General Framework for Understanding Kata

Makalakumu

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Here is a little something I've been working on. Care to add anything?

1. Every sequence has two parts. An attacking sequence and a defending sequence. The defending sequence is the part of the form that you see performed. The attacking sequence is the part of the form that is imagined by the practitioner when the form is being performed or analyzed.
2. Every movement has an application. From the slightest placement of the hand, to the turn of the body or limb, or the placement of a part of the body on another part, it all is indicating information that is vital to application.
3. Application can occur in 360 degrees around the defender. It is assumed by many that the application for a form sequence is occurring in the direction that the defender is looking. This is simply not the case. Often the head turning is indicating something completely different then what is assumed. The nature of the forms movements is revealed when you consider the movement from all angles. You will better be able to apply basic techniques in the context of the forms when you understand the moves in this fashion.
4. Every movement has at least three variations. This is more of a benchmark then anything because any movement can really have countless variations. The three rule comes from the okuden style of transmission in which every movement was broken down into a striking, grappling, and finishing movement as the form was learned and digested over time. These layers of application were treated as an arts mysteries and a student was gradually introduced to these layers when the teacher felt the student was ready. In Tang Soo Do, we do away with this distinction and teach them all simultaneously.
5. Every application is 2-5 movements and ends in superior position. Every application in a form will place the defender in control of the situation. Karate was not designed as a dueling art. It was designed for life protection and for real violence. There are no wasted moves in karate and no points. Or, as Oyata Sensei tells his students, no hurt, no down.
6. Every application starts and ends on the same movement. This guideline is very important as a student should be looking at every movement as the starting or ending of another application sequence. The amount of combinations for movements when viewed in this way is endless, thus the amount of applications are limitless.
 

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Thanks for sharing. I agree a good deal with this. I have a bit more to reply, but it is far past this guy's bed time (even the cat is looking at me like it's time to turn of the lights and hit the sack).
 

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Thanks for sharing. I agree a good deal with this. I have a bit more to reply, but it is far past this guy's bed time (even the cat is looking at me like it's time to turn of the lights and hit the sack).

Took the words right out of my mouth, astro. I hope this thread takes off, because it's an excellent place for those of us who hold this general view of forms to get down to specifics. I particularly hope that SJON and StuartA get involved in this discussion....

There's some stuff that should be expanded on and gone over in more detail, but like astro, it's way, way too late for me to be up...
 

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Overall -- looks good. I do think you need to add something about what forms/kata it applies to. Not necessarily by name, but by characteristics. There are some kata that are pure performance or conditioning pieces, with no relevance to fighting.
 
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Makalakumu

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The kata in which I am referring are the traditional karate kata that were passed from Okinawa, through Japan, and eventually through Korea to the United States. As I posted this in the karate forum, my hope is to draw in perspectives from multiple arts. I'd love to talk about specifics, but I'm also really curious if anyone can point to a general area, like I listed above, where I may be remiss or just missed.

The kata I practice are Pinan 1-5, Naihanchi 1-3, Passai Dai and Sho, Chinto, Rohai, Kusanku, Wanshu, Gojushiho, Jitte, Jion, and Seisan.
 
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Makalakumu

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One thing that I thought would be a good addition to the list is this...

7. A fight is a fight is a fight. People fight the same way they fought 100 years ago. There's nothing new under the sun. Karate was designed to deal with real violence. There is nothing out dated or anachronistic about karate.
 

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I think it is important to teach that stances are judged not on the static position, but how one moved to get into it, and more importantly, how one moves to begin the next series. In other words, the importance of zenkutsu dachi is that there is only ONE way to correctly explode forward out of it. If the stance is incorrect, then one is able to cheat the movement.

I am sure someone else can figure out a way to say that concisely...
 
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Makalakumu

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I tend to think of stances not as something in which you would ready yourself when fighting, but as something that is carrying a bit of information. Stances in forms are explaining aspects about application. Aspects like...

1. Footwork. The type of stance indicates the type of footwork involved in the application.

2. Leverage. The type of stance and its height is indicating something about how the body should be used in order to aid in the performance of a technique.

3. Lower level targets. Sometimes the stance is indicating where certain lower level targets are located on the legs. The stance also can show how to attack those targets.

4. Conditioning. Sometimes the kind of stance indicates the kind of conditioning that is needed in order to strengthen the body for certain techniques.
 

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Yeah, that's the way I read stances as well.

