KATA, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT?
KATA, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT?
IS IT NECESSARY?
by Master L.P.Lambert
A few days ago, I was walking out of the bank in my town and past a Kara Te DoJo and inside I saw an instructor teaching his young students a Bo kata. I stopped to watch for a minute and could not help but notice the poor quality of the performance of techniques by the students. I quickly looked at the instructor and saw him performing these techniques improperly as well. The reason I am saying that these techniques were improper is that, the Bo Kata that they were performing lacked the internal structure which produces power and the essential techniques which would keep the bo from being taken away. That is when I realized, sadly, that there are two reasons Kata is preformed today, one for demonstration and the other for protection! In many systems the original purpose, protection, has long been deleted for the other more popular reason, demonstration? The internal techniques have slowly disappeared from the original kata. These Forms are merely a shadow of the kata preformed long ago. The true purpose for practicing kata is to someday achieve smooth flowing supernatural power in the techniques of your kata, which cannot be obtained any other way!
Kata has but two origins, the first is from China were the famous Buddhist monk Da Mo traveled from his home in India to china, to the Shaolin temple, to promote the Buddhist philosophy. When he arrived at the temple, he found the monks to weak and sick too even meditate. In order to find a way to strengthen them he spent the next nine years in a cave meditating. When he came out of the cave, he had created the manuscript Yi Gin Ching that contained methods for strengthening the monks physically. Out of this manuscript the first form or Kata if you will, The Lo Han was created.
Year’s later the second origin formed through Okinawan martial arts pioneers. These pioneers developed Kata from the forms that they brought back from China. Many of them are unchanged to this day. Some of these pioneers added some of the movements of the (five-form fist) to their already existing Martial arts. These changes helped to form a new martial art, Kara te.
These pioneers of kara te also brought back manuscripts from China that explained the use of the striking of pressure points and military tactical affairs as well, such as the Wu Pei Chih and the His Yuan Lu as well as many others. Many of the techniques found in these manuscripts were carefully and cleverly hidden in the many levels of Okinawan Kata. Because of the deadly secrets found in all traditional Kata, Kata spread through out Asia. Now Kata is practiced globally.
Bruce Lee an internationally known martial artist believed that it wasn’t at all necessary to practice Kata or forms to learn a martial art. The fact is that Mr. Lee himself began his martial arts studies as a young man, with a style called Wing Chung, which uses formal Kata or forms as a necessary part of the system. Many fighters like Mr. Lee, studied forms before coming to the mistaken conclusion that forms aren’t necessary after years of benefiting from them. Bruce Lee Worked relentlessly personally tiring to build up his own power using many other routines other than kata. When in fact kata would have been a simpler and shorter root to the same goal.
Practicing kata is time well spent in terms of producing power. There are many other ways to produce power but you will find that. these western methods for producing power will be hard to incorporate into your techniques. Actually I have found that strongly built students have a pretty tough time adapting their power for techniques. Controlling their power is very tricky and working with others is difficult.
The truth of the matter is that, the benevolent Masters formulated more than 70 percent of their techniques into Kata. Lets do the math, if one kata averages 22 movements or techniques although many moment have the same techniques they do show different ways to use the same techniques and so on. Each technique has three to seven applications, we will say five applications, and there are 14 kata to a system, the number of techniques average out to 308 techniques in a system. Now when forms have fifty, to one hundred or more techniques with in them, and up to seven applications the numbers jump up anywhere from 350 to 700 plus in one form or Kata. The White Crane kata Shin Shu, which I practice, has one hundred and sixty nine movements, which average out to approximately one thousand and eight possible techniques beneath the surface of this kata. How is it possible to remember that many techniques with out kata?
These Masters created Kata for several other reasons as well, one of them, is so their students might benefit from daily practice of these techniques. This works best when a kata has been properly demonstrated by the instructor and his students know the basic techniques within the kata. After later study other applications which apply to the kata can be introduced. This daily practice, in time, brings out the uses of these techniques with out thinking. Time is of the utmost importance, in a confrontation. It is necessary to feel rather than think your way through any combat situation. This feeling rather than thinking is promoted through kata practice. Another important quality brought about by kata practice is that there is no necessity for a practice partner. Kata is one safe way to practice at full power. A devotee cannot practice deadly techniques on a practice partner nor can he strike pressure points hidden with in these techniques at full power. This can only be practiced full power in kata. Finally it would be very difficult for a devotee to continue the work of his master, after his master had passed away. To continue education with out a framework of formulated techniques from that system. And teach it to future generations, would be very hard if not impossible. Kata provides basic as well as advanced technical knowledge on from generation to generation, and can be gleaned by the prudent devotee, over the course of a lifetime.
