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Lee Richardson
Lee Richardson's picture
Mystery kata

Disclaimer - I intend this to be a thought-provoking post. No slight on anyone is meant.

Let's say you attend a seminar by a senior and very well respected instructor in your organisation. During the seminar he teaches a kata which you've never seen before. It's quite a simple form and you pick up the shape of it after a few repetitions. He then goes on to teach a good number of applications, the majority of which ring true with you. They are all good, solid applications and take into account all the factors of a real-life self-protection situation (no arrow catching or hopping over the bodies of fallen warriors here).

Given the status of the instructor (or perhaps a language barrier, or simply lack of time) you aren't able to question the kata. You come away with a new kata and a handful of pragmatic applications, but no name, history or even lineage to go with it.

So taken are you with this new kata that you continue to study it in the following months. Again and again you come across new applications. The principles of this new kata just seem to keep on giving.

Here's the sting in the tail then - after spending many an hour practicing the new kata and its applications you hear that the senior instructor who taught it made it up on the spot. The question is - does that de-value the lessons you've learnt? Are the applications you were taught, and the ones you've devised for yourself, any less valid?

michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture


IMO no. Especially if the instructor has the experience to back up what he/she is teaching. New kata will be and have been developed. Moreover this process isn't limited to just the Japanese or OKinawans where karate is concerned because a western karate-ka with 20-30-40 years of experience is just as qualified to make up their own kata as  their Japanese or Okinawan counterpart.  And when you consider the intermixing of fighting arts today, or influence other styles of fighting on karate via the internet, seminars and cross training then new kata are bound to be developed. If someone has the experience and knowledge then in my opinion it matters how long it takes them to develop the kata just so long as the techniques found within it are valid.


Harry Mord
Harry Mord's picture


If he made up a multifaceted, deep and practical kata such as you describe "on the spot" then he's a genius! Sell everything you own and move in with him as his "disciple"!

I'm sure that if karate hadn't steadily degenerated to the "empty-handed kendo", live-action role-playing activity that it generally is today (present company excepted!) then the creation of new "fighting" kata would have been a standard practice. I'd even bet that many might even have abandoned most of the traditional kata years ago for more modern ones where we actually know the creator's intention.

Jr cook
Jr cook's picture

I would tend to agree with the above replies. I would also point out that this experience would only differ from many other seminars in that it was organised into a "kata" form and that it was of good quality! Most of these classes are just a collection of things that the presenter wanted to teach on the day. Some are good, some not so useful.

I have been to numerous classes where a list of techniques was taught. At the end of the day I had fun and walked away with a few reps of the instructor's techniques. The big difference in your example is that it is all pre-packaged for you to travel with. I like this approach as I tend to spend half the time in seminars taking notes so that I can remember a third of what we covered once I get back to the dojo.

If it were me the next step would be to take the lessons from this new form into my existing kata snd see what it uncovers within them. Assuming it is of a similar strategy then this could be very helpful.

Lee Richardson
Lee Richardson's picture

Thanks for the replies. What I was really aiming at was to see if people value the authenticity and lineage of a kata over its underlying principles. For me I don't care if a kata I've dedicated time and effort to turns out to be a traditional folk dance, less the music, just so long as I come away with some useful applications.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

Lee Richardson wrote:

Thanks for the replies. What I was really aiming at was to see if people value the authenticity and lineage of a kata over its underlying principles. For me I don't care if a kata I've dedicated time and effort to turns out to be a traditional folk dance, less the music, just so long as I come away with some useful applications.

Does it really matter, ITS lineage is paramount, you know exactly where its from, WHO created it and WHEN it was created!

Up to recently most Kata was just folk dance. Karateka like you and everyone on this forum are students of real Karate.

In Ashihara and Enshin Karate, we have kata that is less than 50 years old, modern kata created by their founders. the lineage is directly to them as it wasn't found in any other style of Martial Arts prior to their creation

Just enjoy the Kata and treat it like a Kata you jsut learnt from another style - its not in your syllabus but you enjoy practicing it etc

Kevin73's picture

Agreed with the above respones.  The kata should be a device to help you remember certain things.  It should be valuable on many levels.

The only way I would have a problem with it is dishonesty.  If the person made up a history of a long forgotten family kata that was passed on and never taught publically.  OR fill in your own idea.  In the west, we tend to forget that at some point in time ALL kata were made up and all styles were made up.  Why do we tend to think that only asians have insights into how to fight or organize it and pass it along?

shoshinkanuk's picture

Personally I have no problem with retaining it and viewing it as useful - but I wouldn't likeley actually do that.

Not enough time, to much focus on my own Ryu - and as a teacher a responsability to know that Ryu well, and teach that Ryu.

It's not an optimul 'practical' approach of course, I have seen, learn't excellent things fron other karateka, JuJutsu, Kali, Kenpo, Goju Ryu, White Crane and alot more if I think hard - but I retain none of them seriously, and certianly do not teach them.

Perhaps that will change as I move forward, it used to be the case but I stopped doing it once I realised and commited to our Ryu, the reality of my own resources hit home and I made a decision.

I realise this will be a different view from many on this forum.

Brian Crighton
Brian Crighton's picture

Once upon a time a man called Itosu created 5 katas which nobody had seen before with very good applications. :-)

If you find it useful then it is valuable. Something does not need history to be valuable. 

I would feel more cheated if the instructor had said he had created or devised something and later you had found out he had not.