Monday, October 20, 2008

introducing forms (part one)

I wanted to share with my 2 loyal readers some of my recent thoughts on how to best introduce the concept of forms to a new student. If you can think back to your first few weeks of class, you may remember some of the initial awkward, difficult movement that came with joining a dojang. In addition to the new stances, footwork, hand and foot techniques, remembering to breathe, when to bow, and a new language, we also introduce our students to hyung at a very early stage. That's right, we take those extremely complicated movements and create a 20 move choreographed sequence.

Oddly enough, kids tend to pick it up pretty fast. They are blank slates who are content to follow along and have amazing abilities to emulate.

Adults on the other hand are seemingly bound by self-consciousness and the need to over-analyze the movement. While my goal as instructor is to get them stepping in the right direction, they are fretting over the exact angle of the wrist. They can't see the forest for the trees.

The WTSDA starts new students out with an introductory hyung named Sae Kye Hyung Il Bu (the 2nd pattern in the video.) It fits the traditional box pattern that most of us are familiar with: 2 steps to the left, turn 180, another 2 steps, turn left, 3 steps, etc. This hyung provides the foundation for future movement in terms of patterns and footwork. The framework serves the student more or less through the pyung ahn series, with some tweaking and exceptions.

In my opinion, the faster the student recognizes and absorbs the pattern, the quicker we can begin to focus on technique. Unfortunately, a student's working memory can only remember a short number of elements. 20 techniques is far beyond the capacity of most people.

The traditional approach I see to this problem is to teach the first two moves, start over, add another move or two, start over and continually add techniques until the form is completed or the student's brain explodes on the mat. Since white belts are responsible for cleaning the floor, it doesn't do well to melt their brains.

Let's try a different approach, shall we? Instead of looking at this form as 20 separate movements, let's eliminate all of the repeated movements. Now, we have boiled down the first hyung to three motions: low block, center punch, and front kick. Already, this form sounds a lot less intimidating.

Now, let's take advantage of the symmetry and patterns of the form. Low block is always followed by a center punch (motion a). Kicks are always in trios (motion b). At this point, we're beginning to chunk the movements and teach them together.

I should point out that we're not practicing hyung yet, we're just doing line drill combinations and conveniently ignoring the turns. In a way, all we've done is unfolded the pattern to fit a straight line. Students are more comfortable with line drill, and we're getting them familiar with the patterns they will need.

Thanks to the repetition and symmetry of this form, we can make our chunks a little bigger. A low block and center punch is always paired with another low block and center punch to the opposite direction. We'll call that Sequence A. After that, we always turn left, kick three times, and turn left 270 (we could have just turned right, but what fun would that be?) let's call that Sequence B.

We can now describe the form in the following manner:
1. Sequence A.
2. Sequence B.
3. Sequence A.
4. Sequence B.
5. Sequence A.

By chunking, we've managed to reduce the content of our active memory from 20 components to 5. In doing this, we spend a lot of time working on combinations and then applying them to form. The level of comfort tends to me much higher, the form is transmitted much faster, and the level of retention is as high as the other methods.