Note: This is the second of 2 essays I wrote as part of my test for Kyo Sa (certified instructor) in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan.
As a training method, forms serve multiple purposes. When learning a new form, the student first benefits from the strictly technical aspects of the forms training. Over time, as they gain greater understanding of the technical content of the form, the student is able to begin applying the form’s style or characteristics in order to expand their understanding of the form. And finally, once they have a solid understanding both of the technical content and the characteristics of a form, the student is able to begin exploring the artistic and “moving meditation” aspect of forms training as a method of deepening their understanding of the form so that they might begin using it as a tool to expand their awareness of the form as an artistic whole. Due to their challenging nature, depth and complexity, forms also provide an excellent opportunity for students to apply many of the 8 key concepts to their training and to better understand the 7 stages of learning.
Technical Content of Forms
The first stage of learning imparted by forms training is primarily technical in nature, and often serve as a way to train the body and increase discipline and focus as the student begins the process of learning by learning the movements from their instructor and committing them to memory.
Forms incorporate technique that students may have learned in class as part of line drills or, perhaps, in one-step sparring training, but chain these individual techniques into attack and defense sequences in a specific pattern. In doing so, students learn how to properly transition between different offensive and defensive techniques while advancing, retreating, or changing direction. As they develop these skills and gain better control of their body mechanics they will find that they are better able to redeploy and utilize sequences of movements that are contained within the forms as part of their sparring repertoire.
As students learn a new form, it encourages them to examine some of the 8 key concepts in relation to their training. Obviously chung shin tong il comes into play through the mental demands of recording and imitating, while in neh, kyum son, and jong gi can factor in as the student sometimes comes to realize how difficult this stage can be.
This stage of forms training also encapsulates the first 4 stages of learning: look with the intent to learn, listen with the intent to learn, recording, and imitation. Once the techniques have been adequately recorded by the student and they are able to accurately imitate what they have been shown by their instructors they progress to the next stage of learning, “practice, practice, practice”, which will enable them to begin to better understand the characteristics and nature of the form itself as a whole as opposed to the individual techniques and sequences.
Characteristics of Forms
Once the student has successfully recorded and is able to accurately imitate the form they have been shown by the instructor they can begin to explore the characteristics inherent in the form by practicing (and practicing, and practicing …) the form. Typically students have had the characteristics of the form explained to them (for example, the Weh Gung “externally directed energy” quality of the Gicho and Pyang Ahn forms versus the Neh Gung “internally directed energy” qualities of the Naihanji versus the Choon Gung “middle way” quality of the Chil Sung). However, until they have managed to record and are able to imitate the form they are not able to begin exploring these characteristics because their minds are typically preoccupied with technical execution of the techniques in the proper sequence.
At this stage the student begins applying additional key concepts to their technique – chiefly wan gup, him cho chung and shin chook as methods of accurately and correctly communicating the form’s characteristics physically. The characteristic of a form is typically best expressed thorough the correct breathing technique for the form combined with an understanding of the correct timing, speed, power, and rhythm of the form. For example, as students begin to understand the quality of a Pyang Ahn form they will adjust their breathing to be hard and explosive, terminating at he completion of each technique. Likewise, the individual movements of the form will be executed with intensity and power, while the overall form with move at a consistent – though not necessarily “fast” – pace, corresponding to the confident quality inherent in the Pyang Ahn.
Forms as Moving Meditation
Once the student has begun to sufficiently understand the characteristics of the form they are prepared to begin the process of applying their knowledge of the form in order to move toward the final stages of learning: first by achieving a higher level of awareness through exploring the artistic and meditative aspects of the form, and finally the acts of exploring the art and creating something new from what they have learned.
Frankly, this is the part where I feel I have the least understanding, or at least the least insight into the actual application of the principals. In preparing forms for demonstration and competition I have been able to focus on the overall artistic qualities of the form: trying to focus on line of sigh and presenting a line of beauty when executing the techniques, finding a rhythm and speed for various parts of the form that imparts the performance of the form with a greater dramatic impact and which emphasizes the characteristics of the form in an artistic manner, and working to give the overall composition a sense of beauty or integrity. I feel that these are aspects of achieving a higher sense of awareness of the form itself.
I have also found that once we have begun to understand and internalize the characteristics of a form we are able to begin “losing ourselves” in the form. This is when I’ve found the forms best exemplify the ideals of forms training acting as a moving meditation. This is only possible when we have so thoroughly learned technical aspects and the characteristic qualities of the forms that performing them becomes second nature, enabling our minds to operate independently of the actions our bodies are engaged in and therefore to better observe ourselves and our performance. And it is through this detachment and deeper understanding achieved through achieving higher awareness (true chung chin tong il) that we are able to truly grasp the fundamental qualities of these techniques and finally use them to create something truly new.