It’s not impossible to imagine that, in the year 2100, the great fighter techniques of boxers of your day may in fact all but vanish from historical records. (What are the main techniques of the first black heavy weight champion Jack Johnson?). Although we can see Jack on film, can we figure out his winning techniques? It is clear to most martial artists today that, Kata is the basis for a stable system of martial arts. With out it, in time, it may vanish. My point is that the value of Kata is sorely underestimated by many of the very instructors that teach them. There is a realistic need in today’s schools to renew proper application and to reestablish a total understanding of the function of Kata and its true purpose, This renewal will bring the devotee closer to a understanding of the great masters reasons for creating them.
What is a Kata really?
At first glance Kata appears to be some kind of a strange dance sequence, but it is much more. Kata is fighting strategy and tactics of proven offense, defense and movement set into patterns of various combinations, which involve an imaginary adversary. The primary purposes, of Kata training are as follows. To perform usable techniques with full speed and power, this can’t be practiced any other way, without injury to fellow students. Continuous improvements can be gained in the coordination between mind, body, spirit and Chi flow as well as a rapid connection between the mind and reaction time as well as accuracy of technique.
To successfully defend against and single attack or several attackers from numerous directions. There are many deadly one and or two strike pressure points that can be hit on the human anatomy. With the use of kata, many of the pressure point can be found and practiced accurately. along with many combinations of points.
Movements and foot- work that will show ways to escape attacks as well as moving can put the defender in the position of advantage.
Finally, by practicing Kata properly and regularly, a devotee may find him self walking in the footsteps of the great experts of the martial arts. When Kata is performed with flawless Shin, the language of its creator will in time speak of its hidden treasures. What greater benefits can a devotee hope for? Naturally you will need to know the basic movements within the intended Kata. It would also be helpful if you have a fundamental knowledge of its basic, level one Bunkai.
In the first stage of learning of any kata the first step is simply learning the sequence involved in the kata. Breaking down the sequence to a frame-by-frame, technique by technique replication of the Kata preformed by the instructor. Some times in traditional Do Jo’s, the instructor may number each move and some schools name them. This is the way the instructor should teach his students kata in the beginning. Why?, because the student needs to understand and comprehend one technique from another. The purpose for this is to mentally note the action involved separating one technique from the other. For example, movements connecting stances as well as turns that maybe involved in the action, along with arm foot and torso movements, where strikes may cock [preliminary for action] and the firing from that cocked position. The importance of head and eye motion involved in the kata, which may explain where the action is about to go. Taking note of all components within each frame of the kata. Ask no questions of yourself about application at this point, just teach your body, mind and spirit the framework of the kata.
In stage two, add to the broken pieces of framework smoothness, smoothly flowing the frames together along with fully understanding the movements that connect one moment to another. Think of nothing but flowing through the major techniques with a slight hesitation at the interim. Stage two will help your performance of the kata move smoothly from one technique to another. The reason for the practice of phase two is, as you know, a martial artist, will try to never hesitate or be trapped in a technique unable to move to another technique. He has complete comprehension and control of his own body and it’s movements. He is able to move from one technique to another. Stage two, is one of the ways to learn this necessary skill. A surprising aspect of stage two is that, your speed will pick up without effort on your part. Remember that the primary thing is to keep your mind silent as you perform it.
The third stage of the Kata is executed with all the above theory adding a cadence that groups movements together that belong to one group. For example, in the traditional Kata Pinan Yodan, after the opening salutation, the karateka steps out with the right foot, turns to the left, followed by a right handed palm block, then a left handed check block finishing the technique with a right middle reverse punch. All these moves are accomplished in one smooth flowing motion. We will call this “grouping of technique”, single frames of techniques that belong together and are smoothly flowed together as one phase of the kata. Other than that, phase two and three are the same. Again you will find your speed of performing the kata has again picked up.
