Monthly Archives: July 2013
Monthly Archives: July 2013
This is the last chapter of this article and I will conclude this article with the answers to a few of the popular questions about kata.
First, let’s review what kata is again. According to Wikipedia katais a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs. There are many different kata and they represent the samples of the fighting sequences. We have covered, in the previous chapters, the reasons why the ancient masters created kata.The most important message of this article is that they created not only for the solo practicing purpose, but more importantly they believed kata was the best training tool for bujutsu karate, the most complex physical-mental activities.
Hopefully you agree that our kata must be preserved. At the same time, I am sure you are aware that there are so many unanswered questions with kata.I listed several of them in the last chapter and I feel strongly that they should be answered.If I did this here it would become a book so, for this article I will select the following three questions and share my thoughts with you. In the future, I may need to write a book just for the answers to those unanswered questions.
OK, let us start with the first question.
1. Why kata techniques do not work in kumite?
Here is a great question that many people wonder.This is true that many techniques you practice in kata cannot apply or they are not usable in your jiyu kumite.In fact, some people have given up kata because they could not find an answer that made sense to them.I will attempt to provide the answer here.Believe it or not, the answer is not that difficult or complicated.
If you try to apply the kata techniques into the competition kumite, you are figuretively trying to plug a square into a round hole.In other words, you are not comparing apple to apple.Kata techniques are the techniques to maim, hurt or kill an opponent.You may say that the techniques that are used in a competition kumite could hurt or maim the opponent. That is true but there is one big difference here. The purpose or the objective of the techniques you use in a competition kumite is to get a point.If you happen to knock out your opponent or break his bones, you will be disqualified. In addition, there are too many techniques of kata that are not allowed or permitted. For instance, stabbing your fingers into an eye (nihon nukite), kicking the groin, grabbing the hair, etc. are the key techniques in bujutsu but they are prohibited from competition kumite.
Some of the short distance techniques such as enpi uchi, knee kicks, kagi zuki, and ura zuki are possibly allowed in a tournament kumite. However, how many times have you seen anyone getting a point with one of those techniques? Not too often or never, I suppose.The reason is obvious and simple.It is extremely difficult to make a visual if such a technique is effective in a non-contact tournament.A judge needs to see a long distance technique such as a straight punch or a kick to determine if such a technique would be effective. A short distance moving of an elbow or a knee is much more difficult for such a judgment so the competitors will not try those techniques even if they are allowed.
Then you may ask “Do those kata techniques work in a real fighting?” Of course they do and that is what you train in bunkai. To be able to use those techniques in a real fighting situation, you must go through the kata training correctly.Let me define the word “correctly” here. Remember the various processes I have covered in the previous chapters that are needed in learning? You need to learn and acquire the techniques first.Then you need to do a lot of bunkai training to understand how those techniques are used and applied.With bunkai training, you need to learn how to use the techniques.There are so many different bunkai to each technique so it is almost impossible to practice and learn all of them.It will take much time meaning years to learn one kata and its bunkai. This is why the ancient master said you need to spend 3 or 5 years with one kata.
How do we really know that we are capable of using those dangerous techniques?The only way is to test it in a real fight.However, I cannot recommend it to anyone to start a bar or a street fight just to test this. The samurai of the ancient time faced the same dilemma with their sword skill. They either challenged to a duel or practiced a lot of kata and other solo training such as swinging the sword thousand times per day.As the real sword was too dangerous to use in a daily training with an opponent.They used bokken, wooden sword, but there were many serious injuries including death.So, they came up with another solution in the 19th century that was an invention of shinai, bamboo sword and the full protectors.
This method became very popular and you can see this in the modern day kendo. Though kendoka may disagree, kendo is no longer bujutsu as it lost most of the real kenjutsu techniques. Why and how kendo lost bujutsu part is an interesting subject but we will not touch it here.
One thing I want to add here is that the samurai believed kata was the best training tool to improve sword fighting skills. The idea of inventing a shinai and a full protector method was not conceived all through the medieval time when they had many wars and fights.It was invented only at the end of the feudal time of 19th century.
2. Can kata be changed?
Here is a heavy and also a controversial question.
The ancient masters (as well as the modern day masters) told us not to change the kata, however, many of us know that most if not all of the kata have been changed to some degree since the time when Funakoshi brought karate to main land Japan.
In fact, Funakoshi himself changed the kata, some slightly (such as Chinese sound names to Japanese sound names, switching Heian Shodan and Nidan) and the other greatly (i.e. nekoashi dachi to kokutsu dachi, mae geri to yoko keage, etc.). So, was it ok because he was the master who brought karate to Japan?
