Have you ever wondered why we put such a heavy emphasis on forms here in our academy? Well, in this article I’m going to tell you why. We’re going to look at the purpose and benefits of our Songahm forms. You’re also going to discover why forms have been such an important part of martial arts for centuries - going all the way back to the Shaolin monks who created Kung-fu! So read on!
History of ATA Forms
Our 18 Songahm Taekwondo forms ("poom-sae" means form in Korean) were developed by Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee. These copyrighted forms have been refined over the years and they are one of the best systematic methods for teaching martial arts ever created.
Now, many people misunderstand forms. They confuse them with sparring. For example, I’ve heard people say, "People don’t fight like that. I’ve never seen opponents who take on 90-degree angles. Forms are unrealistic". Well, guess what? They’re missing the point. So let’s take a look at the nine big benefits of forms. You’ll quickly understand why they’ve been a proven part of martial arts training for centuries.
Benefit 1: Technique Refinement
The repetitive nature of forms allows you to refine a particular technique over and over again until it’s just about perfect. And not just single moves, either. The important thing about forms is that they link various moves into a natural, logical sequence. And since forms are a sequence of moves, you’re gaining the ability to go from one move to another fluidly, without hesitation. This is handy in both a real-life as well as a sparring situation. Instead of doing punches and kicks in isolation, forms put your techniques into a context.
Benefit 2: Memory
Forms train two types of memory: mental and muscle memory.
First, the sheer act of committing your forms to memory improves your long-term recall. This not only pays off in martial arts, but other areas as well. Take for instance, school. How often have you said to yourself, "I wish I had a better memory?" Well, forms will help you with that. As one ATA parent said recently, "If my son can memorize 40+ moves in his form, he can certainly remember his homework!"
Second, forms burn your techniques into "muscle memory". This means you’ll be able to perform your moves "mindlessly" (to borrow a Zen term) and without consciously thinking about them. If you ever find yourself in a real-life self-defense situation, this can literally save your life. If you don’t have muscle memory working for you, you’re in big trouble. In a dangerous situation, you don’t have time to "think" about your choice of technique. For this reason, it pays to practice your forms. Forms etch your techniques into muscle memory so you can execute them instantly!
Benefit 3: Balance and Coordination
In our Songahm forms, each technique alternates between a right side and left side move. There is good reason for this: it creates symmetry in your techniques as well as your muscle development. You should be able to perform, say a jump front-kick, just as effectively with your left leg as you do your right. The more you practice your forms, the more you’ll develop your "weak side" and bring it up to par with your strong side. This is the essence of symmetry.
Balance, too, is improved by forms. Like I said a moment ago, performing a side kick by itself is different than performing a side kick and then quickly moving to a high block. This requires you to shift your weight and transition into a new stance, thereby improving your balance. Forms also help to develop hand-eye coordination, foot-eye coordination and hand-foot timing.
Benefit 4: Focus and Concentration
You may notice that when you’re doing your form, the rest of the world "tunes out". Yes, the mere act of performing a poom-sae forces you to empty your mind, "put your blinders on" and focus on only one thing: your next move. This builds your powers of concentration and gives you the ability to focus on the task at hand. It’s also one of the many reasons Taekwondo is so effective at treating ADD / ADHD. It enhances your focus.
Forms also create rhythmic breathing, and provide an almost meditative state of mind. That’s why people say forms are so relaxing: they empty your mind of the day’s challenges, relieve stress and help recharge your batteries.
Benefit 5: Motor Skill Development
One of the biggest reasons parents enroll Tiny Tigers in our academy is to help develop gross and fine motor skills. And guess what? Forms are the best way to do just that. Here’s why: As the colored belt forms progress from white to black, each form includes finer and finer degrees of motor skill training. For example, the white belt poom-sae focuses more on gross motor skill development with large muscle moves such as front kicks, side kicks, high blocks and simple punches. Then, as you move up through the Songahm forms, the moves become more refined and bring more fine motor skills into play. Our Songahm forms are an excellent gross motor skill training system for anybody, not just Tiny Tigers!
Benefit 6: Performing Under Pressure
Listen: One of the most important skills in life is public speaking. Whether it’s a college class, a business seminar or community presentation, at some point you WILL be expected to present something in front of others. To be a true leader (and that’s your goal, isn’t it?) you must master this skill. Unfortunately, speaking in front of a group ranks at the top of most people’s worst fears.
So what’s the answer? You guessed it: Forms! Forms help you overcome this fear, and here’s why: You may not realize it, but every time you do your forms, you’re performing in front of others! This includes instructors, other students, parents as well as guests!
This helps you overcome shyness, boosts your self-confidence and gets you comfortable in the leadership role of having others watch and listen to you. Just think of me: every time I teach class, I’m on stage! Practicing forms played a big role in developing my self-confidence, speaking in public and presenting for others. It will for you, too!
Benefit 7: Strength and Stamina
Perform all your colored belt forms in succession (The Songahm Star) and you have a complete exercise routine at your fingertips. The great thing is you can do your forms anywhere and any time. You don’t need any fancy equipment. You don’t need to wear any special gear and you don’t even need mats! Wherever you are, you’ve got an amazing cardiovascular exercise at your disposal. Want to unwind after a long day at work with a relaxing stress-reducing workout? Then do your forms slowly...with concentration and focus ("Tai Chi" style). In the mood for an aerobic exercise and want to get that heart rate up? Then move through your forms one after the other with speed, intensity and power. Believe me, that’ll do the trick! Yes, the Songahm Star is a complete exercise routine in itself: something you can do anywhere, any time…for the rest of your life!
Benefit 8: Goals to Achieve, Levels to Reach
Here at our academy, we introduce students to techniques gradually, step-by-step through our Songahm forms. That’s because each rank has its own unique poom-sae to teach the techniques required for that level. One of the advantages of this approach is that we provide students with an easy-to-follow system to increase their skills. At each rank, you know exactly what is expected of you. And you know what you need to do to reach that next level. This creates clarity and helps you in your own personal goal-setting!
And don’t forget: The very act of learning your forms requires perseverance (our word of the month!), hard work and discipline.
Benefit 9: Beauty
Let’s face it: watching a black belt execute their forms flawlessly looks downright cool. It hits you at an emotional level that’s hard to describe. The power, the agility, the intensity... the grace!
This is one of the big reasons so many people are attracted to Taekwondo. There is a "live performance aspect" to our martial art that’s beautiful and exciting to watch! This stems from only one thing: forms. Our forms are truly a "spectator sport". They let you show your stuff and put your own personal expression into the martial arts. Remember: forms are the "art" in martial arts! It just wouldn’t be the same without them!
This Month’s Call to Action
In the days and weeks ahead, I want you to bring greater focus, perseverance and dedication to your forms. They’re that important. If you’re a colored belt, take some time this month to watch the black belts here at our academy. See what they do differently. Look for the little things: hand-foot timing, balance, speed, power, ki-yaps, etc.
On the other hand, if you’re already a black belt, watch your higher ranks and see how you can improve your forms even more! There’s always room to improve.