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Thread: The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

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    Lightbulb The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

    This is an argument that comes up a lot these days.

    What is kata?

    Why are kata...?

    Can you use them in a fight?

    "Bruce Lee said...."

    Sometimes the discussion might be between a MMA student and traditional student, each one arguing their case for the benefit or lack thereof.

    Sometimes it might be between a traditional student and a former traditional student.

    I have never personally been a student of Okinawan martial arts, but i have a close friend that does study it (Uechi-Ryu). He is a man on first appearance that has a slight unassuming build, polite, and a friendly face. What i started to notice after we became friends and started to trade martial arts "secrets" were his iron like hands and feet, focus, and his ability to be "immovable".

    "How did you get like this?", I asked.
    "Sanchin," he remarked, "It has everything you need in one kata."

    It may not have went exactly like that, but that is how I remember it. There aren't really that many forms practiced in Uechi-Ryu compared to some other systems, but the forms they practice, the way they practice them, make that particular school what it is.

    From my perspective, a form is like a piece of music, some pieces are easier to learn than others but learning the sequence is not really knowing the form. From a musicians standpoint, I've seen plenty of people play a piece of music that lacked life or seemed robotic.......it lacked the essence of the sequence, all the right notes were there in the right place but something was amiss. Conversely, a person can hear that same piece of music played by someone else that can send chills up their spine. From a martial artists standpoint the same thing happens. A white belt from Shorin-Ryu learning Heian shodan may have the sequence down, but he/she doesn't yet know the form. This becomes apparent when watching it next to a 4th or 5th dan from the same system. This higher ranking student not only knows the sequence, he/she also knows the "form" of the sequence.

    What is the form?
    To put it simply, the form is the way that that school does it. Sure, a rising block is a rising block, but the way my school does a rising block is different from the way your school does it. This is why watching Sanchin done by someone from Goju does not necessarily look like Sanchin done by a Uechi student. Neither is wrong, but they are right for the respective style. Without the proper form, the kata is merely a sequence of meaningless movements. So why is it like this? Each school has a signature, so to speak, the way to learn the signature is by practicing the form of the kata that represents the signature of that school. It is very important to get it as close as possible. Everyone that practices kata may have their own way of doing things and this is fine for personal practice, but the teaching of the form and passing the knowledge of the school requires a consistent method in line with the teachings of the founder. If martial artists as a group were to forget doing things this way, we would end up with something homogenized lacking any sort of real definition.

    The subtle nuances of form are often missed by novice students and even some teachers that have been around for a long time. Ask what a "gedan barai" is and you might get told, "it's just a downblock." Things as simple as a forearm rotation during the execution of chudan uke are missed. Sadly, understanding the bunkai of kata is missed by novices and long time practitioners alike. These simple misunderstandings can often lead one to the conclusion that kata practice is a waste of time and have nothing to do with real fighting. Oftentimes when this happens, kata are taught as a simple requirement of grade and thus the students miss out on something that is special about their art. It's knowing what a book looks like but not being able to decipher the content between the covers.

    Kata can only give back what you have put in, simply running through the forms to keep them fresh is alright, but one must actually do it often to really feel it. I struggle with kata everytime I do it, but I do believe that each time I do it I'm better than the last time. I'm still learning things from Heian shodan even after almost 10 years of doing it.

    Whether you're doing FMA, Karate, Kempo, Judo or JuJutsu, your art lies within those forms. Look at them from every possible angle and see what they show you.........you might be surprised.

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    Default Re: Escaping Arts - Part 2: Inside Kata

    I think kata is important for teaching proper form through a variety of transitions.....example, moving from gedan barai to age uke.
    the particulars of keeping proper form are important when translating a movement from one application to another.

    So in that respect I think a kata does teach you, but only under proper supervision.

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    Default Re: Escaping Arts - Part 2: Inside Kata

    Katas teach most people to be inflexible and static. Martial Arts are meant to be dynamic. Katas are not really any different than techniques. This is why I have a hard time understanding why the Kosho group I belong to has so many katas that get taught. We're just exchanging one form of technique for another. And a worse one in many ways. Not to many people really change the way katas are done. Sure sometimes we go fast, sometime slow, etc. But that doesn't help with creating a dynamic understanding of how to move when reacting to an outside influence.

    I recently read (I'll have to find out where again) that Kata is a fairly new idea - in the way we apply it in martial arts. They were originally created to teach children martial arts moves. This article brought into question the validity of statements that katas are some ancient form of teaching.

    But putting that aside I still believe kata can be valuable. Everything in moderation. The middle way. Katas are great for beginners, but I am believing more and more that once you have progressed to a certain point of understanding you must let go of all set techniques. Katas included. (unless you're doing them for exercise to keep yourself healthy!!)

    To get back on topic though, an exercise I do in class is to make every move in a kata an escaping move. It really helps to stretch your imagination and gets you thinking in new ways.


    With respect,
    John


    PS. I'm going to see Hanshi Juchnik this weekend. I'm sure we'll have an interesting talk on this!!

