Mississauga Bujinkan Dojo

Why Practice Form?

You hear it all the time in the Bujinkan: “it’s not about form”, “let go of the form”, “there’s no right way to do it”, and so on. What does that mean though? Does it mean we can just do whatever we want?  That we shouldn’t bother practicing form?  Or does it just mean we shouldn’t rely on fixed techniques in real situations?

I’m not going to presume that my interpretation of what those things mean is correct but with a little bit of thought I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that they probably don’t mean form should not be practiced or that form isn’t important.

In this article I’m going to make a logical argument for why it’s important to learn and continuously practice form.

Terminology & Concepts

Before going on I think it’s important to draw a distinction between form and technique. Some people use the term “forms” interchangeably with “techniques” but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

For clarity lets say “forms” or “techniques” are fixed movements or sets of movements and “form” is the structure of your body and the structure of your movement.

In other words, form is something you have and techniques (or forms) are things you do. You have form while performing a technique, while engaged in free response and even while standing still.

Examples of techniques or forms are things like omote gyaku, ganseki nage, Koku, RenYo, Sui Sha, Ura Nami, etc.

Elements of form are things like whether or not your knees cave in when you’re in kamae or when you shift your weight, whether or not your back is straight or arched, your alignment, whether you are covered or open, etc.

The Real Question

Now that we’ve defined and clarified the terminology, do you really believe form is not something that should be practiced, studied and drilled? Or that it’s only something beginners need to worry about?

I don’t think many people would disagree that under pressure your form is definitely going to degrade. You’re not going to move as cleanly when you’re in real danger as you will in class where you’re generally not in danger. The important question here, at least to me, is:

How far and to what will your form degrade when you’re under real pressure and in real danger?

If you think form is for the rigid suckers who “just don’t get it” so you never practice it, then there’s a very good chance that under real pressure your form will degrade (likely from something not so optimal to begin with) to something that doesn’t help you at all against a real and skilled opponent. If your form degrades to the point where you’re not covered, where your structure is weak, where you’re off balance, etc then at that point your form is not helping you and in fact may be hurting you.  And really, if you don’t practice form, what else could happen?

If you spend part of your practice time focusing on form though, continuing to refine it and attempting to perfect it even though it can never be perfected, then your form will consistently get better and it will be driven deeper and deeper into your body, which means there will be a better chance that when it degrades under pressure it will degrade to something that still helps you.  Over time good form will hopefully become your natural default, ultimately even while under pressure.

That’s not to say that your movement in a real and dangerous situation should look like it does in the dojo or that you should be trying to execute text book techniques (which is silly), just that the principles of good form (alignment, cover, balance, etc) and the benefits delivered by good form should still be present even if the movement is completely freeform.

Conclusion

What all this leads to is that the point of learning and practicing form is to make it a deep enough part of you that if and when it does degrade under pressure, it degrades to something that still helps you.  And that requires deep and ongoing practice.

Many will say that form is important up to a certain point beyond which you have to throw it away,  but while that may apply to technique in a certain sense, I can see no merit or value at all in throwing away form.   Form may become more and more subtle with skill but good form doesn’t inhibit free response, it only helps it. Why would anyone want to move less well?

Maybe as our skill grows and form becomes more natural for us we will need to focus on it less, but throwing it away or not practicing it at all seems foolish to me.

Some will also argue that they have moved beyond form. If that’s the case it should pretty easy for them to turn it down a notch or two and execute a technique with proper form.  So challenge them!  Ask them to do it and observe the results carefully.  If they can’t do it, they haven’t moved beyond form.  They have bad form which is very different.

If the argument in this article makes sense to you, that’s great.  If not, no problem.   All of this is just my opinion but it really does seem like common sense that form is important.

As always, think for yourself, practice for the art and have fun with your training!

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