Let Two Person Forms Double Your Pleasure

By Sifu Jane Hallander

Inside Kung Fu Magazine July 1996

There are as many different ways to train in martial arts as there are martial arts instructors. Some schools advocate forms training to develop form and power by fighting the air. Others stress the value of sparring freestyle. Some prefer self-defense techniques.

There is another option available – multiple person fighting forms. These are patterned forms, usually performed by two people, each one well-versed in his side of the form. One person usually attacks, while the other defends, turning the tables to make the match an even fight. Although the fight is a well-thought out pattern, two-person forms look like the real thing – a hard-fought, fast fight, done either with empty hands or weapons.

Superior Fighting

In Chinese martial arts, two-person forms or sets had their origins in ancient China, when martial arts schools needed to enhance their reputations and raise extra funds. At such times, schools put on demonstrations to illustrate the capabilities of their students. Along with the usual individual hand and weapons forms, kung fu schools presented fast moving, exciting multiple person fighting forms designed to heighten the audience’s interest.

Today, multiple person forms still exist in some kung fu schools, such as Nathan Fisher’s White Dragon Martial Arts in San Diego, Calif. Fisher, who teaches Choy Li Fut Kung Fu, is a product of traditional Chinese martial arts, through his own teacher, Doc Fai Wong, back to Choy Li Fut’s founder’s family.

“It’s probably more correct to refer to multiple person sets as two-person sets or forms, since, even though there may be three or four people in a form, seldom are more than two people fighting at one time,” explains Fisher.

“The sets are done at full speed and usually with full contact. Each person has to know his side well or he may get injured, especially in the weapons forms,” he adds.

With or Without Weapons

There are all kinds of two-person forms, from empty hand forms to weapons sets, pairing off two different weapons against one another or two of the same weapons. Choy Li Fut’s empty hand forms range from basic forms, combining most of the offensive and defensive movements in Choy Li Fut, to difficult and intricate animal forms, such as in Choy Li Fut’s snake versus crane two-person form.  Empty hand forms illustrate the sometimes subtle applications of kung fu techniques.

Weapons also play a large role in Choy Li Fut two-person forms. More dramatic and dangerous than empty hand forms, they include most of Choy Li Fut’s large arsenal of Chinese weapons. Some of the most popular are spear versus spear, staff against staff, three-section staff against spear, broadsword against spear, double sword against spear and umbrella versus staff. Two-person weapons forms also include training with blocking weapons, such as the rattan shield against broadsword or trident.

Fisher explains that since Choy Li Fut is a Southern Chinese martial art, farmers’ weapons are equally as important to the style as are the more military oriented weapons, such as broadsword, three-section staff and spear. Hence the inclusion of farmers’ implements, such as staff, umbrella and trident, in two-person forms.

Speed, Focus, and Timing

Two-person forms teach speed, focus, timing, and concentration. Since the sets are performed rapidly and each person must keep up with his partner, both individuals must be equally fast and accurate to avoid injury.

Focus develops from being able to see exactly where each strike or block is aimed by actually using the other person as a target. The need for perfect timing is obvious, since all it takes is one person’s timing to be off to throw off the entire form. In weapons sets, timing is even more critical, since a mistake may result in injury.

Concentration is enhanced by the effort it takes to follow a sequence correctly and by the fact that weapons are constantly coming close to each person’s body.  Closer is better for realism. Fisher and his partner, usually senior instructor, Martin Ferreria, actually strike for each other’s body rather than aim to hit the other person’s weapon. Sometimes they come frighteningly close, but their familiarity with the forms and the weapons always allows them to block the oncoming strike just in the nick of time.

“The closer you come, the better it helps the other person react. If you’ve actually got a spear jabbing at your while you’re on the ground, believe me, you’ll react,” notes Fisher.

Training for two-person forms requires a special kind of effort. The participants soon find that if one forgets a move or makes a mistake there’s no stopping or starting over. The action is too fast-paced to stop a set in progress, especially weapons forms.

Fisher and his partner spend many hours breaking down each move in a two-person form to establish the right timing and distance to make it as real as possible, while still safe to perform.

Training with a two-person weapons form requires more than just repetitive practice. Each person must be accomplished at whichever weapon he uses. If the form is spear versus broadsword, the spearhandler has to know how to use a Chinese spear. It’s not very impressive if the person with the spear uses it like a staff, or his partner with the broadsword isn’t familiar with broadsword techniques.

For that reason, Fisher likes to have his students know and be familiar with individual weapons forms before they use those weapons in two-person sets. Individual forms practice teaches students about each weapon’s power, focus and unique characteristics.

The rigorous training and concentration required of two-person forms lead martial artists be become better, more versatile artists.

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