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Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture
Real fights & Kata

Hi all,

for those who have been in a real full on fight or attacked will know that fights are fast, brutal and over in seconds. we are born with the human natural instincts to fight back, and no matter how much we are trained in the martials arts or a fighting system we will always go back to mainly punching, kneeing and maybe elbows.

The Pinan / Heian Kata are childrens Kata's right? wrong. if any of us were to create a Kata, would we create one without dangerours tactics contained within them, would we create a sport like version of a Kata that we could use in a real fight? i think not. if we did create a Kata it would contain everything one might think so it could be used in a real combat situation and aimed at geeting the fight over as quickly as possible. howver, having created a Kata that has it it all, how long would the Kata be? as long as say Kushnaku or short like Pinan Shodan / Heian Nidan?

Remember, fights are fast, brutal and over in seconds. Master Itosu created the Pinan / Heain Kata's, do we really think he would have created a series of Kata's one would not be able to use in a real combat situation? i think not, its also important to remember that there were no such things as competitions back then.

Master Itosu said that the Bunkai must be learned before one learns a Kata and that the Pinan / Heian Kata's were designed so one could advance through them in a short time, and they can be used for a quick attack and the application must be transmitted orally.

A single Kata is a complete fighting system in itself and i believe to really unlock all the fighting tactics held within it should be studied for about five years, this may sound madness to some, but its important to remember that the masters of old only knew 3 to five kata's at the most. If we think about it the Pinan / Heian Kata's alone are perfect for just this as there are just five of them, one does not need to really know a vast amount of Kata, it really is pointless is we are studying a martial art for real self-protection and not to say " i know 25 kata, but i dont know all the applications and wouldnt have the confidence in a real fight"

So we should really ask ouselves, why are we really studying a Martail Art (karate), is it for self-protection or to learn a vast amount of Kata just to boast, ask yourself, could you honestly apply the fighting tactics of a single kata in an emergency? of course its important to have a structure for instructors but whats more important honestly, learning a new kata every 3 months, or really getting to grips with a single kata. Sudying the pre-emptive strikes contained within, the knockout tactics, stand up grappling, seiza grappling, ground work, defence against weapons and multiple attackers, focus miit drills from the Kata and heavy impact using the tactics contained.

This is really how we should be studying Kata, Pinan Shodan / Heian Nidan for example i believe has everything ones needs to defend themselves if the Kata is studied properly, after all in 3 months one could not achieve the above. remember an ordinary person may use Karate in a self-defence situation maybe once in a lifetime if at all, so when the masters of old would say that it would take a lifetime to really understand a single kata we begin to understand.

One can still have a grading syllabus and structure but instead of learning a new kata every 3 months (although a great achievement) i think its more important to have realistic Bunkai drills inplace of the kata for Kyu grades.

Master Itosu said: if one were to train 2 to 3 hours per day for 3 to 4 years one would possibly be able to understand the hidden parts of the Kata.

How many out there (students) have trained an hour a week for 4 to 5 years, know 12 or more kata and wearing black belts and maybe could not handle themselves in a real situation, in this the black belt earned means nothing. if one studied a single kata for five years, understood the applications in detail and could really apply them in an emergancy and combat situation, is this not a real black belt?

The above are my own beliefs but im interested in those who may train the way i do (regarding the indepth study of one kata) or have the same thoughts?

Kind regards,

Jason

MykeB
MykeB's picture

Jason,

I don't think you'll find a huge amount of disagreement on this board.  There are several threads on cutting down on the number of kata taught (found the search features after I started my own thread relating to this).  While I don't think that the Pinan/Heian series are perfect vehicles for application, they do contain very parced out set of principles and combat techniques.  I don't particularly care for them if I'm going to limit myself to a handful of kata.  Naihanchi(s), Kanku/Kushanku and Rohai or Chinto would make my short list.  Pinan/Heians were taught to school children for a reason.  They are basic, and simplified amalgamation of other more difficult/advanced kata.  With a shorter list of kata to study, it is very easy to increase depth of study.  If you only have 3 or 4 kata to study over the course of say 3-5 years to shodan, you have more time to work on application and have some sort of practical ability that relates to their kata.  So, other than Pinan/Heian groups being the perfect vehicle to teach kata application through, I'm in agreement with you on most of this. 

