Guest Columnists - Thoughts on Kata
Kata as performed by so many, is practised for self satisfaction, with only a vague identity in reality of their intended movements.
The dance like routines have over the years become like masturbation, the intention is there but the end result has become fake. Some Judges, Referees, practitioners and audiences are expected to understand, by appearance only the value of each applicable sequence that makes up the, definable by name only, Kata. Marks and scores are given by those who are often unaware of the purpose of the movements they judge, and who's own ability may well fall short of the mental criteria and physical principles required to fully understand the Kata's purpose.
Kata as I see them are training drills, perceptions of a theme, the theme is self preservation, which is a type of combat. Combat has infinitely diverse ideals, judged by who? those who agree or those who don't? Kata application (Bunkai in Japanese) has by definition become a complex and diverse field of understanding. A perception of a movement is knowledge to the beholder, perceptions are infinite and therefore no limit to knowledge. The ultimate purpose of a Kata may have an ulterior motive hidden, waiting to be found.
Understanding what Bunkai is, followed by understanding how to do it and how to teach it is I think is an essential part of Kata the prescribe form. I will use 2 quotes in relation to "prescribed form", (Kata) to illustrate my point.
"Trial and error produce a more effective result than rigidly adhering to a proscribed form. Form is the consequence of a needed response not the derivative of it." (Steve Morris). "Circumstances always dictate the means, but circumstances are likely to vary, hence, variations must ultimately become a means." (Patrick McCarthy).
If you understand the implications of those statements in relation to a prescribed Kata performance and: One could assume it also applied to Karate in general. Then Kata in training becomes almost un prescribed. However Kata is prescribed by virtue of a retained form, Karate cannot be. Once you start to implement a revival of training methods to incorporate this approach things change dramatically at a fundamental level. No more controlled contact on partners, blocks or strikes and hypothetical possibilities. You have got to get the bag out and hit it, the pads and the Makawara, hit them. You can now get speed and insight from a partner "affect", more partners more affects. You can get more "effects" from the equipment, respect you have to give to both. The concept of effective sequential movement changes and the Kata becomes real in relation to probability.
I see Kata as a valuable training aid, in some cases it is the essence of and dictates to most styles. When danced as a display, what purpose could it have other than that of a demonstration of affect or style. Kata effectiveness is the part that can't be demonstrated rigidly adhering to a prescribed form (as insisted upon by some organisational styles). As a performance how can Kata be judged complete without a criteria for actual "effectiveness", with one of the essential attributes of Kata missing. Where the visual aspects dominates to the detriment of the more important issues. An interpretation of how effective the performer could be is just speculation on the observers level and not fact.
Technique, strength and attitude are attributes vital in Kata. Basics, Kata and kumite are attributes required in Karate, but if these 3 don't include the first 3 in all circumstances, then something has gone drastically wrong with the teaching of the fundamental principles of Karate. Myagi Sensei said "without strength and stamina Karate is just a dance", stronger words than mine. In some organisations and clubs, Kata, Kumite and Kihon (form, free spar and basic ) are taught and valued separately. Some people are good at a one only, a combination of two or all three. I believe Kata should be taught as all three, because Kata has all three elements to be considered within itself. This I think elevates Kata above an individuals performance and opinions of it given by others.
Many Kata are based on observed movements and are only interpretations in some cases of the actual movement, movements which have been lost, misinterpreted or diluted for whatever reason, incomplete and flawed after a process of translation, misunderstood. I would say that teaching Kata has to take a drastic step forward (or back, depends on your perspective ). It should be taught as Karate's back bone, with a partner. The positive and negative, the attack and the defence. I wont use that word again but Kata is for two or more. Not for the satisfaction of one or the enjoyment of a crowd.
Alan Platt, 6th Dan.