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I thought I’d start a topic.
What do you think is the significance of kata in modern karate?
significance of kata in modern karate
i think that modern karate doesn’t give kata much weight. sports and championships have taken precedence, and these principles have been applied to kata. katas now look great, energetic, acrobatic and fancy which is fine for showing off to a judge, but the kata has become some else. kata used as a training tool is vital for karate. there are many techniques within that are unique to karate which will be lost if practices do not change.
let’s take the bassai kata that you showed me. it’s been several months since i learned them and i know it will take many more months, if not years, to really understand them. yet i could still perform them well enough to achieve a grade.
kata is essential to karate, because if you take it away, what is left? kata is the only place where you can practice your techniques without holding back. no matter how intense you partner training is, you will always have to hold back for safety reasons if nothing else. when practicing kata you can let go. when a technique requires you to break a limb(your opponent’s obviously) you can, without fear of injury.
well i’ve rambled on a bit now and i have to get back to work so i will just say this, there is little room in MODERN karate for kata, what is needed is a NEW MODERN karate where it is vitally important.
I’m not sure what ‘modern karate’ really means, or indeed if there is such an animal.
If sections are left out in order to allow more time to concentrate on other areas then there is an imbalance and the term ‘Karate’ may then not apply.
Karate by definition includes: kata, shiai, kumite, reiho, tameshiwari, junbi taisho, not in any particular order.
There are still many clubs teaching the whole thing.
In kumite it is possible to ‘not hold back’ without hurting your partner, but it takes years of work based on kime and taisabaki, not everyone wants that and in the early days of training a student has the desire to ‘prove’ himself all the time instead of ‘improving’ himself.
Kata teaches many more techniques and combinations than normally taught in basic solo training. The basic punches and kicks are to get a student ‘going’ but also form the basis of everything else, to the highest level.
Without the basics a student’s kata will never advance, without kata the student’s basics will never grow.
Significance of Kata in “Modern Karate”
I tend to agree with the comment that much of Karate performed today has little use for kata. But the reason for this is (in my opinion) that the Karate that is performed today (having to generalise I’m afraid) is not in fact Karate! It is for the most part a new art which has risen out of the ashes of the old.
Even during Funakoshi’s latter teaching years, the “new” Karate was evident. It was based around teaching large numbers, teaching for contest and for the development of the character. To do this, the old ways of teaching were not valid. How could any teacher possibly pass on the intricate knowledge of kata and technique to a group of 50 students? Simply, the only way that this could be done was if the emphasis of the training, as well as the reason for it was changed.
Karate was originally a combat system which required much more one to one tuition. Basic skills came OUT of the practice of kata, as the kata was the main training tool of the day. Of course there were ancilliary tools, but these would either be weapons or conditioning equipment.
This new Karate was initiated as soon as Itosu sensei began training publicly in 1902. He created several kata and modified others in order that the true nature of the system was hidden. It would seem that he deliberately left out the teaching of kata application, a decision which changed the face of Karate forever. Without applications, Karate was relegated to being like a caged tiger. The teeth and claws were there, but they were forgotten about and never used.
As the heart of the system had been left out at the start of the 20th century, there had to be a replacement for it. Funakoshi championed the use of Karate as a means of character development. Some of his students seemed to have been variously dissatisfied along the way. For example, Otshuka sensei (founder of Wado Ryu Karate) spent many years under Funakoshi, only to eventually start up his own style, where he merged his seperate training in jujutsu into the system.
Others went the route of sport training. These changes all brought about significant shifts in the populations’ understanding of what Karate actually was. The popular modern concept of the system is that it is a sport. But at the same time, teachers advertise it as being for self defence. Unfortunately, much of what it taught in dojos around the world today is NOT self defence, but in fact is largely sport technique. The self defence that is taught in much of Karate today would get people killed if put to the real test against a real fighter.
Kata can only be significant in Karate if the practitioner (and their teachers) are aware of what their kata are for and how to utilise them. This is a skill which has all but been lost. There are a very few people who research the kata as a concept to try and teach Karate as it used to be in pre-Itosu times. This activity is a long process, firstly because the principles of kata must be understood and then how to use the kata as a teaching tool must be re-discovered.
