I was looking at some online martial arts boards earlier and a conversation about forms application caught my eye. For those of you that don’t know what a martial arts form is, a form is a prearranged set of techniques practiced against an imaginary opponent. Below is a basic form practiced in Choy Lay Fut.
The originally poster had a complaint that he was training in china and never taught the applications to the forms. His response was to characterize all the martial arts training in china as lacking combat effectiveness and to be oriented towards performance. I’ve heard this comment many times and after having trained and witnessed training in china I can see his reasoning. What really was interesting to me though was the counter argument that was presented by others posting on the topic. The most interesting was “I learned this form from Sifu x in china and he showed me the applications to it”. The reason I find this interesting is because it seems that in general people believe if they are shown a specific application to a movement in the form that that form has now become functional for combat. I have seen this reasoning over and over again. The truth is that if I take a martial arts form that I teach and pull out an application show it to a student once or even several times they will never be able to apply it in a fighting situation. While you do need to be taught what the techniques are for, if you wish to apply a technique in a fighting situation, that technique needs to be trained in a progressive manner.
The following is the training progression we follow at the Hung Sing Martial Arts Association. I have personally found this progression to be the simplest, most efficient way to take a technique from a form to applying it in a free sparring or fighting situation.
1. Static Drills.
The first step in this progression in to choose a technique or combination of techniques that you wish to use. These can either be extracted from a form or they can be isolated singular techniques as well as combinations of your own design. You then take chosen techniques and practice them solo, on various training apparatus and with a cooperating partner. It is important that when training with a partner you receive feedback from your partner to determine whether or not you are performing the techniques correctly.
2. Live Drills
The next in step is to take the same techniques into a form of live drilling. Live drilling is a type of training in which you trade the technique with a partner in a more spontaneous manner. For instance if you are training a jab, you will throw the jab at you partner he will defend. Next he will return the jab and you will defend. It is important to note that what makes this drill live is plenty of movement simulating a sparring environment and a focus on breaking the rhythm of the exercise. During this phase of training you can get a feel for the abstract aspects of using the technique such as distancing in relation to the opponent, timing, set up, recovery after execution etc.
3. Limited sparring
Limited sparring is when you isolated a single technique of a set of techniques and apply them freely. The value of this exercise is that it allows you to try new techniques in sparring without being overwhelmed by the variety of techniques used in free sparring. An example of limited sparring(only training chop choi, cross and lam choi) can be found below.
4. Free Sparring
Eventually as techniques are worked out in the previous 3 steps they can be then added into free sparring. in this video you can see my kungfu brother "Gil" (with the shirt on) applying the same techniques(chop,cross, lam) he trained in the limited sparring session above in a free sparring session with a practitioner of another martial arts system.
Training against a resisting opponent
“I train my techniques against a resisting opponent”, is a common phrase on martial arts message boards. Often the people who say this are making the argument that any form of static drilling is not of value because it does not realistically simulate a real fight. They advocate nothing less than free sparring prepares you for combat. While static drilling alone is not enough in order to sufficiently train a person to use a technique in combat it is a very important step. The techniques and concepts found in the Choy Lay Fut system are based on sound scientific principles. That said, many of them go against a person’s natural instincts. A good example is in the use of the Chuen Kiu. When a punch is thrown at the average person their first instinct is to turn or back away. In order to make the Chuen Kiu effective you step into the punch which is contrary to the natural instincts of a trained person. Without the static drilling of this technique as well as the increase in pressure found at each step of training this technique, or many others, can never be acquired.