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#372540 - 12/05/07 11:42 AM Re: Why do YOU study kata? [Re: Ronin1966]
jude33 Offline

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 1539

Hello Harlan:

I do not wish to digress, but if your second sentiment is true... then why not merely punch/kick trees and be done with it? Even the necessity for repetition must be given intelligent context... yes?



They do and have used trees for training aids.

Or have I missed something as I seem to do when I get involved in some academic type over my head conversations.


#372541 - 12/05/07 12:18 PM Re: Why do YOU study kata? [Re: oldman]
jude33 Offline

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 1539

Ashihara's dirty little secret closet kata

So in effect Butterfly teaches techniques that are in the
kata first then the kata afterwards? Or both together?


Edited by jude33 (12/05/07 12:22 PM)

#372542 - 12/05/07 12:22 PM Re: Why do YOU study kata? [Re: jude33]
butterfly Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 08/25/04
Posts: 3012
Loc: Torrance, CA

Some where in my tired brain cells I remember seeing a video
on you tube of some one who does your style teaching a set of moves that he had put in to a pre-arranged "set"

I dont suppose this could be seen as drawing a sort of parrallel with kata? minus the hidden parts? To remember the moves?

There is a parallel to some aspects of kata as you perform it. But ours is more reminiscent to shadow boxing than not, I think. The forms/kata whatever we do are pre-arranged to show specic techniques with specific principles against specicific attacks.

BTW, I am not against kata per se, or even think it has no value. My contention is that there are other, and for me, better ways to train the same thing more efficiently. But if it works for YOU, then do it.

The movements that you described seeing are close to kata in that they relay a principle of movement. There are no attacks in the 12 basic movements that we do, but it allows an understanding of body flow with and against an opponent.

However, the distinguishing thing is that there is not a "formalized" aesthetic that appears different than the application. It is exactly what and how you would use it.

So what I do may look inelegant and gauche compared with what others do when looking at kata. But the movments are the same as the applications for me...I don't have to invest in removing applications from them that may or may not be functional. For me, they simply are what they are...a kick or a punch or a grab or a throw. Nothing hidden.

#372543 - 12/05/07 12:37 PM Re: Why do YOU study kata? [Re: butterfly]
jude33 Offline

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 1539

I think I have to be carefull here otherwise it might be missunderstood.

Your training methods and indeed the kata I like them.
I think ashihara would be a good style to train in.
It to me looks very much the Japanese influence
The small amount of techniques I am gaining through kata study to me is a different way( to me anyhow) of doing things.
Very much the chinese influence. Hidden chinese influence.
But it is early days. Long study ahead.

Nothing wrong with either. But realy worlds apart. So Different.


Edited by jude33 (12/05/07 12:39 PM)

#372544 - 12/05/07 01:25 PM Re: Why do YOU study kata? [Re: jude33]
butterfly Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 08/25/04
Posts: 3012
Loc: Torrance, CA

You have to remember too, like so much that changes or passes on when the founder of a system dies, the stuff you listed isn't necessarily what I studied or was given to me by my instructor. This organization is not even affiliated with what is claimed as the more authenticly branched Ashihara (whatever that means). It really doesn't matter as long as you have good instrution and you like it.

However, there is a disconnect here with the use of WTF forms or TKD forms. In fact, in one of the book's that Koncho Ashihara wrote he decried the use and practice of traditional kata. You wouldn't see this done in an Ashihara Dojo under his name when he was alive.

I can tell you for sure that you wouldn't practice WTF or TKD kata at an Ashihara dojo, period. Since his son is the head of the system, I doubt that would change either.

Hoosain Narker, I believe is the head of the system you linked and was an ushi-deschi student under Ninomiya (if I am not mistaken), prior to Ninomiya leaving Ashihara and founding Enshin Karate.

The stuff may be very similar to the things that I was taught, I don't know. I just know that the focus on these kata is not something that was given huge consideration when I trained while Ashihara was still alive, nor was there any consideration of these other style's kata imported into our training. That would have been anathema to our training.