Back stance is often a pointer in a form to a configuration in which you've trapped an attacker's limb and are immobilizing them, or pulling them back towards you, while applying a strike that in that configuration they can't evade (e.g., from a kind of 'fence' position, the 'chamber' for a 'double knifehand block' knocks an incoming roundhouse punch to the side, with the rear hand/arm coming around the outside of the deflected punch to trap that arm while the front knifehand comes inward from the outside to strike the side of the neck or throat). The weight is kept to the back simply because that's the platform enabling you to hold them where you want them while you strike.

Front stand is code for projecting weight into a tech. If you've established a control of some kind on one of the attacker's limbs, moving weight forward and down puts the pressure of your body weight on the relevant joint and lowers the attacker's upper body, making his head an accessible target.

I have this sense that the extreme low stances of Shotokan, for example, were reifications of the clues implicit in kata about bringing weight to bear on a lock or pin, for example, encoded as movement into a front stance. What happened, on this scenario, is what often happens: people get means and ends confused, and impose a stylization on the technique which takes something that is supposed to do specific work—projecting weight forward and down to force a response form a controlled attacker—and turns it into an 疆sthetic standard which you''re supposed to follow because someone thought it looked good, or intimidating, or whatever.

This tendency to turn something which is doing a certain kind of work into something which is 'decorative' because you no longer know (or never knew) just what work it's supposed to do is common in all sorts of endeavors. When people don't really understand any longer what the working function of something is, that's what happens.
 

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Agreed. That's a nice approach to stance training. I try to remind my students that stance is transitory. Stances teach us a lot, especially how to move in given situations, and they are great for developmental training. However, in a real fight, when feet are sliding and stepping and moving, stance is transitory; we use our developed stance to properly move. I would never pause for any prolonged period of time in a front stance or a cat stance, but I would transition through those stances so that my attack/defense is optimal.

As always Manukumu, I appreciate your thoughts. Well reasoned and insightful.

Here are a few things that I was thinking of last night as I drifted off to merriment in the dreamworld...

1. Every sequence has two parts. Agreed, but it's not always the case that the defense is the performed technique and the opponent's attack is implied. Indeed, attack and defense can at times be interchangeable depending on the application of a technique or series of techniques. There are times when we are attacking in our movements. We must not always be defending, in so much as blocking or counterstriking. If I know beyond doubt that some dude is about to throw down, I may make the most of the moment and strike first. I have no moral problems with this.

2. Every movement has an application. Very nice. Everything means something.

3. Application can occur in 360 degrees around the defender. One thing that always bothered me is when instructors claim that the reason for a 270 degree turning movment in a form is so you can turn to face a new opponent who has come at you from the side. That is pointless. I would never turn 270 degrees, through my own blind spot, to turn my head the whole way around and into an opponent who I knew was there. Not when I could have turned 90 degrees and gotten to him much faster. Obviously, 270 degree turns mean a lot more...

4. Every movement has at least three variations. No offense, but I actually don't like this one too much. I get where you're coming from, but I think this statement is too misleading. Rather than worrying about numbers, I think students will have a better time being taught a few variations, and then figuring out other variations on their own and sharing. The variations can include striking, grappling, and finishing, but there's no need to focus on only three variations, I think the underlying principles of the movement are what is important for understanding variations.

5. Every application is 2-5 movements and ends in superior position. I agree with the 'ends in superior position' part for sure. We must always seek the high road, putting ourselves into the most advantageous position possible (or putting our opponent into a less advantageous position). When you say 2-5 movements, are you meaning 2-5 movements for the 'defender' or is the 2-5 combined from both opponents? Also, the 2-5 movement limit may be for the base application, but when a student adds more to it, then they may well exceed 5 by a lot.

6. Every application starts and ends on the same movement. Not quite sure what you are specifying here. May we have a little more of an explanation?

7. A fight is a fight is a fight. Very nice. I like it.


Just a few thoughts from me. I think this will make for a good thread. Thanks. Respect!
 
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Makalakumu

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Yeah, that's the way I read stances as well.

Back stance is often a pointer in a form to a configuration in which you've trapped an attacker's limb and are immobilizing them, or pulling them back towards you, while applying a strike that in that configuration they can't evade (e.g., from a kind of 'fence' position, the 'chamber' for a 'double knifehand block' knocks an incoming roundhouse punch to the side, with the rear hand/arm coming around the outside of the deflected punch to trap that arm while the front knifehand comes inward from the outside to strike the side of the neck or throat). The weight is kept to the back simply because that's the platform enabling you to hold them where you want them while you strike.

Front stand is code for projecting weight into a tech. If you've established a control of some kind on one of the attacker's limbs, moving weight forward and down puts the pressure of your body weight on the relevant joint and lowers the attacker's upper body, making his head an accessible target.