There is a view that kata needs to be made relevant for today. I disagree. Although some of the applications within Karate kata refer directly to weapons of the day (1800’s) I feel it would be a huge mistake to discount such teaching. We still all have arms and legs, and people still try to hit us with sticks and cut us with knives. If we are to learn Karate properly, it must be treated with huge respect, simply as it is a combat system designed to be instantly lethal. I have discovered this over my years of training. It was not taught to me by a knowledgeable teacher, simply because they did not realise this themselves.
If you want to learn self defence for the modern times, then there are self defence classes which will allow you to defend yourself and stay within the law. There has been enough changing of Karate to suit the needs of the individual. I advocate the rediscovery of TRUE Karate. Teach it for what it was meant to be, an instantly lethal combat system. This is what the Karate kata is for.
I agree with your points, except that karate as was, is now ashes. There are as I said before, a number of clubs still teaching the full thing with kata and its application as the backbone. (Little use of pads either).
Even in the seventies when I started in Shukokai, then a very sport fight orientated style, the kata and bunkai were taught very seriously, in order to teach the application of new techniques beyond the basics.
Kata defines the style of karate, or should still do.
I think it is the perception of karate today by non practitioners that has shifted as opposed to the actual training methods in a lot of traditional clubs and associations, probably due to the growing demand for a return to gladiatorial spectacle. This has caused a shift in what some karate clubs offer, i.e. they take the flower and leave the nut.
I have heard of associations splintering because the chief instructor wanted to get his high grades to understand more of kata, whereas they wanted to climb the competition ladder (to nowhere in my opinion). A well rounded and balanced karateka must pay attention to all aspects of training.
The only way (as you did say), is to keep your club (association) small, like backroom training and avoid the generalisation and globalisation of our art.
Firstly I’d just to clarify my position a little. I completely agree that there are, as you say, certain clubs who maintain kata-centric training. These however, are very few and far between. But my point about “karate as was, is now ashes” perhaps needs some further explanation. Perhaps I should apologise firstly, for marginalising Shito Ryu (by omission). They are the exception!
I have had some small experience of Shito Ryu (Shukokai) and one of my Iai students is sandan in Shukokai. I can see how the style attempts to use kata as its base and this is laudable. I do find that the huge number of kata in the syllabus somewhat excessive for my tastes, but that is by the by.
As I understand it, Shito ryu originated from Tomari-te and is credited to have its direct lineage back to Mutsumura himself. I cannot really comment on it’s content as I have not studied the style, and I am not researching this branch of the “family”. I am aware that the style is a minority style in comparison to the Wado & Shotokan groups. What I am aware of is the development of these latter two styles, and it is with regards them that I refer to the demise of Karate as it was originally intended.
The popularisation of Karate throughout the world has largely occurred because of the influence of these two styles, especially Shotokan. It is the proliferation of this “modern” style which has led to the alteration of public perception of the art (the higher profile usually has the greater impact does it not?).
In some ways, I am very unhappy that I wandered into Wado/Shotokan styles all those years ago. I am wiser now, but only as a result of my own efforts at research. Certainly I had no inkling at the true potential of the art I was studying back then, and no-one else seemed forth-coming with any real explanations to my questions about bunkai. My story is very typical, and I suspect is why so many people who train in Shotokan (especially) don’t stick it out.
In another way, I am pleased to be have studied it, simply because I now have the opportunity to discover Karate anew. I have a path to follow which I feel that very few have trodden in recent times. This is a unique way, because it is mine. It is neither right nor wrong, and I enjoy the challenge of discovery it gives me. It is not Shotokan any more for me. It is just “Karate”.
Over recent years I’ve discussed the problem of what we know about karate and what we where taught in the 60’s and 70’s with a number of old hands who also started training in those days.
It seems we concur on a least one main aspect of our training brought to the surface no doubt out of our persistence and enquiring minds over the years, like yourself.
The Japanese way, in karate at least, was to teach at the level of the students and to bash in the basics by drilling (maybe something to do with the legacy of training-up young Japanese for the war effort on the back of budo, I don’t know for sure).