Just as something to consider, which doesn't mean much to anyone except myself, my original instructor was Yoshida Sensei. A very good friend and contemporary of Ninomiya. Yoshida was the head hombu instructor for Koncho Ashihara when he was alive and who later set up dojos in Australia and in California under the aegis of Ashihara to go out and convert the masses.

I was one of those that liked the training well enough to stick around. But like anything that claims the same name or lineage, you might get an Apple I-Pod, or you might get a Honk Kong Eye-Pawd. Couldn't even tell you if one is worse than the other, but they are probably not the same after you get past the plastic cover.

#372545 - 12/05/07 02:10 PM Re: Why do YOU study kata? [Re: butterfly]
Victor Smith Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 3220
Loc: Derry, NH

As a starting point it is necessary to understand that how programs utilize kata is not of one dimension. Looking at a program that teaches kata after kata, but doesn’t get into subsidiary training doesn’t describe a program that does.

Similarly using past references about what karate should or shouldn’t be is oft times more selective than what may have happened. Perhaps some instructors did spend 3 years on one kata, perhaps some did only use a hand full of kata, that does not prove that is the best model for instruction.

I see the past as a multitude of oral histories, few which can be proven independently.

One way of seeing the past is each generation of instructors followed their own lead. Hiagonna Kanryo may have only taught kata x,y and z, but his student Miyagi Chojun still added others. Many took advantage of each experience they had and choose to add new kata from their studies or not, chose to ignore kata, or even to craft new ones, each for different reasons, as how the study of those kata was to be used too.

The clear lesson is that there are no rules binding anything from karate. Each generation made their own choices.

It does appear in the past 100 years many instructors took advantage of whatever information they came to posses. Even if just adding new beginning kata to their studies.

The issue to day isn’t that things changed in the past, but how best to utilize the choices any of us have experienced.

The study of kata is rarely just one approach fits all. How kata are utilized in a program is vastly different from program to program. Rather than worry about others let me talk about my own choices and those of some of my friends.

First let me refer to the Joe Swift description of karate era:

Classical Karate – Pre 1900 in Okinawa
Traditional Karate – Roughly 1900 to 1950 (the Japanese expansion period)
Modern Karate – Post 1950
Contemporary Karate – the past 10 years

I practice a system of karate that was created on Okinawa in the Modern period, the mid 1950’s based on the Classical approach of Kyan (small group instruction). My own focus was on how karate was transmitted pre 1900 (the Classical Era) and while I use some elements of group instruction from the Traditional period for my youth program, my programs still focus on Classical, almost one to one, instruction.

As I studied Isshinryu it contained 8 empty hand kata and 6 kobudo kata. Along my way, to obtain a workout, if anyone I trained with taught anything I learn it, and studied on the order of 200 forms from many systems. The system that I transmit is the complete Isshinryu system as I studied it, and a few more things, rounding out around 37 kata practices, 14 of which are requirements for sho-dan.

My youth program keeps about 20 young people in it, with an average of 7 to 9 years training to reach sho-dan. My adult program is much smaller keeping to my pre-1900 goals. On aggregate I have about 5 programs of study, each using the same program content but focused to the ages and potentials of the students. At any one time there are maybe 3 of them running.

Now this background helps me get to the point you make, “My concern is there is a fundamental disservice done to perhaps 95% of those students that come into the traditional dojo, at least those with a goal to learn self-defense. They come for a much shorter period of time. And the current system of "traditional" karate is ill-suited to give them lifelong skills. Too much time is wasted on too many kata for which they will never learn the applications, as each combination, noted above, requires a lot of repetition to get good at. ”

The first thing is a good instructor should be explaining to their potential students exactly what their training will be doing. I make it very clear to those who train with me it will be more than a few years before we move past the first set of movement skill acquisition. I not only explain the what, but also the why this is so.

Having trained both with instructors from many different systems with extremely high level of technique execution in any sort of attacking situation, and having trained people from 7 to almost 70 for a period of 30 years I have a lot of experience how long it takes to build the skills I am teaching. While we do try and address the new students needs within their capabilities, trying to build short term MA’s is not my interest.