I have this sense that the extreme low stances of Shotokan, for example, were reifications of the clues implicit in kata about bringing weight to bear on a lock or pin, for example, encoded as movement into a front stance. What happened, on this scenario, is what often happens: people get means and ends confused, and impose a stylization on the technique which takes something that is supposed to do specific workprojecting weight forward and down to force a response form a controlled attackerand turns it into an 疆sthetic standard which you''re supposed to follow because someone thought it looked good, or intimidating, or whatever.

This tendency to turn something which is doing a certain kind of work into something which is 'decorative' because you no longer know (or never knew) just what work it's supposed to do is common in all sorts of endeavors. When people don't really understand any longer what the working function of something is, that's what happens.

Footwork is a widely underestimated aspect of karate and kata that is extremely important. When a person cross trains in various arts, like boxing or arnis, it becomes apparent just how crucial good footwork is when it comes to striking.

Karate arts teach footwork through various one steps and basics, but these footwork concepts are based more off of aesthetics then real combative exchanges, IMO. Real fighting footwork looks a lot different and I think that kata show us how to do it.

For example, front stance has a pushing off the back foot and a movement of the forward foot in a 45 degree angle. This is one way that you can get off line and close the distance when attacked. With back stance, you see a shifting the weight to the back foot and some kind of countering motion, which is perfect for dirty inside fighting. In horse stance, the movement is inline, which, IMO, show back angle slips and forward thrusts that bull right in.

There are a lot of other stances and they all have various footwork principles attached to them.
 
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Makalakumu

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1. Every sequence has two parts. Agreed, but it's not always the case that the defense is the performed technique and the opponent's attack is implied. Indeed, attack and defense can at times be interchangeable depending on the application of a technique or series of techniques. There are times when we are attacking in our movements. We must not always be defending, in so much as blocking or counterstriking. If I know beyond doubt that some dude is about to throw down, I may make the most of the moment and strike first. I have no moral problems with this.

One of the things that I'm trying to do away with is the korean or japanese terminology because it can confuse the issue. In this case, I think the terminology would have clarified it. The distinction was between uke and tori. Where tori is performing the kata and uke is imagined.

2. Every movement has an application. Very nice. Everything means something.

Danke!

3. Application can occur in 360 degrees around the defender. One thing that always bothered me is when instructors claim that the reason for a 270 degree turning movment in a form is so you can turn to face a new opponent who has come at you from the side. That is pointless. I would never turn 270 degrees, through my own blind spot, to turn my head the whole way around and into an opponent who I knew was there. Not when I could have turned 90 degrees and gotten to him much faster. Obviously, 270 degree turns mean a lot more...

Obviously, which is why I think that karateka really need to look at other footwork concepts in various arts in order to get a feel for what is being shown in karate kata. When you have a full system that is artificially transformed into a striking system, then a lot of the footwork you see in kata simply makes no sense. But as soon as you add in the other dimensions, like throwing, then the footwork becomes obvious.

4. Every movement has at least three variations. No offense, but I actually don't like this one too much. I get where you're coming from, but I think this statement is too misleading. Rather than worrying about numbers, I think students will have a better time being taught a few variations, and then figuring out other variations on their own and sharing. The variations can include striking, grappling, and finishing, but there's no need to focus on only three variations, I think the underlying principles of the movement are what is important for understanding variations.

I can see where you are coming from, but on the other hand, think about not knowing what is in kata and reading this list. You might not understand what the possibilities really entail. The three variations guideline is just another way of saying that striking, grappling and finishing are included in kata. In some karate arts in which I've experienced, this was the model used up to a point, but then it was discarded in favor of the principles once it was understood what the kata was showing.

5. Every application is 2-5 movements and ends in superior position. I agree with the 'ends in superior position' part for sure. We must always seek the high road, putting ourselves into the most advantageous position possible (or putting our opponent into a less advantageous position). When you say 2-5 movements, are you meaning 2-5 movements for the 'defender' or is the 2-5 combined from both opponents? Also, the 2-5 movement limit may be for the base application, but when a student adds more to it, then they may well exceed 5 by a lot.

There are several ways to take this. On one hand, you can count the postures in the kata. On the other, you can count the various moves you'd make in response to an attack, as if you were performing bunkai. It shouldn't be more then five motions or you are wasting time. The less, the better.

6. Every application starts and ends on the same movement. Not quite sure what you are specifying here. May we have a little more of an explanation?

This is a hard one to explain. Imagine the low drop in passai dai. This drop could be a body drop throw and it could also be a set up for a single leg takedown. The body drop would be the "end" of an application and the single leg would be the beginning. The same move shows both.

