How Many Kata are necessary?

Victor Smith

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How many kata is a continual discussion topic.

IMVHO, The real issue is how does a system of training use what they have. I’ve trained with great martial artists who use few kata, and I’ve trained with great martial artist who have many times many kata studies in their system. I really isn’t the number of kata that makes them great, just different training options.

I guess I’ve studied 300 or so kata, kune, kwan or forms. In the years I visited friends schools they all taught forms so I studied and learnt what was presented. As I developed my own system of instruction for Isshinryu I incorporated few of those forms (in part) 1) to better prepare the youth student for Isshinryu instruction and 2) to honor those friends who shared with me, 3) and as movement studies for their motion potential.

Another set of forms are for various black belt studies but nothing like the number I studied..

Until after black belt the formal study of applications doesn’t begin. The student has more important things to work on.such as techniques and kata. Next makawara if possible and kote-kitae in the mix. Without those the advanced study of applications are most difficult . The makawara is most important and maybe chinkuchi training too. Serious training can still be done without them but less effective imvho.

Even at that we focus on the kata of Isshinryu for application study and use the rest to attack against. Knowledge of those forms provides some knowledge as to what others may do.

IMO few kata study doesn’t make you a great martial artist, nor do many kata studies. It’s how you use what you study.
 

Makalakumu

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I have 12 traditional kata that I focus on up to 3rd dan. After that, a student can learn more kata I know or continue to develop the applications for the kata they know. I used to practice a lot more kata, but I dropped them in favor of application study. In my dojo, this begins at white belt.
 

arnisador

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In the old days it was perhaps 3--how times have changed. I know people who say they know hundreds.
 

SuperFLY

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i currently know 11 kata well, and was required to know all for my shodan grading.

now i've done that i now have to learn 6 more kata before my nidan.

it is a lot i agree, i think our particular club (shotokan) has upwards of 30 kata to potentially learn..

i like kata, it teaches you a lot about stances and movement and if you're open to it, it allows you to then re-purpose those moves into your own defences and techniques. kata imo is just a more 'fun' was of doing drills. drumming the stances, moves into your head in flowing way.

i do prefer the bunkai of them though :D
 

seasoned

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Multiple kata would be to teach the masses. As we close in on our higher rank, we need to focus on "our" kata, the one that best represents us personally and addresses our needs. Always keeping in mind that as instructors we need a wide variety of kata, only to better help our students to be well rounded.

There is a lot of redundancy in kata, there to solidify the principles within.
 

dancingalone

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I also know dozens of patterns from a handful of styles, maybe totaling 70 or more. Out of those, I think I perform AND understand maybe 2 or 3 consistently to a level I am satisfied with. And this is not false modesty either - my own sensei considers me a teacher in my own right and has told me it is time for me to learn from myself - but I know painfully well my current ceiling.

We don't need dozens of patterns as practitioners. Only a few is sufficient if they are designed well enough, and I argue that the majority of the dan kata in established karate styles fit this requirement. We don't need 5 different H pattern sets with only the block and strikes changed in each one. Instead of learning to perform dozens of forms, I'd rather concentrate on a few and really take them apart and be able to run them forwards, backwards, with a multitude of what-if's blended in. Multiplicity from a single form, rather than multiple forms.

I also think it is useful to get students into form application as quickly as possible. They don't have to be proficient immediately. But they should be quite comfortable with the idea that form is a gateway into actual usage of the art. Form is not a dance. Form is not just something you do to pass time or to gain a belt. A kata is not something you practice merely for some abstract idea of learning good 'form'. Instead, it is the essence of the art you are trying to master and if you study kata under a good teacher, you WILL be able to fight provided you also practice physical conditioning and have constant reinforcement of the kata concepts through partner drills. These are all things I constantly stress with all my students, white belt or not.

Now I do agree that different people might have affinity for different kata, so for that reason *sensei* should know multiple kata. To be able to teach different students, to pass on the system as was passed onto them. But students? Nah, though I'll admit to talking through both sides of my mouth at this point since I have yet to trash the syllabus that was taught to me, and yes in it there is the full array of kata as one progresses through the ranks.
 

seasoned

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I also know dozens of patterns from a handful of styles, maybe totaling 70 or more. Out of those, I think I perform AND understand maybe 2 or 3 consistently to a level I am satisfied with. And this is not false modesty either - my own sensei considers me a teacher in my own right and has told me it is time for me to learn from myself - but I know painfully well my current ceiling.

