Friday, March 23, 2007

Using Kata in a Fight - Keep It Simple

This post was brought up in a discussion I was having at Karateforums.com regarding the usefulness/uselessness of kata.

This question was raised to me after I mentioned the fallacy of using people who train kata but fight poorly as evidence for the uselessness of training kata (mistaking correlation with causation, to put it in statistical terms):

Could you offer some information regarding ways to make kata training more applicable to self defense and enhance fighting ability? We could go back and forward saying we think kata is good or bad over and over (which has already happened a bit in this thread). But I would be interested in hearing from those who are experienced in making kata work, and what it is in the training that sets them apart from the "doing kata for fun" crowd.

My response:


I said it in my first post in this thread, but keep things simple. Based on everyone's responses to it, this was misinterpreted pretty much as "people who do kata are just doing fancy things so don't waste your time memorizing useless kata". That's not what I said.


Chibana Sensei always used to say that if you had to change the movement of your kata to match your meaning, or the meaning to match the movement, then your meaning is usually wrong. (For background, "meaning" or "imi" was the word most commonly used to describe what a movement meant in a kata. The word bunkai is a relatively newer phenomenon.) In other words, how you move in the kata is how you move in a fight. There is no point in continuous repetition of a move that you are going to do completely differently in a fight. There is the obvious slight modification due to your opponent's size, etc., but the core movement is the same. The core process of what you do and how your body does it is the same.

Chibana Sensei taught three different levels of technique within the kata, pretty much younger kids, high school, and advanced. The thing is, even the "advanced" techniques weren't mystical pressure point manipulations or 3-step grappling maneuvers. The advanced part usually meant the technique was just more vicious and permanently injurious/fatal than the "basic" techniques. What people fail to ultimately realize is that there are no advanced techniques, only advanced execution of basics. A lot of times, that block is just a block, that punch is just a punch. What made them worthwhile to practice was that the kata taught you exactly the proper posture, stance, movement, and timing necessary to give you a punch that would knock someone out cold in one shot or a block that would literally floor your opponent.

The sad part is, most people can't punch or block with enough effectiveness to end a confrontation with a single technique. It has got to the point where even the idea itself is considered ridiculous. Most people give up on the idea entirely. Therefore, they have to invent new meanings for moves in the kata, since their attachment to kata remains, even if they can't fight effectively using it. Currently, there is an intense interest in grappling, so you see all these hidden grappling techniques taught, some of them bordering on absurdity in their complexity. I'm fairly sure the Pinan kata weren't formulated to end up with an armbar on the ground. But you will find many enlightened kata analysts who can modify the technique in a kata so it bears a passing resemblance to the movement, but is something entirely different altogether. Again, if you're not going to train the same execution as you would use in a fight, you're doing something wrong.

There is grappling in karate, don't get me wrong. We have a fair number of throws, a few joint locks, and the odd choke every now and then. But usually a "super secret hidden technique" is more often a simple grab to the ear with one hand, the throat in the other, and a turn which facilitates the throw. Very simple and effective, yet often overlooked because the meaning couldn't possibly be that basic. Like it or not, the mainstay of karate is striking. Grappling is just a bonus used upon convenience or necessity.

Again, because there is the lack of ability to generate pure destructive power from very simple techniques, people insert extra things into the kata, both analytically and physically as they alter the movements or how they do them. At this stage, the kata lost connection with their roots and anyone attempting to keep the kata simple would only have weak basics. It is a sadly vicious cycle and not one that anyone can mend other than having the fortune to train with those who truly learned the basic methodologies of those who have passed down the kata with only minimal individual modification.

If one reads between the lines, you can guess how much I feel even the majority of traditional karate meets my above criteria. I have my doubts as to how many people are afforded even the opportunity to learn good kata under an instructor who can teach what needs to be taught. All the same, there is no doubt in my mind that kata is an effective training tool for fighting.

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7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Patrick and his KarateForums suck!

Bujutsu Blogger said...

Nah, it's okay. He moderates more than I personally feel is necessary, but it's his choice to do so.

Bujutsu Blogger said...

