Why don’t we fight the way we practice our forms? Why learn all these traditional stances, chambering, reaching for blocks, etc. when in the end we fight like a kick boxer...if we fight like them why don’t we train like them? I feel frustrated because I try so hard to remember to chamber and to reach correctly. Is this because the forms practiced in ITF Taekwondo can not really be directly applied in a self defense situation
This is a good question. I think every martial artist with an analytical mind has probably wondered the same thing.
The answer is simple—it is because Taekwondo a martial ART.
Warriors love to fight. When there is peace and no enemy around to fight, they found that, if they were careful, they could fight each other. This sitting around and training during peacetime led to the development of fighting systems. During times of war, you are using techniques, keeping what works, and rejecting what does not work, but you do not have time to think about putting it all together into a system.
Due to having to camouflage the meaning of their movements, or while to tying to find a way to safely train, they began using patterns as way to practice. Gradually, the practice of the patterns developed into an art form, almost a separate entity from the fighting system it represented. The fighting (martial) systems became known as arts, and then became know as martial arts.
Nowadays, most martial arts use patterns. They allow people who do not want to fight a way to practice and compete in their art, and they let people express their artistic side. I tell students that sparring is instinctive and physical, while pattern performance is thoughtful and emotional. When sparring you use your body, in pattern work you use your brain.
While watching sparring, the crowd cheers, much as they do at football games. While watching people perform patterns, the crowd is quiet, except at key points, much as they are at golf tournaments. When you spar and lose, it is usually because the opponent beat you. When you perform a pattern and lose, it usually because you beat yourself. Breaking is both a mental and physical endeavor, with a little physics thrown in. You may be beaten in a break if you are mental or physically weak, or if the breaking medium is unusually hard, but most breaks fail because of a weak mental component.
A person may be an expert at driving a car, and at riding a motorcycle. Although operating both vehicles involves many of the same skills, they each also require entirely different skills. For example, to make an emergency stop with a car, you only have to slam on the brake pedal with your foot, and, since most drivers primarily drive cars, this is practically instinctive. To make an emergency stop with a motorcycle, you must simultaneously squeeze the front brake lever with the hand and press down on the brake lever with the foot. This takes finesse, and since even avid motorcycle riders do not ride as much as they drive, many motorcycle riders do the wrong thing.
Sparring requires one set of skills, while pattern performance requires another set of skills. While performing each activity requires many of the same skills, they each also require very different skills. Practicing one will not detract from the other, except for the training time that may be subtracted from one to allow time to train for the other. In fact, since many of the skills complement each other, practicing one may enhance the other.
If you can do one hundred full-motion pushups using perfect technique, you can easily do a few hundred of the half-ass pushups most people do. If you can perform a perfect full-motion inner forearm block in a pattern, it is easy to perform the block while sparring since it requires less motion and less effort.
However, the opposite is not the case. You may be able to perform a highly effective inner forearm block while sparring, but not have a clue how to perform the block in a pattern since, in the pattern, the block must be exaggerated and performed perfectly.
Pattern movements and one-step movements are used to build muscle memory so the nervous system learns to act and react with little to no conscious thought on your part. For example, you do not think about applying the brakes a stop sign. When the need arises, a trained body will automatically do what is required. Sparring a lot will accomplish much the same thing, but how many people are willing, or able, to spar as much as would be required to achieve the same benefit.
Since sparring and pattern performance require different skills, some people are good at one and not too good at the other, while some are good at both. In addition, some people may enjoy one, but not the other.
If you enjoy pattern training, that is good; if you do not, then pattern training will just be one of those things you must endue so you can keep doing what you really enjoy. Even if you do not enjoy pattern training, it will still help your sparring.
I do not particularly enjoy patterns, but there are times when I enjoy them more, and I can definitely see an improvement in my overall skills when I spend more time practicing them. Patterns are like the family dog; no matter how much you dislike it, if you keep it around and feed it, it will still come to your assistance when you need it.
So there is no direct relation between fighting and patterns other than patterns help in execution of techniques (because of the over exaggeration of motion). Basically, forms are a way of persevering the past. I guess they could also be seen as a form of moving mediation. Do you feel the mastery of forms are absolutely necessary in being able to spar and defend ones self? Could TKD exist without forms?
Forms training is not necessary for one to be able to spar or fight or defend ones self. For example, look at boxers, wrestlers, UFC fighters, street fighters, soldiers, etc. They are not concerned with forms at all.
Could Taekwondo exist without forms? Yes and no. Many students would be overjoyed if forms training disappeared and they could just spar all the time. If forms were not used, some other type of training methods could be used to replace it, so Taekwondo as a fighting system could exist without forms.
However, Taekwondo is a martial art. Without the art provided by the forms, the martial art of Taekwondo would cease to exist.
Sorry to bother you again but I find your replies very insightful. In soo bahk, they seem to spar like they do their forms. In Shotokan, they reach for their blocks and chamber their punches when they spar. Is this was how Taekwondo was originally designed to function? I can see how it can be easy for something to see a Taekwondo form and say it is useless for fighting and unrealistic. Reaching for blocks and chambering seems like it would take to long to apply in a real fight. Can you explain this to me? Should we reach for a block when we free spar?
Forms, sparring, fighting, and self-defense and are all separate parts of the whole of a martial art.