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    Default Re: Escaping Arts - Part 2: Inside Kata

    John intersting take on kata. Kata though is found in one form or another (no pun intended) in many martial arts. Even arts Like Muay Thai and Boxing Have pad drills and counts that can be considered kata. Even jujitsu and aikido schools consider many of their drills waza, or kata. But Hanshi is a big believer that you must use kata to understand the structure of the body and how to have a vehicle to free up the body and make your movements more subtle. Also not every kata was made for every circumstance, no matter how much we try. to make it that way.

    all the best

    George

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    Default Re: Escaping Arts - Part 2: Inside Kata

    Hi George,

    I agree that probably most forms of martial arts have prearranged sets of moves they perform over and over again. But even Hanshi has said many times that practicing Kata puts you in a box. We as the practitioners have to break ourselves out of the boxes we are in.

    We must also understand that just because one has memorized 100 different katas doesn't mean they understand them. To me, taking a couple katas and exploring all the ideas with them is much more useful than trying to have a different kata for each idea. And if I spend all my time memorizing patterns I have little time left to actually spend on understanding what I'm doing.

    I think the last time I asked Hanshi he said he had about 268 katas memorized. The fact that he can remember that many katas is amazing, but I don't think for a minute that's why he's so good. Wasn't it Choki Motobu who did Nai Han Chi 500 times a day? Why didn't he do 500 different forms a day? Why just one?

    Again, I will state that the movements of any kata can be interpretted in so many different ways that they lose any specific meaning. Thus, in my opinion, kata doesn't teach us anything. It is up to the practitioner to teach themselves through observation of movement - perhaps while performing a kata over and over again.

    Just the way I look at things.


    With respect,
    John

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    Default Re: Escaping Arts - Part 2: Inside Kata

    John i agree with you, having many katas doesn't mean that you understand them. Katas are tool just like everything we do in Kosho. really the octagon drills can be looked at this way or even the basic strikes and kicks. If all a kata is to look at motion then why don't we have our students just walk in circles and sit at the mall observing people, rather than do jumping patterns. Just a thought.

    All the best

    George

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    Default Re: Escaping Arts - Part 2: Inside Kata

    Hi George,

    The observation I'm talking about isn't just with your eyes.

    And kata is also great for exercise. I don't want to be one of those fat masters out there who is going to die of a heart attack at age 60. (or younger)

    Jumping patterns are great to condition ourselves. But if the practitioner doesn't look at the movement in such a way that gets them to relate it with proper timing, distancing , etc., then it's just an exercise.

    Look at it this way. Take the action of setting your briefcase down, calling for a taxi, picking the briefcase back up, stepping back to let the taxi in, moving forward to open the door, getting in, closing the door and going for a ride. Couldn't you visualize how that pattern of moves could be used in some fantasy self defense situation? I bet you could.... you're a smart guy!

    Well after memorizing the movements you could call this Kata 1 - or even make up a fancy Japanese name for it. Then everyone would say that the kata taught us something. But in fact the kata didn't teach anything. Because we wouldn't tell our students that the kata originally was to get a ride somewhere. The real teaching comes from you; because you would tell your student to look at the movement a different way. The kata would be a tool to continually exercise the understanding of something taught externally from the kata.

    Could a kata prompt ideas of other things? Sure. But not to the beginner student. The student must have a base knowledge to work from. The bigger the base, the more things the student will discover from themselves. Of course this is a double-edged sword. Because once we start gaining ideas then we build our own set of prejudices which can stop us from seeing anything else.

    Great conversation. Thanks.


    -John


    PS. Do math problems teach us math? Or do they allow us to strengthen our understanding of things we have already learned?

    PSS. Another thought. If you simply told your next brand new student who didn't have any experience at all to mimic your movements, and let's say you did Pinan Shodan, and you didn't talk or give any corrections or explanations, do you think the kata would teach him much?

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    Default Re: Escaping Arts - Part 2: Inside Kata

    John very nice ideas, i actually agree with 99% of what you are saying.
    The other 1% is splitting hairs. I may see you this weekend when Hanshi is in New Hampshire, if the wife ok's it. Hope your health is well, and if you ever need anyhting just ask.

    All the best

    George

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    Wink Re: Escaping Arts - Part 2: Inside Kata

    Hi George,

    I can't afford to split hairs since their falling out quickly enough on their own!

    I will be at Terry Dow's school on Sunday only. I booked Hanshi for 4 hours so me and 14 of my students can have a class with him privately. I'd go on Saturday but it's my b-day and my wife and kids have the day planned out for me.

    If you're there on Sunday it would be great to see you. I'm in need of some more Stephen Hawkins impressions! lol!

    I have to say my health has gotten a lot better lately. For the past year I really thought I was in some kind of trouble. But the Universe has pulled me through and I am feeling great.


    Take care, hope to see you soon.


    -John



    PS. I'm a little short on cash at the moment... perhaps you could send some up to me. (you said just ask!!) lol!

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    Default Re: Escaping Arts - Part 2: Inside Kata

    MOD NOTE:

    Moved posts to thread on topic.