If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't stick around. ;)

timothy said...

Yes, but aren't the kata like Naihanchi considered tanren kata?

Bujutsu Blogger said...

Yes, the Naihanchi stance is a training stance but not in the sense that most people are thinking. Nor does this take away from the fighting application of the Naihanchi kata. It builds the proper feeling in the legs and really emphasizes the backpull for techniques.

Our Naihanchi stance is done so that the insides of the feet are about a shoulder width apart. This is closer than most all other styles I have seen. Furthermore, the legs are flared forward and the feet are turned in, but only very slightly.

The manner of flaring found in the legs is the exact feeling that the back leg should be feeling in our neko dachi/neko ashi dachi (cat stance). Keep in mind that our cat stance is with a weight distribution of 50/50 and tends to be shorter and narrower than a lot of other styles as well. Of course, muscle training is an ancillary benefit, but it is more important to ingrain the form and leg positioning which prevents the loss of energy transfer backwards or inwards during techniques. The first six months that Chibana Sensei trained with Itosu Sensei, all he did was train Naihanchi seven days a week, at least 10 hours a day (this is what he told my instructor).

I am of the opinion that many other styles have widened the stance either because they purposely emphasized the muscle training rather than teaching the flaring of the legs or because they simply did not know what the naihanchi stance was originally teaching. I am sure it is more often the latter case. The "training" nature of a naihanchi stance done this way isn't that useful in my opinion.

As far as using the naihanchi dachi to resist force, I don't think it is a good idea to purposely dig in and stand there just so you can have the opportunity to take a blow or resist a grapple. I'd rather focus on hitting the other guy.

tim said...

Interesting. What's your take on Arikaki's book ? I saw it a while back, thought it was pretty interesting. I've played around with Naihanchi, kind of, since a long time ago I did TKD.

Bujutsu Blogger said...

I used to think it was pretty decent, but not anymore. The method he is using bears no relation to Chibana Sensei or Itosu Sensei's Shorin Ryu. The notion of "Imaginary Center of Gravity" could be a useful way of thinking about what we term hara, but the way his posture is set up, optimal use of gravity isn't possible. He compromises his posture by leaning forward, which I'm guessing he feels is necessary to transfer weight. I think this comes from the stances he uses, which I'm not a big fan of either. Regardless, he can't truly use his whole body weight this way.

Arakaki advocates placing weight on the insides of your feet, and we put our weight more towards the outside (but not lifting). Placing weight on the inside makes your stance collapse and makes it more difficult to use your full body weight.

Arakaki also seems obsessed with this new whip punch that everyone seems to be doing nowadays. This is in line with the modern obsession with speed as opposed to timing (which gives you power). People can talk all they want about whip mechanics, but I'd always rather be hit by a whip than a baseball bat. As a part of this, his elbow lifts rather than stays down as he punches, which makes the technique weaker. Furthermore, his assertion that there was no reverse punch in Shorin Ryu is rather strange... but I'm assuming he got this from Nagamine Shoshin. I do not wish to speak ill of others, but he wasn't the most reliable when it came to karate techniques and history.

In closing distance, his method of dropping the knee is more of a speed technique rather than anything else. We use osae in order to close distance rather than simple speed. I believe trying to just be fast isn't a good methodology for closing distance.

I could probably go on and on... but you get the point. I'm not a big fan. I think it is attractive to some because it at least represents a consistent methodology (even if I think it is totally wrong). Many people in their training feel what they have is "patchwork karate", since it is just bits and pieces of this and that stuck together. Therefore something like this that uses both traditional Okinawan karate and modern physics terms is very alluring to some people.

I've asked my instructor if he ever heard Chibana Sensei tell that story about Motobu visiting and he said that he had never heard it. Chibana Sensei would tell him a lot of stories about various masters, past and present (at that time). This isn't to say that Chibana Sensei thought Motobu's karate was bad, just that I'm not sure where Arakaki got this story from. He uses Chibana Sensei as an example of a master who fought in a similar way as his methodology, but Chibana Sensei's karate was far, far different.

Anyway, that's my thoughts on the book...