Do Kata/Forms Define the Style?

Many schools teach kata and represent them as being the foundation of their style. Yet, when you watch (or do) the workouts or sparring, it looks nothing like the forms! Why?

The simple answer is the three K's (kihon/basics, kumite/fighting, kata/forms) used to be ONE thing but became three separate things over time. In the beginning there was fighting: Defenses and counters against strikes and grabs. These combinations were linked together into forms for ease of practice and transmission of the techniques. Nobody knows what the workouts were like prior to 1920, but probably consisted mostly of two-man drills of these combinations (along with variants). The self-defense aspect, fighting, practice and kata looked the same (because they were) and all used the same techniques as taught in that style. Kata=fighting=drills.

When karate was introduced into the schools, things had to get simplified as classes were huge. The self-defense aspects were minimized; instead, simple execution of the individual moves was emphasized in repetitive drilling, taken out of context from the kata! Furthermore, the kata themselves were approached from a more exercise viewpoint as well. The latter 1930's up to the present saw increasing development of karate as a sport. This entailed a change in short range into longer range techniques and removal of many dangerous techniques. Fighting became sparring. Even kata had become performance sport, the execution overshadowing their self-defense applications - but they still retained the essence of their original purpose as defining the style.

By 1950 the division of the three K's were complete. Basic practice and sparring no longer looked like kata. In fact, a case can be made that sport sparring competition became its own style with little or no relationship to kata. TKD people, however, may say their drills and sparring do look a lot like their forms and I would agree. I think what happened was that instead of the style being a reflection their forms, their forms are a reflection their style. In other words, karate drills and sparring evolved AWAY from forms whereas TKD forms evolved TOWARDS their drills and sparring, or at least along with them. I have no idea if my TKD brothers would agree or disagree with my analysis. It's open to discussion.

As far as karate is concerned, kata (and their bunkai - true application) truly reflects and personifies the style. The fact that many see kata as just a leftover from times past is not kata's fault. It's just we've lost sight of our roots and have come to be conditioned to see today's karate as commonly practiced as "actual" karate and kata as the family's strange aunt. It's like a kid wandering off in the store and saying, "My parents lost me." But there is no reason that kata cannot be the major focus in karate being a self-defense art. The stomps, twists, gouges, elbows and knees are just as effective now as 200 yrs. ago. Indeed, there are several sensei today that stress the original style of karate combat and not the competitive incarnation. One can follow any path they want. I'm just showing how the other paths came about.
Kata is jyu - kumite in its profound meaning in practice : we have no choice in the opponent attacks.
 
Many schools teach kata and represent them as being the foundation of their style. Yet, when you watch (or do) the workouts or sparring, it looks nothing like the forms! Why?

The simple answer is the three K's (kihon/basics, kumite/fighting, kata/forms) used to be ONE thing but became three separate things over time. In the beginning there was fighting: Defenses and counters against strikes and grabs. These combinations were linked together into forms for ease of practice and transmission of the techniques. Nobody knows what the workouts were like prior to 1920, but probably consisted mostly of two-man drills of these combinations (along with variants). The self-defense aspect, fighting, practice and kata looked the same (because they were) and all used the same techniques as taught in that style. Kata=fighting=drills.

When karate was introduced into the schools, things had to get simplified as classes were huge. The self-defense aspects were minimized; instead, simple execution of the individual moves was emphasized in repetitive drilling, taken out of context from the kata! Furthermore, the kata themselves were approached from a more exercise viewpoint as well. The latter 1930's up to the present saw increasing development of karate as a sport. This entailed a change in short range into longer range techniques and removal of many dangerous techniques. Fighting became sparring. Even kata had become performance sport, the execution overshadowing their self-defense applications - but they still retained the essence of their original purpose as defining the style.

By 1950 the division of the three K's were complete. Basic practice and sparring no longer looked like kata. In fact, a case can be made that sport sparring competition became its own style with little or no relationship to kata. TKD people, however, may say their drills and sparring do look a lot like their forms and I would agree. I think what happened was that instead of the style being a reflection their forms, their forms are a reflection their style. In other words, karate drills and sparring evolved AWAY from forms whereas TKD forms evolved TOWARDS their drills and sparring, or at least along with them. I have no idea if my TKD brothers would agree or disagree with my analysis. It's open to discussion.

