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The "Formless Form"

I’ve written about and spoken about the proliferation of various “forms” in Jeet Kune Do nowadays on numerous occasions, so you know my position regarding them. What I’d like to do is offer you an alternative. I’d like to share with you is why I believe that freelance shadow-boxing is the ultimate “formless form.” When it comes to shadow-boxing you are limited by one thing only, and that is your own imagination. Let me give you a few examples of various things you can do when shadow-boxing:

You can work on (a) offensive, (b) counter-offensive, and (c) defensive techniques and actions.

You can visualize an opponent’s movements and actions to work on your sense of timing and/or distance.

You can shadow-box using such elements as:

a) Footwork and mobility

b) Evasive body movements (slipping, bobbing and weaving, snap away, etc.)

c) Striking using arm tools (punching, elbowing, forearm smash, etc.)

d) Striking using leg tools (kicking, kneeing, stomping, etc.)

e) Using various hand immobilization actions (trapping, pinning, etc.)

f) Using various grappling actions both standing and on ground (locking, throwing, etc.)

g) Combinations of any of the above elements

You can shadow-box focusing on:

• Simple/single attacks (SDA, ABD)

• Compound attacks (ABC/PIA, ABD)

You can shadow-box against a single opponent or multiple opponents (unarmed or armed).

Here’s the rub. The fact is that many people, especially adults, don’t like freelance shadow-boxing, some even hate it. Usually this is because they feel self-conscious while doing it and it makes them feel uncomfortable. Some don’t believe they possess the necessary visualization skills. But hey, doesn’t a large part of developing as a martial artist entail the getting rid of being overly self-conscious in our actions? Isn’t it about stepping out of our comfort zone and learning how to do things we couldn’t do before?

And some instructors don’t like to teach freelance shadow-boxing because either they don’t like it, cannot do it themselves, or prefer everybody doing the same thing the same way (wow, the antithesis of JKD). The bottom line is it’s the easier route in teaching. And I know some instructors will tell you it’s about giving the student a feeling of success and making them feel good about themselves. But if you give a kid some tools, motivate them with enthusiasm and encouragement, and step back and let them create, you will be amazed at how creative they can be and what they can come up with. Rather than tell them exactly what to do and how to do it, you give them the opportunity and allow them to explore on their own. And you can always offer them advice when necessary.

If you want to teach pre-designed JKD “forms” that’s your prerogative. But why not try a different approach? Why not encourage your students to put things together for themselves; to combine their tools with their mobility skills; to be dynamically ‘alive’, to think creatively and practice their own “formless form.” Yes’ it might be more difficult and more work for you as a teacher, but I think you will see that the results are more than worthwhile.