By Dr. William Durbin ~ It has been acknowledged by most authorities, at least those who actually train in traditional martial arts, that Kata is the most important form of training that exists. While some people get confused about what constitutes Kata, the truth is some of the people who deride it as impractical, actually practice it themselves. One very public figure used to talk about how Kata was not a good form of training for actual fighting, yet in preparation for fighting competition, the person spent many hours ‘shadow boxing’, which is actually just a spontaneous method of practicing Kata. In all truth, there was a time in martial arts history when all Kata, in all countries, were only extemporaneous, for it was found that freestyle practice developed the freedom of movement and the unrestricted mind necessary for excellence in combat.
Yet Kata, whether freestyle or prearranged, has been very misunderstood and the actual method of teaching and training in it, has been misrepresented. One teacher, after having taught his student a particular Kata, and a specific Oyo, application of the form, told his student that the methods of use he gave to her, were the only applications possible of each move.
This teacher was either very inexperienced or purposely concealing the truth. It is time for the ‘secrets’ of the martial arts and especially those related to Kata, to be revealed to the public, pure and clean, so that practitioners can begin to reap the proper benefits of traditional martial arts, which have been enjoyed by Oriental masters for literally hundreds of years.
First of all it is important to declare what do not constitute true Kata. Forms that contain moves which do not have combat significant, especially those which are full of superfluous moves and most especially acrobatics, are not true Kata. Kata translates form, shape, model, pattern, or more simply style. But this does not give a complete picture of what the ancients meant by Kata, in that now a days, people think of the form or pattern, as prearranged.
In ancient times, according to James Masayoshi Mitose, the term that was actually used in regard to the division of form training in the martial arts was Keiho. From this term comes the complete understanding of proper Kata training. Kei is the formal pronunciation of the Kanji normally called Kata, while Ho is the term for law, principle, or way. Thus Keiho means the law of form, the principle of style, or the way of pattern. But this still leaves us with a 1ess than complete understanding.
First what we really need is the complete definition of Ho, which is properly defined as ‘water go’, in that the root radical is Mizu or Sui, which means ‘water’, while the right part of the word is Kyo or Ko, meaning ‘move’, ‘leave’, or ‘go’. Ho gives the meaning that we should be following the law of nature, which in life is best symbolized by flow. The elements of nature; wind, water, and fire, all flow. None of those elements have a set form, but rather are formless. While air and water, along with earth, can accept the shape of any container, they are all basically formless until called upon to accept a form. Thus when you look at Keiho it literally means ‘the form of flow’ or better yet, ‘the form of formlessness’.
For some of the practitioners of the oldest systems in extant, this means a form of Kata where moves learned in the manner of Kihon, basics, are put together spontaneously. The practitioner creates the form by visualizing attackers and moving extemporaneously to counter each one. This type of battle in the mind helps the practitioner to develop a great deal of sophistication, through the study of martial arts techniques and applications. It is possible to see this type of Kata training in the old Japanese system of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu and the Okinawan system of Motobu Ryu.
Even with the more modern type of training which uses the prearranged Kata, there is a formlessness when it is understood that there is no single set of applications to the moves. Regardless of the type of Kata trained in, it is possible to interpret the moves in at least five different ways. According to the system these are expressed with various terminologies. Given in this article are terms used in both Japanese and Okinawan systems.
The first division is referred to as Omote Waza or Honte Waza, the front or regular techniques. These are the obvious interpretations, where a punch or kick is done forthright. The second division, is the Ura Waza or Gyakute Waza, meaning the rear or reverse techniques. According to how this is interpreted, that can mean simply alternative techniques, or literally the reverse movement forming new interpretations by doing the movements directly in reverse and seeing how they can be applied to actual combat.
Third are Kakushi Waza, which literally translates concealed techniques. Hidden in many movements, that seems like preliminary moves or intermediate moves, are actual strikirlg and throwing skills. Too many people in their so called quest for more efficiency, are what they ca}l, streamlining the moves of the past, making them, according to these innovators, better. But what they are actually doing is throwing away one fifth of the martial arts techniques because of an ignorance of Kakushi Waza. Some of the most effective techniques in the martial arts are those that are ‘concealed.’
Next are Henka Waza, simply variation techniques, are the many modifications which can be performed using any of the basic moves. These are still straightforward applications, but more importantly, they show that to truly master any art, a person needs to have a three dimensional perspective of their moves and the principles by which they are governed. Too many martial artist think that a throw can only be used against one attack or one type of attack. Yet the truth is, that once you understand the principles upon which the technique is based, and have a full understanding of combat rhythm, then the particular move can be applied against many different attacks.