There are times that may be necessary and my program would shift to short term basic skill acquisition if that was the necessity, but it hasn’t been the need and is not our need at this time.

Of course as I don’t charge, test or promote willy nilly, the students are free to train or move on as they wish. Because it’s very hard to find the existence of my program, those that do so tend to stay with the training a bit.

But as I have about five different basic approaches to the training, at any time some of them are no being utilized because of the student’s actual needs.

The crux of course for this discussion is kata, the key of karate, period.

Human potential can be limited to one way of learning, but as educational researchers have discovered there is more than one type of learning potential in each human, we also have the ability to participate in multiple types of learning activity at the same time.

While I understand the desire to keep things simple, I believe that is a trap to our full potential. We are quite capable of working on large learning as well as small learning at the same time. We can learn many kata, and also just focus on say one without binding ourselves.

Movement skill takes time to acquire. Application skill also takes time, but there is no reason when you’ve developed sufficient movement skill that you cannot work on sets of application skill and also continue to expand movement skill potential and at the same time and perfect other previously earned skills.

Another complemenetary skill set is tactical skill, how to choose which response fits an attack, or how to tactically set up an atttacker to conclude with a specific skill.

One set of training, movement skill acquisition, application skill acquisition or tactical skill acquisition are complete studies in thier own right. The strongest case is made when they are separate but complimentary studies.

Yes, all we may need is a small set of highly practiced skills to constrain any attack. But life is long and why restrict ourselves to a few skills? It is just as useful to develop new skills continually and replace older skills with newer ones?. This keeps your mind fresh as well as your core for defense.

Any set of kata 3 or 30 contain hundreds to thousands of skills that may be applied. When you increase the number of the kata you really haven’t changed the dimension of the task.

I’ve never felt it was important to understand everything in a short time such as 3 years. Take 20 and you have a chance to move into the depth of study.

In no way do I consider my students study too deep. I’ve trained with instructors in Isshinryu with 8 kata who practice thousands of application studies. I’ve trained with a Shotokan instructor that teaches thousands of ‘bunkai’ for his Shotokan kata from the kakushite point of view. I’ve trained with a Faan Tzi Ying Jow Pai stylist who had to correctly execute 75 forms for his master instructor qualification, many of those forms longer than the entire body of Okinawan kata, as well as participate in sparring with the multitude of Ying Jow Pai locks, takedowns, etc. with no restriction.

Each of them having courses of instruction challenging their students to their maximum ability. Compared to my program I don’t consider what I’m teaching terribly challenging, just a long term study.

If anyone wants other answers, fine, but my students don’t pay, they’ve trained with me and they’ve trained with my friends and have a very good grasp to where we’re working.

What the individual accomplishes is up to them, but I won’t work to make our study less challenging.

The role of kata is very complex. For one thing, over the long years it is a way to keep re-adjusting to our changing potential. The young grow bigger, stonger and faster. The older eventually slow and change in a different direction. For one thing kata allows us to objectively work on our continually changing potential.

I do not teach depth of application potential in the beginning ranks. The new sho dan will spend roughly 6 months acquiring some skill with the first movement section of the first Isshinryu kata – seisan, developing a fair amount of skill towards stopping attacks of any source with that one section. There are maybe 50 application potentials explored for that one movement, just a piece of the potential, but capable of disrupting almost any sort of attack. This covers the skills, the underlying principles how the applications are found and work, and works up to random full force attacks and counter appropriately.

This becomes a core skill component. From that point the unrestricted long term study of kata application potential continues, and they can add or subtract skills from their personal preference as they dictate.

The key component is that you must have qualified instructors to make this work. I spend a minimum of 15 years training an instructor before they are ready to take the helm of a class. This is not to make them a clone, but to give them both the tools and the structural understudy of how things can work.

Great skill in execution at any level and deep kata study and broad kata study are not incompatible. They just take the work which karate was created to accomplish.

It’s obvious you don’t have to follow this path, but this is what I do.

