Each martial arts school has its own teaching program with different forms training. But why are forms trained at all and what role do they play?

In our school, every kung fu or wushu beginner learns our specially developed entry-level fist form Yap Mun Kuen / Jap Mun Kyun (入門 拳). Beginners of Taichi start with the well-known Beijing form from the Yang style. Regardless of whether the person has previous knowledge or not, previously learned other styles or trained at another school. These entry forms are the basis in our school to learn other forms afterwards.

Traditional martial arts are known for teaching their students exactly such forms (套路 Mandarin: Taolu, Cantonese: Toulou). Depending on the martial art and style, there are only a handful of routines or even over a hundred.

Whether you calls them Taolu, Kata, Pumsae, Juru or Spiel, the mean the same thing: a defined sequence of various movements. In the German language, the term "form / forms" has become established for these sequences and combinations. These sequences and combinations are constantly repeated and trained. In martial arts there are on the one hand standardized forms, which are carried out in the same way worldwide, and others, which are usually only continued in certain styles.

No matter what martial art you look at, shapes are always an integral part of the training program. Our students also train forms diligently. I'm just wondering why the question doesn't arise more often: Why do we actually train these routines?

The better fitness programme?

It cannot be denied that the form training in martial arts has reached a wide mass and that the students enjoy it and have fun. Forms not only promote body coordination and precision, they generally keep the body fit. The different movements improve your own mobility / flexibility , speed and strength. The constant repetition of the individual techniques and forms promotes the physical muscle memory and also the memory in general. Both body and mind remain fit.

Because a wide range of movement sequences is trained in martial arts, it is a holistic training that promotes and constantly challenges different aspects of the body and mind. For people who find repetitive training in the gym too boring, forms in martial arts are perfect for you. In this sense, forms serve a similar purpose to a movement study, teaching you how to move. In this way, the body builds up a large repertoire of movements from which it can draw at any time. So you can absorb and implement new forms, new movements (also from other sports) much faster.

Regardless of what martial arts you train, you should automatically improve the following points through forms training:


  • better body awareness (coordination)

  • good sense of distance (spatial awareness)

  • correct power development

  • improved fitness (condition/stamina)

But repeating forms all the time and still putting all the concentration and energy into every technique with every execution requires discipline and perseverance. In my eyes, form training is also like a character test for a student. Uncoordinated learn body control, unfocused learn discipline and impatient learn perseverance/endurance. In other words, the student grows along with the martial art.

Just for show?

A lot looks spectacular in a martial arts performance. Forms are shown which contain jumps and other acrobatic elements, rehearsed partner forms are shown and choreographed group forms are shown. Athletes with forms compete against each other at tournaments and are judged by referees based on various criteria.

One is a demonstration on which i.e. the martial art is presented to a wider audience, the other is the sport on which martial artists / athletes compete at the highest level. But both distort the actual image of a martial art and give the feeling that many things are empty and simply a beautiful performance, like a dance.

Although Chinese martial arts promoted themselves as “show martial arts” in the past three decades, but the aspect of show or demonstration has long been a companion. Martial arts schools in China, up until the Cultural Revolution, were dependent on public demonstrations and shows, among other things. Martial artists were basically street artists at the same time (江湖). This not only promoted the school, it also made a little money. These influences can still be seen very strongly in forms today. Exercises became "flowerier" and bigger because you had to make them more visible and beautiful in order to appeal to a large audience.


Mein Großvater, Wu Shaoquan (1909-1967 吳少泉 kant. Ng Siu Cyun), ist mit seinen Schülern auch quer durch Guangzhou gezogen und hat überall vorgeführt. Zum chinesischen Neujahr war es üblich mit einem ganzen Löwentanz-Trupp durch die Straßen zu ziehen und von Geschäft zu Geschäft mit einem Löwentanz „das neue Jahr willkommen zu heißen“. Auf der ehem. größten Show-Bühne Guangzhou’s, der 中心台 (die Bühne im Zentrum), wurden von seiner Schule regelmäßig Aufführungen gezeigt und sein Team wurde sogar für Shows bei Staatsbesuchen in Guangzhou eingeladen.

Man darf also nicht vergessen, dass der Show- und Vorführaspekt in der chinesischen Kampfkunst immer schon ein wichtiger Bestandteil war. Nach der Kulturrevolution hat sich diese Komponente in ähnlicher Form wiedergefunden und wurde dann aber zunehmend im Wushu, der sportorientierten Kampfkunst, eingesetzt. Im Wushu wurden die Bewegungen aber größer und wurden durch akrobatische Elemente erweitert, sodass immer weniger der eigentlichen Anwendungen und Bedeutungen der Kampfkunst zu sehen waren. Anders als heute waren die Vorführungen früher, auch diejenigen von meinem Großvater, darauf fokussiert die tatsächliche Kampfkunst zu zeigen und möglichst wenig für die Show „zu verschönern“.

You have to be aware that it is martial art. So an art of movement that should reflect the fight or has developed from the fight. Opinions differ on the following point, but we see an equal right to exist for both the application-related and the sport-oriented martial arts.

Can you use it to fight?

