Kata (form) – Karate shadow boxing. The mention of Kata evokes all sorts of emotions in people. From passion to laughter everyone has an opinion ranging from a functional self defence training tool to merely a comical dance performed by kids in pyjamas. Unfortunately over the years this picture of a dance has been painted by an ignorance of Karate teachers. This has led to the display of unrealistic applications for the moves within the forms with a total disregard for anatomy, physiology and common sense. As a result we see demonstrations of techniques out of this world which have no real chance of working
Kata is an essential part of the Karate. Most masters agree that the pure essence of Karate are its forms, but forms that are understood and studied not just copied and mindlessly repeated.
“Like textbooks to a student or tactical exercises to a solider, kata are the most important element of Karate.” Gichin Funakoshi
“In karate, the most important thing is kata. Into the kata of karate are woven every manner of attack and defense technique. Therefore, kata must be practiced properly, with a good understanding of their bunkai meaning.” Kenwa Mabuni
For me kata must be functional, not necessarily looking very crisp with structured timings. The latter attributes are great for sport competition and aesthetics, but when I look at that type of performance I can see that often performers don’t know why they do all of the moves within the given form. It is a very athletic and eye pleasing performance but function is left behind.
“Never be shackled by the rituals of kata but instead move freely according to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.”Nakasone
I value more a kata where I can see that the person executing it knows why he does what he does. The movement may not be so precise but it screams that I’m doing ‘this’ now.
“We must be careful to not overlook the fact that kata, and the body positions that comprises them , are just templates of sort; it is their application in combat which needs to be mastered.” Choki Motobu
At my club beginners don’t start with learning the form pattern, they are introduced to the principles and partner work along side the kata. In my experience it is easier for students to learn a form if they understand what they are doing.
When students grasp the basic concepts then we can focus on technical aspects of a kata and polishing technique. The next step is to introduce partner work with little resistance, so the practitioner can find the right technical pathway to make a technique work. When this is achieved we add another layer whereby the compliance is decreased, but trainees are sticking to the structure of one attack one defence. In this way they have a basis of understanding ingrained for an application of an element of a kata and they can follow closely the kata’s path.
Evolving on from a low level of resistance we move on to pressure testing where a student will still stay with a given application but wears protective gear and resistance is applied. There is no continuity after the initial attack, students focus on one given attribute and try to make it work under pressure. The next step is full interaction with a live resisting opponent who is allowed to fight back. The “defender” at this stage is still trying to make the chosen application work. The last stage of this learning is a free work where one partner is the attacker and the other is defender. The defender has the kata available to use and can use freely parts of the form depending on the need in the moment. For example he can choose to start with an opening section moving on to the last part of the kata as circumstances change and follow that with the middle part of the form if necessary.
The final stage is sparring – not the sport style of sparring but starting from a dispute and then one partner decides to attack. The defenders target is to fight back and try to use the kata’s tools to achieve an opportunity to escape or disable the opponent’s ability or will to attack. In this stage we don’t worry about which kata part is used or joined together if it’s effective.
About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate. Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing
On one of my videos someone posted this comment,
“Can anyone post applications where it is not someone grabbing the wrist..this is a very clear and well executed video… I have never known someone to grab the wrist …but as I say excellent and clear thanks you”
I made a shot clip explaining my position on this subject, do you agree with me or in fact there is no point teaching defence agaist wrist grabs?
A lot of people that I teach try really hard to be someone else. In their eyes they should be like pop or film stars or like fitness models. I too have been guilty of this, striving towards and pretending to be a better version of myself. Unfortunately this way of thinking leads to nothing good as we will always have this internal battle between our true self and the false projection. You will never know what potential you may have until you release your true you. Since I stopped worrying about who I wanted to be and started to be the person that I truly am my life has blossomed. I do what I love, I’m with who I love and I’m enjoying life. Most importantly my life has started to come together and I’m successful, perhaps not in the eyes of others, but in my own, which makes me an incredibly lucky man. I like this quote by Oscar Wilde a lot:
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Here is a fable about a ‘cracked pot’ which describes how we are shortsighted and not seeing our true potential and purpose.