    BlackCatBonz
    shawn bailey

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    Default Re: Escaping Arts - Part 2: Inside Kata

    How many times have you gone to a different school only to see people doing what is supposed to be the same move in a different way?
    I think there are particular nuances of proper form that can only be gained by looking at kata in pieces and as a whole.
    There are particular ways to perform age uke, uchi ude uke, mawashi uke, oi-zuki etc. I think they can only be understood by studying kata to learn the proper form in a moving context.
    When watching 10 people from Uechi-ryu, they all pretty much have a particular way of doing things that is quite constant from one person to the next....this type of quality control insures that the essence of that style remains somewhat intact.

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    Default Re: The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

    I've said this at least a hundred times...

    There is no substitute for actual combat. Since, due to safety and ethical reasons, we don't routinely participate in actual combat, we use different training methods to better prepare us for it.

    One of those methods is Kata or Forms. Some advantages of learning kata or forms are that you learn to transition from one angle/direction smoothly to another which is effective in dealing with multiple attackers. You also ingrain technique into your muscle memory by practicing kata/forms when you do not have a partner/uke to work techniques with.

    However, IMHO, kata/forms are useless unless you explain to the student what it is they are doing. I encourage students to visualize attackers as they practice. They should "see" what they are doing and the reactions caused by the maneuvers. Whenever we teach a kata/form we explain every move to the student showing them exactly what it is they are accomplishing. If they don't know why they are moving the way they are moving...the kata/form is pretty much useless.

    My 0.02
    "It is sobering to reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence." Charles A. Beard

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    Default Re: The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

    going along the same lines as math problems and the ability to teach kids martial arts moves...Kata is really a part of Japanese Culture (and in some others) that Americans have a hard time with untill some one puts it into context.


    Kata is just like that stupid song (or order) that we use to teach the alphabet. How many times have we sung that song? Now that I mentioned it, how many of us are starting to unwillingly reciting that song silently in our head? Kata is no different. It is just a teaching tool that certain groups use to keep the basics straight. Much like the alphabet song, once we learn and understand the principles behind it, we abandon it untill we need to teach them to the next generation. Kata is the same. WE shouldn't loose sight that Kata is for instruction of the basics and that only by USING those tools do we get any better at our skills.

    Just like it was said above, Actual fighting (combat) would be the crucible to test our theories and since we can't just open up a can when we want to...we have to settle for what we can get in training. The form itself is only one peice of a puzzle that should not be done unless it is done properly. I know plenty of schools that teach forms as nothing more than a series of angry dance moves with no explantions, practicle applications, or variations. Without those elements kata is useless.

    Once we have the structure, we should break it to have freedom of movement. Every art class I have been too teaches the human figure the same way but when I draw something and when sme one else draws something it comes out different (although the basic shape remains unchanged).

    Kata has it's place, but we shouldn't forget that there are other elements that should be practiced with it, and not replaced by it.

    Regards,
    Walt

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    Default Re: The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

    I think kata that are longer than three or so movements are properly an advanced practice.

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    Default Re: The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

    Quote Originally Posted by eyebeams
    I think kata that are longer than three or so movements are properly an advanced practice.
    why do you think that?

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    Default Re: The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

    I can see his point. Many junior students can't see the fingers at the end of each hand. They just understand that all the parts function together. They have a hard time grasping that the parts can move independantly of each other.

    Either way suits me fine as long as it is taught correctly

    Regards,
    Walt

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    Default Re: The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

    I really think it depends on the kata. Something like pinan shodan which has around 20 moves is hardly advanced.
    It contains 5 basics; gedan barai, oi-zuki, age uke, gyaku-zuki, and shuto uke.
    You can teach this kata to a new student in about an hour or less and with it they are learning some fundamental movements.

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    Default Re: The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcatbonz
    why do you think that?
    Because it's difficult to interpret kata without some sparring experience. f you have little sparring experience, then you can't really work the movements with honest intent.

    The other benefit is that by getting some sparring under your belt, you get a sense of your personal structure. For example, I'm 6'5"; my teacher was a foot shorter than me. When I make use of my personal structure in the kata, it translates into better application. You don't ignore the right way to do it, but you you effectively intepret it in the context of your own effective movement.

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    Default Re: The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcatbonz
    I really think it depends on the kata. Something like pinan shodan which has around 20 moves is hardly advanced.
    It contains 5 basics; gedan barai, oi-zuki, age uke, gyaku-zuki, and shuto uke.
    You can teach this kata to a new student in about an hour or less and with it they are learning some fundamental movements.
    Ah; I don't practice those, and iven the context of their creation, I can see why that would be a valid way to go about it.

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    Default Re: The Truth About Kata: Training Tool or Waste of Time

    I look at kata in the beginning stages as being a vehicle purely for form. I wouldnt want a beginner to imagine opponents, I want them to work on the kata to perfect their form and enhance their transitions from one movement to another. To often kata becomes a disjointed ballet that is never corrected, and then the student looks at it as a useless tool.

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