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#419241 - 05/13/09 10:18 PM Are karate kata true martial arts
kakushiite Offline

Registered: 02/06/03
Posts: 266
Loc: Ithaca, NY, USA
The term martial comes from Mars, the Roman god of war. defines martial as “of, suitable for, or associated with war or armed forces”

Oxford’s English dictionary defines martial as “of or appropriate to warfare.”

My study of karate centers on my attempts to better understand to what degree karate kata are true martial arts. To what degree are kata suitable, associated or appropriate to warfare?

We know that the origins of many karate kata have no written record. Funakoshi and Nagamine both point to Chinese origins for many Shorin Ryu kata. Higashionna studied in China for a number of years before returning to teach Miyagi and others his Naha-te art.

When looking at the question of whether the origins of older Shuri-te and Naha-te kata were martial in nature, this really is a question as to whether some or many of these Chinese kata that have survived to the present had true martial origins. Were they designed to be used on the battlefield?

A better question is to what degree do kata teach movements that would be useful in being successful on a battlefield? Success on the battlefield means successfully evading attacks from multiple armed enemies, and killing them quickly. There should be an expectation that your enemies have some skill with their weapons.

I would argue that quickly killing multiple skilled armed enemies requires skillful use of a weapon.
For centuries, the weapons of choice for many armies were spears and swords.

So to what extent is it possible, that kata may contain some (or many) underlying true martial or military applications, movements designed for use with weapons of warfare.

Please note that I am not implying here that Okinawan kobudo, specifically kata that use household implements such as bo, sai and kama, were designed for armed combat, army against army. Household implements are not weapons of warfare. No military leader would ever choose Okinawan implements for use in warfare, when long bladed weapons are what are needed to be successful.

My question here is limited to the extent that the Chinese kata that were passed down in Okinawa may have had martial or military origins in China.

Has anyone else thought about this issue? Has anyone read a good source that makes this argument?

On a related subject, I have read that both Matsumura, and perhaps Itosu, due to their positions under the Ryu Kyu king, may have had official relations with Chinese Military authorities. Does anyone have good sources for this?


#419242 - 05/15/09 02:44 PM Re: Are karate kata true martial arts [Re: kakushiite]
cxt Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 09/11/03
Posts: 5846
Loc: USA

Perhaps a good place to start is using a "western/english" dictionary to define terms that perhaps more properly should be defined by the culture that birthed them.
Why would you be surprised that "eastern/asian" terms might have a bit of ambiguity/less than 100% corespondence with a "western" dictonary meaning?????

"Kata" means something a bit different to Chinese/Japanese/Okinawan applications---its a "form" or "shape" that helps one learn specific skills---everything has a "kata" a "pattern" that helps the student learn---everything from flower arranging to painting to storytelling etc.
So a kata could, from that perspective, have every reason to be a litteral "battlefield" art even if it does not actualy teach you how to cut a man out of the saddle with a glaive...or it could do just that.

My guess is that your mixing terms.

Also not sure that "karate" kata or even many Chinese kata were supposed to be "battlefield" arts...depnding on just how narrowly or broadly one defines "battlefield" many people makes a "battlefield?"...3?..5?..10?....1100? Does it have to be on a "field?"...what if its 5 guys in a paved alley fighting with axes and swords? How about fighting on a ship?
NOT trying to be a pain...but maybe your defining "battlefield" a bit loosely?

Japanese koryu "kata" are often litteally "battlefield" arts......not sure that Okinawan or many Chinese arts make that SPECIFIC claim.

So I'm not sure that your base presumption is either accurate or warrented or all that supportable.

My read on your question...essentialy.... are "kata are sutitable for or did they have their origen on the battlefield??
Would be.

A-Not sure that anybody claims that they are.

B-Not sure that the question---as it mixes terms and outlooks from one culture and then tries to use them to define terms/meanings from another culture in a fashion that might not be all that accurate--is a good way to phase it.

C-Might be a little to narrow in framing.....maybe.

D-Overall--sucess on the "battle field" can mean many things---the army uses a wide range of H+H combat skills--and those folks have GUNS which are generally superior to even "long bladed weapons" so I'm not sure that empty hand stuff is really uneeded or not worthwhile.
On this point you can argue with the Armed Forces if you like--just not sure that they will care much what you think about how they run their training.

Its probably certain that at least "few" Chinese kata had their origen in "martial" application as YOU use the term.....its certain (with some degree of accuracy) that at least a few of the folks that created/used them were military people so it stands to reason that military experiences were drawn upon to create or train in their kata....hard to imagine a guy/gal saying "sure I spent 20 years fighting in the army but I'm NOT going to use ANY of that experience in working on my kata."

Yes, many Okinawans had offical, semi-offical, and noon-offical contact with various Chinese individuals of various function.

