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Nicolai
Nicolai's picture
Kata Based Training

Dear forum and fellow karate kas.

I am new to this forum so please forgive me if this topic has been up a million times. I am also new to Karate. I have trained for 3 years and hold a 4th kyu rank.

I am slowly beginning to grasp the purpose of Katas and the methods of Bunkai. This is very exciting, and a whole new world has appeared  :-) This is something that I think I will continue exploring.

Now to my problem and question:

I am seeing plausible applications from books and the internet, and I am actually starting to "develop" my own. But I realize that I will never be ready to use them in a real world situation because i didnt train them. I am interested in input about how your train the application in your dojos, so that they become second nature, the same way as performing the katas is.

I have 2 suggestions myself:

1: Identify sections of kata and try them 100s of times with a sparring partner. I think this could work but given the number of katas, technics and plausible applications I dont know if this is a good method in the long run. And it lacks the unexpected response from the opponent.

2: Engaging in free sparring with a training partner at close distance. Trying to apply the bunkai against an unpredictable opponent.

Maybe this is the right way to go but i am sure that you have a lot of additional methods of training the applications. 

Let me hear how you do it. Not looking for 1 single "truth" but just inspiration, to build uppon.

Thank you

Anf
Anf's picture

Others will disagree with me, and that's fair enough of course. But personally I have serious doubts that kata converts directly to practical application. I've seen many demonstrations of applications, and it kind of looks sort of like what we see in the kata, but never exactly.

That said, I still see great value in kata/forms/hyung whatever name we give them. To me they teach principles of movement. The human body is amazing at movement, but unless we practice moving in ways that we don't normally move, in our mundane day to day lives, we will just not develop that natural movement. Kata gives us that.

I am currently lucky in that where I train now, everyone has an open mind and while we do have a syllabus, we don't stick to it religiously. There's plenty of opportunity for free play. Because of this, if we happen to be practicing something that I think I recognise from a form, I get the opportunity to play with it and vary it and adapt it and just see what feels like it might work, and what doesn't seem to.

Different people like different things. The method of training I enjoy the most quite honestly bores a lot of people. I like to drill the same technique or principle repeatedly until I either run out of time, or until my training partners or instructors insist we move on. When it works, I want to understand why. When it doesn't work, same, but then I want to figure out also what I could try next to improve it.

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

I'll provide a few comments.  Because I don't know your background, I'll provide generic guidance.  Starting out, I think it is very important to choose the right source for your bunkai.  There's a sea of information available with potential applications and bunkai for kata techniques, but it varies tremendously in terms of effectiveness.  So if you start working on the wrong bunkai (or make a wrong turn when developing your own), you could devote hours to practicing bad/ineffective skills.  For that reason, I would suggest that you start with a close study of Iain's bunkai.  If Iain's bunkai isn't available for kata in your system, look for parallels.

The second thing is to start small.  Sometimes a single kata will include a broad range of techniques of varying difficulty (i.e., high percentage and somewhat lower percentage techniques).  It's important to pull out the high percentage techniques first.  I don't think there's any shame in starting with the absolute basics.  

The third thing is to understand the context that you're preparing for.  This is an area where I've learned a lot from this forum and from Iain's app.  When you say "engaging in free sparring" at a close distance, it raises a question of whether you're training for self-protection or for sparring.  You can train for multiple contexts, it's just important to be clear on the when and the why of it.  Kata techniques won't always transfer to sparring/competition.

The fourth thing is setting appropriate expectations and boundaries.  For example, there are a lot of skills in kata that I don't have an opportunity to train/drill on a regular basis.  I have to accept that they cannot be part of my core skill set until things change.  Even if I were to go to a seminar and study them deeply, I wouldn't be able to "maintain" those skills once I got back.  So that's why I think it's important to choose a handful of high-percentage techniques that (a) you like, (b) fit your body type and skill set, and (c) can be trained/drilled regularly and safely in your school.

In your post, you talk about wanting to use kata bunkai in real world situations.  I think that since real world effectiveness is your goal, it is going to be important for you to approach kata bunkai very deliberately.  Any time you find an application for a particular move in kata, ask yourself if there is an easier and simpler way to accomplish the same goal.  The kata are a great source of techniques and tactics, but real world applications demand that we always hunt for the most efficient and effective tools available, and also require a well-developed set of "soft skills" to go alongside them.

Also, if you have time, you may want to skim this thread:  https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/real-life-example

It starts in a different place but some of the responses will touch upon your current question.

Best to you --

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Nicolai,

Welcome to the forum!

Nicolai wrote:
… I realize that I will never be ready to use them in a real world situation because i didnt train them. I am interested in input about how your train the application in your dojos, so that they become second nature, the same way as performing the katas is.

I’m sure you’ll get lots of good advice and help from other forum members. For my part I would say that the vital thing to grasp is that kata and bunkai are part of a process. As you rightly point out, knowing what a motion is for does not give you the ability to apply that motion. I know what an airplane is for, but that does not make me a pilot. To develop true functionality, you need to look at the wider kata process. In short:

1 – Solo Kata

2 – Bunkai

3 – Identifying and internalising the underlying principles so you develop the ability to adapt and vary.

4 – Gain live experience of doing it.  

At the moment, it sounds like you are working stages 1 and 2, so you need to gradually add in 3 and 4. This article should be helpful:

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/article/four-stages-kata-practise

This video does not go into as much depth as the article, but you may also find it useful.

