The Merits of Forms Training

May 7th, 2010By Category: Uncategorized

A few months ago, in addition to my usual regiment of Taekwondo, Capoeira, and Katana Tate training, I started studying Seishindo Karate. Although I had originally approached the system’s grandmaster for weapons training (mainly because I wanted to widen my fight choreography versatility on screen), after a few lessons with the staff, he insisted that the only way for me to really master the weapons play of the system was through intensive forms training- starting from the very first one. Coming from a ring fighting background, (and being as much of a ‘realist’ as most other contemporary modern day martial artists), I wasn’t sure if a regiment of only forms training could really hold my interest for it long as it would take to get to the training that I really wanted.

At the same time though, the grandmaster assured me that the time would go quickly, and that more importantly that if I wanted to be able to wield the weapons properly (and consequently earn the respect of the tride and true martial artists watching my films) then this would be the only way to do it.  In a way, as unreasonable of a request as it may have seemed, the situation reminded me of the old Kung Fu movies I saw as a kid where some hyper-talented master (who happens to be down on his luck, and has nothing better to do) puts his hero-to-be-student through hell, and then says: “You have trained hard grasshopper.

Now you are ready to learn [insert animal name] form.” And then upon learning the form, suddenly homeboy could whoop everybody’s a** in China. Armed with that fond memory, (and a promise of mastery that was almost equivalent) I put my faith in the wisdom of the grandmaster, tied a white belt around my waist for the first time in years, and started in on the first form. Thus far, it is not been a decision I regretted in the least. Given the unwaveringly ecosystemic nature of martial arts techniques*(see footnote), I found that even with a wide girth of experience, without understanding the basic movement style of this particular martial art, I wouldn’t have been anymore effective in trying to move correctly with it’s weapons than a zoo keeper in Detroit trying to get African Giraffes to mate in the middle of a Michigan winter.

Beyond that though, this has also been a worthy journey in that through studying the forms (and the applications of each movement) I am learning techniques I’ve never seen before, seeing new ways of doing the ones I already know and often times learning the ‘why’ of techniques that I’ve never particularly questioned. (Such as the fact that traditional knifehand blocks are executed to the radius bone just behind the wrist because with a conditioned hand, and proper execution, the small surface area of the block lends itself well to breaking the opponent’s forearm on impact).

Overall, however, the greatest thing about this training (and perhaps why traditional East Asian martial arts have always utilized them) is the fact that in learning forms, one not only learns to ‘focus and silence’ the mind  (a necessary element to proper execution) but also learns about their body as well. As the grandmaster told me, there is only one place to put one’s feet, one way to time one’s breath, and one way to use one’s hips to effectively utilize all of one’s energy properly and maximize the power of their movement.  Given everyone’s difference in height, weight, build, and muscular however, ‘the perfect spot’ is never the same for everyone, and even if a teacher can guide you, ultimately, it is something that one has to find on their own. Forms, when approached with the correct attitude, are an ideal avenue for that pursuit.

Granted, this isn’t to say that these things can’t be discovered through ring fighting as well, but only that practicing the movements by themselves allows one the luxury of being able to concentrate and analyze the ‘feeling’ of the execution without the distraction of having to attack, defend, and/or even connect with a target. Perhaps, even if they didn’t have modern equipment and training gear, those masters of old may have been onto something.

*(i.e. the fact that in the same way that penguins or polar bears serve a certain function within an arctic ecosystem, and more than likely would not be able to transfer into a ecosystem like Florida’s, all movements and techniques within a martial system are also made to work within that system and may not apply and/or transfer into other systems. A good example of this is the fact Taekwondo’s wide kicking stance and light footwork work naturally supplement Taekwondo style kicking, and evasions, but are generally ineffective and/or dangerous in a Muay Thai or Kickboxing Ring where low kicks to the legs are allowed. This is not to say however that transference is impossible however. In much the same way that the Burmese python seems to be conquering that same aforementioned Florida ecosystem at the moment, Andy Hug’s utilization of Taekwondo’s axekick in Kyokushin Karate and Kickboxing made him one of the world’s greatest fighters within those systems.


Chuck Johnson is a internationally recognized action film actor, based out of Tokyo, Japan., and a martial artist of 16 years. In addition to stunt/action acting work, he also teaches both action and martial arts in Tokyo. His next films the twin ‘Sukeban Hunters’ movies will be released this summer.  To read more about upcoming projects visit,

Author of this article

Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson is a Martial Arts Instructor/ Action Film Actor based in Tokyo, Japan, and Michigan, USA. He has been teaching for 16 years, holds ranks in Taekwondo, Judo, Capoeira, and Karate, and is an experienced bodyguard. He is also a member of the Screen Action Stunt Association, and Society of American Fight Directors. Additionally, he has 10 years of ELT experience, and is the developer of Phat English, a system that uses specialized hip-hop music to teach the subtle nuances of GAm English pronunciation. For more information, visit or follow Chuck on twitter at chuck_n_action

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