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Zen Garden > Karate Kata Explained - Part Two.

Karate Kata Explained - Part Two of a Three Part Series.

Apart from the practice of kata in Japanese and Okinawan karate, taekwondo also uses similar forms. In Korean they are known as “Poomse”. There are also many styles of Chinese kung fu which use forms. One such style is called Wing Chun which was reportedly devised by a woman known as Ng Mui. Wing Chun has only three forms. It was the style of kung fu first taught to Bruce Lee by the famous kung fu master Yip Man.

Apparently three forms were three forms too many for Bruce. Lee developed his own method of combat called Jeet Kune Do (also known as JKD). While Lee stressed that JKD was never to be regarded as a style, essentially that is what it has become.

Lee based much of his JKD on his understanding of Wing Chun. He also integrated Korean kicking techniques, western boxing techniques, Greco-Roman wrestling and bits and pieces from everywhere else.

One of Lee’s most startling innovations was his complete disregard of the forms (kata). Basically, he said they were of little or no use and he has often been quoted as saying that they were part of “the classical mess.”

Well, you can agree or disagree with Lee on this point. Personally I strongly disagree with what he said about the usefulness of kata. On the other hand, I admire the unquestionable ability he had with almost everything he did.

I believe that Bruce Lee had such consumate abilities, skills and dedication that he certainly did not need to practice kata himself. In fact, he scorned anybody and any style of martial art that did. What he did not seem to understand was that there will always be people of far lesser potential in the martial arts than him. He was a person of extremely rare talent. Such people often cannot tolerate the needs of others.

If you would like to read further about Bruce Lee there are numerous books available with more being published every year. However, the best book that I have ever seen is one that I have had in my library for more than twenty-five years called “The Legend of Bruce Lee” by Alex Ben Block. Unfortunately, I think it is now out of print but I am sure that there would be a few second hand book stores which would be able to procure a copy for you.

Anyway, getting away from the diversion of Bruce Lee and his personal dislike of traditional kata, I have seen far too many students benefit from their practice to ignore their value. The average person taking their first martial arts lesson has no co-ordination, no balance and has two left feet. Then we have athletes from other sports who are obsessed with making everything work by using brute strength alone. The assiduous training in kata can bring about so many benefits to these people.

In my experience there are far too many people willing to criticize the benefits of kata these days. They say things like : “What use is it?" and “It’s irrelevant in today’s world” and “You can’t use it for fighting” and “You can’t do a kata on a person” and numerous other negative things.

If some of the famous masters were still alive today, I wonder what their reaction would be? I speak of the great masters such as Gogen Yamaguchi, Gichin Funakoshi, Masatoshi Nakayama and Mas Oyama. Every one of these karate luminaries devoted their entire lives to perfecting karate and a big chunk of it consisted of kata training.

Each kata teaches not only numerous techniques but also a central theme. For example, in the Shotokan system, Hangetsu teaches the dynamics of power, tension and relaxation; Gankaku emphasises balance while Empi highlights the difference between high and low attacking manoeuvers.

If you are intending to join a martial arts club or you are already a member then you should seek out the kata within your style that you do not enjoy performing. These are precisely the kata that you must practice and become proficient in. When you are able to execute all the movements of these kata you will find that you no longer dislike them. You see, we automatically dislike those things that we are not very good at.

Many years ago I had a great dislike for a kata called Kanku Sho. That was because I fell into the trap of comparing my ability in performing that particular kata with that of a rival club member. (We’ll call him Wayne - because that is his name). Wayne was absolutely awesome when he performed Kanku Sho. I will explain...

There is a section in the middle of this kata which requires a leap and spin at the same time followed by a fall to the ground on all fours. When Wayne did it not only did he get tremendous height with the leap he seemed to be able to hover at the apex of it. And when he went into the crouching position he looked like a panther about to strike. I was always dumbstruck by the way that he did this.

I figured if Wayne could do it, so could I. Wayne was a fairly muscular sort of a chap but I was bigger - and heavier. What I failed to recognise was that his weight displacement was different to mine. What I also failed to recognise was that there were other kata that, looking back now, I was better suited to than he was.

Some time ago, on two separate occasions, I watched two of my senior black belts performing a bo ( six foot staff) kata and was totally amazed at how, during certain sections of the kata, the bo was lost in a blur of speed. From side on the bo looked like the blades of a windmill. Neither of them knew I was watching but I wondered whether I could achieve the same effect for somebody else watching from the side. I hoped so. It is strange how we always seem to make such comparisons with others.

For further information on karate kata please proceed to Part Three...

Gary Simpson is a 7th Dan karate master who teaches self defense, motivation, self help and wealth building to students around the world through home study courses. You may reprint this article as you include this author credit and an active link to his web site.

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