Using Forms Directly in Sparring

Discuss sparring, training applications in a competition environment, or even in real-life (fighting, self-defence). Please no violence!
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Using Forms Directly in Sparring

Postby jensenlocal » Sun Dec 07, 2008 9:56 pm

I am interested in your sparring training and would like to know more about it. Specifically, do you use your forms while sparring?

I was always curious about how much time is spent on learning forms to the point of perfection and pondered that they had to be developed for applicable reasons (more then just for conditioning and technique purposes). I understand the applications for each pattern within a form are explained. Does the sparring program systematically take the practicioner from applying the forms in a slow and controlled environment to a rather fast and uncontrolled one? Or am I assuming incorrectly and that forms are distinct and separate from sparring all together?
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Postby yat_chum » Tue Dec 09, 2008 6:05 pm

Hi, as I am not from YMAA, I can't answer your question but out of curiosity what style do you do?
yijing zhidong

use stillness to overcome movement
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Postby jensenlocal » Thu Dec 11, 2008 12:33 am

Longfist. We learn the forms but it doesn't mean that I know what I am doing in a sparring or fighting situation. The times I have sparred took no advantage of all the practice we spent on learning the forms. The sparring which was very rare utilized punching and kicking techniques from kickboxing. It does not make much sense to use kickboxing techniques when all your time is spent perfecting forms.

So I am left pondering these forms have to be more applicable. I mentioned before I understand there are applications contained in the forms. It's one thing to know the application, it's another to be systematically taught to put those techniques to use through practice--not just hoping that maybe a piece of the form I learned may manifest itself in sparring. If there is anything I know is that you play as you practice. I may practice a form a thousand times but what I know very strongly is how to do that form flawlessly. I believe there is a link essentially missing that takes the techniques that one learns in his forms to being able to directly apply them in sparring. That is if I am assuming correctly that the forms were developed for applicable reasons.

I was hoping to get some more insightful responses to your training.

If there is a discussion I would rather keep it focused on my first post.
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Postby yat_chum » Thu Dec 11, 2008 4:09 am

Sorry, I am not trying to sabotage your post, just trying to gain more understanding. Please indulge me by answering a few more questions. Do you spar with gloves on? If so what type are they? What type of contact do you spar (full, light)? Do you train any two man fighting sets?

Thank you.
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use stillness to overcome movement
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Postby desa'84 » Thu Dec 11, 2008 9:22 am

where are you from? are you a YMAA student?
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Re: Using Forms Directly in Sparring

Postby nyang » Thu Dec 11, 2008 1:49 pm

jensenlocal wrote:I am interested in your sparring training and would like to know more about it. Specifically, do you use your forms while sparring?

I was always curious about how much time is spent on learning forms to the point of perfection and pondered that they had to be developed for applicable reasons (more then just for conditioning and technique purposes). I understand the applications for each pattern within a form are explained. Does the sparring program systematically take the practicioner from applying the forms in a slow and controlled environment to a rather fast and uncontrolled one? Or am I assuming incorrectly and that forms are distinct and separate from sparring all together?


Hi jensenlocal:

Forms and sparring definitely should be together. They shouldn't be separate. That is the irony in the division of Sanshou and Wushu (both Modern and Traditional). Both Sanshou and Wushu should be one, but they became two separate disciplines in the modern-day adaptation of martial arts training. Each one complements the other, though. It would seem that modern-day practitioners tend to be more interested in one aspect or another (forms tend to be flashier, trains your mind and self more, while sparring seems comparably more confrontational, physical, and violent), and that (in my opinion) is why they became 2 separate entities. You'll find, nowadays, that there are many martial artists who never expect and never want to get into a fight. That is a good mentality to have :). But it misses half of the training. When sparring in a controlled and friendly environment, it is a great way to fully explore the art, so I do recommend it.

We always encourage practicing slow first (very few techniques, and getting the mechanics of motions down at the start), at a learnable and acceptable pace, before increasing speed and power. Otherwise, the training becomes quite chaotic, especially in sparring, where whenever we get hit, sometimes students will feel more inclined to hit back quicker, harder, with flailing arms and our eyes closed :lol:. Sparring (and fighting) has much dignity and ego involved, and part of the reason we train forms first is to get rid of as much of that as possible through training our minds before jumping right into the fighting aspect of kungfu. We start out with a very limited set of forms, and slowly build upon it as students progress. We definitely do emphasize using proper form in our sparring training, because it otherwise becomes unstructured, uncontrolled, and no different than an ordinary unprepared fight in the schoolyard.

Of course, not all students understand applications of forms right away. Some techniques are more obvious than others, and some are discovered through plain repetition and the development of that feeling, muscle-memory, and practice, practice, practice. Instructors are there to guide students in this process. We encourage as much as possible that students try to discover the applications on their own and incorporate it into their sparring so that they can truly understand the root of the techniques, but in the beginning stages, you will need that instructor or master to point you in the right direction --- to tell you why something works or doesn't work. You will find that if you can just focus on a small number of techniques and develop good speed and power, they can become very highly-effective techniques in sparring. Remember that techniques and forms are to help put you in the advantageous position in a sparring situation, but you need to have the body, power, and speed to correctly execute them. That is why many martial artists often find that their techniques are not useful. They spend too much time training just forms, and not enough time conditioning and applying. The success in applying techniques will be just through pure practice, the ultimate stage being with speed, power, good timing, good reaction, and executed at a proper moment. That is the importance of practicing with partners.