The fifth and final division is known as Sutemi Waza, which are sacrifice techniques. These are techniques to be used when you are in disadvantageous or awkward positions, as well as those techniques in which you purposefully throw yourself off balance or in a seemingly inappropriate position, which allows you to counter attack the assailant by surprise.
A mastery of these five divisions allows a person to have formlessness even in prearranged forms, and to develop a complete understanding of the potential of their martial arts in combat. This is the problem of practicing the martial arts as sports only. Judoka look at the moves of their art for the throwing and jointlocking applications only, while most Karateka look at their moves simply as punches and kicks. But the truth of the matter is that essentially there are only moves, which can be applied as throws, jointlocks, and strikes. Each move should be looked at for what it can accomplish under any circumstances. This ability is developed through the practice and understanding of the five divisions of Waza.
People also have a hard time learning Kata, whether prearranged or freestyle. Too many people cannot recognize the value of the training or how to properly develop it. Most of all people do not realize the integrated nature of the martial arts. Kata is one link in a chain of development, which allows a person to master their art.
When taught properly the martial arts form a continuous circuit of development, where one part of the whole allows progress in all aspects of the art. Properly developed Taisabaki, body movement, is the goal of true martial arts training. It is accomplished through seven interrelated disciplines. First a person learns Kihon, the basics, which are individual blocks, punches, kicks, throws, and other skills practiced all by themselves in order to master the movements. These may then be expanded into Kihon Ido, or basic movements, in which the practitioner takes any one movement and practices waLking in a straight line performing that one move. In this type of training a person may walk forward throwing ten reverse punches, or ten front kicks, or whatever number may be accomplished in the length of the Dojo.
Next comes Kata Ido, which are methods of footwork which help the practitioner move in different directions while performing a Kata. The methods of Kata Ido can combine not only the footwork but also various blocks, punches, and kicks. Once all of these methods of practicing in solo forms are mastered, then they can be put together in actual Kata which means an extended form of movements, defending against several attackers, using all types of skills, including throws, chokes, and other grappling techniques.
In order to help the solo practice develop, the practitioner is also involved in two man training, specifically, to begin with Kihon Kumite, basic sparring, where the individuals moves learned in the Kihon are put together in self defense techniques. These are simple moves of generally one block, one strike. This type of training is used to develop the Lkken, one strike knock out technique, of the martial arts.
Knowing that there is always the possibility that one strike will not knock out an attacker, the practitioner then moves on to what is referred to in Qkinawan martial arts as Renzoku Ken, or in many Jujutsu systems Waza, in which an attack is countered and the defender uses a combination of moves to take out the assailant. These can be simple combinations of strikes, as well as including, throws, jointlocks, chokes, and other techniques.
Finally, the moves are put into two man training patterns, either freestyle or prearranged, that are called by some styles Embu and in others just Kata. In this form of training there is a give and take nature in the practice of attack and defense. In example, one person attacks, the second person blocks and counterattacks, which the first person then does as well. This keeps on going back and forth for whatever period of time or the conclusion of the form is finished.
Thus it may be seen that Kihon leads to Kihon Ido to Kata Ido to Kata then Kihon Kumite to Renzoku Ken and to Embu which may be interrelated to all other aspects. Kihon improves Kihon Kumite, and vice versa. All are interrelated, each improving the other. This is the web like nature of martial arts training. All aspects improve with the improvement of each other aspects.
Kata is at the highest level of training, in that it can be performed anywhere, anytime, and needs no special equipment nor a partner. Kata is the point where Bunkai, analysis, takes place allowing a practitioner to develop a true understanding of movement and application. Through an understanding of the five principles of Waza, as covered earlier, allows a dedicated practitioner to expand upon his/her skill and understanding. Thus as the person performs a Kata they can come up with many Oyo, applications, which become spontaneous reactions to actual danger. It is important that a person test their Bunkai Oyo, analyzed applications, through practice with a partner in Kihon Kumite and Renzoku Ken. This helps keep the person honest and not giving into flights of fancy. If many of the modem tournament practitioners were to ever try their techniques in honest applications, they would find their applications erroneous and spurious.
Kata truly is the highest form of training. It has physical, mental, combat, and even spiritual significance. But the training must be honest and not full of fantasy. There must be a sincerity of purpose, with a desire to develop true self defense skills, which can work in life and death situations. Once this is accomplished and by following the seven links in the chain of training, while developing the ability to Bunkai all movements and develop Oyo that are based on the five divisions of Waza, a person can grow into a truly competent and superb martial arts practitioner.
From Inside Karate, August 1996 , Page NA
Courtesy of CFW Group