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#152332 - 06/03/05 03:03 PM 14 keys to understanding kata
kenposan Offline

Registered: 08/23/01
Posts: 633
Loc: Columbus, Ohio
Got this from Abernethy's newsletter and thought I'd pass it along.


In our karate training we need to actively study and apply the katas; simply practising them is not enough. In this month’s newsletter, I’d like to briefly cover the fourteen key points needed to understand and make use of kata. Those who’ve read my books will be familiar with these fourteen keys. However, for those who have not read my books, I’m sure you’ll find these rules a useful start to your personal study of kata:

1 - Each form is a stand-alone self-protection system.
It is often said that specific forms are for a specific purpose eg defence against a staff etc. However, forms were created to record the full range of fighting techniques and principles. When analysing forms, be sure not to pigeonhole them and hence limit what you are looking for.

2 – All applications of the forms are designed to end the confrontation instantly.
There is a tendency for forms to be interpreted in an overly defensive way. Many interpretations would have every other movement applied as a block. Each and every movement of a form should endeavour to end the fight there and then. This may mean that the opponent is totally incapacitated (e.g. unconscious) or left in a very vulnerable position (eg on the floor whilst you are standing

3 – All parts of a movement are significant.
It is vital that you examine the movements of the forms in their entirety if you are to effectively understand their purpose. In particular, ‘chambering’ and ‘preparing’ motions are often not analysed in sufficient depth.

4 – Every kata move is designed for use in combat.
We often see movements of forms being explained as exercises to increase strength or improve balance. Certainly, forms are a good way to improve your physical condition, and certain moves do increase strength etc, but that is not their primary purpose. The primary purpose of every movement in a form is to disable an opponent in combat. All movements have direct combative functions.

5 – The angles at which the techniques are performed are important.
You are never changing angles simply to face a new opponent. In the vast majority of situations the opponent will be in front of you. The main exception being surprise attacks, and by definition you won’t know they are coming until it is too late! The form is telling you to position yourself at that angle in relation to the opponent. Being at the angle demonstrated by the form will increase the effectiveness of the technique in question.

6 – The stances are a vital component of the techniques.
A key part of effective fighting is ensuring that you use your bodyweight when applying techniques. The stances illustrate the weight distribution and leg position to be utilised during that technique. Remember that the correct use of bodyweight is an important part of ensuring our techniques are effective.

7 – Real fights are sloppy affairs and the way the application is performed will reflect this.
The movement in the form represents the ideal. However, real fights are very chaotic and hence you should not expect the movement to remain exactly the same as it appears in the form. Provided the movement is recognisable and is the same in essence, a slight loss of form is a good indicator that you are practising in a realistic manner. Visual appearance is an irrelevance. The effect of the technique is all that matters.

8 – There is a need for skills at every range.
To be a competent martial artist you need skills at all ranges of combat. Forms are not just striking and blocking drills, they are records of the full range of combative methods. If you’ve only had exposure to striking methods, then that is all you will see in your forms. This emphasises the need for your training to be as broad as possible.

9 – The likelihood of any attack must be considered.
A common error in martial circles is the misguided assumption that all able fighters will behave like able practitioners of their particular discipline. It is for this reason that the vast majority of books on karate katas show nothing in the way of applications other than ‘defences’ against ‘karate attacks’. In a self-protection situation, your assailant is very unlikely to behave like a martial artist in the dojo or the sporting environment. Forms are not about fighting other martial artists. They are about neutralising the aggression of an attacker, who is highly unlikely to use ‘martial arts techniques’, in an environment where no etiquette is observed or rules obeyed.

10 – Strikes should be delivered to anatomical weak points.
All the strikes in the forms should be aimed at suitable weak areas of the opponent’s anatomy. When analysing your forms you should have a clear idea of which area is under attack. Remember that the forms show the ideal movement. Real fights are intense and frantic affairs and the accurate placement of blows becomes extremely difficult once an altercation is underway. The key thing is to be able to strike the opponent with force. We aim for the weak points that are recorded in the forms, but the reality of combat means that the accurate landing of a blow should be viewed as a bonus.

11 – No kata techniques rely upon unpredictable actions from the opponent; however, predictable responses should be acknowledged.
I dislike any interpretation where your opponent / partner is required to perform certain actions in order to make the technique valid. A good interpretation or technique should require nothing from the opponent. However, there are some responses from the opponent that we can predict (i.e. the instinctive way in which the human body moves away from a source of pain).

12 – There are many effective applications for every movement.
You will often find that a movement in a form will have more than one effective application. Every one of us is different. It is my belief that everyone must use the forms in a way that works for them. We should all interpret and apply the forms in a way that complements our own strengths and weaknesses. I’m not saying we should radically change the forms; they are generally fine as they are. We should, however, ensure that we apply the techniques and concepts contained within the forms in a way that works for us as individuals.

Contrary to prevailing thought, understanding the forms is not the sole reserve of those who possess ‘the secrets’. Everyone can, and should, study the forms for themselves. This will undoubtedly mean that there will be some variations in opinion with regards to how certain movements and concepts should be applied. That is exactly how is should be! If someone interprets the forms in a different way to you, that does not invalidate your interpretation, or theirs.