On a strictly personal note...its my belief that "kata" are ONLY ONE section of a training methodology that involves all sorts of training---strength training, heavybag work, resitant drills and partner work, conditioning,sparring/grappling, etc needed for developing fighting/self defense in my view Chinese and Okinawan/Japanese kata ALONE are not going to be enough.......the history of the arts rather strongly suggest that back in the day many of the "old masters" did much more than "just" kata to develop skills.

Just an always could be wrong

Edited by cxt (05/15/09 03:02 PM)

#419243 - 05/15/09 05:00 PM Re: Are karate kata true martial arts [Re: cxt]
kakushiite Offline

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

There are many ways to consider applications for the martial arts we practice today. I am specifically asking about their use in pre-firearm times, on the battlefield.

It does not really matter whether one uses a Chinese term, an English term, an Arabic term, or an Incan term. Groups of armed men have fought groups of armed men since the beginning of man. Warfare is warfare. In pre-firearm times, successful armies trained their soldiers to use their weapons, primarily spears, effectively.

Some have been taught that the movements in Okinawan kata have been combat tested, that they enabled one to have success on the battlefield. This thread asks the question "how effective were Okinawan empty hand kata movements (at least those that have Chinese origins) for use on the battlefield, where large groups of armed men fought each other."

One answer might be "not very effective". One might argue that the movements of Chinese kata practiced in Okinawa had little use on the battlefield, where large groups of armed men fought each other. One might argue that the movements of these Chinese kata would were strictly developed for empty hand fighting and would only be useful in the rare circumstances that two soldiers might face each other, when neither had a weapon.

Another answer might be "somewhat effective". One might argue that in the event a soldier lost their weapon, their empty hand movements would be effective in overcoming the attacks of multiple armed enemies.

Both of these answers might imply that Okinawan kata have movements different and distinct from weapons movements. In these cases, soldiers would have separate training for weapons movements and empty hand movements, with at best, modest overlap between the two.

Another answer might be "effective". One might argue that Okinawan empty hand kata contain some movements that provide for effective use of a spear-like weapon.

And yet another answer might be "very effective". One might argue that Okinawan empty hand kata contain many movements that provide for effective use of a spear-like weapon.

I would appreciate, cxt, if you would share whether in the course of your martial arts training, you were taught that kata movements practiced today had been effective, many years ago, on the battlefield. I have heard this argument many times. And I believe it to be true. For those that believe it, I am interested in how they would consider these movements effective, according to the various circumstances I have described above.


#419244 - 05/16/09 01:52 PM Re: Are karate kata true martial arts [Re: kakushiite]
Ames Offline

Registered: 05/29/05
Posts: 1117

The term martial comes from Mars, the Roman god of war.[...] defines martial as “of, suitable for, or associated with war or armed forces” [...] [My question is]
To what degree are kata suitable, associated or appropriate to warfare?

I think that when you look at the older material out there, it becomes clear that kata were, at one time, primarily methods for training to be physically prepared for the ancient (pre-modern weapon) battlefield. By 'physically prepared' I mean both on a conditioning (stamina) level, and on a 'technique' level. These 'kata's' were almost certainly different from anything taught now, but they would still have some movements (horse stance being a likely one) that would be recognizable. So in this sense, yes they are 'martial' as they are "associated with war or armed forces." Yes, they are mostly associated the war of a past time, but so is modern military drills and marching, and that is still considered 'martial'.


My question here is limited to the extent that the Chinese kata that were passed down in Okinawa may have had martial or military origins in China.

Difficult to prove in terms of specific kata, I would imagine. But the movements and technique's in those kata are seen in much earlier depictions, so I would say the chances of Okinawan kata having been influenced in a large way via the somewhat circular and obscure route of early Chinese 'kata' (using the term fairly loosely here) is a good one. Of even more interest to me is going even earlier than that, but it murkier and murkier the further back you go. However, I do think that ancient Greece (possibly preceded by developments in the Near East) will be your eventual 'stop' point if you continue to trace this back further and further.

"Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought."

#419245 - 05/18/09 07:12 PM Re: Are karate kata true martial arts [Re: kakushiite]
cxt Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 09/11/03
Posts: 5846
Loc: USA

Your not getting me......using an "english" dictionary to translate an "incan" term might just give you a LESS THAN ACCURATE translation........just something to consider as you compare and contrast why the "meanings" don't always add up.

"some have been told that Okinawan kata have been "combat tested and...that they have enabled succes on the battlefield"

A-I don't ANYBODY of any repute that would say something like that---Okinawan arts like many the chinese arts they are based upon were less "battlfield" and more "personal protection."

B-Its 2 DIFFERENT THINGS "combat teasted" and "battlefield" are not the same meaning...ones art could well be "comabt tested" and yet not be on a "battlefield."

Just depends on exactly how LITTERAL you want to be useing the term "battlefield.

