Guest Columnists - Why is Kata Important?

Kata must be the foundation of Karate training. It allows one to share a pool of knowledge which the greatest Karate-ka of the past, and present, have used to study the Way.

The Kanji (Chinese character) for Kata can be interpreted as a pictograph representing a bamboo lattice window. Sunlight can shine through such a window leaving a pattern which is defined by not only light but also the presence of shade.

This Yin-Yang essence in Kata is noted in such opposites as fast/slow, hard/soft & still/movement. For example, at the end of given combination in Kata one should pause before moving to the next direction to create Zanshin and a Yin/Yang event (i.e. often Kata are rushed, and practitioners do not pause long enough before changing directions, the pause creates the moment and contrast to movement and speed).

In my time in Japan a number of older masters (including master Sotokawa 8th Dan Shito- ryu, Master Uetake 7th Dan Shito-ryu, Matser Iba, 8th Dan Shito-ryu) would emphasise a slow count of 1-2-3 before changing to the next direction, or set of moves.

Each Kata represents an archived library of self defence techniques. Often the application of each motion within Kata is not well understood within many Japanese Karate Dojos unless the effort has been made to dive into the Okinawan and Chinese roots.

One should aim to understand and practice at least one Bunkai motion for each action in a Kata (probably no one can know all and be proficient in all Bunkai variants). Most of the original applications do not involve the basic kicks and punches which are often given as an interpretation, but rather grabs, breaks, pressure points and close in fighting.

The elaborate nature of these actions (symbolised by individual Kata motions) are challenging even for Dan ranks to know, practice and execute proficiently. Once a Bunkai is understood it should be drilled with partners (like we often drill Kumite combinations) at high speed, and in repetition.

Kata demands techniques executed with precision and power. It trains the body to strike from different stances and different orientations, as is always the case in Kumite. Kata trains one to move quickly, to use precise and stable stances for the execution of solid techniques. Without this ability one will be unable to control an opponent during battle. Furthermore, if one cannot execute precise and powerful technique in Kata, it will definitely not happen in the heat and chaos of Kumite.

Visualisation of the opponent for each move is one method of Kata development that can be done as a drill. It helps bring a Kata to life accentuating "Kime", "penetration" and "Zanshin". This is one of many training approaches to develop Kata, however one must always remember that when Kata is performed in a non-training sense (i.e. its final form) it should embrace Mushin. Mushin, a high goal of all martial artists, allows the mind to be open to all possibilities in the fighting engagement with no hesitation, or change of thought pattern prior to execution.

As one approaches black belt, Kata must begin to feel like it is a true expression of oneself, presenting all inner and outer attributes. Therefore, when Kata is performed, the presence of Ki and spirit can be felt which demands the attention of onlookers.

As Kata is practiced year after year, some of the more difficult techniques and subtleties begin to emerge in one's fighting. This acts as a source of continual growth for advanced Karate-ka. The integration of techniques acquired from Kata into one's fighting provides a challenge that will easily fill a lifetime (for example the aAshi Barai take downs in such Kata as Seipai or Tekki Shodan are directly applicable to modern sports Karate and street fighting). It requires both a combination of physical mastery and the possession of a calm mind amidst the storm of battle.

In seminars we often deliberately make a point that Kata has direct translations to "sports Karate" and using examples of strategy, and sometimes technique variants, aids students in understanding this relationship. Of course, not all Kata Bunkai can be transferred to sports Karate, just selected parts or variants. However, taking students down this path often helps them understand the need to think about Kata for their longer term Karate and fighting growth.

by: Jason Armstrong, PhD.
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