Edited by Victor Smith (12/05/07 02:19 PM)
victor smith bushi no te isshinryu offering free instruction for 30 years

#372546 - 12/05/07 07:34 PM Re: Why do YOU study kata? [Re: Victor Smith]
kakushiite Offline

Registered: 02/06/03
Posts: 266
Loc: Ithaca, NY, USA

In my post, I mentioned that some instructors do manage to overcome the challenge of “too many kata” and specifically named you. I know that many of your students train for many years, and good teachers, with long term students, can often overcome this hurdle. Plus, I would say that Isshin Ryu tends to be well on the lower side of the "too many kata" problem. More important, Shimabuku passed on lots of kata applications to his students, something that I do not believe was all that common.

I see a big divide between students, who train, on average, less, versus life-long karateka, who become teachers and who tend to be more devoted to their arts.

My compliant is not with those who have trained long enough to develop good self-defense skills, and then choose, once they have developed this foundation, to branch out and practice more kata. My broader criticism is of those systems that require inexperienced students to practice a large set of kata, regardless of whether all (or even most) of the kata have value for the student. Importantly, I believe that the practice of many kata prevents the deeper learning of all of the kata practiced.

All dojos train somewhat differently. I know this from experience, as I have had the good fortune to have been able to visit many dojos over my career in the arts. But in discussing the issue of many versus few kata, I think it would be helpful to propose a "typical" training regimen in a "typical" kata-heavy traditional karate system. Below I describe the breakdown of a 2 hour workout of a “typical” karate system that trains in kata, sparring, kobudo and self-defense. An average karate student, would be expected, on average, to go through two of these workouts a week.

15 minutes - warmup/exercises
15 minutes - repetitive drills
• Offensive/defensive kicking patterns, strikes, blocks, pad-bag work
15 minutes - self defense applications non-kata based
15 minutes - sparring
10 minutes - kobudo kata
10 minutes – kobudo partner work
15 minutes - karate kata
15 minutes – kata application
10 minutes - sitting, observing/listening

What is important here is not the specific amounts of time spent on each training component. The point is that many, many systems are so full of sparring, self-defense, bag/makiwara work and kobudo, that often, only a fraction of the training time can be spent on kata and kata application.

In the breakout above, I have allocated fully ¼ of the training time to kata and kata application. Many “traditional” karate systems allocate less.

Let’s take a typical Shotokan student after 3 years of training. At that point he may have learned 12 kata. Taikyokus, Pinans, some Naihanchi, probably Bassai dai and Empi, maybe Bassai sho. So how does this relative novice practice all these kata?

When it comes time to practice kata, many, many schools run through the all their kata from the beginning. For a student with 3 years training that has learned 12 kata, he will perhaps perform 1-2, or at most 3 repetitions of a given kata since that is all that can be done in 15-20 minutes. And when it comes to application, how much can truly be practiced in partner work in 15 minutes for 12 different kata. It is my belief that you can’t practice much more than a handful of movements effectively in 15 minutes. Yet these kata together comprise some 100 combinations that could be used in hundreds of ways.

I began my earlier post with a discussion of the importance of repetition in so many physical endeavors. In traditional karate, we have many, many students, who in the course of a week might practice a specific kata 2, 3, 4 or maybe 5 times. I do not believe that, in general, doing something just a few times each week generates effective fighting capabilities. The average fighter benefits from more repetitions. A boxer might throw a left jab/right hook combination hundreds of times in the course of 4 hours of training.

Regarding karate training, the story I like best, I have told here before, but it is worth repeating. Iha sensei learned it from Shinpan Gusukuma, a student of Itosu and Higaonna. Gusukuma wanted to learn the Japanese art of the spear and traveled to Japan to study Naginata on his summer vacation. He was shown the Nuki, and told to practice it. He did so for many hours. Each day he came back, and trained in more of the same. At the end of his 2 week vacation, he asked the sensei how long was typical before a student learned the next technique. "About 3 years" she replied.

If this was a model of Naginata training in Japan 80 years ago, my question is why did karate training so quickly explode into a system of so many kata for beginners? My view is that we are saddled with whatever kata the master learned, as they typically passed down most or all of the kata they knew.