 

Live practise of the kata methods and principles is extremely important. We do this through a range of live drills that I label as “Kata Based Sparring”.

These two podcasts would be good place to start:

Kata Based Sparring Principles:

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/kata-based-sparring-revisited-principles

Kata Based Sparring Structure:

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/kata-based-sparring-revisited-structure

The podcasts are definitely the best place to start, but this video may also be useful:

 

I hope that those help. In conclusion, you need to start including live practise that flows from the methodology that kata records. Start slow and simple and build it up over time. Things really start to click into place when all elements of the kata process are in place.

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Anf,

Anf wrote:
But personally I have serious doubts that kata converts directly to practical application. I've seen many demonstrations of applications, and it kind of looks sort of like what we see in the kata, but never exactly.

I think there is a flaw in your thinking i.e. you are expecting kata and application to look exactly the same. I would suggest that they fact they look different is exactly what one would expect.

Firstly, there is the historical information from the past masters. As examples (my highlights):

“Always perform kata exactly, combat is another matter.” – Gichin Funakoshi

“Never be shackled by the rituals of kata but instead move freely according to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.” – Genwa Nakasone

“Therefore, kata must be practiced properly, with a good understanding of their bunkai meaning. There may be those who neglect the practice of kata, thinking that it is sufficient to just practice two-person drills that has been created based on their understanding of the kata, but that will never lead to true advancement. The reason why is that the ways of attacking and defending have innumerable variations. To create two-person drills containing all of the techniques including each and every one of their variations is impossible. However, if one practices kata correctly, it will serve as a foundation for performing - when a crucial time comes - any of the infinite number of variations. However, even if you practice the karate kata as you should, if that is all that you do, if you do not train sufficiently in other areas, then you will not develop sufficient skills. If you do not also use other training methods to strengthen and quicken your hands and feet, as well as to ensure the sufficient study of things like body-shifting and distancing, you will be inadequately prepared when the need arises to call on your skills.” – Kenwa Mabuni, “Practice Karate Correctly”

“It is important to alter the form of the trained kata without hesitation to produce countless other forms of training. Essentially, it is a habit - created over long periods of training. Because it is a habit, it comes to life with no hesitation - by the subconscious mind. " – Hironori Otsuka

And so on.

We can see that it was always appreciated that the kata provides an example of concept; which will then be varied to fit the exact circumstances. This article has more on that:

 https://iainabernethy.co.uk/article/understanding-kata-textbooks-and-tactics

Secondly, the fluid nature of combat, and the innumerable variables therein, make it extremely unlikely that any two situations will be exactly the same. The kata gives an example, but it would be illogical to expect that specific example to be an exact fit for all circumstances.

Things will change due to the relative motion of the combatants, the specific postures in a given moment, the relative builds of the combatants, the nature of the surrounding environment, the tactical demands of the circumstances, etc.  The kata can’t cover all of those variables because if it did the kata would become impractically long; even if it tried to cover just one method. Instead, the kata gives us an example to work from, such that variations are covered in stages 3 and 4 of the kata process: https://iainabernethy.co.uk/article/four-stages-kata-practise  

If we understand that kata provide an example of concept, then we do see that concept move directly from kata to application. However, it seems you are decrying katas relationship to combat because you are expecting the example to move over unadjusted. I would suggest you will never see that in any martial art ever. You won’t see one specific example applied universally across the piece in the ever-changing world of combat. What you will see is many variations of that methods – all of which are based on the same underlying principles and concepts – applied as the situation demands.

As an example, you could hit YouTube and pick any single example of a boxer throwing a cross. You could then seek to find another example, in a bout, that was exactly the same … and I’d bet it could not be done. There would always be differences. No different with kata.

As an analogy, here is a piece of addition:

2 + 3 = 5

That example can be used to show how addition works. Once you have understood what the example represents – i.e. the concepts of addition – you can work out the infinite number of other examples:

2 + 3.45 = ?

I would suggest that the concept of addition is present in both sums, and you can directly apply the concepts illustrated in the first example know that the answer for the second sum is 5.45.

If we had an expectation that the example of addition must always be strictly adhered to (akin to what I’d suggest you are doing with the kata process), then we could say, “The fact the example came to 5, but this sum came to 5.45 is proof the example can’t be applied to addition”. That’s obviously illogical though when we appreciate what the purpose of the first example was to communicate the nature of addition. It was not to say that all sums must add up to 5 :-)

No one would suggest that the only way to teach addition is to have the pupils memorise the infinite number of possible additions. We accept that the best way to teach students to solve the infinite number of additions, is to give them examples that illustrate the concept of addition. Kata works the same way. Kata gives use examples of concepts that we can then directly apply to the infinite number of combative variations (as per the Mabuni quote).

In conclusion, I would say that having the expectation that example and all enlacements must be exactly the same is a faulty premise. What remains the same are the concepts and principles. Adapting to the situation is something combat demands. This adaptation, in line with underlying concepts and principles, is not evidence of a failing of the process, but rather it is an identified part of the process in action.

All the best,

Iain

Anf
Anf's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
. What remains the same are the concepts and principles. Adapting to the situation is something combat demands. This adaptation, in line with underlying concepts and principles, is not evidence of a failing of the process, but rather it is an identified part of the process in action.

