Validity of Kata/Forms?

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Battousai

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This topic came up on another post. So I thought I'd just make up a new thread for it.

To me, from personal experience, katas are the most important and fundamental part of any martial art. (Those without katas altogether seem dull and shallow to me.) About 80% of the meaning of the term art comes from the art of the kata.
I have trained in a school that only used kata for exercise and basic practice of simple obvious things. Such schools shoud not use kata at all. I have had the experience of forms being useless, stupid formality. That was all the past, before I was trained in a real martial art. Having said this I admit that I don't have any experience with arts that do not have kata, have never had kata, in their curiculum.

What does everybody think about the practice of kata? The point of it?
Below this I will post my reasoning behind my opinion, directly copied from where I originally posted it on Budoseek.
 
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Battousai

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My opinion about the genesis, practice and theory of Kata.

Kata: form, collection of motion.
Bunkai: self defense techniques within the kata.

If a school teaches Kata,
Yet does not teach Bunkai,
They are:
A) Not wishing to teach their students the truth.
B) Having very very little knowledge of martial arts.
C) Fake.

If a school tells you that kata is for exercise and simple punch and block practice they are telling you the truth, but if thats all they say then they are keeping you from the most important element of the kata, in fact, the only element of kata that makes them important: bunkai.
If exercise and simple punch/blocking is all that katas are, then why do them? Just do Taebo or some sort of self defense oriented aerobics. Because: without bunkai, katas are just boring.

The truth to this matter is held within the key reasons that kata where ever created. Katas were created to contain self defense.
Early masters saw self defense in all types of motion, they combined these motions together to create katas. The reason behind this? To encode in a physical media as many self defense techniques as possible, to be taught and handed down through generations.
Its alittle difficult to write down techniques, but to enact them even without an opponent is much easier. The easiest way to practice techniques by yourself is to do katas.
If for instance the samurai practiced their techniques without control on each other: they would be killed. But if they practiced them without the full range of motion on each other (stopping when something was about to break) and then enacted the true range of motion in the kata, they would be practiceing the real technique without hurting anyone and practiceing it to the extent necessary to gain the skill required of the technique.


Katas are a physical reality, fighting invisible enemies within your mind. Bunkai is what happens to these enemies as you do the kata. What techniques pop out.

How do you see bunkai?
Take for instance the first count/move of Taikyokyu 1 or any kata. Imagine being attacked in these ways:
From the front: Punch to the face, punch to the stomach, overarm bearhug, underarm bearhug, choke, collar grab, shoulder grab, wrist grab, hair grab, etc, etc...
Now imagine these attacts coming from all 8 directions:
Front, back, right side, left side, back 45 degree right, back 45 degree left, front 45 degree right, front 45 degree left.
Absolutely, the only motion that you can do to defend yourself is the first count of Taikyokyu. Does the motion have to be exactly like that of the kata? Meaning: gedan barai (lower block) off to the left hand side in a Zenkutsu dachi (leaning forward stance)?
Yes, but how you get to this position is flexable, depending on the attact.
The challenge is finding out how this simple first move of Taikyokyu defends against all these attacks.
The kata itself is set in stone, but the bunkai of the kata is like a rubber band: it stretchs to allow defense, but if stretched too the breaking point the bunkai will no longer reflect the kata and will no longer be bunkai of that kata at all.

That description above is a basic introduction to the bunkai of Taikyokyu 1, only having 1 or 2 different attacts and seeing how the bunkai of the kata is real life self defense. It gets cooler and harder if you add in other aggressors.
With this in mind its easy to see the exponential growth of techniques found within Taikyokyu 1 (my school teaches that there are 900 techniques contained within Taikyokyu 1, this can be imagined by estimating every different type of attact coming from every angle coming from 8 different attackers attacking singlely and in groups).

Bunkai is about seeing in your mind's eye how the motions of a kata can defend/destroy. The test to your imagination is trying it out in class with others.

Bunkai is simply the encoding of secrets, the encoding of Himitsu.
In a complete system, bunkai is all the self defense ever taught in that system. If its taught in the class as self defense, it is encoded in a kata.