Now I have argued above, that it often makes sense, in the long term, to train in more kata, perhaps a dozen or more might be a good amount. But this concept of learning everything your master learned becomes increasing foolish the higher the kata numbers go. As a Shito Ryu student under a student of Kuniba and Hayashi, I was taught 25 kata and 5 weapons kata in the fours years before I was promoted to Shodan. The spigot continued as in the next 5 years, as I strived to be able to perform most of the 50 of the Shito Ryu kata. Why? Because Shito Ryu has all those kata. I found in my Shotokan training that the initial numbers only slightly less daunting, although kobudo is far less common.

I have trained with Iha Sensei in Kobayashi and the way kata is practiced is the way I described it above. Kata are performed typically with only a single repetition until they are all complete. Plus many Iha students train in kobudo, and this can cut into empty hand practice time. When I trained in Koeikan, from the Toyama heritage, kata again was practiced the same, going through the kata you know, with only one or two repetitions each. When I trained with an Oyata student, again, it was much the same. Although Oyata’s students do focus pretty heavily on self defense movements from kata. In the Matsubayashi dojo I visited I was pleased the kata reps were generally somewhat higher. In the Shorinji-Ryu dojo I trained in, (under a Richard Kim student), there were a whole lot of kata, most practiced just a few times at most.

A couple of years back I attended a seminar with one of Oyata's senior students. At dinner after the session, he complained that he just had too many kata. He was both surprised and somewhat envious when I told him I had cut down to a very small number.

When looking at the question of why kata are practiced, I have a simple question for Shotokan (and Shito Ryu) students. If you are already practicing 15-20 kata after a few years training, why is any time at all spent on Jitte? The self-defense movements are surely very obscure. The typical Shotokan dojo, which does little in bunkai, certainly spends no real meaningful practice on the uses of Jitte. Why? There are a variety of reasons. But there is one reason that can’t be overlooked, the elephant in the room, if you will. There is just no time. There are just too many kata, practiced too infrequently, to make a dent in the study of Jitte. And if the movements will never be practiced in a way that can ever make them useful for fighting, the $64,000 question is why are they practiced at all?

Well, that’s because Shotokan practices Jitte, and that is the way it is, whether it makes any sense or not. Funakoshi, in the master text, wrote that in his day, most masters knew one, two or at most a few kata. But he thought it was just fine to make the jump to 16.

Then when his students visited Mabuni in Osaka, they were taught Bassai Sho, Kusanku Sho, Jiin, Chinte, Niseishi, Gojushiho, Unsu and others as well. (There may be other sources of these in Shotokan).

Most of these additions are long complex kata, and they were just layered over the top of a system that jumped from a tradition of a few to 16. Why? Because that is what Mabuni taught these Shotokan students, so now they are part of the system, and novices get to learn them at a rapid rate. And for those so fortunate to be training in the Shito Ryu systems, they get to learn ALL of the Itosu kata, ALL of the Higaonna kata, the white crane kata from Go Kenki, the 3 Aragaki kata and the half dozen kata from Mabuni himself. For those Shito Ryu students in Hayashi-ha, they get to learn all that plus the added prize of the Ryue-Ryu kata that Hayashi learned from Nakaima.

Victor, there is a commercial dojo not far from you. I visited it some 5 or 6 years ago on a trip to NH. It may be in Manchester proper, or just may be in Derry. It's a big, beautiful dojo, with a slate lined entry, with a fountain, and the dojo back further behind a big glass wall. I sat down with one of the students and looked at the literature. It showed the empty hand kata that the sensei had learned (and perhaps taught). It was an enormous list, somewhere near 70, perhaps higher. And the kobudo list had dozens of entries. While I do know that this isn't all that uncommon for some Chinese systems, it was never the way that karate was practiced on Okinawa.

And this amassing of kata is not limited to karate. Taira Shinken did the same for kobudo what Mabuni did for karate. He gathered dozens of kata, and his students strive to learn a great many of them.