With respect, that's pretty much exactly what I said

"That said, I still see great value in kata/forms/hyung whatever name we give them. To me they teach principles of movement. The human body is amazing at movement, but unless we practice moving in ways that we don't normally move, in our mundane day to day lives, we will just not develop that natural movement. Kata gives us that."

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Anf,

Anf wrote:
With respect, that's pretty much exactly what I said

Anf wrote:
That said, I still see great value in kata/forms/hyung whatever name we give them. To me they teach principles of movement. The human body is amazing at movement, but unless we practice moving in ways that we don't normally move, in our mundane day to day lives, we will just not develop that natural movement. Kata gives us that.

I don’t believe that is what you said and feel we are definitely not saying the same thing. You are talking about “principles of movement” and I am talking about combative principles. They are very different things.

The principles of efficient combative movement are a subset of combative principles; and combative motion always need to be integrated within the wider set of combative principles (movement without tactics is pointless). Some people do limit the role of kata to “motion” alone and I believe that to be illogical and impractical. This is discussed in-depth in this old article (second debunked approach):

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/article/occams-hurdled-katana-logic-kata-application

The quote you used to assert we were saying the same thing only references movement i.e. “To me [kata] teach principles of movement”. For me, they do way more than that. They provide examples of combative principles that are to be made habitual through the wider kata process outlined in my above post.

We also seem to differ on our expectations how similar kata and bunkai should look and you asserted, “I have serious doubts that kata converts directly to practical application.” On those points I also disagree; hence my post expressing the where I felt those disagreements lay.

I therefore don’t think we are saying the same thing (based on what we have both written) and I hope that helps clarify why.

I also never feel disrespected when people feel I’m wrong, have misunderstood or wish to express and alternative view. The “with respect” preface is therefore acknowledged but not needed :-)

All the best,

Iain

Anf
Anf's picture
Iain Abernethy wrote:
. Some people do limit the role of kata to “motion” alone and I believe that to be illogical and impractical.

Perhaps this is the key point. I fully agree with this statement and sentiment. But it is how a lot of people train / are taught. You have a key advantage over many in karate (and related) circles in that you not only have vast and diverse experience, more so than most, and certainly more so than I, but you also have a focus on practical karate and the means to develop that. Sadly most of us have to make the best we can out of '3K'. In such environments practical applications are often vague, and to 0ut it politely, questionable. We can of course look elsewhere for answers but for many, that sadly is largely limited to good old YouTube, where there are some very dubious things, and the odd gem. So while I think you are overall right, in practical terms for many folk, genuinely practical application from kata is hard to come by.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Some people do limit the role of kata to “motion” alone and I believe that to be illogical and impractical.

Anf wrote:
Perhaps this is the key point. I fully agree with this statement and sentiment. But it is how a lot of people train / are taught.

Anf wrote:
So while I think you are overall right, in practical terms for many folk, genuinely practical application from kata is hard to come by.

Thanks for clarifying. I would agree that there are karate groups out there that practise in an impractical and ineffective way. Within that I am not including those who knowingly practise karate solely as art, health, culture, etc. but those who claim practicality while not delivering it. However, there are many groups out there who do practise karate in a holistic and functional way. Therefore, I don’t think the statement that started this side discussion holds true i.e. “personally I have serious doubts that kata converts directly to practical application”. That reads as a generalised statement about the link between kata and application, not an observation that some groups don’t to understand and realise that link. I would agree that some people struggle to realise that link, but would disagree that a direct link is not inherently present.  

My recent Logical Fallacy video included the fallacy of Personal Incredulity i.e. a proposition must be false because it contradicts one's personal expectations, beliefs or understanding. I don’t think you’re falling foul of that fallacy, but it is certainly one we see in effect: “I can’t see or understand the link between kata and combat, so no link exists.” Another logical fallacy – which was not covered in the video – is that of Hasty Generalisation i.e. looking at a few examples and generalising that to be representative of the whole. While you’ve clarified your position, it would seem that the original statement could be seen as an example of that: “My experience in training is that the link between kata and combat is vague and questionable and hence I have serious doubts that link.”

The link, and the process for realising that link, is clear and well-identified for a huge number of karateka. I’d agree that is not universally the case, but I feel that speaks to differences in approach, understanding and experience as opposed to making any universal statement about karate, kata or bunkai.

All the best,

Iain

Anf
Anf's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Thanks for clarifying. I would agree that there are karate groups out there that practise in an impractical and ineffective way. Within that I am not including those who knowingly practise karate solely as art, health, culture, etc. but those who claim practicality while not delivering it. However, there are many groups out there who do practise karate in a holistic and functional way. Therefore, I don’t think the statement that started this side discussion holds true i.e. “personally I have serious doubts that kata converts directly to practical application”. That reads as a generalised statement about the link between kata and application, not an observation that some groups don’t to understand and realise that link. I would agree that some people struggle to realise that link, but would disagree that a direct link is not inherently present.

In response to the question from the person that started this thread, I answered that question from my perspective.

I am interested in input about how your train the application in your dojos, so that they become second nature,"

Iain Abernethy wrote:
My recent Logical Fallacy video included the fallacy of Personal Incredulity i.e. a proposition must be false because it contradicts one's personal expectations, beliefs or understanding. I don’t think you’re falling foul of that fallacy, but it is certainly one we see in effect: “I can’t see or understand the link between kata and combat, so no link exists.”

