When I started practicing kung fu and actually a long way into it, I always wondered, what is the real point of kung fu forms anyways?
Why should I spend all this time memorizing and perfecting a stance, a certain punch or movement when I wouldn't ever fight like that? Why not just train with simplistic techniques like punches, kicks, and throws? Why bother spending all this time with forms when there is a much shorter route to getting good at throwing a stiff punch.
These are probably a lot of questions new students have as well as many who don't train in the art and scoff at it.
As you may know, the purpose of the form isn't to hope a fight will unfold in that manner or even to use those exact movements, like a horse stance, in a fight. Instead, they are all training devices. It is designed to get your body to coordinate in multiple planes of motion, swiftly.
It is training your neuromuscular system.
Evolutionarily, a big part of your brain is built for movement and navigating through your environment. So, training your neuromuscular system is a big part of physical as well as mental development. These movements actually create neural pathways in the brain, called neurogenesis. It is also training your nervous system. It is training your whole system.
The ability to have complete command and function over your body is a unique feeling. When you walk, it will feel like you float, when you run, you operate efficiently and tire less quickly. The muscles that aren't needed for that exercise, relax and disengage to so that you preserve more of your energy.
Forms are a lot more akin to bodyweight training with the sole focus on translating it into fighting application, much like any other sport have their own drills to enhance their ability.
Some American football players have been known to take up other activities like ballet, just to improve to agility and physical control. It helps with their performance on the field.
Although football is dominated by size and strength, they also need other aspects of physical agility to perform at an elite level. By practicing ballet, they are training for:
Choreographed dance movements do a have a large crossover benefit into athletic performance. Which brings up another interesting point about kung fu.
Historically and traditionally, kung fu and dance are interwoven arts that go back 5,000 years. Kung fu has had a great impact on Chinese performance arts, like the Beijing Opera and dance. The Chinese word for martial arts is "wu" and the Chinese word for dance, is also "wu", though the character is different.
The image below illustrates the similarities.
The relation between dance and martial arts is quite close. It could be said, that the movements, when performed on their own, is a dance, but when engaged with an opponent, then it become martial arts.
The diligent training of kung fu forms translates into multiple supporting benefits, because it is largely about learning to control and direct your body. The learning of kung fu forms it to learn how to create tightly controlled movement.
But there is one aspect that hasn't been touched on.
That is the practice of your spirit, your fighting spirit. When you watch Shaolin Monks in China perform, their fighting spirit sends shivers down your spine. They yell and and crush things over their heads and dodge spears without hesitation.
This kind of mental and physical training is powerful for modern day life. You can handle challenges much more easily and face hard things head on. You can handle stress and meet people more confidently. It is when you are working on yourself every day, that things start to change and you start to see the world in a different way.
About the blog
Luke Shao and Master Wang are on a mission to share the ancient Chinese approach to acquiring any skill.