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Zen Garden > Karate Kata Explained - Part Three.

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

Most martial arts kata are so different to one another that certain body types will handle them better than other body types. Everybody has a different muscle structure, flexibility and other physical characteristics to everybody else, so do not expect to be able to outperform everybody else in every kata. Some kata will suit you, others will not - but you should still practice them all.

The point I am trying to make here is that you should be the best that you can be for yourself and not try to outdo somebody else. When you can overcome your failings in a kata your skill level will increase.

I have always said that if you show me a martial artist who is a good kata performer, that person will have little difficulty learning the skills of free-fighting. However, in my opinion, a naturally talented free-fighter will usually only ever be a good puncher and kicker. Eventually the punchers and kickers get weary of free-sparring (especially as they grow older and sustain more injuries). This causes them to drift away from their clubs. I find this rather sad.

Another benefit of kata performance is that it can remain a worthwhile activity as the practitioner gets older. There are many examples of karate exponents well into their seventies and eighties still performing kata at a high level of skill. One that springs readily to mind is Shinpo Matayoshi, the renowned Okinawan 10th dan karate and weapons expert. In his twilight years he was still able to make instructional video tapes on weapon katas and techniques. His level of dexterity would make most men half his age shake their heads in disbelief.

So, if you are a traditional martial arts person and your style includes the practice of kata, be proud. Next time you hear a kickboxer or boxer or “no kata type” person say : “You can’t use it in the ring!” just be polite and say “Yes. You’re quite right.”

You see, katas were never designed to be used for spontaneous fighting. In other words, “you can’t do a kata on a person.” You may, however, be able to extract a technique from a kata and apply that to a real confrontation situation. And therein lies the greatest, but by no means only, benefit of practicing kata. Kata give you ideas. They stimulate the imagination. They lead you into deeper study.

Kata practice simulates dozens of separate encounters to dozens of separate situations. It is a form of shadow boxing. The benefit you can receive from the proper practice of kata is only limited by your imagination.

I often tell my students that practicing kata forces the body to follow the instructions of the brain. Unfortunately, these days, there are far too many “Norms” and “Normas, who refuse to do anything at all if it causes any stress, pressure, effort, discomfort or new experience. These people are hedonists - those who are only motivated by physical pleasure. Such people have a brain ruled by a lazy body. The practice of kata forces the body to respond to the demands of the brain.

When practicing kata new abilities are revealed. Improvements are made to a vast array of positive attributes - timing, technique, speed, co-ordination, balance, tension, relaxation, power, distancing, focus, attention, and many more.

The application of techniques learned from katas is called “bunkai”. In fact, the more particular term is actually “oyo” but I will use the term bunkai because it has far wider acknowledgment and acceptance. Each technique in a kata may have two or three or even more bunkai applications according to the experience and skill of the practitioner. No single technique, providing it is plausable, can be said to be superior to another technique if the person executing the technique has researched it thorougly and can apply it with dexterity. The myriad of techniques within the kata allow for a tremendous variation of sparring moves.

The simple truth concerning the benefits of kata can be summed up as follows.

Learning the different kata requires much dedication and toil. The greater the number of kata known equals a greater level of dedication and toil required. The maintenance of these kata also requires considerable time because you cannot perform anything well if you do not practice it. It’s a bit like having a knife - if you don’t sharpen it, eventually it becomes dull. So to perform kata at a proper level requires a time input that many will not concede is worth the effort.

I can almost hear some people groaning right now - “What a waste of time. I’d rather work the focus mitts or kick the bag!” Now, I will admit focus mitts and bag work are important too. So is sparring. But consider this - it is always easier not to do something than to do it. It is always easier to spectate than to participate. And it is far easier to criticize something than it is to understand it.

I hope I have been able to give my readers an insight into kata and what they are all about. I don’t claim that what I have written is 100% correct for everybody. In fact, for those who abhor the practice of kata and dismiss it as a gross waste of time, I am probably 100% incorrect - for them. What I do claim, however, is that I am approaching being 100% correct for me. What other people choose to believe is based on their own thoughts, ideas and experiences. “To each his own.”

The subject of kata is so open ended and intriguing that it would take an entire book to explain, not this short dissertation. In fact, I would love to write a book on kata but there is no real need. You see it would be extremely difficult to better one that is already in print. If anybody would like to continue learning about kata I can thoroughly recommend “Karate Kata Training” by Dr Geir Store. I consider it to be one of the finest and most fascinating books in my collection. I have read Dr Store’s book from cover to cover at least a dozen times and I am still learning things from it.

In closing, let me leave you with this quote by Don Warrener from his book called “Advanced Traditional Goju Ryu Karate.”

“The kata is a means of self perfection.”

I think that little quote sums up the benefits of kata training just perfectly.

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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