A wise-man said in the past that there is nothing that does not change except for the change itself.I believe the kata is one of the cultural products that include languages, dances, etiquette, customs, etc. No matter how hard we may try to keep these things unchanged but I am afraid it is impossible. Kata is no exception.I already mentioned that our Shotokan kata have already experienced many changes and many of these changes came from Funakoshi himself.Even though I may not be qualified to judge the decision making of Master Funakoshi, after examining the challenging situation he was immersed while he was trying to propagate karate in Japan in early 1920’s, I concluded that these changes had to be made and were acceptable changes if not improvements.I wrote an article on this particular subject and it was included in my recent book, Shotokan Mysteries (available from Amazon bookstore). If you are interested in reading further in this subject I suggest my book, Shotokan Mysteries.
I am not encouraging nor supporting, in general, the idea that kata can be or should be changed.In fact, my stance is that we must keep the kata we have exactly the way they are.As kata is a textbook and the model that means it is a standard form from which we practice our fighting method.We must have the uniform base to learn and teach among the millions of practitioners around the world. All of us forget or remember incorrectly as we practice the kata for many years.As our body make ups are all different so we naturally perform the same kata differently to some degree.If any of us whether students or instructors change the kata according to their liking or preference, we will have thousands of different version.Here is a good example of how kata should not be practiced: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hw3L2mJXagY&sns=fb
So the conclusion to this question is that only a few masters who truly understand the art of karatedo, can change the kata. The average instructors and practitioners or almost all of us must not.Who are those few masters other than Funakoshi?One may be Kanazawa and another may be Asai (see the next question).
3. Asai sensei created many new kata.Why did he do this?
There are two schools of thoughts on the number of kata one needs to learn. I will not debate which is correct or better. I will only mention the brief description of the two schools. One school’s belief is that it is better to concentrate on only a few kata and master them thoroughly. This school is headed by Choki Motobu who was said to have practiced only Tekki or Naichanchi.The real story is that he, of course, knew other kata but he did not teach too many kata in his class.He emphasized more on bunkai and applications. Apparently, he used the techniques from Tekki kata mainly so the people incorrectly believed Motobu knew only one kata.
Another school is headed by Master Asai who knew and practiced 150 kata. The belief of this school is to learn many kata to widen the variety of the techniques. The following statement is very controversial but he believed the JKA 26 kata was not enough to cover all the necessary techniques.He was the technical director of JKA for many nears through 80’s until the breakup of JKA in 1990. After passing of Masatoshi Nakayama (then Chief Instructor of JKA) passed in 1987.He wanted to change the syllabus of JKA and it met a very strong opposition from many JKA instructors.After the departure of Asai in 1990, many of the JKA dojos reduced its kata menu down to 25 or 24 by taking off either Wankan or/and Ji-in from the list.
Of course, it is up to the individual organizations to decide how many kata they should choose to practice. My stance is to keep the number of kata small to the beginners and intermediate.Once a practitioner become a dan rank, I recommend he will gradually increase the number of kata and not to stop with 26 kata if you are 3 dan or 4 dan and above. How many more is a difficult question.I know all together 50 or so kata.It is extremely difficult to keep training all those kata and remembering them.My memory is poor so maybe the younger practitioners would have no problem but I do not know.The upside of knowing many kata is that it forces you to practice them otherwise you will forget.Another benefit is that you will be able to practice the additional techniques that are missing in 26 JKA kata.
However, there are some downsides too.You will have to spread your time over many kata thus you will have less time to focus on the key kata unless you increase the amount of training time. If you are a Shotokan then there are many instructors who can help you or teach you with the JKA kata.There are only a few who can teach or coach you with the Asai kata.If you wish to practice the kata from Shito-ryu or Goju-ryu then you have to belong to another style and another dojo.It is possible to learn a kata from a video clip and I met many practitioners who do this.I say it is good that they are motivated to learn a new kata despite lacking a proper instructor and instruction.I respect that but on the other hand, I find many are practicing incorrect techniques.There are three major problems with this learning method.One is the video is limited in showing the techniques and the viewers can easily misunderstand some of the moves.For instance, sometimes it is not clear if a stance is sochin dachi or zenkutsu dachi.Tateken zuki (vertical punch) can be viewed as seiken zuki (regular straight punch).I find an important and possibly a serious flaw for an Asai created kata is that many of the video demonstrations are done by the non-certified instructors who learned the kata incorrectly. Asai sensei published a kata textbook for Junro (I also published the English version of Junro) so for Junro there is no problem. You can check the textbook and you can be sure of the techniques.
In addition, the video clips of Junro by JKS are done correctly and I recommend to use them as your training tool. For the other kata we have video in which Asai sensei himself performed the kata but there are many other we do not have his video performance or an official textbook that we can go by. The biggest and most serious problem with a video learning is that you will not learn the bunkai which is the heart of kata.Without knowing the true applications from the senior instructors who know the bunkai, the kata you learned will be only a karate dance.
There are many other interesting questions about kata and most of those questions have not received the logical answers. One day I will list those important questions and attempt to provide my thoughts and understanding to shed the light on the mysteries of kata.