Friday, October 16, 2009

Why are the kata of shotokan so basic?

If we have a look at the differences between commonly shared kata across the board of traditional karate styles like wado ryu, goju ryu, shito ryu, shotokan and even kyokushin there will always be some small differences between the styles and in some cases some large differences.

But why is this so, they are suppose to be the same kata they have the same name although in some cases it also has been changed for one reason or another, still you are able to pick which kata that is in the syllabus you study, so why the differences?

The creator of the kata only had one original version of that kata but across the traditional styles the performance of the same kata can vary significantly, so what does this mean is it a good thing or a bad thing that we don’t all practice the same version of the same kata across the board in traditional karate, after all the source of the kata is the same no matter which style.

As an example let’s look at the heian series, like shodan nidan etc.

Translated heian means peaceful mind in that once a karateka has mastered the techniques within the heian kata and their use he can be at ease that he will have gained sufficient skills in being able to deal with most Habitual acts of violence (HAOV) encountered on the street in a civilian environment.

Now I’m not talking about learning the kata for a solo performance in the above paragraph, but actually being able to apply the techniques of the kata in a real and dangerous situation, so you can imagine the type of training that would be required for this to be possible, it certainly involves a lot more than learning the sequence of the kata for an individual performance in grading or competition.

"Once a form has been learned it must be practiced repeatedly until it can be applied in an emergency, for knowledge of just the sequence of a form in karate is useless." Gichin Funakoshi

Sensei Vince Morris - openining move of kata Nijushiho

Of course we all know that in modern karate we don’t train in this way but that was the original intention, that the sequence of the kata was like learning the alphabet and the analysis and application’s training was like making words out of the alphabet.

One letter can be used in many different words just like one technique can have numerous applications, the more basic the technique the better it can be adapted to suit the situation at hand, on the other hand the more tailored the technique the more limitations will be imposed on it.

Kata are a mnemonic set of combat techniques that have been applied and tested in real life applications and then documented in a pattern or form so it can be studied. The techniques within kata are mnemonic and don’t reveal every little detail there is to know about that particular technique.

In my opinion in order to decipher the meaning and applications of a technique found in kata every little detail of the technique and the kata as a whole must be studied in depth.

It’s like remembering a particular event, first you remember something peculiar to that event be it a number eg.21st birthday (technique) and then you start to focus on the details of that event (analysis and applications) or bunkai and oyo respectively.

In the same way the techniques of shotokan kata are very basic so they are adaptable, like when you first memorizing the event of your 21st birthday, the number 21 brings back all the memories within that event and then you remember the finer details of the day, evening or night.

So your brain has stored lots of information under the file 21st birthday, but first you recall 21st birthday to recall the finer and most other details, its easier to do it this way than to try to recall finer points or details just out of the blue.

In the same way the individual techniques of kata can be considered as the brain recalling the number 21 or 21st birthday file, this file (21st) is very basic to remember and contains many other pieces of information, in the case of kata this will require analysis (bunkai), and application (oyo) of kata technique.

The kata techniques themselves are very basic because they are designed to have multiple applications and are not limited to any set type of attack / defense scenarios, they encompass a broad range of combat applications.

So in my opinion if someone decides that a particular technique within the kata is only for this or that defense against this or that attack and change the kata accordingly, they are limiting the useful applications of that technique and robbing the their students of valuable information.

It would be better to leave the kata as it is instead of changing it to what they think it means, and say to their students one application for this kata movement could be this or that.

That’s why I think the kata techniques within the shotokan syllabus are so basic, it’s because they can be adapted to a variety of situations as they present themselves, and are not set in stone as this is the defence against this or that attack.

As an example lets look at the kata heian shodan in shotokan and then compare it to some other traditional karate styles, in the other styles heain shodan (shotokan name) is named pinan nidan (shito ryu and wado ryu).

Heian shodan - Kanazawa sensei

Pinan Nidan kata - Wado Ryu

Pinan Nidan Shito Ryu