As far as karate is concerned, kata (and their bunkai - true application) truly reflects and personifies the style. The fact that many see kata as just a leftover from times past is not kata's fault. It's just we've lost sight of our roots and have come to be conditioned to see today's karate as commonly practiced as "actual" karate and kata as the family's strange aunt. It's like a kid wandering off in the store and saying, "My parents lost me." But there is no reason that kata cannot be the major focus in karate being a self-defense art. The stomps, twists, gouges, elbows and knees are just as effective now as 200 yrs. ago. Indeed, there are several sensei today that stress the original style of karate combat and not the competitive incarnation. One can follow any path they want. I'm just showing how the other paths came about.
IMO The Kihon (basic) exercises of the style define the style, Goju-ryu does not strike or move like Shorin-ryu , neither like Isshin-ryu nor Uechi-ryu etc. The methods used in Kihon are then used in the kata, it makes the kata (many of which are included in multiple system) unique to the style/school/system. Kihon is the glue of the style , they Homogenize the kata (usually from different sources) into a consistent whole.
 
The main thing I notice in the video is that his front leg is rather straight, keeping his hips sitting far back. Also his hips don't appear to be locked as in karate. To my eye, this is not conducive to power generation which relies on the hips (tanden/tan'tien) being employed in the punch. His overall posture is not as compact as in most karate styles.
"what doesn't the stance allow the fighter to set up next?"
The 40%-60% distribution (4-6 stance) may not give you the maximum reach as the bow-arrow stance does, but it has the following advantages.

The best stance is a stance that you can "spring forward" or "hop backward" any time you want to. In order to do so, both of your legs have to bend. When you bend both legs, what's the best weight distribution?

- 50%-50% distribution (horse stance), or
- 40%-60% distribution (4-6 stance), or
- 30%-70% distribution (3-7 stance)?

If you use

- horse stance, before you throw a kick, you have to shift weight from one leg into another.
- 4-6 stance, you can kick without weight shifting (lower stance).
- 3-7 stance, you can kick without weight shifting (higher stance).

Both 4-6 stance and 3-7 stance can move fast without weight shifting. It gives you a quick footwork such as, "forward foot step forward, back foot slide and follow".


 
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I guess there are many qualifiers that define a style, as just mentioned, but it could be a matter of opinion what one considers to be the most "important" or "interesting" defining things.

As for my own style, Kyokushin having roots in mainly shotokan(in/out and straight) and goju-ryu(more circular stuff and soft techniques), we often have lots of similar kihonto shotokan (but with some minor differences), but the fighting is often more goju-ryu like. Shotokan is maybe focused on perfecting self control, while kyokushin focus more on power and effectivity.

But for me the defining character of my style is the spirit often summarized as "osu no seishin", which leaves it's imprints of the hard training style with conditioning and also the fighting spirit. Overcome pain and fatigue and never give up. That is to me the main defining things about my style. This philosophy I consider much more important than the small differences in how we do ido geiko different than shotokan for example, or exactly how we throw a roundhouse, or do certain blocks. All those are details of minor importance IMO.

I recall that movie "kuro obi" where the "kyokushin" karateka was the one that got back up after beeing first knocked out - he didn't give up, which is symbolic for that style.
 
In Wing Woo Gar we have forms from Wing Woo Gar, Hung Gar, Mok Gar, Choy Li Fut, Tong Long Pai, Tan Tui, And more. How could our style be defined by this? Sifu Woo knew more than 90 forms but focused on fundamentals and reflexive applications rather than forms. Forms are great but certainly are not how we define our system.
 
Its found in some Chimpanzee culture groups as well. We are 98% the same.
Chimps hunt down members of competing groups and it has been compared to something similar to tribal warfare that we see in humans. Ive always understood it was territorial in nature and the securing of resources. Ive never seen reference to it as entertainment, as either a participant or as a spectator.
 
Its found in some Chimpanzee culture groups as well. We are 98% the same.
I actually like it. I've seen far worse from people who don't engage in competition of fighting strength and skill. They accept and follow the rules and restrictions that bind their violence. Society holds them up as champions and we hold them accountable for breaking those rules. I would be curious to know killers and mass murderers every stepped into a ring.

Other animals kill for fun. Cats, killer whales, leopard seals, dogs, The curious thing is that animals who have this behavior are high on the intelligence level.
 
Chimps hunt down members of competing groups and it has been compared to something similar to tribal warfare that we see in humans. Ive always understood it was territorial in nature and the securing of resources. Ive never seen reference to it as entertainment, as either a participant or as a spectator.
They kill their own as well, just because they don't like each other.
 
