Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kata - a physical library

Muay Thai Boran Kata

"There are many kinds of martial arts, a fundamental level these arts rest on the same basis. It is no exaggeration to say that the original sense of Karate-Do is at one with the basis of all martial arts. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form itself. The kara of Karate-Do means this." Gichin Funakoshi

Look at the kata or forms of any traditional martial art like Muay Thai, Kung Fu, Karate, Boxing, Judo, Wing chun, Silat etc. etc. and you will see all the techniques within that system.

How these techniques are practiced is for another discussion or topic, but in general all offensive and defensive movements of any traditional martial art can be found in its kata, forms or shadow boxing.

The mnemonic movements of traditional shotokan kata encompass much more than the punching, striking, kicking and blocking techniques we have all become familiar with, close quarter grappling and clinching techniques are a very big part of the kata techniques.

The problem is most people including myself have a hard time seeing past their own perception of what you think it is and what it really is and can be.

Within traditional karate kata with some research and an open mind you will find many judo, aikido, jujitsu and wrestling techniques and methods.

I believe this is part of what Funakoshi means from the quote above, that is even though karate has its unique methods it also has methods that are found in other arts and systems.

"In karate hitting, thrusting and kicking are not the only methods, throwing and pressure against joints are included. All these technqiues should be studied referring to basic kata." Gichin Funakoshi

To put it simply karate as an unarmed civilian self defense system is a mixture of its own unique brand of effective punching, striking, kicking, blocking AND GRAPPLING TECHNIQUES that today are usually associated with the arts of judo, aikido, jujitsu and wrestling.

The way that all karate kata technique (mnemonic or not) has been catalogued within the library of kata is in my opinion an amazing engineering feat, just think of what choices would have been available to martial artists back in the old days to document their system.

Biu Ji (標 指) form performed by sifu Benny Meng

Let’s see they could have used the visual sense from the latest technology at the time of silent film or photographs, but was this technology readily available to the average person back then? who knows!

They could have used traditional methods of documenting information with drawings and paintings mixed with never ending pages of written description and explanation, in the end producing scrolls or binder books, but they didn't.

The old masters used an entirely different method, a physical method, the only way to learn this system is on a physical level, there is no reading, no watching, its in the doing.

The system is kata or forms a physical library of self defense methods which include techniques, strategy, tactics and principles for the student to study, comprehend, practice, pressure test and apply in training and self defense situations.

Kanazawa sensei - kata enpi (flying swallow)

"To practice kata is not to memorize an order. You must find the kata that work for you, understand them, digest them and stick with them for life." - Gichin Funakoshi

For the people that dont understand karate, forms or kata are not about using the kata techniques in a sequence as peformed in a solo performance (see kata enpi above),

Kata is a library of techniques, the sequence was a way of documenting these movements in some form of logical order, every little detail can't be recorded in a kata, so many techniques are mnemonic in nature and if explored can have very suprising results in application.

However there are also many combinations that are found within kata to be used in sequence if the first move was successful and just like the Muay Thai shadow boxing clip below, you are free to isolate, train, practice and pressure test any kata technique or combination without trying to stick to the overall sequence of the kata.

Some kata techniques will suit some people better than others, depending on your build and frame, there are kata that suit tall lanky people or short stocky people and everyone in between, you have to work out which one is for you.

"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

Sometimes martial artists make up all sorts of bunkai that follow the exact sequence of the kata using one technique after another in order as the kata is performed solo.

In this performance they dispatch the person in front of them and then have another attacker neatly come in from the side or some angle as they turn to face and dispatch them too etc. etc.

While this may be ok for a demonstration to a crowd of non martial artists, it will clearly never work in the real world of violence and is mearly just a show.

“If you understand one kata you understand them all.” Gichin Funakoshi

Kata is the documented physical library of mnemonic and non-mnemonic techniques that are found within the art of karate-do.

The way each and every technique or combination along with the strategy, tactics and principles embodied within any kata and how they are taught, practiced, pressure tested and applied in training will determine their efectiveness in a street fight.

"It's not in a sacred scroll, its not in a master text book, its in the physical library called kata"

How To Shadow Box (Muay Thai For Beginners)