Fair points, understood.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Another logical fallacy – which was not covered in the video – is that of Hasty Generalisation i.e. looking at a few examples and generalising that to be representative of the whole. While you’ve clarified your position, it would seem that the original statement could be seen as an example of that: “My experience in training is that the link between kata and combat is vague and questionable and hence I have serious doubts that link.

Agreed. As in, in my personal experience, as I stated at the beginning, in my personal experience the link between kata and combat is questionable and so based on my personal experience I personally doubt the link between kata and combat. Again I was clear that that was my experience, in that nobody has yet to show me a convincing plausible application. That said, kata contain kicks and punches and elbows and knees. Of course they can be attributed to combat, and so we can say that kata represents combat if we take those things in isolation. The problem I have is that if we look beyond the very obvious basic strikes to some of the more mysterious (for want of a better term) moves, then if we ask 2 different people what a move is, very often we'll get two completely different answers. Both answers will often be backed with an explanation and a demo, but they are rarely literal. We hear phrases like a turn in kata represents moving our opponent, or this arm movement represents a neck crank or the jump and turn represents a kind of punctuation in the flow (all things I've heard) which kind of begs the question, if those things that 'represent' things are true, then why don't we simply mimmic that action rather than a representation of it? That's not to say that kata never represented combat. My concern is that over generations and each teacher wanting to make his/her own mark, without ever having had a fight outside the dojo, something that might once have been practical is now little more than a kind of strange robotic dance.

i once saw a post (might have been on here, might have elsewhere) that illustrated the point very well. It features links to video clips of people performing bassai. Some clips were from old cine cameras in low grade monochrome, clearly dating back quite far. Others were more recent and looked at how different styles perform them. By the time you get to modern day, and the versions I've been taught, they are barely recognisable from the earlier ones. Those earlier videos themselves not being the earliest, as the kata is believed to date back somewhat further than the days of cine cameras. So this being the case, unless someone has access to some secret historical record that I've missed, I think it is close to impossible to say with any degree of certainty that the versions of kata widely taught today represent practical, tested combat techniques.

My goal here is not to prove that kata is not combat. My point is that I don't see it, because so far, my own experience, is that more people are willing to show me dubious and implausible applications than plausible ones that fit the kata. While that remains to be the case, I will still value kata as means of developing natural movement, but I personally will not try to imagine up applications (I used to do that) that I can't realistically test without anyone getting hurt (probably me). Again my personal view, but for practical applications, I like to practice and experiment with like minded partners. Sometimes we'll do something that kind of looks like a piece from a form, and I used to try to link them up, but I've since realised that for me personally, trying to match form to function was holding me back.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
The link, and the process for realising that link, is clear and well-identified for a huge number of karateka. I’d agree that is not universally the case, but I feel that speaks to differences in approach, understanding and experience as opposed to making any universal statement about karate, kata or bunkai.

Agreed again. Hence why throughout, I've stressed that my opinion is based on my experience and observation. This in response to a question how we each train in our respective ways. Personally I would love the opportunity to train with folks that can see the link and apply kata to practical function. Those who are lucky enough to have had that rare instructor, and have regular contact with other practical karateka might find that incomprehensible, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that most of us don't have that.

Nicolai
Nicolai's picture

Thank you all for your contribution.

At the moment I am trying to digest what youre saying, and putting it together. I appreciate your debate as the arguments help to see this issue from more than one side, so please continue. I will follow you from a distance trying to understand as you go along.

I felt my mental journey was very quick from the time i started questioning the purpose of Kata till where I am now. I am beginning to se the principles and methods of bunkai, and every day i feel like I discover something new. Very exciting for me. But every time I go into the Dojo and think: "Ok, so start train what you discovered", I realise that I have a hard time creating a training method that is effective and realistic...

I will read through your comments, follow your links, read my books from Iain and Patrick Mccarthy again, and try to distill your knowledge. I am participating in my second seminar with Iain in March. Maybe I will ask the same question there if there is time.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi And,

Anf wrote:
why don't we simply mimic that action rather than a representation of it?

Wo do mimic the action. This goes back to what we were discussing earlier i.e. the variables of combat, and the need to appreciate that the kata is showing one example of an infinite number of subtle variations. An example of the core motion is presented by the kata – and that example will contain all salient actions – but that motion will be adapted to fit the exact circumstances that the kata could not possibly know ahead of time i.e. relative heights, momentary position, environment, direction of motion, etc. The motion showed by the kata is what we do in combat; it is not any kind of abstract representation. Those who make that claim are normally unclear on how kata works and are not explaining but “justifying” why their “bunkai” has no clear link to the kata. For those who do get the process, the link between kata, bunkai and live application is obvious, clear and direct.

Anf wrote:
So this being the case, unless someone has access to some secret historical record that I've missed, I think it is close to impossible to say with any degree of certainty that the versions of kata widely taught today represent practical, tested combat techniques.

I think the point your missing here is that modern day karateka test and apply kata methods all the time. They know that the kata they are practising present “practical, tested combat techniques” because they tested them in combat and found them practical :-) Functional verification is readily available and has a definitive measure. Perhaps paradoxically, functional verification is the measure they used in the past. I’ve got a 90 minute video that I’ll be sharing near Christmas on YouTube that covers historicity and practicality. It is touched on it this podcast: https://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/karate-30

quote=Anf]I've since realised that for me personally, trying to match form to function was holding me back.[/quote]

That may be the case, because it sounds like circumstances have you unable to follow the process i.e. you are in a 3K club were kata is not clearly linked to bunkai, where there is no process to internalise combative concepts and give them free reign, and kata centred drills are not the norm. You are commonly shown “dubious and implausible applications”, you “can't realistically test” them and hence you have shifted the kata to a “means of developing natural movement”. While I appreciate all of the difficulties that poses, I feel there are elements of personal incredulity and hasty generalisation in the conclusions you draw about kata as a result.