The fourth stage is for the purpose of learning and studying the application of power. Visually the cadence of the Kata studied in phase three is the same, but you will now focus on the proper breathing and the emphasizing of power. In the Kata Sanchin, the breathing method to be used is from the dragon fist style as the Suparinpi Kata uses the snake fist style of breathing. Stage four is the time to understand the proper method of breathing for the Kata your working on. This stage will be a difficult stage for many reasons. One reason is breathing properly has become a lost art. Many systems have lost the proper breathing style that belongs to their kata. In the world of martial arts today, natural breathing is almost all you will find in the dojo now a days. Although this type of breathing produces enough power for many techniques, there are other techniques that will not have proper power and has become ineffective in the martial arts community.
Along with proper styles of breathing, learning proper body structure for every technique is paramount for producing dynamic power. The way to learn this as you adapt proper breathing technique is to listen to the muscles in your body tell you when and how to flex and or relax. Also there are power methods, which produce supremacy such as dynamic tension, hip snapping, shoulder movements, hand snaps, and technique in the placement of the feet, which increase greatly the power of a individual technique. These are only a sample of the many sources of power that are to be found in Kata. Remember this, that Kata is the only way other than in a combat situation that you can demonstrate full power. This is the right time to study power, not when practicing with a partner. Also this maybe the right time to ask your teacher if any of the technique within this kata have special secret techniques that might be useful to know. This stage has been lost in the training for kata, because, this stage will take years to master. Why?, because in this stage, technique gets very hard to control. Striking a balance between speed and form some find difficult.
With the completion of phase four you may find that speed and power of your Kata is faster and more powerful than ever, and still there is no effort on your part. That’s the way it should be but we’re not finished yet!
In the final stage, stage five, add to all the above knowledge Invisibility. Invisibility is when a technique casts no shadow. The first step in the process is to practice the Kata in a mirror as quick as possible with out loss of correct form. Do the first movement in the Kata repeatedly continue repeating the technique till it is hard to see your movements in the mirror. Don’t forget your breathing.
After completing the whole kata in this way, set up a row of candles behind where you would be practicing the Kata so that you may see your shadow on the wall. Perform your techniques one by one as quickly as possible without sacrificing form till you see little to no shadow cast on the wall.
This type of training is known well to the members of the old Shaolin temple practitioners and has been past down to the old Karate masters. Remember also to practice Kata in all four directions north south east and west from time to time. The reason needs no explanation after you try it.
The first three stages, are for the intermediate ranks, as the fourth stage is for Sho-dan and above. The fifth stage is for Master level. The reason will be evident.
Kata, Bunkai, O-yakudoshi and Kumite.
The individual movements of Kata suggest techniques that have applications or Bunkai. The word Bunkai translates the meaning from the Asian language, this way, to understand by taking part, combined with Kata it is a process of taking the individual techniques that the Kata displays and looking deeply into its many possible meanings.
O-yakudoshi translated as, the great climacteric; in short the unseen techniques that concludes Bunkai. In other words, with all the visible techniques within Kata, there are invisible follow up techniques that conclude the action. These actions usually end up in the trauma or death of the contender.
Kumite/Oyo is a semi free sparring phase of training, where two partners pair off and alternate in the practice of defense and counter offense found within Kata. This practice cannot be practiced at full power, full power can only be demonstrated in kata. Unfortunately today its practiced more free than semi free and is more or less a haphazard free for all technically speaking. In the original practice the bunkai and O-yakudoshi would be translated into the practice of kumite and practiced very slowly and gently till body strength is built up according to the masters instructions.
Kata is a wonderful physical and spiritual transmission from the Masters of oriental antiquity. Other than the Asian performing arts, it is one of the only windows that display techniques of yesteryear, for use today. They demonstrate actual combat history in a very real way. These Masters loved the fact that Karate, properly explored, through Kata, Bunkai, O-yakudoshi and Kumite, would in turn give the practitioner a working knowledge and supremacy of combat tactics. Kata provides the smooth power that Kumite cannot provide, only Kata coupled with all the other principle practices gives the practitioner a well-rounded view of the supernatural abilitys, which were provided by the old martial arts.
When I visit a traditional Do Jo or a tournament to see Traditional Kata that is performed with the deepest understanding and accurate perfection of truthful techniques, its understood by all that their practitioners know what they are doing! You are the final judge on how you might perform your kata. I hope that these little secrets will aid you in your martial quest and help you to hone your Kata to a razor sharp edge.
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