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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Weird Thing About Kata

It wasn't that many years ago that you could very easily find people in the martial arts world completely dismissing the practice of kata. A lot of people thought it was stupid.

I never thought kata was stupid, not even when I had no real clue what I was doing with it. You see, I took it for granted that the people who created and preserved the kata weren't idiots. I had enough common sense, just barely, to realize that there had to be a purpose to those things we called "chambers." Had to be. Only an idiot would take such a position without a darn good reason, so I figured there had to be a reason. I just didn't know what it was.

The other day, over at Okinawan Fighting Art: Isshin Ryu, Mr. James published, making reference in the process to something that Shotokan's Rob Redmond wrote, Elmar Schmeisser's rules for interpreting kata. There are, of course, other sets of rules for interpreting kata. There are the rules that Toguchi Seikichi said that Miyagi Chojun gave him (read this), which the authors of The Way of Kata expound in even more detail. Then there is the approach that Javier Martinez takes in Okinawan Karate, The Secret Art of Tuite. (This seems to be out of print. Amusingly, someone has priced the only used copy that Amazon lists at almost a thousand simoleons. It was an interesting book, but I guarantee you, it ain't worth that much. You could buy the whole set of Taika Seiyu Oyata's tapes for half that, and you could buy everything that Yang Jwing-Ming has written about chin na for less than a couple hundred, I'm sure.

On the other hand, I do own a copy that's in pretty good shape. I'll let it go for a comparative pittance--say, five hundred bucks. Anybody up for that?) Bruce Clayton seems to take another approach in Shotokan's Secret. The RyuTe Renmei, under Taika Seiyu Oyata's guidance and leadership, uses yet another approach. It will surprise no one that I am most impressed with RyuTe's approach. It consistently produces an effect known in the blogosphere as either headdesk or facepalm, that is, when you, if you come to RyuTe from a different system, as I did, and you see some of the RyuTe applications for all those movements you've wondered about for years, they are so intuitively obvious that you immediately want to slap yourself silly for not having seen it before.

But you know what's weird? It seems to me that all of the interpretive approaches I mentioned above (and I'm sure that I've left some out) yield at least some usable techniques. This is in spite of the fact that sometimes those methods seem dramatically different from one another. One method I've read insists that the movements of the kata be followed in order; that method produces at least some usable techniques. Another method considers the movements as though they are linked in modules. Here is what you do if the opponent grabs your wrist. Then, if he does this, you do that. And if that, then this. That method also produces at least some usable techniques. They all produce at least some usable techniques.

It seems to me that no matter what approach you take to interpreting the kata, if you do the creators and preservers of the kata this one favor, that of assuming that they weren't complete fools and really look hard for useful techniques, the kata will do you the favor of yielding up at least some of its secrets to you.

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