Kata - final version of a reference book, or evolving tool?

Matt Stone

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There has been a lot of discussion regarding kata lately, and how the practice of kata relates to martial arts practice. Due to this discussion, there have been a lot of conflicting comments, however most of them have been pretty constructive.

Since I (for one) come here to contribute and make the martial arts community less defensive and more beneficial for all, perhaps we could/should discuss the issue of changing kata movements (whatever the reason may be).

I (for one) do not believe that forms should be tampered with. I say this not beause I have a religious attitude toward them and feel they are sacred, but because they were designed to be a certain way for a certain reason. Whether the form is ancient or modern, the creator of the form had a reason behind making movements just so. If he/she didn't, then there would be plenty of play in how you could perform the movements (and would then be pretty much open to do whatever you wanted). There are techniques in the shadow-boxing movements of kata that are able to be applied because of this requirement for the body to be positioned "just so." Changing those positions changes the application(s) present, and in many cases causes the original combative utility of the movement to be nullified entirely. I have recently been shown a set of movements from an Isshin-ryu kata that performed one way result in a devastating set of strikes against an overhead attack, and performed in a modified way (as is done in another Isshin-ryu school) they result in the defender getting popped in the melon...

So what are your thoughts? While some kata are well known and practiced by many, what do you think about the how and why regarding the variations in their practice? Did the instructor learn the form improperly or incompletely, or did he have an epiphany and change it because of having achieved a higher level of skill and understanding?

And remember, play nice...

Gambarimasu.

:asian:
 
In Yiliquan, we have eight forms that are the foundation of our strategic implementation of technique. We call them the Eight Shapes (Earth, Heaven, Water, Wood, Metal, Still/Mountain, Fire, Wind), and each has a different set of footwork and techniques that are most representative of each shape. The purpose/goal of training the Eight Shapes is to achieve the "Ninth Shape," where the methods, footwork and variations of technique blend and are no longer simply Earth or Heaven shape, but have become something seamless and blended...

Anyway.

In each form, there is a certain way in which a technique is performed. For example, in Heaven Shape, the first technique is a simultaneous Palm Sweep Block and a Reverse Punch. The punch can be changed into a number of techniques easily (e.g. palm heel strikes, other open palm thrusting type strikes, etc.), and the form is intended to accomodate such variation. However, the method of stepping in Heaven Shape is always forward. So in this form, it is intended for the individual student to occassionally change the strike in order to create new combinations and applications, but the footwork remains as it is.

So when I teach Heaven Shape, it should always be taught with the Reverse Punch as the main strike. Because I prefer a spearhand or digital strike instead means nothing. It remains a punch because the "reference book" is simply providing an example of a thrusting technique. Variations can be applied later.

Gambarimasu.

This is an example of when to change and when not to.
 
Originally posted by Yiliquan1




I (for one) do not believe that forms should be tampered with. I say this not beause I have a religious attitude toward them and feel they are sacred, but because they were designed to be a certain way for a certain reason. Whether the form is ancient or modern, the creator of the form had a reason behind making movements just so. If he/she didn't, then there would be plenty of play in how you could perform the movements (and would then be pretty much open to do whatever you wanted). There are techniques in the shadow-boxing movements of kata that are able to be applied because of this requirement for the body to be positioned "just so." Changing those positions changes the application(s) present, and in many cases causes the original combative utility of the movement to be nullified entirely. I have recently been shown a set of movements from an Isshin-ryu kata that performed one way result in a devastating set of strikes against an overhead attack, and performed in a modified way (as is done in another Isshin-ryu school) they result in the defender getting popped in the melon...

So what are your thoughts? While some kata are well known and practiced by many, what do you think about the how and why regarding the variations in their practice? Did the instructor learn the form improperly or incompletely, or did he have an epiphany and change it because of having achieved a higher level of skill and understanding?



Good thoughts on kata.
Why are some different than others?

some of it has to do with the people that were being taught.

Funakoshi states in one of his books that one time when he was learning a kata his teacher (forgot the name) said to him that he didn't teach that kata to many people and he even taught it the wrong way to one person he didn't really care for.

