Forms-practice is a routine part of Via Potentia (but secondary to sparring and grappling). However, our forms differ from common martial arts forms in a few ways:
We recognize and readily admit that forms practice is not immediately relevant to self defense. Self defense training requires heavy contact with other people and heavy bag work (which we do extensively).
We do not pretend that our forms simulate fighting multiple opponents -- in fact, we are very clear regarding how forms are (and aren't) useful. No "fantasy" techniques that have no hope of working in real life. This is built-into the forms, since they consist of the techniques taught during the term in question, and beginning terms focus on practical, self-defense techniques.
We practice forms with as realistic movements and stances as possible, rather than overly rigid or formalized stances.
We do not assign any philosophical relevance to the forms, but constructed them to act as an encyclopedia of moves learned, to assist with neuro-muscular memory. We arranged them by compiling combinations that have proven to be effective in real conflicts or competitions.
Though forms are part of our practice and testing, we do not require form perfection to advance.
We expect the forms to appear slightly different when practiced by different people, as they are adapted to each person's body, size and abilities.
Whereas other systems have simple beginning forms that emphasize precision of movement and stance (but impractical techniques), our emphasis is upon practical combinations so that participants learn to flow moves together as soon as possible. Consequently, our forms are extremely complex relative to other martial arts in terms of the number of different techniques, and take 1-2 minutes each to complete.
Following are videos of our three beginning forms, performed slowly for demonstration:
Autumn Beginning Form ~ Primus (1st)
(As if responding to strikes coming from the front)
Outside high block step slide (s-s) back
Lead hand check/clear downward, reverse downward hammer fist to clavicle s-s forward
Lead hand drags to inside, outside elbow to head s-s forward
Reverse down block s-s back while lifting lead leg to check kick
Clear path with leading hand and reverse pincer strike to neck
Reverse side kick to lower abdomen (!)
(As if grabbed from behind)
Back leg stomp
Head butt back
Break out forward, elbow strike back s-s back
Reverse sitout to right
Back kick with right foot
Forward roll over left shoulder to back (with right arm stop) as if in scarf (rolling perpendicular to form path, to west)
Twist body, pulling left shoulder/elbow to floor
Trap with left hand, with right hand shove head back and hook head with right leg
Extend leg and sit up into side mount facing west
Right elbow strike downward to head
Half sit-out/kickover to assume front mount - now back inline with form direction, facing north
Left hand clears defending hands
Right hand pincer to neck
Forward right shoulder roll to standing, right leg forward
Two-arm circular grab clear
Reverse knife strike to neck/shoulder
Rising palm strike s-s forward
Turn around, reversing stance and hands, and repeat
Winter Beginning Form ~ Secundus (2nd)
Double hand outside (wall) block
Rising elbow strike to chin or xiphoid s-s forward
Right hand grab, left hand palm strike to xiphoid with s-s forward
Two hand grab and reverse knee! (to body)
Reverse high guard
Leading inward palm hook to head
Reverse inward forearm/fist strike
Reverse front kick
Heel strike to instep, knee, lower abdomen (right, left, right)
Two inside blocks
(As if mounted) Trap, bridge and kickover with right leg into opponent's guard, now facing east relative to form direction
Right hand palm strike to abdomen
Hold abdomen/hips down with left hand
Femoral pass right
Drive shoulder into chest, reverse twist to clear guard into side mount, now facing north
Right knee to head (knockout)
Forward roll to back (as if someone on back with seatbelt hold)
Clear right hook and twist out to right - left leg goes underneath, now facing west in side mount
Sideways/backward roll to right knee - facing north again
High block and reverse spear to femoral nerve area
Stand up to straight palm strike
Snap kick (skipping)
Upward reverse elbow strike
Grab back of head and reverse knee to head
Inside block s-s back
Low reverse palm strike
Clear path and spear hand
Front kick! land facing reverse
Spring Beginning Form ~ Tertius (3rd)
Inward block (parry) s-s back, shift head to dodge strike
These three moves should flow together:
- Raking claw to face
- Inward reverse elbow strike to side of head
- Reverse roundhouse kick to thigh
Outward knife hand strike to neck, grab back of head or shoulder
Reverse inward crescent kick to head
Inward elbow strike to head
Double trap/block chain, clearing fence, with leading vertical punch, simultaneous step-slide!
Elbow spike down (as if defending a tackle)
Side fall to back/left
Left leg trip kick
Two shrimp escapes (right/left)
Clear arms with right arm, grab head and break down posture with left hand, right elbow spike to shoulder
Shove back face, plant feet on hips or body and launch
Defensive standup with right foot forward
Outward crescent kick to arm
Reverse roundhouse kick (targeting lower ribs)
Reverse vertical punch to xyphoid!