A martial art has usually always evolved from the fight or still serves as a practice frame for deepening fighting techniques. Martial arts used to be also an important part in the training of soldiers, especially at times when basic training was not related to firearms. These should not only get better physical fitness, but also learn individual techniques to defend themselves in close combat if necessary.

These techniques were taught in forms, among other things. This means that the individual movements in the forms are not just empty movements, but have a meaning and an application. The forms training is primarily intended as individual training if the training partner is missing. Therefore, visualizing the technology or using a movement is essential for correct execution. However, one should not forget that pure form training does not teach how to fight. It is only a support to learn and deepen the technique used. You have to learn how to use them in the forms and also test and apply them in the correct partner training.

Forms are to be seen as additional training, in which one practices the body mechanics and strength development of certain techniques. It is not for nothing that in Chinese martial arts we say that you train "deep but apply high" or "train big but apply small". If you think that fighting is like in old Shaw Brothers Kungfu film, you're wrong. Forms can not only improve the physical aspects of a student, but can also convey theoretical fighting principles. Because depending on the style, there is a different combat theory, which should ideally be reflected in the movement sequences of the forms.


In other words, not only is there a sequence of movements in forms, but theories and principles are conveyed that are characteristic of a particular style. In this sense, forms are also a tool to convey deeper knowledge to students. This was the best solution, especially at times when there were many illiterates. Former masters have "cataloged" certain fighting techniques and used them to create forms that should teach the student basic fighting principles and body mechanics. These forms were then adapted from generation to generation and, if necessary, supplemented with further meaningful movements or superfluous movements were discarded.

Jede der Bewegungen hat idealerweise einen Sinn. Manche Bewegungen haben eine praktische Kampf-Anwendung, andere sind als eine Art Übung (z. B. Kraftübung) gedacht. Es gibt aber auch bestimmte Bewegungen, welche lediglich als Übergang zwischen zwei Techniken gedacht sind oder sogar um Techniken zu verstecken, damit z. B. wertvolle oder komplexe Techniken nur von sehr fortgeschrittenen Schülern aktiv geübt werden.

Unlike in sport, there are a variety of forms that still consciously train the combat aspects. However, these techniques are only as effective depending on how you train and practice them. If, for example, you only concentrate on form training without practicing the techniques in partner training, it is logically difficult to use in combat.

Learn, practice, understand, apply

In our school, we pay attention to the four phases that a student ideally grows through. These are not phases that we actively start and finish, but rather phases that are supposed to represent the student's development process in an abstract way.

Anfangs steht erst mal die körperliche Fitness im Vordergrund. Während des Lernens werden nicht nur unsere Einstiegsform und Grundübungen gelernt, um die körperliche Fitness zu verbessern, sondern auch über Hintergründe und Bräuche unserer traditionellen Schule unterrichtet, um die korrekte geistige Haltung zu vermitteln. Diese Lernphase hat dann einen fließenden Übergang zur zweiten Phase, der Übungsphase. Nachdem der Schüler eine gewisse Routine bekommen hat, müssen die gelernten Übungen und Kombination verinnerlicht werden. Das passiert am einfachsten mit regelmäßigem Training und gleichbleibender Konzentration, denn Ziel dieser Phase ist es, dass sich in der Übungsphase das Muskelgedächtnis verbessert und der „Kopf freier wird“, indem er nicht mehr primär mit Bewegungsabläufen beschäftigt ist.

During these two phases we talk about the actual content of the individual techniques, such as Applications, but only deepen ourselves in the third phase. In the understanding phase we give the student a deeper insight into why we make certain movements and what purpose they serve. This phase is an important building block in the last phase, the application phase , which you can actually use the learned and internalized techniques, the meaning of which has now been deepened.


Routines form a large and important foundation in martial arts. They are not only there to teach fighting techniques, theories and principles, but also include physical and mental aspects that promote general fitness. There are forms that have been transmitted over generations and have both history and practical applications, but also forms that have been changed and adapted for shows and tournaments. In our school we always teach traditional forms (Kungfu) first so that students get the right start in martial arts. Afterwards, students can learn more modern forms (wushu) at any time to experience and develop the aspect of movement art.

Good, correct training should teach and improve the following aspects:


  • Strengthen muscles and connective tissue (fascia)

  • Improve flexibility & mobility

  • Increase pain tolerance

  • Strengthen areas for attack and defense

  • Improve stability & balance

  • Improve body coordination

  • Promote body awareness

  • teach correct power development

The traditional training begins with static standing exercises. So first we teach our students how to do Chinese martial arts properly. We keep these standing exercises in complete stillness. Only the stillness gives us the opportunity to improve our body feeling / body awareness, because only when we are still can we feel the body best. This is the best way for us to learn how the body works and can then use the body as a unit with the correct movement technique. This process applies to all martial arts, whether "external" or "internal", "north" or "south".

However, it is essential to know the background of the forms and techniques, regardless of whether you have a strong interest in the combat aspects or not. This knowledge is necessary in order to carry out the movements correctly and to practice forms with the right intention.

A martial art is more than just fighting, but without fighting it is not a martial art!

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