If a person has never been taught to drive, and has no experience of doing so, it does not follow that cars are inherently confusing and illegal to use. For the person who has been taught to drive, cars are easy to use, legal and practical. We can’t draw any conclusions about the inherent nature of cars based on the untrained person’s experience of using them; especially when that is juxtaposed against the experience of the person with the required education and experience. A similar situation exists with kata.

For a great many karateka, the link between kata and combat is clear; applications are functional and as presented in the kata; combative principles are ever present in word, thought and deed; and there is a chance to test everything is safe and well-structured live drills. Nicolai’s post suggests that that’s the kind of karateka he wants to be. He therefore needs to better understand the kata process and follow it in training. I think us bouncing this back and forth has been useful in clarifying points of that process and I hope Nicolai and others find it useful.

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Nicolai,

Nicolai wrote:
I appreciate your debate as the arguments help to see this issue from more than one side, so please continue.

Back and forth discussion can be a great way to draw out details and I’m pleased you’ve found our conversation useful.

Nicolai wrote:
I am beginning to see the principles and methods of bunkai, and every day i feel like I discover something new. Very exciting for me. But every time I go into the Dojo and think: "Ok, so start train what you discovered", I realise that I have a hard time creating a training method that is effective and realistic ...

Ideally, the dojo should be showing you the training methods and guiding you though it. Circumstances mean that your having to teach yourself and that’s not easy.

Nicolai wrote:
I will read through your comments, follow your links, read my books from Iain and Patrick McCarthy again, and try to distil your knowledge.

While all that can be useful, none of it is a substitute for regular training. Maybe there are people you can form a “study group” with as you seek to get a handle on it all. I would again advise to not run before you can walk and start with the fundamentals. Start with basic bunkai drills for the first kata you learnt and add in some basic live practise. If you have the app, start with the drill shown in: Main Menu > Core Concepts > Core Kata Concepts > Kata Based Sparring  > Basic Kata Based Sparring Progression. If you are not an app user, please email app@iainabernethy.com and we will get a trial set up so you can see that footage for free.

Nicolai wrote:
I am participating in my second seminar with Iain in March.

It’s always much easier to communicate these things in person because I can show things directly. Additionally, the more hands on experience people get the quicker all the elements will fall into place. Which event is the one you are attending?

All the best,

Iain

Anf
Anf's picture

Very valid points well made. I will make no attempt to challenge them as I've said before, my answer to a question is based on my own experience. Unless new experience changes my view, or unless I experience some kind of epiphany, I think my view will continue to differ to yours. But that's surely not a bad thing? Is karate, or indeed martial art in general, not an ongoing journey of self discovery? I personally remain unconvinced of the combat value of kata. I know I'm not alone in that belief, but equally I know and appreciate that others have different experiences. I'm going to make no attempt to convince anyone they are wrong, just that our experience differs.

Nicolai
Nicolai's picture

It makes a lot of sence, what youre saying. I watched the videos and they helped.

A "Study Group" is a very good idea. My club is very, very, very small (but with a lot of enthusiasm, and the club performs very well in sport karate), but I have managed to ignite a small light in some of my training partners regarding this issue, and we discuss these things, but no one has the experience or training to structure the training. That is why I seek inspiration outside. We do "Jiyu ippon kumite" and "Jiyu kumite" (to us thats free fight using every thinkable technique) which to me is a step in the right direction, in the sence that we train without rules (other than safety, of course) trying to simulate real world fighting, with the purpose of learning effective techniques. So far so good, but the training completely lack structure and a link to Katas and underlying Principles.

I will contact you regarding a trial setup for the app. It sounds like it is a useful tool.

Iain wrote: Which event is the one you are attending?

I went to the seminar in Achim ,Germany, earlier this year. I enjoyed it immensely. I am going to the Seminar in Eberschwang in Austria in March next year. Im from Denmark, so it is quite a journey, but worth every kilometre...   :-)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Anf,

I think we are now at the point where we are discussing the nature of discussion :-)

Anf wrote:
Very valid points well made. I will make no attempt to challenge them as I've said before, my answer to a question is based on my own experience. Unless new experience changes my view, or unless I experience some kind of epiphany, I think my view will continue to differ to yours. But that's surely not a bad thing?

I can only go back to what I’ve said previously. I fully accept your experience has been your experience … BUT it would be incorrect to superimpose your experience on to all other karateka and hence make a universal claim about the intrinsic nature of kata.

Your experience does not define karate and kata for everyone past and present. Your statements about the intrinsic nature of kata are illogical because they are based solely on personal experience. That’s the point I’m making.

As an example, 100% of my Christmases have been spent in the UK. My personal experience is that it’s been dark and cold by 6pm on every single Christmas day. However, it would be illogical of me claim that Christmas is intrinsically cold and dark. When my friend in Australia tells me his Christmases are warm and it does not get dark until late, and provides evidence for that, I should not then claim, “Valid points, but unless I personally experience it I will stick to my claim Christmas evenings are inherently cold and dark.”