“A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you. “Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” “I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it somewhat. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”
Be yourself no matter what flaws you may think you have, others might take them as your most valued qualities.
This article is just my speculation…
The other day I was going through one of Master Funakoshi’s books, “The Essence of Karate”. In reading it one sentence really caught my eye,
“As a child, I suffered from a very weak stomach until I started training in Karate…”
When I think about it, I too had a very weak stomach until I started Karate. I know that there is no medical data that identifies for certain what condition Master Funakoshi may have had, but I know what was wrong with me.
A weak stomach can be a symptom of anxiety, self-doubt and lack of confidence, as it was in my case. Consequently, my theory is that Master Funakoshi also suffered with anxiety prior to him beginning his training at the age of 13 and that Karate helped him improve his mental health, leading to physical wellbeing.
“Once I started Karate, however, it would seem that my ailment was afraid of karate, as it disappeared, and I have not succumbed to illness for even a single day since that time.”
Working with students who suffer with anxiety like myself I can see how Karate training and positive reinforcement from instructors can improve a person’s mental wellbeing. It does this by boosting self-confidence and helping to emphasise self-worth through a structured progression. Given my experience perhaps Master Funakoshi’s revelation that Karate cured his stomach weakness prompted him to promote Shotokan Karate as a holistic system of self-development and self-improvement as well as a martial art.
If my speculation is correct then I believe that this would be the first documented case of Karate helping to fight a mental health condition through structured training methods. For me this seems quite plausible and would be seen as a positive demonstration of Karate practice leading to health benefits.
“Strong and caring people are the pillars of society and Karate helps cultivate them.” Les Bubka
Omoiyari is one of the Japanese expressions that is very difficult to explain to a non-Japanese person. Some say it is thoughtfulness or as Sugiyama Lebra defines Omoiyari “the ability and willingness to feel what others are feeling, to vicariously experience the pleasure or pain that they are undergoing and to help them satisfy their wishes… without being told verbally” . For me personally it means simply caring for others and myself.
This type of caring is sincere and not motivated by reward, we care for others without seeking compliments or gratitude. If we help others expecting an acknowledgment with a ‘thank you’ we are not having omoiyari and we do this for pure purpose of building our ego.
That is why I encourage my students to be helpful to anyone in the dojo as we are like a family where all support each other, but this care is not limited to dojo: we need to care about and help people everywhere.
I often see, especially in big dojos, students training in isolation not willing to interact or share their knowledge and experience with anyone. We all need to train hard but some Karate adepts coming to a dojo with the attitude of “I’m here to train, to be better myself and I’m focusing on myself”.
This is not the right attitude, this type of training is creating strong egocentric people who in life are so busy focusing on themselves that they ignore all others who might be in need. What we need in society is more empathetic people who can help others. Through Karate training with omoiyari in mind we can achieve this.
In every aspect of life we meet people who say “Don’t worry you can count on me. I’ll be there.” However, when it comes to take action they do not due to a change in their circumstances.
The same situation occurs in the dojo as many students make big statements such as “Sensei, I’m going to be the best student ever. I will train hard and will not miss any classes, just watch me.” Then invariably something gets in the way. Work, family or health issues arise and so the student is unable to keep his promise. I used to believe in all of these promises and it would raise my hopes. Nowadays I am bit more reserved and just wait. I know that people mean well, but I cannot understand why there is this urge to announce that we will take action?
Ones actions are the truest expression of one’s character. In our dojo we encourage people to act rather than just verbally promise. Making a statement is easy, but it can hurt the feelings of others and discourage trust as the promises are broken. Unfortunately in modern society this seems to have become a norm. For example, a lot of customer service organisations will promise to call you back and sort things out, but it never happens. We have all been there! Karate encourages students to be reliable and trustworthy via the practice of Fu Gen Jikko.