American Kenpo Forms - A Short Comment

by Stephen LaBounty (2007-09-25)

"The forms are NOT to teach fighting!"
"The forms only teach movement!"
"The forms are a set of useless drills that should be replaced by realtime fighting sequences"
And so on.

These are just some of the statements that I've heard over the last 47 years, a couple of which I have spoken as well. Guess which one!

But, there is some truth to the statements, many spoken by various "Seniors" and others, who have established their place in Kenpo, and have posited a curriculum they feel serves the modern student.

I have wanted to write my opinion on the forms for some time. Being one of the "ancient ones" who saw the forms develop from a rudimentary collection of steps to A to B to C, and so on, to the finessed and flowing groupings that we now have, I have to point out that I have yet one more, and daresay, final opinion that for me will last as long as I do.

That is the lack of the use of the total body in practicing the forms.

First off, I do believe the forms are a necessary part of the system. I didn't always feel this way, in fact I was at odds with SGM Parker on the inclusion of the sets as being 'superfluous' and redundant, making the progress of the student an impossible mountain to climb with any true proficiency. Of course the lesson seems to always come at you head on, or hand and foot on in this case, and over time as I put my signature on my own movement (while staying true to the systems goals), I knew that he was right in his correction. So then, here is my take on the modern forms and how they are done by various persons, some of high rank.

The forms DO teach fighting. Not in the sense that the practitioner will be able to kick higher, punch stronger, or realize the impact of being in combat. But in the sense that he/she will learn that patterns done with proper timing, on the angles that compromise the attackers initial and follow-up assault, and can be re-visited in an actual situation with sponteneity.

The forms DO teach movement, though in a constrained and disciplined manner. The movement utilizes the upper body along with the alignment of the lower, which to me is tatamount to making the form a teaching tool. This disciplined manner of replicating an actual situation adheres the practitioner to the fighting postion that assures the ability to sustain, survive and possibly win a confrontation. Yet it is not, nor should it be taught as an actual combat situation, only a "replica" of one.

Lastly, and the crux of this article is the lack of the lower body commitment to the form, specifically the upper body involvement in relation to any attack. It appears to me that many of the persons doing forms have a tendency to 'drag their feet' when executing the technique. That is, the feet seem to follow them rather than precede, thereby making it seem as if all of the technique is upper body dominant and that is all that is required to be successful.

Since one half of our body is lower limbs, required for good and consistent balance and needed for dimensional control, it stands to reason that it should at least be in sync with the the upper. Either to break the opponents timing and stances, introduce the power principles to the technique or to put the practitioner into the realm of the equation formula if and when the 'real' attack appears.

Not enough can be said about the "beauty" of an explosive and determined lower body in practicing forms. The control and penetration of not only the physical application, but the driving inner intent to win and not become a victim to agression, is displayed when the practitioner has an overwhelming control of the agressors spirit as well, be it the imagined or real opponent.

The other upside? Tremendous leg and hip and core workout if done with "intent" and spirit. When all of these factors, and some not mentioned for the sake of brevity, the predictable gross motor movements of realtime combat, become more efficient.