Since it took (should take?) years to grind in the basics the Japanese instructors for any number of reasons just where not around to teach the rest of the story. So we were perhaps left with a plethora of dan grades 90% of which who only taught the basics and had little understanding of kata or its bunkai. Maybe it was dan grades rushing off to start their own clubs before being properly cooked that caused the problem.
As the stalwarts continued they tagged on to, or stayed with a few dedicated Japanese instructors and gradually got the whole story, or as much of it as the Japanese where prepared to give, after realising that for years they had been only doing ‘the basics’.
The Japanese hate teaching those who have not proved a very real commitment. Its just a waste of their time and energy and it’s not their job to raise the awareness of a few otherwise wayward people for two quid an hour, but to teach karate to its highest level, to intelligent and dedicated students who will then go out and pass it on correctly.
I happen the think that the Japanese where very clever in doing this as it formed a foundation of a much stronger future for real karate and only those prepared (maybe in ignorance?) to stick it out ever got to know beyond oitsuki and maegeri. I have to say here that all karate is real karate, just the level and focus of training differs maybe and a look at any one club or association could be viewed as a moment in their own development. The crux here is which way will they develop, deeper into karate or something else or maybe nothing else.
As I keep saying to all who ask me, the basics are so fundemental that without them karate is nothing, but to train at them doggedly without thought of their meaning is to stick too ridgidly to a set of rules as if they where not ever to be used for any other purpose. Its difficult to describe. I’ll try again some time but the idea is to have the tools ready in an instant without thinking about it at all, which fit exactly the moment (of attack) and then not even knowing, on reflection, which techniques or combinations where actually used in the counter. (Zen folk like to theorise on this, but training comes before Zen. Zen only can describe the affects of correct training, not benefit it beyond the students’ training except to maybe guide him in his direction).
Years later the Japanese having seen which students did stay with it, then started to come over again and teach a little more or at least try to enrol them in their ‘world groups’. Maybe they had increased their own knowledge as well in that time and those who researched and contacted these advanced Japanese instructors (not for one day seminars I hasten to add) now lead a growing (albeit very slow) embryo of traditional karate. Of course the Japanese where not just teaching a fight system but the Japanese culture, Samurai based, as well. Language included.
Most of these instructors would just say they have been doing it for years and what am I talking about, maybe not realising the path they have trodden.
Fred East (still trying and treading…)
I have no doubt whatever that senior Japanese teachers had a great deal of skill. It has often been said of them over the decades that it seemed some that they seemed to be holding something back, perhaps not teaching everything they knew.
I missed out on the 1960’s influx of Karate into the UK, as I only began in the late 1970’s, so I have no direct experience of the pioneering Japanese instructors to the UK and Europe. But perhaps a little more than a decade later, I find I was being taught by perhaps the 2nd generation teachers; the English ones who had been taught by those Japanese. As you say, it was hard and relentless basics, which has shown its worth in my later training, as I feel I have a reasonable grasp of them! I agree that they did/do have the tendency to teach to a certain level. My feeling is that the reasons for this are more to do with the amount of what they knew.
I think it is probably a matter of either persprective or conjecture as to whether the Japanese actually knew the full detail of Karate, or were holding back and only teaching a certain amount. My own feeling is that within the Shotokan world, information was missing, and had been for a very long time. It is obvious to me, as I think back, that the often ridiculous explanations of various kata bunkai, were as a result of an instructors’ attempt to try and answer his student’s questions in good faith. The problem was, he obviously did not have the understanding of the kata to be able to provide the sound, principle, self defence, historical and research basis upon which to provide answers which, in the cold light of day, actually made sense.
Let me put forward a hypothesis: Ohtsuka sensei (Wado Ryu) felt the need to merge Jujutsu with Shotokan because he knew that there was something missing. He was a senior student of Funakoshi sensei, at the time, his right hand man. If the Karate taught by Funakoshi was a complete transmission of the system (detailed applications etc.) then there would be no need whatever to add jujutsu. All the locks, controls, breaks and throws were already there. I suggest that as a highly respected Japanese (not European) Ohtsuka was a vastly experienced martial artist. Surely Funakoshi would have taught him the full system? Why would he hold back information from him?