We don't need dozens of patterns as practitioners. Only a few is sufficient if they are designed well enough, and I argue that the majority of the dan kata in established karate styles fit this requirement. We don't need 5 different H pattern sets with only the block and strikes changed in each one. Instead of learning to perform dozens of forms, I'd rather concentrate on a few and really take them apart and be able to run them forwards, backwards, with a multitude of what-if's blended in. Multiplicity from a single form, rather than multiple forms.

I also think it is useful to get students into form application as quickly as possible. They don't have to be proficient immediately. But they should be quite comfortable with the idea that form is a gateway into actual usage of the art. Form is not a dance. Form is not just something you do to pass time or to gain a belt. A kata is not something you practice merely for some abstract idea of learning good 'form'. These are all things I constantly stress with all my students, white belt or not.

Now I do agree that different people might have affinity for different kata, so for that reason *sensei* should know multiple kata. To be able to teach different students, to pass on the system as was passed onto them. But students? Nah, though I'll admit to talking through both sides of my mouth at this point since I have yet to trash the syllabus that was taught to me, and yes in it there is the full array of kata as one progresses through the ranks.

As always, agreed.
 

Grenadier

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From a Shotokan point of view, here's what I believe works with most students:

Everyone needs the 5 Heian kata, along with Tekki. These 6 kata help give you a good set of fundamentals, and help you refine the techniques that you'll be using when you learn the more advanced kata, such as Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi, and Jion at the brown and early black belt levels.

I also believe that all black belts should have at least two of the three kata (Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi, and Jion) by the time they hit shodan. Furthermore, by the time they've had some yudansha experience, they absolutely must have Kanku Dai and Jion, since those two are the kata that are representative of the system. Even if Shitei kata is no longer a requirement, they're still excellent kata when used to teach power, endurance, etc., and those who want to get a USA-NKF or WKF dan ranking are absolutely going to need those two.

Bassai Dai is a great kata for teaching someone how to apply power by using the whole body, whereas Enpi is good for helping someone build up rhythm, flow, speed, and dexterity.

Once someone has all four of those above listed kata, then they're ready to take on the more advanced ones that have a good bit of difficulty. In my dojo, yudansha at this stage will continue learning the more advanced kata, even if it's a kata that they may find difficult to do, given various limitations. That's fine, since there are ways to modify the kata to make it possible for them to learn, practice, and perform it, and as a result, they still gain valuable experience.

For example, if there's a student who doesn't have much flexibility in the legs, and has a hard time jumping, that student will still learn Kanku Sho. They'll spin on their plant foot and perform two kicks, instead of making the 360 degree jump + double kick. There's nothing wrong with performing it this way, since they still learned the important lessons of what Kanku Sho can teach. They won't, however, be using it for competition, instead, relying on the more power-based kata.



For competitors:

If someone wants to compete in the regular divisions (not elite), then I'll have them specialize in two kata. One to get him to the medal round, and one to do during the medal round. I usually prefer that they pick one based on power, and one based on speed. For example, something like Jion and Enpi for shodan level performers, or maybe Gankaku and Bassai Dai. I personally use Unsu and Sochin.

If someone wants to compete in the elite division, then he's going to need a total of 7 black belt level kata, since you have to change kata every round. Most likely, he won't need more than 5, but you never know, since sometimes the elite divisions can be quite crowded full of highly talented folks itching to get a spot on the national team.
 

Gentle Fist

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I had close to 30 when I was involved in Kenpo, now I only have 2 so far in Judo :) (Kata are not taught until BB in Judo)
 

Flying Crane

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In the traditional kung fu that I train, kata is a tool to help you understand what you can do with the basics. The basics are everything. If you fight, you use the basics. If your basics are strong, your fighting/self defense will be good. What the student needs is a tool to help him understand what is possible with the basics. A student lacks the vision to see what is possible, and the forms help him develop this vision. Most of what is in the forms is not new. It's just the same basics put together in different ways. That simply shows variety, show's what's possible. There are no secrets or secret techniques that are contained in the more advanced forms. THere is just more examples of what is possible, with what you already know in the basics.