13 – All applications must be workable in real situations.
It is common sense that a technique must be effective if it is to be deemed valid. However, an understanding of what makes techniques workable is a rarer commodity. It is very common to see the forms interpreted in a way that is overly complex, overly defensive, reliant on a passive or compliant attacker etc. It is vital that students are exposed to the sensations of combat if they are to be able to make informed decisions on what will work and what will not. It is for this reason that I believe the serious martial artist must engage in live, any-range, non-compliant sparring (see section 5 of this newsletter).

It seems blindingly obvious to me that if you wish to learn to fight, then you have to practise fighting. No amount of kata, pad work or drills will give you the required skills if you never progress to practise your techniques against a non-compliant opponent. If you’re going to be an able martial artist you need to experience the sensations of ‘combat’ first hand. In this way your knowledge will be factual, not theoretical. Hence, you’ll be in a better position to interpret the forms correctly.

14 – Endeavour to understand the principles upon which the techniques are based.
A form is essentially a record of a fighting system. When constructing the forms, it would make little sense to include every single technique in that system because the form would become impracticably long. A good fighter would understand that principles are much more important than techniques. Hence it would make more sense to record techniques that expressed the key principles of the fighting system.

Forms contain information on strikes, throws, chokes, locks, strangles, holds, groundwork etc. To try to fit all the various techniques into a single form would be impossible. We should endeavour to understand the principles upon which kata techniques are based, and then experiment with the many different ways in which those principles can be applied.
The angry man will defeat himself in battle, as well as in life. -Samurai maxim

#152333 - 06/05/05 12:57 PM Re: 14 keys to understanding kata [Re: kenposan]
hedkikr Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 02/28/05
Posts: 2827
Loc: Southern California, USA
Very Nice! Every one needs to read this!
Ed Ichihara Smith - Shukokai

#152334 - 06/05/05 01:50 PM Re: 14 keys to understanding kata [Re: kenposan]
BuDoc Offline
The doctor will see you now

Registered: 05/03/05
Posts: 1067
Loc: USA and Abroad
Excellent post. This should be a "sticky" on the Kata forum.

Solid work Kenposan!

Medical Advisor for the Somolian National Sumo Team

#152335 - 06/05/05 09:54 PM Re: 14 keys to understanding kata [Re: kenposan]
CdkwaN Offline

Registered: 05/28/05
Posts: 28
Loc: Indiana
Kenpo, I applaud your very informative post!

Yours in the MA CdKwan

#152336 - 06/05/05 10:17 PM Re: 14 keys to understanding kata [Re: CdkwaN]
oldman Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/28/04
Posts: 5884
Welcome to Fighting arts. This is oldman. I'm CDK from the Kansas City area. Maybe we've met. I know a few folks in southern Indiana, and Kentucky. Choi, Crecilius, Lavanchy, Seig, Duncan. Any names ring a bell? Enjoy the online ride here. Don't forget your seatbelt. Feel free to shoot me an email if you like.

#152337 - 06/05/05 10:44 PM Re: 14 keys to understanding kata [Re: kenposan]
SANCHIN31 Offline
Former Moderator

Registered: 12/26/04
Posts: 3783
Loc: Arkansas, U.S.
Thanks for the post,good stuff.If anyone is interested Abernathy has a free e-book and news letters like this one availiable at his website.
Skinny,Bald,and Handsome! Fightingarts Warrior of the year

#152338 - 06/06/05 05:07 AM Re: 14 keys to understanding kata [Re: kenposan]
kempo_student Offline

Registered: 03/16/05
Posts: 44
Loc: Venice, Italy
Great, great, great...
This is a must for everyone.
But i think also that we can add more principles to better understand katas.
Principle like Kyusho-jitsu and Kiai-jitsu that kata is full.

#152339 - 06/06/05 09:03 AM Re: 14 keys to understanding kata [Re: oldman]
CdkwaN Offline

Registered: 05/28/05
Posts: 28
Loc: Indiana
Thank you for the 'welcome' to the site Oldman! I really enjoy this forum. I have sent you a pm with a bit more info. Sincerely

#152340 - 06/06/05 10:04 PM Re: 14 keys to understanding kata [Re: SANCHIN31]
kenposan Offline

Registered: 08/23/01
Posts: 633
Loc: Columbus, Ohio

Thanks for the post,good stuff.If anyone is interested Abernathy has a free e-book and news letters like this one availiable at his website.

The free e-book is definately worth a look, it opened my eyes!
The angry man will defeat himself in battle, as well as in life. -Samurai maxim

#152341 - 06/07/05 12:28 AM Re: 14 keys to understanding kata [Re: kenposan]
SANCHIN31 Offline
Former Moderator

Registered: 12/26/04
Posts: 3783
Loc: Arkansas, U.S.
You can get it here along with alot of other good articles.
Skinny,Bald,and Handsome! Fightingarts Warrior of the year

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