The prerequisite for sparring class at YMAA Boston requires 1st stripe (rank) qualification, which means the student has learned Lian Bu Quan (beginner Long Fist sequence), 5 Pan Shou (White Crane bridge hands drills), 5 Qin-Na (Joint-Lock), and Shang-Xia Zhi (White Crane barehand matching set). YMAA Portugal, YMAA Poland, and YMAA South Africa are among the top sparring schools in YMAA and may have additional or different requirements for their programs.

Of particular importance to the YMAA training are the White Crane blocks: repel, cover, elbow neutralizing (downward filing), and low outward hooking. These are heavily emphasized in Pan Shou and Shang-Xia Zhi. We don't use Qin-Na in sparring especially at the beginning stages, due to the chance of injuries. It takes much control, understanding, and anticipation of movements to be able to apply Qin-Na on a partner and not injure them, and even then, it is difficult even for the seasoned practitioner. In our first ranking, Qin-Na and Lian Bu Quan are mostly for orienting the beginner student to Long Fist, White Crane, and the YMAA program.

Having your first YMAA stripe and being ready for sparring by no means makes you an expert in any of above-mentioned things. When you pass the test, it just demonstrates that the you are in an able and capable position of advancing to the next stages of your training. We don't expect perfection in the forms, but with each increasing ranking level, we do expect to see improvements in form accuracy, details, power, speed, spirit, and sense of target. All of these are trained and learned concurrently as you progress through the different levels of the training curriculum in consistent, dedicated practice, including the sparring portion of it.

You'll find that if you want to be an effective fighter, you don't necessarily need a lot of forms and techniques. It depends on your opponent as well. If you are fighting an inexperienced opponent, all you need is better conditioning compared to your opponent: speed, power, reaction --- absolutely no forms required. You will win, guaranteed. This is why many students resort to boxing or kickboxing techniques in their fighting --- it's our instinctual reaction to fighting. It's a battle of who's physically and mentally more conditioned. But if your opponent has some level of fighting experience, this is when techniques will help, especially if you are physically weaker than your opponent, and this is *in addition* to your conditioning training. Conditioning is an integral element and can't be left out. Just 7-8 techniques usually will do for all practical fighting situations, as long as your opponent is unfamiliar with or unprepared for how you execute the forms. If your opponent has trained counterattacks, that's a whole new story. But point of the matter is, few people realize that forms like Lian Bu Quan and Shang-Xia Zhi have quite more than enough moves for practical sparring situations and to become a very well-trained fighter. It isn't just dryly repeating something for show.

We encourage the exploration of techniques from the forms, but we always emphasize the 4 major White Crane blocks first because they cover the 4 major corners to protect the body in close range and middle range situations, and sticking to and immobilizing (sealing/trapping) your opponent. We tend to default to White Crane, because its techniques are deeper and present more options, being a short-range style. You'll find that Long Fist blocks tend to be very simple and direct, such as a simple circle-block, grab, or deflection.

After a certain level, students are expected to be at a level where they can create their own combinations of moves and sequences, which includes applying forms in sparring training. When we do standard, stationary reaction training, with basic punching and blocking, I like to take 1 or 2 techniques from a form and mix them in with the 4 major blocks. I often find that it opens up a plethora of variations and applications, followup moves, and counterattacks. Building that muscle-memory is essential. After awhile, you'll find that you're mixing in different moves from different forms without even thinking. Part of the problem with not being able to execute a technique in a real situation is because we have to think about how to execute the move before we do it. That's why you need the muscle-memory. Any technique, block or strike, should be second-nature to your subconscious mind and body, not your conscious mind.

You are correct that many people practice forms without knowing their applications. Beginners are always taught in this fashion because they have to first develop their foundation. Keep in mind that forms and sequences are just training tools. As you mentioned, from training forms and sequences, you develop conditioning and techniques -- things such as endurance, power, speed, coordination. All of these things are very relevant to sparring. In the end, you'll find that the actual techniques take the least priority compared to conditioning your body and mind. Speed, power, and then techniques. That is the order. And again, techniques are oftentimes, in this day and age, only useful against people who have some level of fighting background, or people who execute similar techniques against you.

That is why you see some martial artists get beaten by the regular street fighter. Martial artists are busy training forms and sequences, but the street fighter has been trained and conditioned in a small set of very effective techniques - very fast and familiar to them. That is the difficulty in any martial arts training program. Conditioning should actually be priority one. But students are more attracted to flashy forms and sequences, what we see in the movies. We also always emphasize discipline, high standards for morality, and being able to push ourselves first, and we downplay the fighting aspect until the student is truly "ready" morally, mentally, and physically, to take on sparring training.

In summary: practice, practice, practice. That's the only way you'll ever be able to integrate your forms into your sparring training. And try to know and gauge your progress. Don't just go through the motions. Push yourself to get better and better, and make it a natural body reaction and movement, without your mind interfering.

I hope this provides some insight into YMAA training and my opinions as well. Sorry for the super-long post. I have a tendency of doing that >_<!

Lemme know your thoughts :D

Cheers,
Nicholas C. Yang
President, YMAA International
Assistant Director, YMAA Retreat Center
http://ymaa-retreatcenter.org
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Postby Dave C. » Sun Feb 15, 2009 6:36 am

jensenlocal wrote:I believe there is a link essentially missing that takes the techniques that one learns in his forms to being able to directly apply them in sparring. That is if I am assuming correctly that the forms were developed for applicable reasons.


One of the keys you're likely missing is "free form" practice. This is where you take all the moves in the form and all the footwork and practice the moves continuously and spontaneously. Don't try to stick to the form pattern. Just move in all 8 directions with combos of the moves both as they appear in the form and in combos that you spontaneously make up.

There's more to this training but this is an important step between form and sparring.
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