Once you have a strong vision of what is possible with the basics, you don't need forms anymore, and you certainly don't need to learn more forms. It is possible to develop a good vision of what's possible without forms at all, but most of us cannot do so. A gifted student might develop that vision after having learned just one or two forms. Another student might need 5 or 7 before he begins to develop that vision. I would argue that at some point, there are diminishing returns. If you've developed that vision after 2-4 forms, then you don't really need more forms. But if you haven't yet been able to develop that vision after learning 5-7 forms, then I doubt learning more will be of much help to you. It might be that you simply don't have much aptitude for what you are doing, or it might be that the instruction you are receiving is not adequate to help you understand the purpose and roll that the forms play in the context of learning. I say this all with the assumptions that the forms are well designed, and they are being properly taught and are properly understood in the context of training.

It's important to remember that the forms themselves are not magic choreography. Simply practicing the choreography and waving your arms about does not develop any skill. The forms are a tool used to develop a skill, and that only happens when you make sure every technique within the form is done correctly, not that you perform the choreography. As my sifu says, the form itself, the choreography, isn't important. What is important is every movement within the form. If you are thinking about "getting thru" the form, then you are just thinking about the end and none of the techniques are complete or done well. Instead, you need to focus on every technique, one at a time, to do it correctly and completely. That is when forms practice is valuable.

If you are practicing your forms correctly and getting value out of them, then you really do not need many of them. That doesn't mean you cannot benefit from having some more. But there is a point of diminishing returns, having more simply for the sake of having more and I see no value in that. Over the years I've probably learned some 70-100 forms from several different systems. In the past I tried to keep up with many of those, but it's impossible, there simply isn't enough time in the day and week and month to give it all the time and energy that they deserve. In addition to that, different forms from different systems often are built upon different foundations and approach the principles in different ways. This means that some of them might actually be in conflict with each other, in how they approach training. It's important to pursue a training method that is consistent in how things are done. Otherwise you train conflict into your very methods and you cannot reach a very high potential that way.

Now, I only practice the forms from one system and I've dropped all the others.

People often fail to ask themselves, is there a reason that maybe THAT form is not good for me? Does it conflict with what I am training? Instead, people assume that more is better, and they never consider that they are actually better of without some things.
 

jks9199

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We have 5 to 7 core empty hand forms. The forms contain and demonstrate important principles. These are separate from drills or standard practice sequences and routines. They're also separate from different exercises. So... the Punching Routine or Drill contains 9 punches. These can be practiced in a number of ways or different exercises. The first form, the Point Form, uses only two of the 9 punches. We have a number of weapon forms that teach particular ways to use specific weapons. Then there are the Animal System, whose forms encapsulate the System and it's weapons and strategies. By no means is the Animal Form the complete Animal System, however.

But you can (and they did) teach the entire fighting system through the drills and exercises, never learning a form. My instructor only learned forms after training for several years... Until then -- they learned simply to fight.
 

punisher73

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If you look at a style like Wado-Ryu it has 50 kata. I have read that part of that was to preserve those katas present in okinawan karate. If you are trying to preserve something historically like that, then I think that's great.

Kanryo Higaonna taught 4 kata in his system originally and Kanbun Uechi taught 3 kata in his system originally. It has been argued by many people that all the other katas in Goju-Ryu and Uechi-Ryu are bridging katas that expound on a principle or idea found in one of the main katas and that there isn't really "new" stuff found in them.

So, you have two ways to look at it.

1) You only need a very few amount of kata that you have truly mastered and know inside and out and understand ALL of the principles it contains

or

2) You need more kata because not every student is going to be able to find the "hidden" concepts and applications on their own so they need to see examples of it in other kata so that they eventually can learn how to discover kata on their own.