Chimps hunt down members of competing groups and it has been compared to something similar to tribal warfare that we see in humans. Ive always understood it was territorial in nature and the securing of resources. Ive never seen reference to it as entertainment, as either a participant or as a spectator.
This varies widely among various groups. They do indeed murder, but not all of them. Sometimes the reasons for this are unclear. Females often disperse to other groups but must wait to be accepted in as the lowest ranking. Sometimes the wait to be accepted ends in starvation and occasionally murder. Males almost never attempt to join other established groups because that will nearly anlways end in their murder. Killing other animals can often end in a celebration that includes the uninvolved spectators. There is a lot of current study in culture groups of chimps. Many behaviors once thought to be rare (weaponmaking) have been observed in a number of more recent studies. Hunting of animals for food tends to be accomplished by groups of males. Who receives a share of a kill can provide status, but if a low ranking member receives a share instead of a higher ranking member, this alone can result in a murder. Its fascinating stuff and may lead to insights about human behavior down the line.
 
This varies widely among various groups. They do indeed murder, but not all of them. Sometimes the reasons for this are unclear. Females often disperse to other groups but must wait to be accepted in as the lowest ranking. Sometimes the wait to be accepted ends in starvation and occasionally murder. Males almost never attempt to join other established groups because that will nearly anlways end in their murder. Killing other animals can often end in a celebration that includes the uninvolved spectators. There is a lot of current study in culture groups of chimps. Many behaviors once thought to be rare (weaponmaking) have been observed in a number of more recent studies. Hunting of animals for food tends to be accomplished by groups of males. Who receives a share of a kill can provide status, but if a low ranking member receives a share instead of a higher ranking member, this alone can result in a murder. Its fascinating stuff and may lead to insights about human behavior down the line.
This is all true, but I think it is difficult to know if the celebratory behavior is because of the entertainment value as opposed to some other reason such as relief that it is over or that a threat to the group has been nullified.

At any rate, whether or not chimps or other animals engage in possibly similar does not mean much as to my earlier comment. I still see a collective sociopathy in the practice of viewing violence as entertainment. We all ascribe on a level at which we are comfortable.
 
This is all true, but I think it is difficult to know if the celebratory behavior is because of the entertainment value as opposed to some other reason such as relief that it is over or that a threat to the group has been nullified.

At any rate, whether or not chimps or other animals engage in possibly similar does not mean much as to my earlier comment. I still see a collective sociopathy in the practice of viewing violence as entertainment. We all ascribe on a level at which we are comfortable.
Too true. I only elaborate because often, we seem to think of ourselves as special or separate from the rest of the animal kingdom. Explanations for behavior are often right in front of us. Sociopathy or psychopathy are both evident in certain animal populations.
 
Well, Im not sure if we can simply say it is because they dont like each other. At any rate, that is not the same as using violence as entertainment.
Again, we cant know for sure at this time, but certain individuals certainly show a propensity for violence and murder. I have a lot of personal experience with this from working with primates. I can give several anecdotal examples that I personally observed. A group of Capuchin monkeys in my care somehow acquired a rock. They would bait and ambush rats in their enclosure. When they captured a rat, they would hold it down and take turns beating it with the rock. There was a lot of display during this activity and they would never attempt to eat it. The fact that they would remove all food, except a single piece of biscuit from the floor and carefully place the biscuit in a place that a rat could detect it was different. They would position themselves and patiently wait. They acted as a group. They used a weapon each time and shared this tool. We observed this behavior dozens of times. The most interesting part, in my opinion was that neighboring primates of other species also observed and subsequently engaged in this behavior as well. One of the chimps even went so far as to conceal himself under a blanket in order to more effectively ambush rats. I dont mean to imply that I understand all of the dynamics at play, but it is worth noting that these were captive animals that were often bored and had lots of opportunity to observe other animals behaviors including humans.
 
Again, we cant know for sure at this time, but certain individuals certainly show a propensity for violence and murder. I have a lot of personal experience with this from working with primates. I can give several anecdotal examples that I personally observed. A group of Capuchin monkeys in my care somehow acquired a rock. They would bait and ambush rats in their enclosure. When they captured a rat, they would hold it down and take turns beating it with the rock. There was a lot of display during this activity and they would never attempt to eat it. The fact that they would remove all food, except a single piece of biscuit from the floor and carefully place the biscuit in a place that a rat could detect it was different. They would position themselves and patiently wait. They acted as a group. They used a weapon each time and shared this tool. We observed this behavior dozens of times. The most interesting part, in my opinion was that neighboring primates of other species also observed and subsequently engaged in this behavior as well. One of the chimps even went so far as to conceal himself under a blanket in order to more effectively ambush rats. I dont mean to imply that I understand all of the dynamics at play, but it is worth noting that these were captive animals that were often bored and had lots of opportunity to observe other animals behaviors including humans.
Very very interesting, sir.
 