It is this kind of information which tends to lead me to believe that within the pre WW2 Shotokan world, there was a huge gap in understanding (for some reason). All WW2 did was significantly reduce the numbers of experienced Karateka and destroy and semblance of written records (levelling of Shuri in invasion of Okinawa). After the war, the Japanese had to make the case for less aggressive martial arts in order to pass muster with the Americans.
Wars have a tendancy to thin out the knowledge pool. I do believe this to be the case for Karate and I expect that the system was seriously set back as a result. It most dertainly had an effect on the weapons side of Karate, which had to be abandoned to get Karate back on track. My belief is that post war, a great deal of skilled practitioners had died, not having sufficient numbers of high level students. This in itself would only cause a delay in the proliferation of the art worldwide. As we have seen, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that hte Japanese made significant efforts to “spread the word”. Time was taken to train a new generation of Karateka. In my view, they certainly had the time to train them fully.
I think that there is sufficient evidence to show reasonably clearly that Itosu made significant changes to the Karate he taught from 1902 onward. He taught children. They did not need to know the highly deadly side to the system. Students of Itosu from before 1902 like Funakoshi (and others) also taught karate. Some, like Choki Motubo, refused to go along with this toning down of the art. But then Motubo had always been hot headed, and had been severely admonished by Itosu in his youth for using his skills without control. No love lost there.
I feel that the Japanese today are indeed more knowledgeable. But what I see in the UK is not the Japanese engaging in systematic and in depth research of their art, but Europeans and Americans. As a result, knowledge is certainly growing, but it s not coming from the Japanese.
Look at the JKA/JKS today. They are trying to learn Tai chi and adding this into their training. The idea is useful, but why is it necessary? JKS are inventing new kata, which seem to have applications as their primary motivator. Why new ones? Because they don’t understand the old ones! This is the level of Japanese research today. Some might say that it is forward thinking, innovative and resourceful. I say that it is cheating their student population, and trying to re-invent itself. That being the case, can it still be called Karate? Maybe it should be “Tai chi-te”!!
As you will no doubt realise, I am a traditionalist. I have learned some kata which had a purpose and function. I have researched them and I come to see the huge depth that lay within them. I see the merits in terms of self defence for use in certain circumstances today. I believe that if we are engaging in this system, we have a duty to understand what has been handed to us as fully as it is possible to do so. It IS possible to do that (I have proved that to myself with the kata I study). I feel content that I am being faithfull to those good people who devised the system. By doing this, I am in alignment with the traditional training philosophy of the Japanese. I honour the memory of my ancestors by striving to learn what they wanted to teach. They left us a legacy for that purpose, and I have no room in my studies for anything else. If anything, I feel that the modern day Japanese are fast losing the concept of their own traditions. It won’t be long before Karate evolves into something different again. But they will still call it Karate!
I thought a bit of distillation would be a good thing.
I said above that training is the crux of it all.
Kata was obviously born from fighting either in battle or in general self defence in an age when violence was the order of the day, (like now).
Kata was a way the Chinese and Okinawans and others used to keep the techniques together and available. It is the repository of techniques.
There is NO substitute however for jiyu kumite (free fighting) in learning how a person can make all the techniques effective. Clever pair combinations, which we all use, to demonstrate disarming, joint locking, nerve shredding and suchlike are actually just a means to learning the techniques fluidly, but those methods will Never replace actual free fighting, because it’s only then you realise that the other person fights back hard and with the same stuff as you.
Any thought of learning without kumite is foolhardy ( In my opinion of course).
Kumite with pads is straying from the real reason for kumite, that is, using techniques in fear. Ok to use thin mitts to save knuckes from getting cut on teeth, a gum shield and maybe a groin box if you are a beginner or in a sport competition. But who walks the streets with all that lot on?
Full armour is just a sport, but it does have its uses of course (that is apart from making the makers of armour rich).
Starting to fight or learning locks and strangles before the body and mind is properly trained is dangerous and foolish.
I can’t for the life of me see how a thin girl for eg can become a deadly weapon in six weeks.
Karate is a distillation in itself of hundreds of years of evolution from mainland Asia and it is still with us albeit under threat from dilution. But it still takes time and serious students should take that time, to become proficient.
Kata can replicate all the above (apart from the fear). This is what makes it as important as the other three aspects.
So much for the distillation.
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