Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thoughts on karate kata

Heian Nidan (Pinan Shodan) hand sequence opening move

For anyone who has taken the time to study a karate systems kata applications with the help of other more advanced karateka or through ones own personal journey with one or two partners, there are a few common themes and conclusions that become apparent to the practitioner.

Lyoto "the dragon" Machida Osae uke jodan seiken gyaku zuki

JKA Shobu Ippon Competition - Osae uke jodan seiken gyaku zuki

1. Modern day kata application pioneers, researchers and explorers have all stated that the kata of karate systems are mnemonic (aid to memory).

The kata cannot contain every little detail of the combative information it stores in its pattern, this would be impossible and would make the kata complicated and way to long.

To die cast one mould for everyone would also make the kata impractical because each individual has different attributes including strengths and weaknesses.

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that the study of karate's kata applications is more of a individual and personal journey in your martial arts carrier/course that gives back just as much as your prepared to put in.

Even though this type of training is best served in group sessions the journey remains a personal one, no different to studying a math course with a class at university or college and then qualifying and going out to apply your math knowledge in industry.

Group sessions have the advantage of giving the individual karateka extra material to work with along with all the different body types to apply them on.

At the end of the day it's still up to the individual karateka to sift through this material and personally select the applications that work and suit them as an individual, some applications will suit some better than others.

While you may have to modify the application to suit your own personal attributes, the principles, strategies and tactics of the kata will not change, therefore the template of the kata doesn't need to be changed either.

Just because your applications work for you it doesn't mean they will work for the next person, the same kata template is there for the next generation to come along and make what they will from it.

Whether you are lucky enough to be presented with many bunkai applications and variations of a sequence or an individual technique from group training in karate's kata.

Or have to sort things out yourself or with a few companions, it's still up to the individual karateka to pick and chose the applications that best suit their attributes.

Maybe the creators of kata had this in mind when they put the kata together no one really knows.

Knowing that no one application will be universal to all individuals the katas where presented in a mnemonic fashion for this very reason, making them a personal journey and experience for every individual karateka that studies them.

Lyoto "the dragon" Machida nidan geri movement 64 of Kanku Dai Kata

2. The combative sequence of each combination and the basic nature of the individual techniques themselves including the principles, strategies and tactics embedded within the kata lend themselves to multiple applications depending upon the person and their attributes.

The essence of kata applications in the form of bunkai, oyo and henka is in partner drills and the individual kata sequences and techniques may have multiple applications.

As an example the opening move of the kata heian nidan (pinan shodan) of the square block can have a multitude of applications, for our purpose below lets say its to be applied by a tall lanky karateka and a short stocky karateka.

For the tall lanky karateka this technique and its principles maybe used for example to break a wrist grab and then follow up with whatever the situation demands possibly the next sequence in the kata.

For short stocky person this sequence in the kata might be used to break a bear hug from behind because it applies itself better to the stocky person.

Depending upon the situation both applications by both karateka maybe applied in an orthodox fashion or they maybe applied with variations but the principles, strategy and tactics will remain the same, the application become a personal choice that suit the individual at that particular time.

The principles, strategy and tactics for this sequence are the same for both men even though the applications are different.

1. Use your own body weight to shift attacker of balance by moving off to either side and dropping your body weight down.
2. Simultaneously performing the sequence for the hands with variations for your own personal application.
3. Follow up incapacitate, possibly with the next sequence in the kata or very similar.

One person is breaking a wrist grab the other a bear hug, principles remain the same, application is different, again the kata applications are a personal journey for both men using the same principles and applying them differently.

Some more uses for the opening move of heian nidan

3. Karate kata contain combative striking and grappling sequences and techniques and form the library of a karate system's potential curriculum, the kata were put together from applications and the applications of kata were developed with function of over form in mind.

For karateka who have been introduced to kata applications from day one in their karate journey they will view kata applications from the perspective of  (function over form) and that bunkai makes sense of the kata movements within the pattern through application in two man drills.

What about karateka who only ever practice solo kata (form over function) and are interested in kata applications, is it possible for these karateka to study the kata and try and make some type of sense out of the sequences and techniques that can be found in the kata, that is to find the bunkai within.

I think it is possible through trial and error, by pressure testing using non complaint partners and various attack and defence scenarios to find the solution and come to some sort of practical application of the kata by paying attention to the principles within each sequence and what they are telling you to do.

Again this is a personal journey for each karateka and twenty karateka may have twenty different uses for the same technique as long as it has been pressure tested with a non complaint partner and found to be a sound application, I can't see why this method should be flawed in anyway.

My last thought is that practicing solo kata with applications in mind and the correct expansion and contraction of the correct muscle groups with kime is an entirely different animal to someone practicing these movements with no applications in mind and without expansion and contraction of the appropriate muscles groups at the right time.

The former method I liken to shadow boxing and the practice of martial techniques including form, balance, execution etc etc, the later I liken to calisthenics a good aerobic workout with no martial value at all.

JKA Samurai Kata 37 (Heian Nidan)