In some styles they create "beginner" katas to help reinforce the basics. If you practice a style like Isshin-Ryu or Uechi-Ryu you have preset basics that are practiced routinely to reinforce your basics and don't have any beginner katas that can be replaced or forgotten later. If you look at the Pinan/Heian series, you could argue that you don't need them because they are parts of the other existing kata in the syllabus, OR you could say that the Pinan/Heian series is a distillation of the rest of the katas and that they are ALL you need if you truly understand them.

So, I think it is ultimately up to the instructor to be able to teach his/her students what they need and to give them the tools to help them on their own journey. I don't think that there is a preset amount of kata that can do that (large or small).
 

dancingalone

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If you look at a style like Wado-Ryu it has 50 kata. I have read that part of that was to preserve those katas present in okinawan karate. If you are trying to preserve something historically like that, then I think that's great.

Do you mean Shito-ryu? Wado has some roughly 15 by my count if you don't count their paired exercises: Kihon kata, Pinan 1-5, Naihanchi (only 1?), Jitte, Jion, Kusanku, Seisan, Chinto, Wansu, Rohai, Niseishi.
 

Manny

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Right now at second dan black belt I know on basic form (kicho 1) and 8 taeguks plus koryo and kungam thats 11 forms or katas and need to learn (I am into this) taebek.

My personal point of view is you don't need many katas/poomsae/huyngs, I feel more confortable in learning and PERFORMING as it should maybe 4 or 5 katas, why so much katas?

I am not aerial or a great kicker so for example I like the taeguk 4 and 5 and 7 and 8 and like a lot Kungam, maybe if I focus on these ones I can performed very well instead of doing poorly 8 or 10 katas.

Manny
 

WC_lun

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Well I am a Wing CHun guy and we have 3 open hand forms. For us, form is used to train concepts into the body. Once those concepts are into the body, any extra forms would just be extranious and not useful.

Forms are a tool. I have seen students train systems with many,many, forms and never understand the base mechanics the very first form had to teach. I have seen other students understand basics very well before even learning the entirety of thier first form. So I think any number answer is completelt subjective.
 
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Victor Smith

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I've been at this 40 years and I hear too much short term thinking.

Aplication need power behind them to make them work. I some Shaolin systems, Unless you are an instructor, your study moves from one form to the next and each builds on earlier skills. And they may have hundreds of foms, but you can't move forward unless toe earler ones are correct. So the corrrect Shoalin answer is one form, the one yhoou are on. It depends on the system of study.

There is no limit to potential.

One movement may have hundreds of uses. Again expose newer students to application potential but do not rob them of the time required for power development. I've simplified this but this is the essence of training.


For Isshinryu's kata I have over a thousand uses but no shortcuts.
 

dancingalone

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I've been at this 40 years and I hear too much short term thinking.

Lots of us have been at this for decades though we may not necessarily agree that one should wait until BB to start thinking about and working form applications. This is respectfully said.

Aplication need power behind them to make them work.
....
One movement may have hundreds of uses. Again expose newer students to application potential but do not rob them of the time required for power development. I've simplified this but this is the essence of training.

No disagreement here. Physical and technical development are key components of making this all work. Hojo undo, makiwara, kotikitae, sanchin, heavy bags, etc. are all integral tools for karate-ka at all levels.

For Isshinryu's kata I have over a thousand uses but no shortcuts.


I daresay we all think the same about our training methods. I don't think it is a shortcut to give students a glimpse into what the expression of their kata can be. They might not be anywhere near actualizing what was shown, but the viewing can still be very instructional regardless. And surely we can agree that there are levels and levels of application, some requiring less power and skill?
 

chinto

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the kata in most systems are there building on the ones before. I have trained in 2 karate systems. both okinawan and I can tell you that Kata is where you learn karate, but only with the bunkai present. you must learn the applications from the kihon up.
 

FullPotentialMA

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Is more kata good or bad?
In Shito-Ryu, there is a very large number of kata. This is good if a student really internalizes what each kata is trying to teach. More kata allows for a wider breadth of material. This could be good, but also can be bad. If the students are overwhelmed by just the task of remembering all the kata this is bad. Also, if all katas are performed in the same fashion, then much is lost. This is especially true for kata that came from different origins (e.g., Chinese root vs. Okinawan roots, Shuri vs. Naha, etc.).
Sometimes less is more. At other times, more is more.
 
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