Now, on a point you made asking whether any of us could formulate a kata as well as Itsou that delt with violent conflict (ie. self defense or a "fight" in this context).  You say no.  Why not?  If you have some practical experience to base your thoughts on, in depth training with compitent instructors and time, why couldn't you?  If you understand the concepts and principles you are trying to commit, it should be something that can be done.  Past generations of karate masters were just human.  No better or worse than the men who live today and I don't think that they all possesed some special attribute that makes them better at karate than anyone else with similar time dedicated to it's study.  If Iain were to compose a kata, I would trust that it contained a very defined set of principles and concepts.  I would expect as much, and in this modern time I would also think that what is meant by each movement would be recorded in a variet of formats, video, written word, ebooks etc.  If John Bluming or Peter Constantine, men who I had heard and read of for years before Iain (no offense Mr. Abernethy!) put together a kata that they though was effective training for self-defense, I would be working on learning it, the associated application.  It would very likely make my short list of kata as well.  I would "know" what it was trying to say without having to work out the Rossetta Stone by myself.  I wouldn't trust a shodan with barely 3 years to create a new kata, but a practictioner with a couple of hard decades of intense training?  Why not.  Plenty of the early karate men who formed styles that are now practiced world wide had done so before the age of 50 and started in their late teens.  Not knocking on you Jason, this is just a point I would diverge from you on. 

Ben Ryder
Ben Ryder's picture

"we are born with the human natural instincts to fight back, and no matter how much we are trained in the martials arts or a fighting system we will always go back to mainly punching, kneeing and maybe elbows."

This is just incorrect. We do have natural instincts and they manifest in a variety of ways. I had four fights last night; I'm not going to list what I did as I train, but the others  spat at me, bit me, pushed me, punched me (attempt), headbutted  (attempt), elbowed me and kicked me. Thats just the alpha males. I also saw men and women fighting by scratching, wrestling, hair pulling and tackling.

The concept that someone couldn't formulate a kata of their own shows a limited understanding of how kata works and how they are developed. Kata culminates learning (though few actually do this these days) and is an amalgamation of individual composite acts of self defence principles. The same teacher with a set number of defensive principles may teach the application of the principles in different ways to different students according to their needs, creating different solo representations. The order in which they combine the individual solo templates can also vary according to a range of priorities. This is how we have kata of a same name - 'bassai' for example -  which look different: the natural variations from source become stylistic; the same process accounts for how we have 'dai' and 'sho' which is simplified to greater and lesser, but actually is complete and incomplete.

You can get any good, well rounded MA teacher find their core techniques, establish the solo representations into a geometric configuration and have a kata as good as anything we already have, but it naively and foolishly wouldnt be seen as good because it isnt 'traditional'/okinawan/old.

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi Jason,

there are a few statements you make that I have problems with.

Jason Lester wrote:
i think not, its also important to remember that there were no such things as competitions back then.

There were kind of competitions back in the days called kakedameshi. Those were challenges to find out who is the better fighter, just like in competition today.

Jason Lester wrote:
Master Itosu said that the Bunkai must be learned before one learns a Kata and that the Pinan / Heian Kata's were designed so one could advance through them in a short time, and they can be used for a quick attack and the application must be transmitted orally.

(...)

Master Itosu said: if one were to train 2 to 3 hours per day for 3 to 4 years one would possibly be able to understand the hidden parts of the Kata.

I highly doubt that Itosu said things like "the Bunkai must be learned first". The term bunkai is a pretty modern term first used by Mabuni in one of his publications the 1930s when I have my facts straight. Can you provice a source for your citations?

From Iains translation of Itosus Jukun is this: 3. Karate cannot be quickly learned. Like a slow moving bull, it eventually travels a thousand leagues. If one trains diligently for one or two hours every day, then in three or four years one will see a change in physique. Those who train in this fashion will discover the deeper principles of karate.

So no advancement in short time and no hidden parts of kata either. Just physical changes and the understanding of the underlying principles.

Jason Lester wrote:
How many out there (students) have trained an hour a week for 4 to 5 years, know 12 or more kata and wearing black belts and maybe could not handle themselves in a real situation, in this the black belt earned means nothing. if one studied a single kata for five years, understood the applications in detail and could really apply them in an emergancy and combat situation, is this not a real black belt?