Self sufficiency is only found through an indepth understanding of bunkai. With this understanding a student can learn from the kata itself, ineffect teaching yourself. Katas are just that: teachers. Everytime you do a kata, you can learn from it by seeing how random attacts are defended and how the opponent is eliminated.


Now a step further:
Every weaponless kata is a weapon kata. Just add a weapon and attemp to do exactly what that kata does. In Taikyokyu, with a sword, do a low block with the sword (back of the blade preferred) and the step forward and do A) a punch if the sword is held in the left hand, B) a stab, C) a cut approximating the seiken tsuki uchi (punch).
Key factor: when adding a weapon or weapons to a weaponless kata variation abounds. Meaning that since it is a weaponless kata there is no definitive way to do a gedan barai with a sword, you could do it holding the sword in the left hand, holding it in the right hand and doing a normal gedan barai with the left hand, you could hold the sword in both hands and enact a gedan barai with the sword, you could hold the sword reversed... etc, etc.
Any weaponless kata can be do with any weapon, you can do Bassai with car keys. The important factor is the basic fundamental knowledge of that weapon or weapons that enable you to correctly enact the techniques of the kata with that weapon. (If you don't know that blocking with the edge of your blade can hurt your cutting edge to the point of hindering your ability to cut someone in two, then you will have trouble doing a low block with a sword correctly, (that is IF your doing a low block rather then transforming it into a cut.).)
Furthermore the inverse is true: any weaponed kata can be done weaponless and even with any other weapon.
For instance I think that doing a sai kata with a bo can be cooler then doing the kata regularly with the bo.


To me, bunkai is the coolest thing about martial arts.
With bunkai, and a will to train and learn, stagnation is impossible. To be ever learning, this is the only way for student's to be continually challenged.
I know what its like to feel like there is nothing left to learn, and to be bored with the art (it happened before I found my current school). When katas and bunkai are throughly taught within the school a near infinity of possibility is opened up to the student. Without this near limitless potential for growth boredom is inevitable. I cannot conceive of training in martial arts for a lifetime without katas and bunkai.

Final truth: all motion can be used for self defense. The trick is training and being taught enough to see it, a lifetimes work.

If what I've written seems confusing, feel free to email me.
 

kenpo_cory

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OK, so what if someone takes the self-defense techniques out of the katas, makes that the curriculum for the self-defense instruction and tells the students to create their own katas out of the self-defense techniques they have been taught? Do you think this defeats the purpose of the katas?
 
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Battousai

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Cool question. I've never thought of that.
My school is alot like that though, the teaching all self defense directly out of the katas part.
I would have to say that not only does it not defeat the purpose of the katas, but that such a system would be constantly re-enforcing the purpose of the katas.
Kind of like a recursive algorithm. The students would be taught techniques from katas A, B, and C (for example). Then they would all go and create 3 katas from these techniques. Each student would have created 3 distinct katas, so a total of 9 katas would be created, all unique. Yet these 9 katas would only really have the techniques from 3 katas within them, thus they could be simplified, if the 3 students were to get together and synthesize their katas down to only three. Then these three, (or the original nine) would be a blending of the original 3 katas that the students were never even taught. Like taking the original 3 and putting them into a blender, and then scooping out the mixture into 3 pieces.
But this is extremely over simplified. Its not just the motions of the katas that make the bunkai, but the ordering of those motions. So that by creating new katas this ordering would be lost, (like taking an integral and having to put a "+ C" at the end, never mind this messed up math stuff, it just helps me visialize sometimes :) )
Which means that something will be lost that will not be found within the new katas. Yet, just as energy is never created nor destroyed, there is a new sequence of motions that creates an entirely new set of bunkai techniques, that replaces the original set.

What does this mean? I dunno... I guess that all katas are unique, and that no kata created from another kata will contain all that that original kata contained. Nor will the original kata contain all that the new one contains.

Whenever bunkai is taught, and katas are used, or created, the purpose of the katas remains. That purpose being a means of recording a vast amount of bunkai (techniques) within a limited set of motions, so that the limited human mind is not overloaded.