"one might answer not very effective....large groups of armed men fought each other"

Again, your mixing your examples and NOBODY I know with any actual info thinks the UNARMED sections of the Okinawan karate are meant or designed to take on "large groups of armed men."
Whomever told you so is either ignorant or they think you are.

"okinawan kata have movements are diffent and distince from weapon movements"

Many don't, some do.......some can quite readily be used with a staff what?

I tried to explain before...but your not listening....a "battlefield" and "combat effective" are 2 RATHER DIFFERENT THINGS.

Most Okinawan karate---like most of their Chinese for-runners were more for personal protection than anything else......does not mean they lack "effectiveness" just that they don't seem to have been devloped with the idea of mass armies fighting it out, in mind.

There are a few a few exceptions of course which might indeed be closer to the "battlefield" defiantion you seem so hung up an.

I was taught that "karate" was a "last ditch" form of self defense for when you didn't have a weapon, couldn't get to something you could use as a weapon and couldn't run/get away.

Karate was pretty much the in the hands of nobles, government officals/operatives, rich merchents etc until pretty recently in its "life."
Karate was not really developed by unarmed peasents to fight off invading Samurai.

Edited by cxt (05/18/09 07:16 PM)
I did battle with ignorance today.......and ignorance won. Huey.

#421150 - 07/29/09 03:52 PM Re: Are karate kata true martial arts [Re: kakushiite]
kakushiite Offline

Registered: 02/06/03
Posts: 266
Loc: Ithaca, NY, USA
I have been planning to post video of my art for a long time. In May, I started this thread to see if any fightingarts readers had considered the potential overlap between Chinese-Okinawan kata movements and the military arts of spear and sword.

A couple of weeks ago I began a videoblog of my art. Please feel free to visit and review my spear fighting concepts. The purpose of the blog is to share my interpretations of Chinese-Okinawan kata with the worldwide karate community.

I practice a spear art based on the movements in Chinese-Okinawan kata. Over the next several years, I will share interpretations for all the movements of over 40 Chinese-Okinawan empty hand kata. It is my belief that these kata were designed in China for military purposes. Only through instruction and explanation of a broad cross-section of Chinese-Okinawan kata, can I present the evidence to support my belief.

I have an hour of video up so far. There are some spear forms posted a couple of weeks ago, and there is some repetitive training mixed with additional spear forms in more recent posts. Altogether, I show movements from 10 complete kata, and two partial kata. In the training videos I practice repetitions of specific movements from three complete kata, as well as segments of other kata. It is the repetitive training that I intend to focus on, presenting 20-40 minutes per week.

I am just getting this videoblog up and running and it is missing some components that will be part of future posts.

1. There is no weapon-to-weapon application yet. In the future, I will demonstrate all sequences with weapons during the instruction.

2. The posts to date do not have voiceovers. I expect to add narration/instruction to much of what I post. But I wanted to focus on getting some content on-line, and the voiceovers will be done on future videos.

The 40 kata I will share have over 300 sequences of movements. I have no specific order for much that I will present. If anyone would like to see a kata sequence using the spear, please provide a youtube link and a start/finish time. I would be happy to share my thoughts on how the movement can be used to propel a spear for useful spear fighting.

One last point. Although I believe that the Chinese kata that were taught to Okinawans in the 18th and 19 centuries were likely developed for military (armed) purposes, I also firmly believe that the movements also have remarkable empty-hand applications. Where I have fairly effective empty and self defense applications for kata sequences, I will share those as well.

Mike Eschenbrenner

Note: For what it's worth, I do expect these ideas to be controversial and unsettling to many.

#421217 - 08/02/09 02:11 PM Re: Are karate kata true martial arts [Re: kakushiite]
shoshinkan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 05/10/05
Posts: 2662
Loc: UK
Mr Eschenbrenner,

Thank you for your post, very interesting.

I would be very interested in seeing some of your empty hands application work and also to understand if this was passed on to you via a Sensei of a certain Ryu or something developed yourself from your experience (I do both of these things).

I need to get my head around your 'spear' theory, I work with an instructor from the Kodo Ryu group in the UK and they have some similair research in terms of the 'prigional' Chinese forms meaning for the Kata (ie weaponry), it's great stuff IMO and well worth looking at although im on the fence with my conclusions apart from their Naihanchi kata 2 man excersise found here (old version)

Edited by shoshinkan (08/03/09 11:14 AM)
Jim Neeter

#421375 - 08/07/09 04:24 PM Re: Are karate kata true martial arts [Re: shoshinkan]
kakushiite Offline

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

Thanks for taking the time to respond. I will regularly be posting my spear art on my blog for the next several years. I will cover 40 Okinawan kata in full.