What a drag for the guy that got the "wrong" version.

Changing the kata is not good. Why fix it unless it is broken.....right?

Changing the way you think about the application of particular piece of the kata is OK.........in fact I sometimes encourage it.

There is more than one way to do an application from any one move in the kata. That does not mean that any old thing you can pull out of your hat is correct.
It must comply with certain criteria to be a valid technique.

1) Does it work on anyone regardless of size. If a person has to be of a certain build to make it work then it is not a valid technique.

2) Is it practical............meaning do I have to do a lot of jumping and hoping around to get it to stick.

3) What is the foot work that goes with it. As we have seen on certain mpegs in the past many folks forget their feet are just, if not more, important than their hands.
 
My perception of kata is as follows:

Different styles have different perceptions of kata. Traditional Okinawan Kempo forms are a reference tool. As was stated previously, the creator of the kata made them a certain way for a reason. They exist to hit certain pressure points and the like in a certain sequence (judging from what I've read, these interpretations can differ dependent on time of day, stature of opponent, etc.) using the same sequence. So these kata are crystallizations and should not be tampered with.

Other styles kata may only have one interpretation. Thusly, certain techniques within won't work depending on situational modifiers....so adapt, dagnabbit! Maybe these kata shouldn't be modified at their root, but we can talk about modifying the movements within to suit our purposes dependent on situation.
 
Nevermind,

I realize that the thread I was looking for is under Chines Martial Arts-General Topics...I got confused when I accessed it here...

:idea:
chufeng
 
I guess to answer your question if it is a reference book, or evolving tool...............I would say both.

Most definitely a reference book as we have seen in this is thread and a few others.

It's also an evolving tool since no attack is done the same way you can't have a "canned" technique and therefore it must evolve as the attack evolves.
Let's take a very basic example:
If I say this technique is for a right punch and you should strike this place on the arm, ...... it kind of limits my options doesn't it..........because what if he doesn't punch you that way........what if he does a left punch?
You have to adjust the technique for that variable. ......I don't mean a mirror image of the other technique for the right punch.
 
When I was younger I thought the kata should be cast in bronze and never touched or tampered with. But then I was only looking at the surface form, the physical movements and what I thought I was doing when I did them.
Now I understand that the kata have been left to us so that we may come to understand (through constent practise) the same things our fore fathers understood. Things about balance, timing, breathing, moving, entering etc, etc. So I would say that change in kata is okay, but let me first explain what I mean by change.
My kata have changed over the past three decades because my body has changed and my understanding of karatedo has changed also. My experience is now far greater than the early 1970's and so of course I see the same things I was looking at then, with new eyes. New light through old windows as one of my favorite singers says.
This kind of change is okay in my book, In fact it's necessary if I ever want to understand the deeper meaning encoded within the form.
However, I don't believe it's okay to change the form just because I'm haveing a problem with it, or I like high kicks and can do them well. This is not right as far as I'm concerned.
As with the rest of my training, I'm trying to capture a 'feeling' not just remember a move. So for me the kata I teach will always remain the same as the kata I was taught, however the kata I train in for my self (the same kata by the way) will ,I hope, allways be in a state of progressive change.

Mike Clarke.
 
Mike,

Good to see you here! Look forward to seeing more of your posts.

Your right kata does change.....it SHOULD change the more you do it.............it should get better!;)


I know when I was first learning the kata I know now I was just copying my teacher, I was not "feeling" the kata. I know it sounds kind of "arty-farty" but the more I do a kata the more I become "one" with it. It's one of those you can't explain to anyone else they just have to go experience it themselves.
 
Thats the trouble with the deeper meanings found in the martial arts, they all seem a bit "Arty-Farty".

I hope, as I get older I get more arty than farty though:p

Thanks for the welcome.

Mike Clarke.
 
Originally posted by Mike Clarke

Thats the trouble with the deeper meanings found in the martial arts, they all seem a bit "Arty-Farty".