Its like reading a set of files/songs from a CD, and then putting them online. Others go online and download the stuff from your CD. They then go and burn a new CD, comprised of the stuff from your CD. Yet they never had your CD, and you never will have theirs. Their songs are in different orders then yours, the file sizes are slightly different from some bit-shifting perhaps. If the CD is a constant stream, with tracks blended into each other (like Enigma did with their second CD), then the music sounds different with each and every CD, unique, yet comprised of the same basic elements, yet totally different at the same time. This is the situation you described. Pretty cool.

I don't think that I would recommend it as a teaching method though, it would be really confusing. Its best when everyone has the same pages to look at, the same framework to work within, the variation from identical katas analyzed by two different minds would be enough to confound Kray super computers! :D
 
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Battousai

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Somthing else that shouldn't be overlooked...
Traditional katas were (and maybe still are, if they havn't been changed too much) products of masters. Geniuses if you will.
A kata can be broken up, and reformed by a student, but that does not mean that the kata the student creates will be as good as the original. The amount of bunkai is the same, different, but the same. It is the quality, the expertise of that bunkai that will be totally inequal.
Meaning that such and such master created these motions in such a way as to record his genius, and the motions are sequenced just so that very advanced techniques and thought processes are developed with the practicing of that kata. Now mix up the sequence, and well, everything could fall apart. All the maginificent bunkai could be reduced to an endless string of low blocks and ogoshi throws. Bunkai content is equal yes, but bunkai depth and quality is not.
 

arnisador

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Patrick McCarthy discusses these very issues in the current "Martial Arts Presents...Masters of Karate" (May 2002). He discusses extracting techniques, practicing them as two man exercises, etc. Interesting reading.
 
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Chiduce

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I think you are right when saying the kata's are valid for interpreting motion. Yet, the ancient non-temple and temple masters used another means of combat in public. Kata/Forms, yes were great for competition, holiday gatherings, special martial arts presentations to government officials and visiting dignitaries. This suggests that another complete form of street combat or battlefield combat existed for the survival of the monks, disciples, and students. The temple exercises conditioned the body, mind and lifted the spirit! There were also prerequisite exercises/ forms/kata before the more challenging movements were taught. So, chi chung had to be absorbed and interpretated before iron body/fist/hand/shirt/golden bell etc, was introduced. Once the mind and body was solid, the aspect of prayer and meditation was introduced to control the master's ways! Therefore, this presents the understanding that when a practitioner was in transition or journeying from master to master, temple to temple, transferring to assigned temple, or exchange martial studies to different countries; were either shown by another teacher, desciple, or monk a system without form for actual combat outside of the dojo/temple. This formless chu'an/quan fa was practiced jiyu or freestyle. This freestyle could be improved upon and new motion could be combined with old motion and movement in the exectution of the practitioners defensive techniques. It is this system of fighting which the monks, disciples, and exchange students used to defend themselves in the streets. Thus, the zen/chan quanfa/chu'an fa existed as their personal protective combative defensive. Thus, this explains bunkai at its best. The analogy of self was experienced by the monk in an actual violent street confrontation. So, the fighting style of the practitioners in transition differed from that of the dojo/temple to evolve their respective interpretation of their own respective arts which they were studying within the confinds of a structured environment. Jiyu becomes the bunkai of the streets for matters of life and death. Thus, Kata/Form begets Bunkai begets Jiyu begets living to research and physically train another day! Sincerely, In Humility; Chiduce!
 
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Battousai

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Yea, my instructor has said (and I agree with him :D ) That in real life situations you're never going to just do a kata, thats not even possible for anyone other then a master playing with thugs. The katas are just guidelines for thoughts, records to be passed on to the next generation.
 

karatekid1975

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I was always taught when doing forms to ask questions. There is aways something behind or a reason for each move. Even if they "looked" stupid, there's a reason for that move. When I first learned Pyung ahn ee dan (Pinan Nidan), I thought the first move was stupid and it was "just there". But my master came up to me and he told me to attack him, I did, and I ended up on the floor (he did a throw). He said attack him again. I did, and he blocked and punched me (lightly that is) just to show me two ways to use that move. He said it can also be used as a double block.

Ever since then, I never said that a move was "stupid" again. I asked alot of "what's this move for?" after that. I learned my lesson hehehehe

Some people just "learn the motions" of a form. I think THAT is stupid. If you don't "dig" and ask questions, you're robbing yourself of the benifits the form as to offer.
 

