Guiding Principle #18
If there’s one aspect of karate that seems to draw more ridicule and criticism than any other, while at the same time draws gasps of incredulity and heavy applause of appreciation, it’s kata.
It seems almost impossible to call up a kata performance on youtube without seeing at least a few comments ridiculing kata for being totally impractical and that people should stop wasting time and go practice MMA instead.
What these commentators are missing should be obvious to all serious karate practitioners….
Kata is only half the show, it’s only part 1 of a two part drama, where part 2 is the kumite. Kata is practiced to perfect techniques, techniques which were born from ancient fighting systems and can still be used to devastating effect today. It’s easy to miss this lethality when watching a beautiful kata performance though, and that’s where the door is left open for uneducated comments.
It may be a never ending debate, but it’s not a new one. While Funakoshi’s own teacher, Itosu, advised Funakoshi to remember that kata should be practiced without embellishment, Funakoshi goes further and advises that in battle, the karate practitioner should transcend the linearity of the rigid kata movements, moving freely to defeat the opponent. Funakoshi remembered this guidance and was moved to include it as one of his Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate.
#18 “PERFORM KATA EXACTLY; ACTUAL COMBAT IS ANOTHER MATTER”
So while students should strive to perform kata with as much precision as their own physical limitations will allow, they should remember that kumite, freed of the embusen of the kata, should flow freely to take advantage of the enemies own weaknesses.
How is a student to follow this advice in training? Break every move in kata down to it’s most basic of movements and ask yourself, is this exact, or am I doing it differently everytime? One way to do this is to examine transitions, when moving from one stance or technique to another does your hand or foot follow the exact same path every time, or do you sometimes take shortcuts, or perhaps through a lack of understanding not really comprehend the correct way to perform the technique? Only by examining your technique in this manner can you be sure you are at least attempting to follow the first part of Principle #18.
While in self defense there are techniques that can be pulled from kata that are extremely effective, for example numerous grab evasions, Principle #18 asks that we consider full combat with a different mindset altogether. Funakoshi’s advice is to take heed of the opponents weaknesses and react accordingly. In kata there is no opponent, other than the multiple imaginary opponents performing attacks in the same regimental fashion as the kata performer.
In combat the enemy decides how when and where he will attack, and it is up to the karate exponent to exploit the weakness in those decisions to his advantage. Once you learn to do this, you will have achieved at least 1/20th of Funakoshi’s karate principles.