General Framework for Understanding Kata

exile

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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. ;)

Could be... but what was the thinking behind making them more difficultthe attitude you're referring to in the bolded part?

I wouldn't dispute the point, but if what you're saying here is on target, it still sounds as though they lost track of the functional basis of the stances and wound up using them to serve some other standard of 'goodness', no?
 

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Could be... but what was the thinking behind making them more difficultthe attitude you're referring to in the bolded part?

I'm thinking it's a complex mixture of sadism and masochism, personally. Mixed in with the aforementioned goal of building a stronger base and improving leg strength.
 

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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:

Sorry, I just reread my original post and saw that I wasn't as clear as intended. I meant that when many of the Okinawan kata were incorporated into Shotokan, that's one of the things that was often changed. The cat stances in many of the Pinan katas (as practiced by many Okinawan styles like Goju) became back stances in the Heians, for example.
 

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I'm thinking it's a complex mixture of sadism and masochism, personally. Mixed in with the aforementioned goal of building a stronger base and improving leg strength.

There is that side to some aspects of Japanese culture. Certainly, seppuku is one of the more bizarre modes of suicide in the world, and it has that quality.

But the strength development aspect seems very wrongheaded, from a practical point of view. There are excellent strength-building exercises available that don't get entangled with the instructions in your combat methods manual. But that's what's going on when you try to use your kata both for guidance in fighting technique and for physical development. Of course, if you're less and less committed to viewing kata as a combat instruction manual, then it won't seem problematic to you if the kata increasingly take on other roles (like strength and balance training) that they weren't actually designed for originally...
 

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It would seem to go hand-in-hand with what was happening with karate in Japan under Funakoshi (and some others) in/around the 1930's... it was being taught to considerably larger groups of people, often in a university setting to those with a samurai background who were unable to pursue many of their more "traditional" arts. It had definite connotations at the time (or marketing for, at least, from what I can tell) of improving physical fitness to create better warriors for an increasingly nationalized and militarized Japan.

Part of it might be a "two birds with one stone" (physical fitness and combat training in one program) mentality that stuck and lead to the reinforcement of low stances.
 

exile

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It would seem to go hand-in-hand with what was happening with karate in Japan under Funakoshi (and some others) in/around the 1930's... it was being taught to considerably larger groups of people, often in a university setting to those with a samurai background who were unable to pursue many of their more "traditional" arts. It had definite connotations at the time (or marketing for, at least, from what I can tell) of improving physical fitness to create better warriors for an increasingly nationalized and militarized Japan.

Part of it might be a "two birds with one stone" (physical fitness and combat training in one program) mentality that stuck and lead to the reinforcement of low stances.

That accords with every account of the period I've seen—unlike the Korean government in the Korean War/Kwan era, the Japanese government did not view karate as a practical combative system, but rather as a kind of martial calisthenics/group esprit improvement activity. You real karate historian types will correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it the case that the potential virtues of karate as a physical conditioning regime came to the attention of Japanese military doctors who were doing medical vetting of Okinawan conscripts for the Japanese army, where it turned out that many of the young men in question who were in such unusually good shape were karate students on the Ryukyus? And didn't Itosu use this discovery as part of his pitch for inclusion of karate in the Okinawan school system? So the role of karate as a strength and stamina training method, rather than a system for civilian self-defense, became the logical selling point for someone like Funakoshi, who never missed an opportunity to tell whatever story his listener wanted to hear, in his dealing with the military and education ministries in prewar Japan....
 
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That's pretty much what I've been able to dig up, Exile. Karate was transformed from the art that Funakoshi (and others) originally brought to Japan into a form that resembled judo in curriculum and kendo in practice. In fact, the entire practice of ippon, sanbon kumite, and ten no kata were inspired by kendo. GF's son, who was a student of kendo and karate, was central in making these changes and in formulating the karate curriculum we see now. Much of what we know in regards to modern karate came from Gigo Funakoshi.

That said, I still believe that some of the exercises in kata are for conditioning purposes. When you consider that old karate masters like Motobu, Mabuni, Kyan, Itosu, and Funakoshi Gichin all tell us that kiba dachi in Naihanchi is for leg strengthening, then it starts to carry more weight. It especially carries more weight when you consider the old way of training kata. If you performed Naihanchi, very slowly, again and again, for years and years, you really would begin to develop stronger leg muscles.

It might not be the best training, but then again, we also know that the Okinawans didn't just rely on kata either. Consider that some styles of Okinawan karate, like Goju Ryu still have traditional weight training exercises that are paired with kata. It's a good bet that in Itosu's day, there were weight training and conditioning methods associated with other kata that would supplement the strengthening that would happen in kata.
 

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That accords with every account of the period I've seenunlike the Korean government in the Korean War/Kwan era, the Japanese government did not view karate as a practical combative system, but rather as a kind of martial calisthenics/group esprit improvement activity. You real karate historian types will correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it the case that the potential virtues of karate as a physical conditioning regime came to the attention of Japanese military doctors who were doing medical vetting of Okinawan conscripts for the Japanese army, where it turned out that many of the young men in question who were in such unusually good shape were karate students on the Ryukyus? And didn't Itosu use this discovery as part of his pitch for inclusion of karate in the Okinawan school system? So the role of karate as a strength and stamina training method, rather than a system for civilian self-defense, became the logical selling point for someone like Funakoshi, who never missed an opportunity to tell whatever story his listener wanted to hear, in his dealing with the military and education ministries in prewar Japan....

That's the way I've heard it too... we must be reading some of the same books.
 
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