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Old 08-28-2004, 02:05 PM   #16
Dojo: Messores Sensei (Largo, Fl.)
Location: Florida
Join Date: Mar 2001
Posts: 1,267
Re: The GREAT kata debate

Jorgen Matsi wrote:
(i) Do kata contain valuable information?

(ii) Does practicing kata directly improve your combative/self-defense skills?
If the answer is other than yes, I think we're straying into semantics.

In order to acquire a new repertoire of techniques, we have to move our bodies in the new ways. Isolating these skills is kata. You either do it somehow, or thrash.

Quote: practiced generally, the techniques in the kata have little combative value. Karate kata applications (bunkai/oyo) that I have seen taught by traditional karate masters have almost exclusively been counters to highly stylised karate-style attacks.
Sounds like your principle influence is Nakayama. His videos and books are particularly uninspiring. As you mention, others have rejected this and are busily creating their own BUNKAI; a lot of it seems to involve grappling interpretations rather than punches and blocks.

Nakayama campaigned for KUMITE. Kendo and judo had it and there was peer pressure on the JKA to have it, too. Delimiting competition to punches and kicks makes judging much easier than allowing locks and pins. It's not the first time an art has been prostituted to popular appeal.

Applications get assigned to kata techniques in one of two ways. Either someone takes the kata move directly and tries to work out what it might be for, or else someone sees a move demonstrated somewhere and says "hey, that's like the move from XXXX". But why bring the kata into the picture at all? Why try to fit square pegs in round holes? Why limit yourself to attacks and counters that only look like a move from a kata. Katas are unnecessarily limiting.
As someone already noted, they are a tool to be used productively or not.

4. The applications are anyway considered unimportant
Kata has become a dance competition in modern karate. As you say, meaningless.

5. Practicing with an invisible partner is of little value….If only practicing with a cooperative partner with prearranged attacks has dubious value, then practicing with none at all has much less. "But even boxers do shadow boxing" I hear you say. My response would be that you have not boxed and do not understand the purpose of shadow boxing.
Again, kata for teaching centering, coordination, KIME...this is to the good. Indeed, I take time out when my students have difficulty in aikido to do a few minutes of solo kata so they can isolate footwork without the confusion of resistance. The issue is emphasis. I agree that too much time is spent on dance-kata. But I wouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Point #5 is the most damaging of all. Even IF the techniques were genuinely of value, simply practicing them as a kata will be very unlikely to help you to apply them in a real situation.
I never practiced the opening you mention in Bassai, but it came to me spontaneously once on a busy street in Tokyo. I was jaywalking between cars in a traffic jam in Shinjuku one night when out of nowhere this rugby-built individual came careening at me. Boom! He was right on top of me. I didn't leap forward as in Bassai, but my feet did come together crossed and my hands went up. He caromed off me and landed on top of a taxi. Voila! Mushin--from kata training.

If you knew you were going to be attacked in the street in 2 weeks time would you practice kata between now and then?
If I wanted to incorporate some technique and I wasn't getting it with all the distractions attendant upon paired training, of course. Again, I'd do it a few times, not for hours. What's the tool and what is its utility?

Kata is somewhat useful in developing attributes which are useful in fighting (balance, coordination, stamina etc) but I submit that there is no evidence to suggest that kata is the optimum program for developing these attributes and I suspect that it is an inefficient method of doing so. In reality, kata prepares you best for doing more kata.
There is some merit in your last sentence but, as above, we disagree on emphasis. In any case, any social entity is going to involve legacy: You dial numbers on your cell phone, right? Show me the dial; there is none, there's a keypad. The term "dial" is a legacy; it no longer refers to technology but to functionality, the term now has new meaning. Similarly, kata may not convey its original meanings but other meanings for it can be found (as they have been with sword-style attacks in aikido.)

Thanks for the thoughts.

Don J. Modesto
St. Petersburg, Florida
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