And in the end, too many of these karate styles wind up having so much, that they wind up trying to pass on too much of it to beginners, thereby depriving these students of the repetition so critically needed to learn effective self defense.

Victor, I am not critical of the way you teach your art. I am not saying it is impossible to effectively teach lots of kata, especially, if you don't swamp beginners with loads of them. You are the exception that proves the rule. However, I do strongly feel that all-too-many schools do their students a serious disservice when they teach kata to novices in so rapid a succession. There’s just no time for effective repetition, and no time for effective practice of application. And IMO, it’s just no way for a student to best learn how to use karate effectively.


#372547 - 12/05/07 09:17 PM Re: Why do YOU study kata? [Re: kakushiite]
Ed_Morris Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 6772
another point of view is the observation that people make too big of a deal of any 1 kata. there are chinese systems that have lots more forms than any Okinawan system. with each kata averaging several minutes to go thru. many chinese systems don't embue the culture to revere, pick-apart and analyze the minutia - they train a kata for some length of time, then move on without revisiting past kata much. The idea is to not get locked into or attached to things too much.

...there is a certain wisdom to that for consideration.

In one sense, Japanese/Okinawan derrived kata can be thought of as a digital representation of Chinese kata's analog economy of movement. which also gives the dichonic image of focused but stiff vs. messy yet flowing.

#372548 - 12/05/07 09:43 PM Re: Why do YOU study kata? [Re: kakushiite]
Victor Smith Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 3220
Loc: Derry, NH

Just a small historical note. Isshinryu when my instructors studied (59-60 and 71 in Okinawa) it did not teach kata applications, per sea. When I was a student there were no applications studies. Isshinryu's founder, Shimabuku Tatsuo did include a set of about 45 situational self defense techniques, but many of the US Marines, did not study them as their unit duties often did not contain enough time to do so.

My instructor focused on only a handful of grab counters. But his friend from the same training time (who did have the chance to learn the 45 techniques) returning to the states, realized those techniques came from kata. Then he spent the next 40 years digging out every principle, every technique application potential he could find, coupled with intense work on the makiwara and the realization that only one pressure point made sense, any place on the body you could strike or kick. That focus end with him discovering a treasure trove within Isshinryu kata for him and his students.

My own path, started long years before I met him, came from my association with that Shotokan instructor and the Faan Tzi Ying Jow Pai instructor I previously mentioned and focused me on how I could actually use Isshinryu from my own efforts. When later I met Sherman Harrill and his efforts, it was like an executive course of study.

I do understand your point about other schools but put much more focus on what I can do and not what others are doing.

The school you mention is in the next town over from me. They were a very long term Goju school that switched over to a Seibukan variation of Shorin Ryu (and kept both curricula) as well as another complex set of kobudo kata. An outside instructor of a Shorin and Kobudo tradition was the source of their material.

That school has a huge currucula, but I personally concur after lengthy studies of my own, that much material isn't terribly needed. But they are a full time dojo and follow their own path.

The past happened, but it is not clear why many changes occured, just that they did. I would like to think, as I have experienced, those changes came into existence by long study and work of those instructors.

I suspect, however, the problems that you refer to were the result of larger size classes and less personal time with the instructor, than the number of kata studied.

Look except for viewing the instructors of the current and past generations in action, we have no idea what the actual competence of the earlier instructors, the standards of execution and the goals people trained towards.

Of course in those days there was not the contemporary instant information and entertainment industry. Long training in karate may well have been a welcome way to spend evenings on older Okinawa.

All I see shows the real constant on Okinawa was constant change, both there and when karate was transplanted into Japan. This continues to this day.

How we deal with those changes, how we use them for our own goals shapes who and what we become.
victor smith bushi no te isshinryu offering free instruction for 30 years

#372549 - 12/06/07 12:24 PM Re: Why do YOU study kata? [Re: butterfly]
jude33 Offline

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 1539
I can see your points. I think there are certain kata I would not like to practice. They have become can I say "to commercialised". Perhaps this is why your founder took the view he did. I dont know.


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