7. A fight is a fight is a fight. Very nice. I like it.

Right, it's sometime said that karate deals with fighting in ways that don't exist anymore. I just don't believe that. Empty hand fighting isn't going to change much because humans have all been equipped with the same natural equipment for 80,000 years.
 

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Footwork is a widely underestimated aspect of karate and kata that is extremely important. When a person cross trains in various arts, like boxing or arnis, it becomes apparent just how crucial good footwork is when it comes to striking.

Karate arts teach footwork through various one steps and basics, but these footwork concepts are based more off of aesthetics then real combative exchanges, IMO. Real fighting footwork looks a lot different and I think that kata show us how to do it.

'Twas ever thus. When I taught downhill skiing, the problem many students had was the exact opposite: they were obsessed with what their skis were doing, but had no clue about the absolutely crucial role of the upper body in stabilizing and shifting the placement of body weight, or initiating turns through anticipation—or of the hands in 'leading' the upper body in a dynamically correct way. No matter what the activity, people want to leave out half of the equation, it seems.

For example, front stance has a pushing off the back foot and a movement of the forward foot in a 45 degree angle. This is one way that you can get off line and close the distance when attacked. With back stance, you see a shifting the weight to the back foot and some kind of countering motion, which is perfect for dirty inside fighting. In horse stance, the movement is inline, which, IMO, show back angle slips and forward thrusts that bull right in.

There are a lot of other stances and they all have various footwork principles attached to them.

And that 'getting offline and closing' move is essential: contrary to most people's intuition, closing the distance on your terms is often the safest thing you can do, and if you do it by going outside and controlling your attacker from there, you will basically own him. It's very subtle in the katas, but then, everything is—it's hinted at, but for the experienced fighters of earlier eras, the intentions encoded in the kata were clear enough that all that was needed was a pointer. The loss of that perspective and common view of combat has left katas, and the hyungs that developed out of them, almost indeciperable. All the more reason to admire and respect those who've gone back to the forms and done such great jobs in extracting the solid combat content from them.... which is just what you're doing, m.
icon14.gif
 
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I would recommend a very good book on this very idea. It is called "The Way of Kata" by Kris Wilder and Lawrence Kane. You can get it at Barnes and Noble if you have one in your area.

It breaks alot of these ideas down and also goes over the "Habitual Acts of Violence" theory of kata. That because man is pretty much the same now as when the kata were created, they addressed the most common types of attacks seen.

I would also like to add that the study of kata is a study of "self-defense". It is not set up or designed for two people squared off in a ring consenting to be there.
 

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I think it is important to teach that stances are judged not on the static position, but how one moved to get into it, and more importantly, how one moves to begin the next series. In other words, the importance of zenkutsu dachi is that there is only ONE way to correctly explode forward out of it. If the stance is incorrect, then one is able to cheat the movement.

I am sure someone else can figure out a way to say that concisely...
Very true statement. Most battles are lost during transitional movements.
 

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I would recommend a very good book on this very idea. It is called "The Way of Kata" by Kris Wilder and Lawrence Kane. You can get it at Barnes and Noble if you have one in your area.

Yeah, a lot of my own thinking and practice has been guided by the Kane and Wilder book. Their work nicely complements that of people like Abernethy and some of the other British bunkai group.

It breaks alot of these ideas down and also goes over the "Habitual Acts of Violence" theory of kata. That because man is pretty much the same now as when the kata were created, they addressed the most common types of attacks seen.

This is one of the odd things about such discussions: you often get someone saying, well, the kata were fine for SD practice for their time, but times have changed. Very true, but have they changed in any way relevant to how close-range street violence works? And when that question is posed, suddenly no one has much to say. We have this general idea that things are different now, therefore what worked in the past must be obsolete, yet we're surrounded by counterexamples to that preconception: we've been using essentially the same letter forms, in the West, since the Renaissanceand those Roman and italic letter shapes are themselves an only mildly modified version of manuscript hands that were introduced under the reign of Charlemagne! And we have no trouble reading and writing text in these 5/600 year old letter forms. So while lots changes, lots doesn't changeand the practicality of the applications explored by K&W, Iain A, and our own members StuartA and SJON suggests that the form personal violence takes in a street attack is one of those things that doesn't.

I would also like to add that the study of kata is a study of "self-defense". It is not set up or designed for two people squared off in a ring consenting to be there.

QFT. But it's really amazing how this basic principle of MA technique has been forgotten.
 

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1. Every sequence has two parts. An attacking sequence and a defending sequence. The defending sequence is the part of the form that you see performed. The attacking sequence is the part of the form that is imagined by the practitioner when the form is being performed or analyzed.
Good point and I concur. Also, I have found that what sometimes looks like a defense can in fact be an attack. I go with the rule that what appears to be a block can in fact be a strike.