Cthulhu

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Originally posted by karatekid1975


Some people just "learn the motions" of a form. I think THAT is stupid. If you don't "dig" and ask questions, you're robbing yourself of the benifits the form as to offer.

I don't know if TSD has something analogous, but Okinawan/Japanese karate has something called bunkai, which is basically finding applications for moves in a kata.

I really like bunkai. You can give two people the same set of motions from a kata, and they'll invariably come up with different applications. It's a fun way to learn the kata, and learning different applications may affect how you perform certain motions of the kata.

Cthulhu
 

karatekid1975

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Hiya Ct.

I'm not sure what bunkai is (I'm not familar with Japanese term), but I can guess by how you were explaining it. In TSD, we always tried each technique in a form with a partner. If we didn't know what it was for, we asked the instructor, and he would explain it or show you. I thought that was the coolest. I thought it was the neatest thing to learn about each technique in a form.
 

Cthulhu

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Originally posted by karatekid1975

Hiya Ct.

I'm not sure what bunkai is (I'm not familar with Japanese term), but I can guess by how you were explaining it. In TSD, we always tried each technique in a form with a partner. If we didn't know what it was for, we asked the instructor, and he would explain it or show you. I thought that was the coolest. I thought it was the neatest thing to learn about each technique in a form.

That's the cool thing about bunkai...you learn that the low downward block you did in your form is not just a low downward block, but could be a strike, throw, etc. depending on circumstances and how you look at the motion in general. Fun stuff.

Cthulhu
 
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islandtime

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Originally posted by Cthulhu



That's the cool thing about bunkai...you learn that the low downward block you did in your form is not just a low downward block, but could be a strike, throw, etc. depending on circumstances and how you look at the motion in general. Fun stuff.

Cthulhu

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Maybe we should also mention that bunkai is different for different ranks. The bunkai is different as you progress in rank..

As far as self defense moves go: Kuniba Soke invented GoShinDo kata (I think there are 5 of them) they are ONLY
self defense moves in kata form. This is the coolest way and the most informative way I have ever seen to teach techniques


Gene Gabel
 
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Ty K. Doe

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Kata does have many benefits. I strongly recomend reading the article that Arnisador refered to. It is a very informative article. I have also understood that kata was one way the art was passed down. They incorporate the styles particular techniques.

Wow, Battousai, do your fingers hurt? Wait, I get it, your typing replaces your makiwara training.:D
 
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tonbo

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I think kata have a very valuable place in training, as long as it is not the *only* form of training.

Katas are like a "book" of techniques in the form of kenpo that I study. The forms are generally made up from the various techniques, and are not exactly hundreds of years old, but are still based on the original moves of Mr. Parker. Doing the forms reinforces the techniques, and the techniques reinforce the forms.

I have learned a lot about the forms from doing the applications, and vice versa. One nice thing about the forms is seeing how you can move from one technique to another in various situations. Always helps to give a little "enlightenment"---I have *never* walked away from a discussion on forms without at least one "oooHHHHH!!!" revelation. Great fun, there.

Our school also challenges students to come up with their own techniques for the more advanced belts. In the brown ranges, to qualify for tests, you need to come up with your own techniques, appropriate to your level, to demonstrate your understanding of the material. For Black Belt, you need to create 10 techniques and put them together into a form; you will be questioned on the applications of the techniques as well as the form itself (i.e., you can't just make up a bunch of moves, they have to make sense). The form should include the techniques done on both sides (right and left handed).

Additionally, for my Black Belt test, I was asked to come up with a sword form, done "kenpo style" (applying kenpo principles). I *think* I did pretty well, but...;)

That's basically my long-winded way of saying that I *do* think that "modern masters" and even the common practitioner can come up with their own katas. However, I *don't* think that those katas should replace the "tried and true" katas of the original founders of the style. At least in the old combat arts, the katas and techniques were developed from situations that actually had been tested. I doubt that many today can claim as much.

In truth, I doubt that I will EVER be teaching ANYONE my Black Belt katas. They were for my learning and for my personal development. They will probably mean exactly squat to anyone else....:D

Okay....ramble mode off.....thanks for listening....

Peace--
 
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