Form To Function Vs. Function To Form

By John Davis
Published on Sep 13th, 2013

In this second article, I’ll move beyond the discussion of tool development and how some tools became specialized for use as weapons of self-defense. The phrase “form to function “might be used to describe the evolution of tools or weapons that have developed without particular planning. Rocks became tools; they were adapted to strike and kill game or a predator, their form dictated how they were used. Farm implements became weapons, as they were close at hand and quickly and easily adapted for self-defense. With advances in technology and a more scientific approach to “tool” design, we might now, instead, recognize the “function” (based on need) before considering the “form”. A simple example of this would be the household apple corer that also slices the fruit into wedges at the same time. That tool was not lying about waiting for its place in the kitchen. Rather, the inventor saw a need (function) and answered that with a form. Likewise, destructive or aggressive weapons (guns, swords, knives, etc.), as well as the farming tools mentioned above, were actively designed for specific and necessary functions.

With these processes in mind, consider the choices that one who is trained in the martial arts might make regarding the use of force, especially the use of “tools” for self-defense. We’ll assume that this use of force is necessary for self- defense, as a properly trained martial artist would not use their abilities to aggressively offend.
One could take the same “function to form” approach, keeping certain man made weapons on hand, and hopefully, ready for action. The drawback to this might be the negative legal implications of carrying such weapons; another concern is the availability or ease of producing them when most needed. Consider carrying a handgun, many countries forbid the possession of firearms, unless you work in law enforcement. Here in the U.S., firearm regulations vary throughout the individual states; while one may be licensed to carry a handgun in their state of residence, it may be highly illegal to have a handgun in your possession once you cross the state line into another, with different regulations. These regulations may even vary from city to city within a particular state. Finally, firearms are both expensive to purchase and expensive with which to train.
With the potential legal implications of gun possession and practicality in mind, would it be feasible to walk about carrying sticks or swords designed for use in the martial arts instead? It would again depend on where you live. I’ve heard that carrying sticks is common practice in the Philippines; to do so here in the U.S. would certainly bring negative attention from law enforcement. Consider edged weaponry as an alternative. Like the gun, consider the hours of training to effectively use and be able to access the weapon, bring it to bear on an assailant or assailants, execute your strategy, and effectively remove yourself from the danger. The problem is, once more, one of ease of use and practicality. Are you quick enough to draw a blade or stick when attacked? Again the question arises, is it legal? That too varies from country to country, or state to state.
Looking back at the” form to function” aspect when choosing a course of self- defense, the next step above our natural weapon choices (hands, feet, elbows, etc.) might be the use of everyday objects as environmental weapons. A trash can lid as shield; my three pound mag flashlight (always beside me in the car) as club; a long bladed screwdriver adapted to self-defense by simply thrusting or whipping with it. In my line of work as a builder and remodeler there are myriad numbers of “weapons” at my disposal. Their seeming innocence belies the fact that they are probably just as effective as man- made weapons that were designed or “formed” to club, tear, slash, break, blind and so on. Using the basics of hammering, thrusting and whipping, one could adapt these methods of execution to any tool “form” to generate a useful self-defense application or function at a moment’s notice.
Since a good percentage of violence is domestic, consider looking around your home to see what is useful; Pots, pans, skillets, spatulas, spoons and forks, plates, ashtrays, lamps, pillows, towels, aerosol sprays…of course, the film star Jackie Chan has perfected a somewhat “slapstick” comedic version of applying just a few of these objects for self-defense. Yet, on a serious note, his work has proven that there are more ways to defend than with a gun, knife, sticks, or an inward block, a ballistic reverse punch and a strong kiai. He is not alone in making film versions of the use of environmental objects; while somewhat surreal at times, there are scenes from the “Transporter” films, with Jason Statham, that make use of the simple to the sublime to fend off mass attacks. (Who’d have thought that a fire hose could be a useful long range weapon?) Ed Parker once suggested that one could use their shoe to defend against a knife-wielding assailant, if the need arose; a suggestion based on his “real life” experience. Certainly there are many other examples in our everyday life, as well as, film and literature. In the end, when reading the news about firearm or edged weapon altercations, the essence of the information is that the participants are dead, maimed or behind bars. If you carry a man-made weapon for self-defense, have you accepted that if you decide to use it, this may be your consequence, as well?
Isn’t a martial arts training environment a place where your self-defense skills take on a certain form (armed and/or unarmed) in an effort to help you function effectively in your society, whether it’s a violent one of not? My next installment will focus on this subject; training in the martial arts studio.

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: John Davis

John Davis is an Associate Instructor of Ed Parker's Kenpo, currently studying with coach, Dennis Lawson. Being a life long lover of sport and adventure, John began practicing the martial arts eleven years ago out of curiosity. Throughout that time, he has attended seminars and camps with several of Kenpo's regarded masters. A career highlight came in 2006 when he was part of a group that attended the Kenpo World Championships in Utrecht, Netherlands. While training in a large commercial setting, John taught daily classes for two years. Currently, Mr. Davis supplements his martial arts training with distance cycling, coming from a background of amateur racing in that sport. When not training regularly, John enjoys cooking for friends, travelling, fine art and a good comedy.

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