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MykeB
MykeB's picture
Styles and Kata (Stripping away)

  This is the first thread I've started on these forums after lurking for ages and signing up recently.  This posting is prompted by the How a Kata Records A Style pod cast that was reposted today.  I say prompted because the subject matter has been inspired by the examination of our school's syllabus over the course of the past three years.  In that time I have really been looking at the kata we are teaching in the adult class.  

  That's a bit of background which frames this particular question for me personally that I may go into down thread, but I'll save that for now and simply state that I have my instructor's blessing to shorten or lengthen the list of kata we are teaching as we see fit.  We originally taught a fixed list of 11 kata up to the grade of 3rd dan, with 4th and 5th left to a personal choice from a short list.  13 in all through 5th dan.  Currently we are teaching 8, having culled some of the Hiean/Pinan kata (The first heresy of a traditional karateka?) with 10 total through 5th dan.  My feeling, and that of the other instructor, was that in keeping our carriculum manageable, and with an eye toward teaching actual bunkai and giving our students a solid combative base, we would rather have less breadth if it meant more depth.  I've proposed my radical stance kata list before consisting of Nanhanchi (perhaps the series as presented in Matsubayashi Ryu), Bassai/Passi, Kanku dai/kanku, Empi/Wanshu, meikyo/rohai, gankaku/Chinto to carry use through 5th dan.  So a total of 6-8 kata for the entirety of the carriculum.  Half of what we started with, 80% at best of what we currently do. 

  Back to Iain's pod cast and it's prompting of this post and the long ramble that came above to get down to this.  If collecting large numbers of kata under the umbrella of a single system is a modern invention, and each kata representing a complete fighting system, is there a need to teach a large number of kata for a modern style of karate to be complete?  Some styles have a long list of kata, more than twenty is many cases.  Others have fewer, sometimes a dozen or perhaps less.  What would you see as the number of kata that needs to be taught for a style to have a ligetimate claim to being a style?  Would it be a bad thing to have a style of karate containing only 3 or 4 kata? 

  All of this stripping away is presuming that the focus of kata training is to learn to apply the techniques of kata and therefor gain an understanding of the underlying principles.  For a long time it seems that part of karate training has devolved into the collecting of kata and the superfical learning of them in order to pass the next test/grading.  This has been a large part of why kata practice is viewed so critically by those seeking effective self defense training.  If we, as karateka, are trying to turn things around and return karate to it's practical roots, do we need large numbers of kata to practice?  Could karate kata, in order to improve the health of the tree(Iain's oak that sprang from the acorn?), use some pruning?  Cutting back what we teach so that it's stronger and of more use to our students?  

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Myke,

It an important topic this and thanks for rising it as it should make for a good discussion.

Gichin Funakoshi said that in the past karateka would study “narrow and deep” while as today they study “wide and shallow”. We do see people superficially learning lots of kata while their use and application go largely unstudied.

From a practical perspective there is certainly a strong argument for reducing the number of kata while increasing the depth of study. I guess the counter argument is that if everyone reduces the number of kata they practise then there is the chance of some kata being lost from the collective knowledge base. This is why some groups learn a number superficially; but study a smaller number of those kata in depth. In my case we make use of the Pinan Series, Naihanchi, Kushanku, Seishan, Chinto & Passai from beginner to 4th dan. The Pinan Series & Naihanchi are taught first and form the centre of what we do.

MykeB wrote:
If collecting large numbers of kata under the umbrella of a single system is a modern invention, and each kata representing a complete fighting system, is there a need to teach a large number of kata for a modern style of karate to be complete?

It depends upon what people are training for. A system can have no kata at all and still be complete.

MykeB wrote:
What would you see as the number of kata that needs to be taught for a style to have a ligetimate claim to being a style?  Would it be a bad thing to have a style of karate containing only 3 or 4 kata?

It could be a very positive thing for a style to have less kata; if those kata were studied in more depth as a result.

I don’t think there is a real right or wrong here as it is ultimately dependant on the goals of training and the way kata are approached.

It will be interesting to read over everyone’s views.

All the best,

Iain

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi,

since Funakoshi and Mabuni and maybe all the old masters back then were of the opinion that it is absolutely fine to just study 2 or 3 kata, I think thats fine too. But as Iain mentioned there is the danger for some kata to get lost in time, as it happened back then all the time.

I am a Shotokan practitioner so I can perform all 26 kata and it is a good cv exercise, but I study just 5 systems at the moment. That is the Heian/Pinan System, Tekki/Naihanchi System, Bassai/Passai System, Kanku/Kushanku System and Hangetsu/Seishan. I maybe expand that. I am interested in the Jion/Jiin System, Gankaku/Chinto System and the Meikyo/Rohai System but just right now there is no time for that because the other 5 systems consume all my time and there is a lot to cover.

So I would teach all the kata, the whole curriculum so to speak, and then the application to the first few kata. Later on it should be the choice of each student which kata he wants to study in depth.

Regards Holger

MykeB
MykeB's picture

Very first thing, thank you for the reply sir. I hope this is a good jumping off point, discussion on this sort of thing can be nothing but good.

Iain Abernethy wrote:

Hi Myke,

It an important topic this and thanks for rising it as it should make for a good discussion.

Gichin Funakoshi said that in the past karateka would study “narrow and deep” while as today they study “wide and shallow”. We do see people superficially learning lots of kata while their use and application go largely unstudied.