Another problem I notice is the difficulty in explaining certain concepts and "events" that happen the deeper I go into training..........some things just have to be felt........
 
Putting my sense of humour (that's what I call it anyway) to one side for a moment. The deeper feelings and experiences that are there to be discovered in the martial arts are indeed very hard to explain.
Experience is (I believe) the only way to gain an understanding of something as appossed the knowing about it. The two are not the same thing at all. This is why we have michi on the end of the training we do, asit implies a life long search for some undersatnding. Though I notice that it is never used as much when refering to karatedo, as it is with judo, aikido, kendo etc, and perhaps this says something about the kind of people you find involved in the various arts?
But I agree, the finding of these 'feelings' are hard enough, but the verbal explinations are just about impossible.

Mike Clarke.
 
Originally posted by Mike Clarke

Putting my sense of humour (that's what I call it anyway) to one side for a moment. The deeper feelings and experiences that are there to be discovered in the martial arts are indeed very hard to explain.
Experience is (I believe) the only way to gain an understanding of something as appossed the knowing about it. The two are not the same thing at all.

I agree.
I played sort of a mean trick on my student once by asking him a trick question, it was actually the same question my teacher asked me once so I didn't feel too bad. He was asking me to teach him another kata and I can understand why. This guy could learn most kata in a day or two. I asked him which kata he knew. He listed off about 5 or 6. I said "OK, show me this kata", he did it. Then I said "OK, show me the meaning of this part of the kata" he did it. Then I said "I am going to attack you, defend yourself" .......he didn't defend himself even though I attacked in the exact same way as his bunkai demonstration called for. I said to him "I thought you said you know that kata......."
The point I was making was you are never done learning, even when you think you "know" something there is always more to learn and "understand".
To be honest I "understand" very few techniques as well as I would like........I "know" where many are in the kata but I only teach the ones I feel I "understand" and can actually do.
 
Your right about never being done learning.
Over the tokunoma in my dojo I have the two pieces of advice carved into wood.

One says 'Kyu do mu gen', researching the way is endless.

The other says 'Tsu shin gen' The piercing eye of insight.

They are there to remind me, and my students of the scale of this tradition we are involved in, and also the kind of tools we need in order to make progress.

Mike.
 
Originally posted by RyuShiKan



3) What is the foot work that goes with it. As we have seen on certain mpegs in the past many folks forget their feet are just, if not more, important than their hands.

Is the footwork really that important?

Now before you jump on me for asking such a silly question, I was looking at an Isshin Ryu website the other day, and it has some mpegs of the kata Seiuchin, as well as mpegs of applications.

I don't recall the gentlemans name but when he showed the application, which I must say seemed to work really well, he changed the footwork. That is to say, the start of the kata where you turn to your left and bring your hands up then down, when he showed the application for that part he did it against a double wrist grab, and kept facing his opponent.

I tried it with the turn, but got smacked upside the head for my troubles. I found that I had to change the technique to fit the footwork.

--Dave

:asian:
 
Originally posted by D.Cobb

Is the footwork really that important?

Now before you jump on me for asking such a silly question, I was looking at an Isshin Ryu website the other day, and it has some mpegs of the kata Seiuchin, as well as mpegs of applications.


Dave,

Not a silly question at all. In fact a very good one and I hope I can relay my understanding of footwork in a way that makes sense.
Many people neglect proper footwork in application, I am guilty of it as well. What can I say.......I'm lazy.
When looking at hand technique from kata much of the effectiveness or lack of can be attributed to body positioning.........and we get in proper position by our feet. There are some techniques that use a twist like motion. If only your upper body twists you will lack proper balance for executing the technique and won't get the desired "crank" on whatever it is you are manipulating.
If I am training and having trouble executing a tuite or a strike technique the first thing I look at is where I am in relation to my partners body. I may have him "freeze" for a second while I try and figure out what the heck is going on. Needless to say we can't do this in real life so it is better to get the bugs out before hand. If your out of position it is difficult to execute certain techniques properly, which was my biggest gripe about some of the "neck whacking" mpegs I have seen, and why Dillman & Co. quite often can't get the desired effect........ but "Georgie" thought he knew everything after a couple of lessons...........guess he should have stayed around a bit longer.


