WHAT IS KATA
After bowing, all thoughts of the days activities begin to disappear. Even the surroundings begin to drift out of focus and into silence. All that can be heard are the inner thoughts, as the narrow room becomes the center of the universe.
Turning the head to focus to the side, the legs are bent and weight is redistributed to gain balance and strength. Stepping to the side and quickly drawing all the energy possible, an open hand strike is made to the side. As the muscles in the abdomen begin to tighten, all the power that is possible is concentrated at the end point of the strike. Relying on trained instincts, the next move comes as quickly and strongly as the first. Pausing only for a brief moment to comprehend the situation, the kata continues.
The modern karate practitioner has many tools for the development of skills at his disposal today. There are modern approaches to weight training, new strides in nutrition, new developments in medicine and an overall increase in health consciousness. All of these can increase our strength, abilities and health.
Often, these “new” strides in health development have overshadowed traditional methods of training. Nautilus(r) equipment has replaced free weights and certainly has a definite benefit. Treadmills and stationary bicycles have replaced outdoor running and jogging. Certainly these also offer an improvement and convenience over running: however, it does take away the harmony that is provided by “natural” exercise.
The rise in popularity of sport karate has also incorporated modern training ideas and gives little need to look at traditional training methods. This can be a hindrance in the development of true self-defense techniques where abilities must be “natural” and not programmed.
Any exercise program, machine, diet and health development can enhance training methods in karate; however, none of these can help in learning technique. The traditional method of training that is overlooked the most often is kata.
Many of the eclectic karate practitioners discount kata completely and see no value what-so-ever in its practice. Others, of a more traditional background see some value in kata practice, but only from an aesthetic approach. That is, kata is changed or even invented giving no real value to the kata other than another means of competition.
What is kata and what is its purpose? Kata can be defined, in very basic terms, as a series of individual techniques performed in a set sequence that incorporate strikes, kicks, grappling techniques and footwork for self-defense. Kata is a form of physical and mental exercise. As a physical exercise, it can develop balance, proper breathing, cardiovascular strength, and muscular strength. As a mental exercise, it develops self-discipline, concentration, mental reflex and awareness; however, the importance of kata lies not in the value of physical and mental exercise, but in the movements themselves.
Karate was developed for self-defense and is the means by which the ancient masters left their techniques for future generations. There are no books or notes written that demonstrates the meaning of ancient karate; therefore, kata is the book containing the knowledge of the ancient masters.
Kata is first practiced to learn each movement in the proper sequence and then emphasis is shifted to the development of form and strength for each technique. Constant practice is necessary for the moves to become instinctive and fluid in both execution and application and there is no time limit to the development of strengths in the kata.
After becoming “fluent” in the kata, the most important concept of kata takes place; that is, the meaning or interpretation of movements within the kata must be understood. However, almost everyone that practices karate doesn’t understand how to interpret these hidden meanings and sometimes eliminate kata practice because the movements do not fit sport technique or their way of thinking. Traditionalists often practice kata only for its physical and mental exercise value or new kata are made up for sporting contests.
Most interpretations of kata movements are simple kicking, punching and blocking techniques and usually are taught or studied step by stop exactly in the sequence as it occurs in the kata. This idea is too simple to have much practicality since it only lends itself to the development of basic punching and kicking techniques in an easily recognizable pattern. To do these types of techniques, kata is not needed and this is probably why many do not see any value in kata training after taking this approach to interpreting the movements.
The true meaning of kata is often clouded with unfounded and often exaggerated techniques. Kata is most often thought of as a fight with multiple opponents. While this may conjure visions of Bruce Lee single handily fighting off an army of thugs, it is not a very practical application. Kata is simply a string of individual techniques that can be easily remembered without having to memorize hundreds of individual movements. By remembering one pattern, hundreds of techniques can be accessed.
Although the meanings of the kata techniques seem to be lost of forgotten, they are not. To discover the techniques, each move of a kata must carefully studied. By analyzing all body positions, footwork and hand positions within the kata, the secrets of the art hidden within can be revealed.
A kata is a puzzle, to interpret the technique many factors must be considered when looking at the movements. The movement can be that of the opponent or it can be represented backward in the kata. A closed fist can mean grabbing or being grabbed and a block can be a strike or a strike can be a block. The meaning of a movement can be within the transition between movements instead of the ending position or the technique can be a combination of two or more steps.
A proper stance is one of the most important factors in the execution of any technique. A stance is like the foundation of any building. Without a strong foundation or the correct configuration, the building will topple. A good stance provides balance and foundation that accentuates the effectiveness of the power and speed in delivering the technique.
In kata, the stance or footwork must be followed exactly as dictated just as the hand techniques. The practice of footwork makes movements instinctive and fluid. Although this type of training may seem to make the techniques rigid, predictable and less mobile, they do not. It trains the body to have a natural feel for balance and power while building instincts that automatically adjust to any situation. This leaves the mind clear to interpret the situation.
There are hundreds of ways to think of kata technique and there is more than one answer for each movement. If the technique works on everyone, then the interpretation is correct.
Kata can be a versatile tool. Not only does it provide techniques for self-defense and/or physical exercise it also provides us with a means of escape from life’s everyday stress. Kata is “walking meditation”. To concentrate upon one single thought, relieves the stress associated with any other problems, because for a brief moment in time, they do not exist. In order to avoid the pitfalls of our modern life style, it is necessary to escape from life’s everyday stress. Entering into the channels of the inner self, our problems can disappear and allow the mind to drift into the subconscious effort to expand this one thought.
The master who developed a kata did it so that his technique could live on. It took a lifetime to develop his technique, thus it took a lifetime to create his kata. It will take another lifetime to discover all the hidden meanings and perfect their use.
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