It could be logically claimed that “My personal experience has been Christmas is always cold and dark, but I accept that's not universal”, but you can’t make blanket statements about the nature of Christmas. I think you are committing a similar mistake with your initial claim. 

You made the claim “I have serious doubts that kata converts directly to practical application” and gave, “I've seen many demonstrations of applications, and it kind of looks sort of like what we see in the kata, but never exactly” as justification for the claim.

I have explained why the justification you gave is not valid and hence why the resulting claim is also not valid. Therefore, I feel I have explained why kata DOES convert directly into practical application (principles vs appearance and the identified nature of kata). To refute my position, and to logically reassert your initial claim, would require you to counter the points I have made. So far, it seems you accept the validity of the case I put forward i.e. “Very valid points well made”.

It would, therefore, be logical to say that your experience has been different from mine. However, you have said that your “view” remains different. Meaningful discussion requires you explain why?

Is it your VIEW that kata does not convert directly to practical application? Or is it your EXPERIENCE?

I am not challenging your experience. I am changing your view.

If you want others to accept your view has being valid, you need to explain what that view is based on? You also need to explain why my alterative view is invalid. If your view is based solely on your experience, then you are committing the logical fallacies of Hasty Generalisation and Personal Incredulity. You’ve therefore failed to put forward a coherent case for your claim.

Anf wrote:
I think my view will continue to differ to yours. But that's surely not a bad thing?

It’s a good thing for people to have differing views. It’s a good thing when people publicly state those views, are prepared to have the challenged, and engage in healthy debate. It’s a good thing when people can agree to disagree when an issue has been thoroughly explored. However, it’s a bad thing when debate becomes meaningless and people just ignore what the other side is saying.

We agree that differing karateka have difference experiences.

It seems we still disagree on the inherent nature of kata and its relationship to application. To determine if this is a good or bad thing, we need to know why we still disagree? The fact we disagree is not the point. It’s why we disagree that is key.

Is there a fault in my thinking and expressed position that leads you to conclude I’m wrong and your initial premise stands? If so, can you please challenge me on that so I can address it or conceded my error.

If you feel there is no error in my thinking and expressed position, then can you explain why we still disagree? For this conversation to have been worth anything, we need to explain to readers why we disagree.

If your view is based solely on your personal experience, and likewise that’s solely what our disagreement is based on, why do you feel your peroneal experience speaks to the inherent nature of kata with more accuracy than the case I’ve presented?

If we can identify why we disagree we will be able to progress the debate and add more information to the thread. That would be a good thing. If we simply conclude that we do disagree, but you’re not able to identify why in a logical way, then that would be a bad thing in my view.

Anf wrote:
Is karate, or indeed martial art in general, not an ongoing journey of self discovery?

It can be. However, there can be no discovery if we are not open to it. If we have a view, we need to know on what we basis we hold that view and how valid are those prepositions. We can only learn if we feel there are things to be learn beyond what we have learnt so far.

Anf wrote:
I personally remain unconvinced of the combat value of kata.

Why? Again, it’s not problem we disagree but it becomes pointless if we don’t discuss why. For this debate to have any value you need to assert why you are “unconvinced of the combat value of kata”. You are again making a generic universal statement.

Anf wrote:
I'm going to make no attempt to convince anyone they are wrong, just that our experience differs.

You are conflating personal experience with evidence. A person blind from birth has no personal experience of colours, but they could not claim, “I personally remain unconvinced about the exitance of colours”. They could say that have not personally experienced them, but they could not logically extrapolate personal experience to universal fact. They would factor in the contrary experience of others, the scientific study of light and refraction, chromatics, etc. They would accept that their experience is not where evidence beings and ends (logical fallacy of personal incredulity). I feel you keep making generic statements with nothing but your personal experience to support those statements. That’s bad debate.

It’s not that we disagree that matters; it’s why we disagree that matters.

Thanks for sticking with this. I do think challenge and debate are good ways to draw out information that can be very useful to others, and they are a great way to ensure the positions we hold have validity.

Where I’m struggling at the moment is that we are skirting ground the actual substance of debate. We can agree that experience differs. However, if you are going to make generic universal statements then, if this conversation is to have any value, you are going to need to back them up with with explinations beyond personal experience and you’re going to have to directly address counterpoints.

All the best,

Iain

Anf
Anf's picture

Hi Iain.

To pick up on your points as best I can.

Yes it's my view that kata bears little relevance to combat. I have no evidence to back up my view. It is almost entirely subjective, but it is also that to date, I've not seen compelling evidence to change my view.

That said, I am open to the idea. But sadly, every time someone has shown me an application, there have either been obvious flaws, such as that the application requires a high degree of compliance from the 'attacker' in order to have any chance of working, or the setup requires to many conditions to be met to be realistic, or the application looks like it might work very well in a plausible range of circumstances, but then it looks nothing like the kata element, and that's justified with claims that this really represents that and they wouldn't really be here they'd be there.

I myself used to look for practical applications to kata. I thought I'd found some when I migrated from karate to a more freestyle club heavily influenced by aikido and jiu-jitsu. I discussed it on this very forum where I was told I was wrong, and if something looks like a kata piece that's just coincidence, so once again, info from this very forum reinforced my growing belief that kata and combat at best only very tenuously related.

