Between Master Frankovich’s Tae Kwon Do forms seminar recently, talks in class, and an e-mail discussion with Master Koivisto (mentioned briefly in the last post), I thought it would be good to sit down and take some time to write a post about martial arts forms (Kata/Poomse/Hyung/What-have-you).  Since I am a practical application guy, I wanted to talk about what others have said and what I believe about how to train them!

I don’t have a lot of time to do this but I am going to try and sum up a lot of what has been said clearly and succinctly.  I’m not going to bother a lot with what a form is, or why we should practice them.  This is specifically a post about how much, when, where, et cetera.

Equilibrium Sword Kata ReadyI asked the question that started this post in class on Sunday.  Since the Nerd Posse has repeatedly poked me with the task of becoming our group’s teacher, I need to learn as much as I can, as well as I can, as quickly as I can.  Now that we’re a business that is officially my job!

Fundamental question: How many times do I need to practice one form before I can start to learn the next one?

The answer:  It’s complicated!!!  Here are the responses that I have gotten (summed up), their sources as best I can remember, and I’ll throw my own thoughts in at the end, where they belong (last and least among the company I’m citing).

Mrs. Wickstrom’s instantaneous response: 1000 times!

scottpilgrim 64 hit comboThere is some merit to that answer.  Grand Master Kiel Soon Park taught me years ago that when a Korean Master trains, he goes to a park and does something 3,000 times and then goes home.  (He was talking about a leg sweep at the time, which is far easier to train than a 52-move form sequence, in all fairness.)  For most of us that simply isn’t practical.

das-blut-der-templer-G1_758609Here is the summary of Master Koivisto’s take on forms training (paraphrased for brevity).

When I started training in martial arts I did every form 1000 times.  Then I got better at memorizing and it would only take me 500 or 300 to learn the techniques.  I learned to study smarter, not harder, to adapt to my learning style (programming).  That’s not laziness, it’s efficiency because programmers don’t have time to include needless steps!

  • 50-100 times through to memorize the pattern
  • The next 100 or so times through I focus on the techniques (when to turn, transition points, when to breathe, Stances!!!)
  • Then I focus 100 times or so seeing my enemies.  Once you know the technique it’s time to learn how to apply it to you, what your story is!

equilibrium-bale-sword-kataThis jives very well with something Master Frankovich has repeated in two or three separate training sessions:

There are three levels to every fight.

  1. Beginner Level: This is the blatantly obvious interpretation of the move.  This form starts with a ready position.
  2. Advanced Level: That ready position could be a block against a head strike, then the first move is a counter-punch.
  3. Deeper Level: What if that block is really part of a grab?  The transition move is a lock, and the first “move” is a punch beneath the arm I already have locked?

Tae DiggsThe next bit of feedback I got was about the idea that we are only to train one form at a time!  Master Koivisto corrected me on that one.

At this point in my training, I can usually work on 3 or 4 forms at a time successfully because of my methods. As a general rule, I don’t move on to start learning a second form until the first has been done about 50 times – unless an instructor is taking the time with me to move on. (Kim, Parnell, and Frankovich have all taught me 2 or more forms in a single training session before.) However, I do my repetitions differently when working on multiple forms. For instance, I am working on 9, 10, 11, 12 right now. I would do 9 four times followed by 10 twice, and 11 once. Every third (or fourth) series, I do the first section of 12 (the part I know).  As I got closer to 100 reps of 9, I switched so 9 was done twice, 10 was done four times.
Of course, I still make sure that I warm up with doing 1-8 twice before moving on. When I only have an hour to practice, 9-12 get less time, but that’s just how it goes.

Chief Master Parnell has hit on that last point many times.  In the October Seminar the 1 and 2-Dans got a… tense… talking to because while they looked really pretty on the forms they were testing on, their gup-level forms had fallen apart.  They didn’t stick together, there were pauses over forgotten moves, etc.  Seminar is coming up!  The Nerd Posse is starting its own school soon!  We do NOT want our first impression to be… stern…

One reason that I’m quoting them is that I am surprised with a fundamental truth I’ve learned in martial arts.  Different arts start at different places, but as you move up in training and philosophy, they start to come together.  The deep hip-twist for power Master Park taught me as a white belt is a 2nd-Dan Karate principle, but the stuff Parks Judo & Karate worked on with hand techniques at 2 Dan they were learning in their first few months!  Different starting positions and philosophy, but one reality, one human body, things start to meet in the middle.

Equilibrium Versus

Bringing that back to forms, I was taught 300x through a form before working on the next one.  Looking at Master Koivisto’s numbers, they start to hover around 300 before you’re polishing and refining!

A final thought before some fluff: Master Koivisto had the following bonus secret to share!

Now for the “secret” (there are no real secrets). Once you have gotten the 100 reps in, and you have fine-tuned your technique with another 100 or so reps, it’s time to start using imagery to practice. You do not need 1000 physical repetitions to make it successfully. Take some time to clear your mind with meditation, then do 5 repetitions in your head. The first 2 should be slow and painstakingly critical to technique and pattern. The next 2 should be about 80% speed with those corrections made. The 5th time should be at full speed as close to prefect as possible. This can be done any time of the day at any place. It’s also a great thing to do after a warm-up for your training while you breathe, or even a break between sets while you take a sip of water.

DISCLAIMER: Those of you uncomfortable with meditation as a term can use the western wording mental rehearsal.  Stop thinking about your grocery list or whether you put your underwear on inside-out, and simply think through every step and movement of the physical task you want to perform.  Olympic athletes, gymnasts, and others have been doing this LONG before the Orient and Occident started talking to one another again.

Some fun bits for fluff:

Equilibrium Sword BareI’d been told long ago (80s or 90s) that after 100 times, you know the pattern well, after 500 times you know the techniques well, after 1000 times you can see the fight, and after 2000 times others can see the fight. -Master Koivisto

Equilibrium Sword See Your Enemies

I want to encourage all of us in the Haidong Gumdo community (near and far) to keep working forms!  Why?  Because we have the most awesome forms in sword-dom, that’s why!!!!  Let’s put the time and energy in to make it great!

KataAs a quick note, Nerd Posse: We have some work to do here!  Working through things with Archer and Logic Monkey, I think I have discovered a road block in our training.  We’re not sure what the moves are doing, so we don’t know how to take the things we have learned and apply them to actual sword scenarios!  So one of our training goals has to be to take some time and review, move for move, what we’re doing.  Master K and Master Oz have shown us that there may be different stories, but if you don’t know your story, you can’t do the final steps in forms practice, the critical step of incorporating the sequence into your art!