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All-in-one training method for martial arts?

By Dani Warnicki
While it is difficult to train simultaneously all the various qualities a martial artist needs, there is an undervalued training method that may get closer to an all-in-one solution than the rest. This training method improves your skills, agility, condition and several other qualities that I will discuss below. The method is combat forms training (Ram Yuth in Thai). Many martial arts practitioners stop training a form once they have memorized it and perform it well enough to pass their khan grading. However, memorizing a form is only the beginning for this training method. If you stop there it is as if you memorized a recipe for a delicious meal but never actually use it. The benefit is in the execution of the recipe, as it is in the case of martial arts combat forms. Here is how you can benefit from combat forms training if you do it right.

1. You will learn a lot. Like Kenwa Mabuni (Shuri, 1889 – Tokyo, 1952), a Japanese Karate Master said: “A form is a book that you read with your body”. Combat forms can include a variety of footwork and techniques. Spending time in training the combat forms means you spend time training the techniques and footwork. It’s not about learning the form, but learning its content. You don’t need to master every technique since the more techniques you try to master the more difficult it becomes. However, thanks to positive skill transfer, the more you learn the easier it becomes to learn more. In addition, diversity in skills and training makes you more adaptable to the surprising and dynamic nature of a fight. Even though combat forms have a pre-arranged structure, the structure itself can be very dynamic, mimicking the nature of a fight.

2. You will improve your agility. Agility can be defined as your ability to do the right thing from the wrong position, or, your ability to minimize the transitioning time from one movement to another. Combat forms contain different techniques that are performed in a sequence. The end of the previous movement is the beginning of the next. When you train the combat forms you are constantly changing the direction, level and speed of your movement. The result is fluidity. When performed the right way, combat forms are an excellent exercise for agility training.

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3. You will improve your coordination. This means you will have an improved control over the movement of your body. Furthermore, these movements will become smooth, efficient and accurate. Some of the combat forms are structured so that they really challenge your coordination; your lower and upper body work at the same time performing different movements that need to be precisely executed to simulate a real combat situation.

4. You will improve your mobility. This means your body’s ranges of motion become wider. Mobility is not only a prerequisite for health but contributes to your performance as well. For example, you need a lot of mobility to kick head high. Flexibility alone is not enough because you need strength as well to move your leg through the trajectory of a high kick with control. With certain combat forms their performance requires you to control your body through a variety of movements that challenge your flexibility. For example, you might have to stretch yourself while performing an elbow to the ribs.

5. You will improve the economy of your motions. As you become more and more agile, coordinated and mobile and practice the techniques in the combat forms you require less and less energy to perform them. Still, your power increases. In combat, being able to produce power energy-efficiently is of utmost importance.

6. You will improve your balance. There is static and dynamic balance. Combat forms training improves especially the latter since you have to maintain balance while moving your body through space in various angles, sometimes standing on one leg. Simultaneously, you have to be able to produce power to your movements. Kicks, knees and spinning attacks are a good example of this.

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7. You will improve your focus. Practicing combat forms deliberately challenges your focus. Depending on the form, the duration of it varies from seconds to minutes. All this time you have to keep your focus on what you are doing. If you lose your focus, you aren’t learning and improving anymore. However, sometimes you find yourself so familiar with a form that you can do it automatically without thinking. In this point, you need to either deliberately bring your focus back on the performance or find a deeper level, or an objective, while performing the form that keeps your focus.

8. You will improve your sport specific condition. Depending on the intensity of the performance when training combat forms, you will develop different kinds of cardiovascular endurance and strength. More importantly, this development will be sport specific, meaning it improves your strength and endurance in maneuvering in combat. In contrast, while running helps you improve your cardiovascular endurance, it will not prepare your muscles to endure the requirements of a fight because endurance is movement specific. As beneficial as running is, you need to add combat forms training to it.

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Extra benefit: capability to train solo and without equipment. With combat forms training you can train anywhere where you have the space. Indoors and outdoors. For these reasons I do combat forms training as much as I can. It develops most of the qualities a martial artist needs. It is not that these qualities couldn’t be developed with other training methods. You still need to do impact training, sparring and other conditioning exercises to prepare yourself for all-out fighting. However, combat forms are a highly time-efficient and effective training method for a martial artist. If you do not benefit from combat forms training you are probably not doing it right.
Dani Warnicki (dani.warnicki@imbafinland.com)