From a practical perspective there is certainly a strong argument for reducing the number of kata while increasing the depth of study. I guess the counter argument is that if everyone reduces the number of kata they practise then there is the chance of some kata being lost from the collective knowledge base. This is why some groups learn a number superficially; but study a smaller number of those kata in depth. In my case we make use of the Pinan Series, Naihanchi, Kushanku, Seishan, Chinto & Passai from beginner to 4th dan. The Pinan Series & Naihanchi are taught first and form the centre of what we do.

I would rather we had that depth that seems to lacking in much of the punch/kick karate that is out there.  The idea of training a full set of kata and narrowly focusing on just a handful of them for exploration and in depth training has been one I've discussed with my instructors.  It has a certain attraction, a somewhat powerful attration really.  But, it goes back to training the kata for dance instead of martial application.  And I do have a concern about some kata disappearing from our martial record.  Though I do doubt that with the wide varity of systems and styles in which people train there is much fear of kata disappearing.  However, I'm sure it's happened in the past and will happen in the future.  No need to speed it along though is there?

 

Quote:
It depends upon what people are training for. A system can have no kata at all and still be complete.
  Absolutely, I've know a few freestyle karate styles that don't rely on kata training at all.  Many times I think that might even be a reaction to the gap in kata knowledge. 

Iain Abernethy wrote:
It could be a very positive thing for a style to have less kata; if those kata were studied in more depth as a result.

I don’t think there is a real right or wrong here as it is ultimately dependant on the goals of training and the way kata are approached.

When it comes to martial arts training, I have always found it a deeply personal thing.  And in that, as long as a person is honest about their reason for training, I don't see a wrong way either.  A handful of kata, three dozen or none, as long as they are in the karate family, it should be good as long as they enjoy the training.

Again, thank you for the response.  This is one of the places I feel that honest questions about this sort of thing can be asked and there won't be knee jerk reactions on either side.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

I too have looked at reducing the amount of Kata in my syllabus, but which oned do we sacrifice for the others!

At present we have 17 Kata, 12 Jissen (Ashihara) Kata and 5 Goshin (Traditional) Kata, 

I could say that if one practices the Pinan/Heian series, then one doesn't need Kuahanku/Kanku Dai & Sho. Also the Taikyoku Kata, one doesn't need them if one practices Pinan Nidan/Heian Shodan. 

The Naihanchi/Tekki series or other series of Kata where there are several variants of the same Kata, again we should just keep 1 of these too, but which one. Wado kept just the first one.

Shito Ryu has 42+ Kata but To'on Ryu has just 5 Kata so where do we go.

I suggest possibly the most Senior of Karateka devising 5 Kata tha encompass everything in every kata out there, its been done before I hear you say, well maybe we do just that and drop all the Kata bar the Pinan Series and just practice then

osu 

BRyder
BRyder's picture

Hi,

whilst I am an advocate of depth fo study (for 'self defense' outcome) I'm not particularly in favour of removing kata from established ryu-ha syllabus. If we were to remove elements of the syllabus we change the nature of that school...for example: "We are a shotokan school but we only practice 12 of the kata" (through choice not lack of knowledge) makes that school unrepresentative of Shotokan.

My reasoning for this view is not practicality in any way, simply 'tradition' (trying not to go off on a massive tangent, but simply that is not the way things are done in Shotokan, in this case), and forease of reference and recording. 

Instead I think a slower rate of introduction to the different kata should be used to promote deeper study, in preference to losing kata from school, and that attitudes such as "You need to know all the kata by xth dan" need to be addressed according to learning outcomes.

Kata were added to existing schools because the Japanese have a social/cultural love and need of kata, and so a greater number would be seen as a better thing from a crude marketing perspective of the school and naively from the interested member of the public. I dont think there is much wrong with this (or much we can chnage about it in terms of customer perception), it just depends on what the kata are to be used for and then how they are used that measures the appropriateness of the use of kata in that particular way.

I liken this to buying ice-cream. If you really dont know the quality of the product, customers will go to the parlour with more flavours, more appeaing sounding flavours etc than the parlour simply selling vanilla. They do this because they think they will have more chances of finding a flavour that will satisfy them. So when opening a karate school in a culture obsessed with kata (shi-kata) the more flavours the better! There is nothing wrong with this in our culture(s) now either - I think some student choice can be a good thing. Through training different kata the same outcomes can still ultimatley be reached, just as nourishment will be found irrespective of the flavour of ice cream.

Leaving that ever expanding metaphor behind, perhaps instead of stripping kata from the school, a change to the approach to kata is required. Maybe a the head of the school and the very senior instructors, should know all the kata in their school according to the learning outcomes they wish to provide, and that students should be encouraged to to choose and study deeply under their tuition, so that both the collection of kata and quaity of study can both be preserved.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I don't know.

On the one hand, it's good (I guess) that most modern ryu have enough kata to fit a number of preferences, on the other hand, i've never been sure I buy any "progression' claim when it comes to  kata ladders.

It seems like most kata in Okinawan karate weren't really put into any kind of hierarchy until fairly recently, that tells me that maybe the perception of certain kata being more "advanced' might partly be an artifact of standardization.

As far as removing them or not, officially removing something is a much different step than what makes more sense to me, which is knowing all of them you need to, but focusing on the ones that really resonate. Of course, this is a harder question if you come from a Ryu with more kata..this is one thing I like about Goju, not so many to choose from!

One thing for sure, I would take in depth training in one, two or three kata even if it meant exclusion of the other kata entirely, rather than having less depth, and all the kata I was formally supposed to know.