Reverse outward block (grabbing arm)
Inward elbow strike (to arm)
Reverse straight claw (to face)
Outward hammer fist (to jaw or side of head)
Reverse roundhouse kick! (to head) land facing reverse
The primary purpose of these beginner forms is to help people develop good stance habits and repetitively practice self defense moves so as to develop familiarity and speed with the techniques.
Though the kicks in the forms and videos are ideally at different levels -- foot stomps, knee, thigh, groin, abdomen, ribs and head -- we do not expect beginners to be able to kick above waist level.
We also have intermediate forms, which emphasize sport techniques, and advanced forms that are nearly insane in their technical difficulty and focus on demonstration. Our forms may change subtly over time as we analyze how they can be improved to better help participants develop effective skills. For example, the beginning forms were revised in 2010 based on analysis and input regarding ways they could be changed to help beginners better incorporate dual arm movement and more realistic ground techniques.
Tips for Beginners
Remember that the purpose of our forms is to help you develop good technical habits -- protective stances, combinations, etc. But forms are limited in what they can teach. Specifically, forms do not teach you to deliver power to a target or how to defend yourself from an aggressive human being, which is critical for self defense and martial sports. This can only be done through heavy bag work, contact sparring and live grappling. Forms are supportive of these, but cannot substitute for them, so if practical self defense is your goal, just remember that forms are a secondary practice. (If you really enjoy forms, though, and the self defense or sport aspect isn't as important, then feel free to emphasize forms practice in your personal workouts.)
Don't attempt to learn the entire form at once. Instead, just learn the first combination of moves, practice it about ten times, then the next segment, practice, etc. Then practice the segments together.
Don't try to learn the forms from the videos alone. The first several times through it is better to follow a human being who is demonstrating and calling out the moves as you do them (and who can give you immediate feedback).
Breathe in at the beginning of each move, and out as executing it. As you get more comfortable with the techniques, you can do a single exhale over a series of smaller moves, and a large one for more strenuous moves. Many beginners hold their breath while performing a technique, or even over several of them. You might get away with that on a single form, but not when we are doing multiple forms in succession, or while sparring or grappling.
When in doubt, go back to our natural, fighting stance: Body turned about 45 degrees, head down and chin tucked, lead shoulder up, elbows in, hands up and slightly extended, knees bent, weight on balls of feet, feet a little over a shoulder-width apart, back foot turned out about 45 degrees. The stance should be comfortable and feel "hunchy."
Pay attention to your stepping, foot position and balance. A step-slide can be incorporated into almost all upper-body techniques. Your feet/legs should almost never cross, but remain bent and spread in the natural stance configuration. But don't be mechanical. The stance will always be adapted to the person, technique and situation.
In the first half of our forms, the right hand/foot is usually forward and/or leading the technique. In most cases, if you don't know which hand or foot to use, it will be the right one. In the second half of the form, it is usually the left.
Think about the target of your strikes and what you are blocking. Better yet, have someone assist you and take different strikes/kicks at you, take you down, mount while you shrimp or buck/roll, hold you in scarf, pose as a target for your strikes, etc.
Follow through on your strikes, and then either retract to the fighting stance or flow into the next move. Unlike other martial arts programs, you should not strike and hold your strike out in the air. Nor should you stop and hold at the target. Rather, go through the target by several inches (then retract or flow into the next move). If you are working with a partner, actually hit him (lightly) and push through, causing him to move. Insofar as is possible with forms, the techniques should be practiced as they would against a living opponent/enemy -- while maintaining a good defense and good stance, with speed and accuracy, with follow-through, and in rapid combination.
Practice the combinations on a heavy bag -- this is more important than practicing them in the air.
Don't worry about timing. Find the rhythm that works for you.
Go slow at first. It is better to do the moves accurately and slowly than fast and sloppily.
Keep your hands up. When one hand is striking, the other should be defending, not hanging limp at your side.
Once you have the form down, try it in different ways: With your eyes closed, facing different directions, with weapons (e.g., sticks) in your hands, as quickly as possible, as slowly and fluidly as possible, start with your left hand, do the combinations in a different order, etc.
It is easy to see and criticize others' acts, but there is little more revealing and humbling than seeing yourself spar, grappling or do a form. A full-size mirror can help with forms, but a video recording is better. Once you think you have the form down, record yourself and watch the playback. Note and address anything you see that needs improvement.
Even I made technical errors in the above videos. See if you can find them (and do better than I did)!
Copyright Via Potentia. All Rights Reserved. Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program; consult a lawyer before making a legal decision. All information provided on this web site or otherwise by Via Potentia is provided for educational/informative purposes only, is subject to correction, and should not be considered legal, medical or other professional advice. Use at your own risk.