2. Every movement has an application. From the slightest placement of the hand, to the turn of the body or limb, or the placement of a part of the body on another part, it all is indicating information that is vital to application.
I think this is very true, and also where bunkai can sometimes be read differently. Some Sensei show big moves with techniques and others smaller or tighter moves, which could change the interpretation some what.

3. Application can occur in 360 degrees around the defender. It is assumed by many that the application for a form sequence is occurring in the direction that the defender is looking. This is simply not the case. Often the head turning is indicating something completely different then what is assumed. The nature of the forms movements is revealed when you consider the movement from all angles. You will better be able to apply basic techniques in the context of the forms when you understand the moves in this fashion.
I like this point very much. I have a book by Seikichi Toguchi where he states that your opponent is always in front of you. Which I took to mean, that when you make a turn in kata, is where a throw could be the application.

4. Every movement has at least three variations. This is more of a benchmark then anything because any movement can really have countless variations. The three rule comes from the okuden style of transmission in which every movement was broken down into a striking, grappling, and finishing movement as the form was learned and digested over time. These layers of application were treated as an arts mysteries and a student was gradually introduced to these layers when the teacher felt the student was ready. In Tang Soo Do, we do away with this distinction and teach them all simultaneously.
When I first learned the kata of Okinawan GoJu, it was like you first stated above. Everything was block, kick, strike. It wasnt until we had the kata down that the other layers were introduced. It seemed to take a lot longer to grasp.

5. Every application is 2-5 movements and ends in superior position. Every application in a form will place the defender in control of the situation. Karate was not designed as a dueling art. It was designed for life protection and for real violence. There are no wasted moves in karate and no points. Or, as Oyata Sensei tells his students, no hurt, no down.
No comment, excellent point.


6. Every application starts and ends on the same movement. This guideline is very important as a student should be looking at every movement as the starting or ending of another application sequence. The amount of combinations for movements when viewed in this way is endless, thus the amount of applications are limitless.
And this is the most unique and fascinating part about this kata we all love so much.

Very good thread maunakumu, thank you. :asian:
 

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I have this sense that the extreme low stances of Shotokan, for example, were reifications of the clues implicit in kata about bringing weight to bear on a lock or pin, for example, encoded as movement into a front stance. What happened, on this scenario, is what often happens: people get means and ends confused, and impose a stylization on the technique which takes something that is supposed to do specific work—projecting weight forward and down to force a response form a controlled attacker—and turns it into an 疆sthetic standard which you''re supposed to follow because someone thought it looked good, or intimidating, or whatever.

As much as I respect your opinions, I have to disagree with you on this one, exile. After 8 years of learning & working extremely low Shotokan-type stances, I've come to the conclusion that the real reason they're that low is very simple, and reflects an interesting aspect of the Japanese culture (or at least, of the culture wherein the stances were emphasized and elongated and lowered to such an extent). They're longer and lower, simply, because that's harder than more upright (and generally more practical) stances. I also think this is the reason so many of the Okinawan kata had cat stances changed to back stances; not really reflecting a different application (although it does change them a little), but simply because the back stance is so godawful difficult to do really well.

They made the stances more difficult to perform in order to make them more difficult to perform. I don't think there was really a lot more thought put into it than that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get to class for some kiba dachi drills. ;)
 
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Another reason for low stances is simply that the physical training they provide often help in the application of various techniques. Low stances can build the needed strength to pull off certain applications. On the other hand, one needs to be careful with this thinking, because often applications will not be effective unless a more up right stance is utilized. So, if you perform a kata with low stances, great. Just understand the purpose and change to suit performance.
 

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As much as I respect your opinions, I have to disagree with you on this one, exile. After 8 years of learning & working extremely low Shotokan-type stances, I've come to the conclusion that the real reason they're that low is very simple, and reflects an interesting aspect of the Japanese culture (or at least, of the culture wherein the stances were emphasized and elongated and lowered to such an extent). They're longer and lower, simply, because that's harder than more upright (and generally more practical) stances. I also think this is the reason so many of the Okinawan kata had cat stances changed to back stances; not really reflecting a different application (although it does change them a little), but simply because the back stance is so godawful difficult to do really well.

They made the stances more difficult to perform in order to make them more difficult to perform. I don't think there was really a lot more thought put into it than that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get to class for some kiba dachi drills. ;)

The cat stance in Okinawan GoJu are alive and well. No back stance there. Very little weight on the front foot makes for an easer kick, as shown in Kururunfa kata. I will agree that low stances are used as training for leg strength, balance, and teaching movement of the center. :asian:
 

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