My view was challenged just last weekend while watching the MMA on TV. I don't really follow it as I'm not really interested in combat sport, other than to objectively observe what folks infinitely tougher than I do when their opponent is genuinely trying to beat them. I saw one man win by knock out using a technique that to me looked remarkably like the opening move in pyung ahn o dan. He slid to the side of an incoming punch, deflected with his left hand while striking over the top of the incoming punch with his right. His opponent was immediately floored. To me it looked kind of like the opening move to pyung ahn o dan, except it looked like how folks do it before they learn the details. Once you learn the details, the arm movement becomes a sort of double block, which is absolutely not what the MMA guy did when he knocked his opponent down. So do we say that was pyung ahn o dan but tweaked slightly to be practical, or do we say it was not from kata and any resemblence was pure coincidence?

As to disregarding the experiences of karateka, I'm not attempting to do that, nor am I qualified to do so. Over the course of my life to date, I've trained at 3 karate clubs under maybe a dozen instructors. With other styles you can maybe double that. That is hardly comprehensive experience. Even if we link in the anecdotal 'evidence' from others I've met along the way, that still is far from comprehensive. But for me, I've seen more to convince me that kata is great exercise than I have to suggest there's any significant link to combat.

I also find myself asking, do those that face confrontation and violence for a living practice kata? Soldiers, door staff, police etc, such folks will find themselves in a pickle far more often than I do. I know nothing of their training methods, but I assume they do train for such confrontations. They must do, because most untrained folks would not react efficiently the first time someone tries to smash their face. Their time is limited. They must surely have to train efficiently. No government is going to accept a sales pitch that says, give us a teenager and in 20 years we'll give you back a warrior. So if kata is a good training mechanism for combat, I am inclined to wonder, why many martial artists almost brag that it takes years to perfect a single kata.

Am I open minded about kata? Yes. I believe that kata can assist with combat related training, in that it helps develop natural movement. It's also great cardio and good for balance. All useful stuff if someone is trying to break your face. Would I dismiss kata applications regardless of what they look like? Absolutely not. I've seen some excellent demos of very practical looking things that have been pushed as kata applications, and I'd love to drill such techniques myself, but they don't really look that much like the kata sequence they're supposed to be an application for. Would my view change if I saw a practical application that actually looked like the kata sequence? That one is more tricky. If someone showed me a tame lion, I might believe that I'd seen a tame lion, but it would take more than that to convince me that lions are tame. If I saw 20 men with nets trying to control an enraged psychotic sheep, I'd believe I'd seen an enraged psychotic sheep, but that wouldn't be enough to convince me that all sheep are crazed psychotic beasts (they are, but that's another topic entirely).

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Anf,

Thanks for the reply.

Anf wrote:
Yes it's my view that kata bears little relevance to combat. I have no evidence to back up my view. It is almost entirely subjective, but it is also that to date, I've not seen compelling evidence to change my view.

I think this is why I’m finding this conversation difficult. My preference for conversation and debate is for people to state their case and the reasoning behind it, challenge the opposing case, and then address the counterchallenges to their own case. I think that generally yields interesting conversations and threads for people to read. In this case I don’t feel that’s happening. It’s therefore portably a good idea to wrap up before we end up going around and around in circles.

Anf wrote:
But sadly, every time someone has shown me an application, there have either been obvious flaws, such as that the application requires a high degree of compliance from the 'attacker' in order to have any chance of working, or the setup requires to many conditions to be met to be realistic, or the application looks like it might work very well in a plausible range of circumstances …

The statement that every application you’ve ever been shown has obvious flaws is a strong one. Personally, I’ve seen good and bad. Again, I feel this is something we could dig into, but I’m not sure that would get us anywhere or add any value to the thread.

Anf wrote:
… but then it looks nothing like the kata element, and that's justified with claims that this really represents that and they wouldn't really be here they'd be there.

We’ve been over this previously and I shan’t repeat the case I made before. People can reread what I wrote if they wish:

https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/comment/16837#comment-16837

Anf wrote:
I also find myself asking, do those that face confrontation and violence for a living practice kata?

They do. It’s an inherent part of any learning process. You need initial examples of concepts, you need to understand and internalise the concepts those examples present, and you need lots of repetition of the free-flowing application of those concepts within a changing environment. That’s the kata process. Funakoshi himself likened kata to the tactical exercises of soldiers:

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/article/understanding-kata-textbooks-and-tactics

The problem we are having here is you have a definition of kata that is based 100% on your experience of it. I have tried to explain why I feel some of your base assumptions are wrong; practically and historically. I don’t feel you’ve engaged with the counterpoints I’ve made or proposed counterarguments. We are therefore at something of a dead end and, to push the metaphor, I don’t want to end up driving around and around in the cul-de-sac of where we now find ourselves.

Anf wrote:
So if kata is a good training mechanism for combat, I am inclined to wonder, why many martial artists almost brag that it takes years to perfect a single kata.

Competence and perfection are different things. I can make someone a competent puncher quite quickly, but can anyone say they have perfected punching? Again, we are also miscommunicating because what you take to mean “kata” (a solo routine) is not what I mean by “kata” (a whole process designed to internalise efficient combative habits) nor is it what the past masters meant by kata (see above posts).

Anf wrote:
I believe that kata can assist with combat related training, in that it helps develop natural movement.

Again, this has been discussed in previous posts, but no meaningful discussion developed around it:

https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/comment/16849#comment-16849

Anf wrote:
Would I dismiss kata applications regardless of what they look like? Absolutely not. I've seen some excellent demos of very practical looking things that have been pushed as kata applications, and I'd love to drill such techniques myself, but they don't really look that much like the kata sequence they're supposed to be an application for.

