Stages of pattern training
IntroPatterns are a major part of martial arts training. Students learn at least one new pattern for each rank, practice them daily, perform them at tests, compete with them at tournaments, and some hate every minute of it; considering it a required waste of time. The problem is that those who dislike patterns, and many who don’t, only practice the first stage of pattern learning and never experience the true purpose of pattern training.
Patterns are a relatively constant part of the martial arts. By being most unchanged, they store the history of a martial art and its traditional techniques and pass them down through the decades and even centuries. However, to apply the techniques used in patterns to our daily lives, we must practice them in relation to the threats we face today. This means that we adapt the traditional techniques to defend against modern threats.
There are five stages of pattern training: elementary, variation, functional, realistic sparring, and lifelong commitment. Patterns have much to offer martial arts students if they understand and train at all the stages of pattern training.
Elementary stageThe first stage is learning the elementary movements of the pattern. In this stage, students learn the pattern movements from an experienced instructor and practice the pattern by themselves or in a group to learn the perfect the movements, techniques, stances, timing, etc. of the pattern. This stage is important because it sets the foundation for the later stages. Students should use great care when practicing a pattern during this stage for if they develop bad habits, they will be difficult for them to correct in the later stages of training.
In this stage, students practice the pattern over and over, in class and at home, trying to learn the basics of the movements and techniques. As pattern performance begins to improve, students may begin using it in competition.
As students start to become proficient in a pattern, they usually get promoted to the next rank. So in addition to continuing to practice the pattern, they must start learning a new pattern. Regrettably, once this happens, they tend to focus on learning the next pattern and neglect the previous pattern.
During the elementary stage, students are usually only concerned with making the pattern technically and aesthetically correct, with little regard to the purpose of the pattern or the effectiveness of its movements. Working toward the perfection of pattern movements has many benefits, but it is of little benefit when faced with a real self-defense situation. Gichin Funakoshi, the father of shotokan karate (which greatly influenced early taekwondo masters), in his book Karate-Do Kyohan stated,
“Once a form has been learned, it must be practiced repeatedly until it can be applied in an emergency, for knowledge of just the sequence of a form in karate is useless.”
Functional stageThe second stage of pattern training is the study of the functional application of the movements. Students need to practice applying the techniques of the pattern against attacks by other students, such as occurs in one-step sparring. At this stage, students practice pattern techniques against other students’ attacks so they see the purpose of each technique and learn to use it against the resistance of an attacker's body.
Patterns were not designed for fighting other martial artists in long-range matches; they were designed for self-defense against untrained attackers at a short-range. Real fights are not fought from long-range with each person taking turns attacking. Real fights are close-range, unpredictable, and quick, with little regard to proper stances or techniques. In a self-defense situation, you have little time to think, you just react as you have trained.
Variation stageIn the variation stage, students learn to vary the application of the pattern's techniques. As stated above, we will react to a sudden attack as we have trained. By practicing patterns movements with no regard to their application, we train ourselves to react in a certain manner that may not be the correct reaction for a certain situation. Hironori Otsuka, founder of wado-ryu karate) wrote,
“It is obvious that these kata must be trained and practiced sufficiently, but one must not be ‘stuck’ in them. One must withdraw from the kata to produce forms with no limits or else it becomes useless. It is important to alter the form of the trained kata without hesitation to produce countless other forms of training. Essentially, it is a habit – created over long periods of training. Because it is a habit, it comes to life with no hesitation – by the subconscious mind.”To make the techniques in a pattern more useful, students need to practice varying the techniques of the pattern against various attacks while staying true to the principles that the techniques represent.
Realistic sparring stageThe realistic sparring stage is the application of the elementary techniques and their functional variations in realistic sparring practice. In this stage, students try to spar realistically, letting their instincts take control. They practice defending against sudden attacks from close-range. Of course, attacks and defenses are simulated so no one is injured, but instructors should still try to make the sparring as realistic and safe as possible.
Lifelong commitmentThe last stage is making the study of the pattern a lifelong commitment. As students learn a new pattern, they must not forget their commitment to the previous pattern. All the patterns should be practiced as often as possible.
Patterns can be practiced anywhere, at any time, and in any clothing. They can be practiced in any size space by adjusting the depth of stances and the reach of the techniques. Since pattern training is as much mental as physical, patterns can be practice with tiny micro movements or with no movements at all where you just visualize yourself practicing the pattern.
The ultimate goal of martial artists is the perfection of techniques. While martial artists realize that perfection of a pattern may never be achieved, they never stop pursing perfection. On their death bed, martial artists think, if I could perform that pattern one more time, I think I could perform it perfectly.
These five stages are by no means unique to the traditional martial arts, other fighting systems and sports also use them, such as boxing. In boxing, a student first learns the basics, then uses the punches against compliant partners wearing protective equipment, then practice using basic punches in varying combinations, then they enter the ring for full-contact free-sparring, and finally, they box until they are no longer able to box.