What I seek from readers of this forum and others is requests of spear application for the movements of common Okinawan kata. I would be grateful if any reader would post a link of youtube clip of a kata, with a start/stop time. I think there is a pretty good chance that I can provide a useful instructional segment regarding those movements.

What I have chosen to post so far is not really that instructional. It is more of a demonstration of ways to practice Okinawan kata that would improve a soldier's capability on the battlefield and off. In so many cases, propelling the spear is little different than propelling an empty hand block or strike.

It is my belief that each kata was likely a full-blown battlefield art. There was probably a lot of theory and application behind all the movements of a spear. There are lots of potential variations within the sequences of movements.

It will take several years to go through these movements in detail. I have yet to begin voice-overs on the videos. I am trying to just get some basic content up. I will do that shortly.

Budoka Mike Eschenbrenner

#421786 - 08/21/09 04:45 PM Re: Are karate kata true martial arts [Re: kakushiite]
kakushiite Offline

Registered: 02/06/03
Posts: 266
Loc: Ithaca, NY, USA
In response to cxt's concerns about definitions, I do recognize that translations of words, across different languages, can be a challenge, especially when going from Asian to Western languages.

I would also agree with cxt's point that the term combat is open to interpretation and is not necessarily associated with warfare.

However, the common Chinese/Japanese character used for "martial" does have a fairly strong link to warfare.

The Japanese character bu (Chinese - wu) is widely translated as martial. The character has two radicals, one whose meaning has been constant, and one whose meaning has changed over time. The first radical (which has changed) is currently defined as "to stop". This character also appears to have once been defined as "foot". There is some discussion on the web on the interpretation of the term foot. It could be for stopping, but it is also likely that it would be interpreted as "advancing".

The second radical in bu/wu is "spear". No real ambiguity there.

So the current reading for bu (martial) is "to stop a spear" and the older reading may have been more associated with "advancing spear".

Interestingly, as the use of martial arts have lost effectiveness on the battlefield, there also has been a shift from the offensive systems required for warfare (advancing spear), to the more defensive systems common in empty hand fighting today (to stop a spear).

If any Chinese scholar knew the timeframe that the radical "foot" evolved to the radical "to stop" I would be grateful if they would share it.

-Mike Eschenbrenner

#423104 - 10/25/09 01:20 AM Re: Are karate kata true martial arts [Re: kakushiite]
reboot Offline

Registered: 10/24/09
Posts: 2
Loc: St. Augustine, FL
you have a lot of questions, and I would like to make a few comments , not sure if this will answer your question though.
I believe 'cxt' tried to steer you in the right direction. I believe you should read George Kerr's book 'Okinawa:The History of an Island People'. You can buy inexpensive used copies and new copies from This would help your understanding of the Okinawan people and their culture and history. It's not a martial arts book. Why I suggest this, is because Okinawa was not a warring country (Island) of people.I believe you have an idea or understanding of this. They were farmers, fishermen, etc. but they were in a position of being in the trade between two countries, Japan and China. Okinawa did not have armies to fight these two neighbors and generally they did not need too. China and Japan used Okinawa as a exchange. Japan did not need to bring armies in to Okinawa to overthrow it, if they did it would be destroying their trade with China. (not saying Japan didn't ever show Okinawa its might). In this trade situation, China and so did Japan, had military guard and escorts of their merchant ships. There were a lot of pirates in this area. China even had placed some of these military people to live on Okinawa. In the era of Sokon Bushi Matsumura who you know was the king's bodyguard and head of security got to know many of these military people from China and he augmented his fighting skills (martial arts) with what he learned from the Chinese. Chinese katas were introduced and new katas were developed. Remember Okinawa had there own systems of martial arts before all these influences (but I'm sure that even came from somewhere else). My point is the Okinawan were basically 'tode'/ 'te' or hand. Only the guard of the king had military weapons (swords, etc.) but not an army to ward off an opposing army such as Japan or China. The most fighting they did were agaist the pirates who came inland at times to steal or raise 'hell' when going into the towns. The Okinawan people other than the guard and royal class, had only their kobudo weapons (oars, sai, tonfa, staff, etc.) to fight these bandits. Is this classified as military (martial arts, could be in my opinion) You ask if katas are of the martial arts, again I believe, (I only can se your first post at present) someone below stated it depended on what you were practicing the kata with, a bo, sai, etc. or Te empty hand. Many katas you can incorporate the use of a weapon with it, you may do this with your spear training? But katas of te/empty hand are for training on a more close contact as opposed to weapons, but again can augment weapon training. I won't get into details about kata itself, whole different subject, but to me it all comes down to the application if it's martial arts or defense against your neighbor. You see some schools teaching handguns and rifles as martials arts. Is a FA18 pilot a martial arts practitioner? It's getting late and I'm losing my train of thought, sorry. Hope this helps some.

Edited by reboot (10/25/09 01:23 AM)

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