Again, I believe this assumption to be wrong and I explained why and included numerous quotes from the past maters to illustrate that your assumption is incorrect. There were no counterpoints to my post and you simply restated your position; so I have nothing new to address. I can only once again refer readers to what I’ve said previously in repose to the same comments.  

Anf wrote:
Would my view change if I saw a practical application that actually looked like the kata sequence? That one is more tricky.

Again, this is the assertion that started this line of conversation. As before, people can read what I have already written.

As I say, I think this is now spinning because you are reasserting the initial claims, I am making the same rebuttals, and nothing new is being added. I feel the initial part of this conversation did bring out some useful information which I hope readers find useful whatever view they ultimately take. Further repetition is not really going to add anything so I think we can wrap up. Thanks once again for chatting!

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Nicolai,

Nicolai wrote:
It makes a lot of sense, what you’re saying. I watched the videos and they helped.

Awesome! I’m preleased they helped!

Nicolai wrote:
A "Study Group" is a very good idea. My club is very, very, very small (but with a lot of enthusiasm, and the club performs very well in sport karate), but I have managed to ignite a small light in some of my training partners regarding this issue, and we discuss these things, but no one has the experience or training to structure the training.

That’s a positive start, nonetheless. Again, I would advise starting basic and digging deep.

Nicolai wrote:
That is why I seek inspiration outside.

There are many people who will be able and happy to help. It’s not easy to do that “remotely”, but it can still help.

Nicolai wrote:
We do "Jiyu ippon kumite" and "Jiyu kumite" (to us thats free fight using every thinkable technique) which to me is a step in the right direction, in the sence that we train without rules (other than safety, of course) trying to simulate real world fighting, with the purpose of learning effective techniques. So far so good, but the training completely lack structure and a link to Katas and underlying Principles.

That’s a great observation which assures me you are thinking about this in the most productive way. The link between solo kata, encapsulated combative principles, and free flowing application of those principles is a vital one to grasp. You are also right that if that link is unclear, in thinking and practise, then the process will flounder. The fact you appreciate that is massive. It will help enormously! Many people struggle with the idea of principles and fixate on technique. That will inevitably result in an inability to change and adapt according to circumstance.

I’ve forever quoting this line from Enter The Dragon at seminars:

 

Those who fixate on kata technique are “looking at the finger”. They are missing the combative principles the finger is pointing to. They confuse “the finger” for “the moon”. The very fact you get the difference is very useful.

Nicolai wrote:
I went to the seminar in Achim ,Germany, earlier this year. I enjoyed it immensely. I am going to the Seminar in Eberschwang in Austria in March next year. I’m from Denmark, so it is quite a journey, but worth every kilometre...   :-)

I will also be in Denmark on the 8th and 9th of February and the details will be shared soon :-) In person, I will be better able to give more illustrations of these principles and their free application. It does sound like to appreciate the process, but need more examples of it in action.

I’ll try one in text now though in case it proves useful to you or other readers.

Tactical Positioning is all about ensuring you are in a more favourable position than the enemy i.e. you have the advantage and can do more to them than they can do to you. This essentially has two elements:

1) Keep the enemy in front of you, but do not be in front of the enemy.

2) Move towards what you know and away from what you don’t know.

When we move to an angle in kata, it shows the angle we should be in relation to our enemy in line with the above concepts. We are keeping the enemy on our “attack line” while moving off theirs. We also move towards the limbs we have awareness of / control over and away from those we don’t.

The technical examples of this provided by the kata (the bunkai) are “fingers pointing” to the “moon” of these combative principles. Principals are ethereal and can only be made concrete by examples of the in action. The kata therefore has to show principles in the form of technical examples; but we must not fixate on the examples otherwise we miss the whole point of kata (lots on that in this thread). The point is that through the kata process we internalise the principles to the point of habit. When we fight, we then fight in accordance with the principles. Tactical Positioning becomes innate and we will do it as the exact situation requires (not in a way that fixates on the initial example). We need the entire kata process for this to take place. We need initial examples of concepts. We need to understand and internalise the concepts those examples present. We need lots of repetition of the free-flowing application of those concepts within a changing environment. That’s the kata process.

As another example, the kata is the “USB stick” on which the “combative program” is stored. We need to upload the program to the hard drive (human body) so it can run (become habitual). Having Photoshop on a USB stick and then rubbing up and down on a photo and claiming “Photoshop does not work” is analogous with what may who decry kata do. They are not understanding how the kata is supposed to be used. We need to upload and run the “program” so it can process whatever data (circumstance) is inputted into it and get a good result (i.e. process the “data” in accord with good combative habit). Kata is a process; not a “thing”.

I hope this all helps. I know it can seem confusing at first, especially when pre-existing ideas are present, but it’s all quite straightforward once it’s up and running. It sounds to me like you are grasping it and I’m here to help in any way I can.

All the best,

Iain

Nicolai
Nicolai's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

I will also be in Denmark on the 8th and 9th of February and the details will be shared soon

:-) where will the details be shared? I dont want to miss it.  :-)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Nicolai wrote:
Where will the details be shared? I dont want to miss it.  :-)

It will be shared via this website, twitter, facebook, etc. You won’t be able to miss it :-)

All the best,

Iain