If form doesn't define a style, what define a style?

Form is like a book. When you write a book, are you going to include what you think is important in that book?

In my long fist system, all the information is recorded in the forms. There exists no hidden information that exists in the drills but doesn't exist in the forms.
 
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If form doesn't define a style, what define a style?
Philosophy of the MA or combat system?

But I would expoect that philosophy (I'm not talking about esotherics but more what the emphasis is on the MA system; speed; energy conservation; endurance; self defense etc; maximum power; or minimum power; emphasis on grappling, punching, kicking) is also reflected in the forms.

I like to imagine that there is a philosophy that is the core of the constructing principles, from which "in principle" certain forms or combos would be preferred.

For example chineese MA has alot of circular movement that I interpret as originating from energy conservation and economy of motion. Karate is more focus on linear power generation, with less focus of economy of motion. Some styles seem to focus more on rooted stability, some seem to be more focus on fast flying techniques - IMO origiating from the different constructing philosophical principles of the system? It's not hard to see that different philosophies have both pros and cons.

Form is like a book. When you write a book, are you going to include what you think is important in that book?
Yes, but I think also, what are the guiding principles for coming up with the book? This is already where i starts imo.

I then think is is useful to think of as, a given constructing principle would yield different preferred detailed forms; such as specific angles or foot positions or what are best balance etc depending on the "book authors" personal anatomy. IF this is written by a cobra, or a bull, the same philosophy may imply different forms? I thought more and more about this as it's obvious how different we are, and many of us have various issues with back, knees, deviate flexbility etc.

This seems also to be in line with the various kung fu "animal styles"; what is approprate forms for the tiger isn't necessarily appropriate for the crane, but maybe there is a unified philosophy? this is how i think of it.
 
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In Wing Woo Gar we have forms from Wing Woo Gar, Hung Gar, Mok Gar, Choy Li Fut, Tong Long Pai, Tan Tui, And more. How could our style be defined by this?
This is a logical question to ask. Since I don't know anything about the styles and forms in CMA I'll answer it using isshinryu as an example. Perhaps it will be applicable to you

Isshinryu is a combination of about 75% shorin and 15% goju and has kata from both. That leaves 10% and this is where the simple answer lies. Master Shimabuku inserted his own concepts into these two styles. He adopted their kata, but adapted them, doing them his (the isshinryu) way: Shallow stances, vertical fist, snapping punch, blocking with the muscled part of the arm, even some of the bunkai. Basically, the same moves, but different, unique execution. This 10% is what makes those forms recognizably "isshinryu" forms, no matter their origin.

Consider music. Artists such as Jimmy Hendricks, Elvis and Whitney Houston sang songs written/performed previously by other artists from multiple genres. But no matter the source or style of music, we can all quickly recognize it is them performing it. They have their unique intensity, pronunciation, inflections, tone, etc. that gives their music its own identity even though the words, rhythm and melody are basically the same as the source versions.

It's that 10% that the founding master puts in that makes any form his recognizable style. This is why a guy just adding some moves from another system and claiming to have created a new "style" is BS. He hasn't created anything, just borrowed some moves from someone else.
 
This is why a guy just adding some moves from another system and claiming to have created a new "style" is BS. He hasn't created anything, just borrowed some moves from someone else.
It's perfect OK if one borrowed some moves from another system if he doesn't intend to create a new style.

A is loyalty to his style. B is a cross-training guy. You can see they have different views about MA training.

A: MA is more than just for combat. It can be for health, self-cultivation, inner peace, cultural study, ...
B: To me, CMA is only for combat.

A: I try to make everything to fit into my style.
B: I try to make every style to fit into my need.

A: I have only 1 wife and I listen to my wife.
B: I have many wives and they all listen to me.
 
Well, Im not sure if we can simply say it is because they dont like each other. At any rate, that is not the same as using violence as entertainment.
I don't know why we think animals are so much different than we are. They express the same emotions so why would watching violence to be entertained be an exception?

They share all emotions except the specific emotion on of being entertained by violence? Humans being violent is only natural. The evolution of humans is not get rid of the violence but to be in better control of the violence and to not let it become something that destroys our growth as humans.
 

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