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Form Over Substance

I am an attorney. Sometimes you hear the expression that someone has elevated form over substance. This means that the person has allowed the terminology or technical specifications of something to take on more meaning than its actual function.

It is easy to see this is modern Karate. In fact, sometimes we might wonder whether function is even a consideration.

When I practice Karate, I am always asking myself how I can use a particular technique. Often, there are many ways. There are also counters to the technique. There is a function and a counter function, so to speak.

I only care about the form of the technique to the extent that it contributes to the function. In other words, I do not care that it looks good -- I care that it works. In fact, I don't want a technique to look good. If a technique is done well, it might be hard for an untrained person to see it, let alone appreciate it.

I care more that the technique feels good. It will feel good to me, not to an observer. An observer cannot feel what I feel.

If the technique feels good, it probably means that I am moving well, and that movement will lead to the desired function. If I can move well, I can probably use the technique.

I tend to elevate substance over form. Form is important, particularly for a beginner. But form should not take on a life of its own. The form of Karate is meaningless unless it is paired with its function.

It is like speech. There is a world of difference between an intelligent statement and gibberish. Gibberish is still gibberish, even if the letters are formed perfectly.

Sometimes we say that a person's Karate is very ugly -- but you would not want to get hit by him. That is a real compliment. His form is "ugly" but his substance is formidable.


Charles C. Goodin