
I hope this helps with your practice. Now that the MMA game is becoming so popular, these athletes will evolve into martial artists. This is an amazing opportunity to challenge our practices and adapt them. Sometimes two fighters of similar skill and training meet… This is when imagination and “art” will help. You only get hit by what you don’t see. We’ve seen fights end by getting hit by something they ignored. “That would never work”… good night. Nothing works if you don’t practice.