Originally posted by D.Cobb

I don't recall the gentlemans name but when he showed the application, which I must say seemed to work really well, he changed the footwork. That is to say, the start of the kata where you turn to your left and bring your hands up then down, when he showed the application for that part he did it against a double wrist grab, and kept facing his opponent.
I tried it with the turn, but got smacked upside the head for my troubles. I found that I had to change the technique to fit the footwork.

Footwork as done in kata is more often than not transitional footwork. I would never fight from Zenkutsu, Kibadachi (Naihanchi dachi) neko ashidachi. All those stances are just a "snapshot" of the footwork that is done during the execution of the technique.
 
RyuShinKan,

I've come to understand that the kata are there not only to teach us particular methods of attacking and defending etc. But open the mind to possibilities that come from moving in certain ways and at certain times, and to certain places in relation to the attack coming at you.
This being so, should any time be spent trying to make the bunkai 'fit' the move in the kata?
Also, I've come to understand that the better I can blend with the attacker the better I can control them and manipualte the outcome. I've come to beleive that this is what Miyagi sensei was talking about when he used the term Ju. As the effect on the attacker is still powerful, I think I still have Go in my karate too.
Like a bit of ying being in yang and a bit of yang being in yin.
For me the challenge is to find that balance, not to make the move in tha kata fit.

What do you think?

Mike.
 
And an extra 'G' in Yin too by the looks of it.

What is it sensei Homer says?
Oh ya......"Dhhhooooooooooo"

Mike
 
Originally posted by Mike Clarke

I've come to understand that the kata are there not only to teach us particular methods of attacking and defending etc. But open the mind to possibilities that come from moving in certain ways and at certain times, and to certain places in relation to the attack coming at you.

Kata not only teaches you bunkai but it also teaches the correct body position and posture to apply the bunkai.
For example I have noticed that when applying certain tuite techniques my students tend to bend over while applying them. However when they do this it not only decreases the effectivness of the technique but makes them more vurnerable to a counter attack.
So I ask them if they bend over while doing that move in the kata......which, if done correctly, they don't by the way.
Another thing that Kata teaches is proper body mechanics and movement. This is really hard to explain even when the person is standing in front of you and that much harder over the Internet, but suffice it to say I am in 100% agreement with your above statement.


Originally posted by Mike Clarke

This being so, should any time be spent trying to make the bunkai 'fit' the move in the kata?

I am not sure.
My teacher has always told us if you do the kata correctly and think correctly while doing the kata the kata will speak to you. (I don't think he means you will hear an actual voice though)
Some people that read this might think it sounds kind of "spiritual artsie fartsie" but I have had it happen to me many times. Some people on hear know me and can testify I am NOT a "spiritual artsie fartsie" kind of guy.
I will be working on a kata for months and trying to "force" the answer from the kata but never get any good results. When I "leave it alone" and just practice some of the answers come out at me like BAM! and then I think "oh of course! It was right in front of my eyes!". After which I will ask my teacher about any discovery and he usually "tweaks" it a bit to make it more effective.
I don't think kata discoveries can be "forced out", I think they have to be nurtured out and then cultivated into reliable techniques.
Kind of like art. You can't sit down and say "Today I am going to make a masterpiece". Great works of art come out of natural expression and can't be forced, so too are martial arts.



Originally posted by Mike Clarke

Also, I've come to understand that the better I can blend with the attacker the better I can control them and manipualte the outcome. I've come to beleive that this is what Miyagi sensei was talking about when he used the term Ju. As the effect on the attacker is still powerful, I think I still have Go in my karate too.
Like a bit of ying being in yang and a bit of yang being in yin.
For me the challenge is to find that balance, not to make the move in tha kata fit.

What do you think?


I think your right.
Bigger stronger people attack smaller or weaker people, weak people don't attack strong people. Using this as a basis for technique your technique should always be to use the attackers strength against them since you won't be able to over power them from head on.
 

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