Every teacher has own standards so you drew the line here others do it differently.

Regards Holger

Ben Ryder
Ben Ryder's picture

Hi Holger,

The typica way of learning pre popuarisation was to learn appliction practices first, then culminate with the kata - its a bit like go one the course buy the DVD ;-)

Rgds

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi Ben,

was that the way in the old days? When we talk old days, what times are we talking about 1800s, 1900s or earlier or later? Did masters like Itosu taught their students that way? I have my doubts. Funakoshi started as a teenager with Karate under Asato and Itosu and he wrote in his books that he had to perform kata many times. He said nothing about starting with the q and a style applications of moves and learning the kata afterwards.

When you start young, first thing you need or aim for is a "Karate-Body" so you need to emphasis on training your body to become strong, flexible and so on. They did that with Kata and Hojo Undo and the likes. Then come the martial skills.

Anyway I was more disturbed by the "fact" that Itosu should have said things like bunkai first kata later and so on. 

Regards Holger

JWT
JWT's picture

I had always been under the impression that Itosu's primary focus had been on physical fitness and strength and had the idea (from anecdotes repeated by Funakoshi and from Cook's history) that his knowledge of practical bunkai was not particularly hot.  After all, you don't need to understand Kata in depth to break them up and make your own versions - look at most of the C20 Kata!  Is there any evidence that he knew or taught bunkai?

I've spent the last 11 years with the Pinan/Heian (plus Empi) as my Kata study in various forms, writing and videoing with regard to bunkai almost excusively on them with occasional flirtations with other Kata purely for the benefit of other people or to come at them from another angle.  They are good kata, constructed predominantly of individual moves and sequences seen in other forms, but from my perspective I have no guarantee that Itosu could apply them as well as a number of people I could think of.  He was a big fish in a very small pond who played a pivotal role, and we can place him on a pedestal for that, but I think it dangerous to assume he was as skilled or knowledgeable as a number of modern MAists.

Ben Ryder
Ben Ryder's picture

Hi Holger

it was explained to me that the technique first then kata model was reflective of the way in which lessons were passed in fujian schools, the forms of which were adopted in Okinawa. I haven't been given an exact date and I imagine that the process would not be controlled or standardised and there would be variation in transition between schools and locations etc (just as we see now). 

I'm skeptical of Funakoshis technical ability generally, and also of his writing as I have read translations of his articles that contradict his other publications, and see what his mass publishing as advertising his new budo friendly karate. I believe that the kata first model was brought in by Itosu to satisfy his political aim of karate (introduce to schools to produce a fit conformist youth to fuel a war machine) but he may have just be passing it on the way he was taught and th change was before him.

kata being taught as a culmination of learning makes sense simply because the first ever kata had to be created from something other than random solo moves - the solo moves had to record the lesson passed.

DaveB
DaveB's picture

I have heard the application first idea before, but from far fewer sources than kata first, which I think is better. Application first is just as likely to be a marketing scheme to play on modern desires for a more fight focused history of karate, as the idea that kata first was invented to push the youth education tool of karatedo. Alternatively it may just be that different masters had different teaching methods. That said the most damning evidence against partner drills first is the kungfu of southern China. Most of karate is from China and all of the southern Chinese arts I have encountered start with forms and solo training. I like the kata first method because I see kata as exercise that develops certain skills in relation to movement that are harder to develop while focussing on an opponent. Take taichi for example: that fluid movement has direct purpose in application so how could you go straight into partner training and if you did how much harder would it be to learn how to move fluidly with the whole body engaged and your momentum never stopping if all you are focused on learning drills? Add in the need for conditioning, development of strength and coordination and I think kata first is the only option. The teaching of different kinds of movement is something I think has been greatly overlooked, but I believe something similar to the taichi route I mentioned is supposed to be at work in all TMA. I think standardization of kata lost us a lot of important application relevant detail linked to the themes presented by the kata. I personally think the kata first model to be ibetter.I also think that application teaching in Okinawa was cursory, just a basic set to get the brain working and the body used to facing an opponent. I think after this it was left up to the student to work out uses of the form.