Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Are Kata/Poomse Important?

I read an article on this at FightingArts.com - Why Kata Is Important. My thoughts on this. Keep in mind that I don't consider myself an expert at kata, though I consider myself good at their performance. I also don't claim to know all the bunkai (application) of the kata I "know."

What forms are good for:


  1. Preservation of classical or "traditional" technique.
    I once had a prospective student come into my dojang and ask whether we taught traditional martial arts. I smiled and said, "depends on who's tradition you're talking about!" Tradition is subjective, but the commonly accepted techniques in an art or style are contained in its kata or poomse. At each level, what your style considers important is contained in the forms. If not, then they are probably just ways of marking progress and making sure you wait long enough between belts to show progress-in other words, meaningless.
  2. An excellent workout.
    If performed properly, forms are a great workout! After I finish a form in thirty seconds and I am sweating, breathing hard, and my thighs are shaking, I know a good workout. I get sore muscles in almost every part of my body from kata because I fire off all my muscles as I complete each technique, then relax between. Most excellent!
  3. Teaching concentration and memorization.
    To perform kata properly, you must focus on every technique, as well as the pattern, plus put the "intention" on every block, punch, kick, and strike. You also focus your vision as if you are actually in combat. Great for memorization. I love this aspect.
  4. Demonstrates and preserves the beauty of the martial arts.
    I think there's nothing more awesome than a well-performed kata. At a tournament I was judging once, there was a black belt competitor who looked about 50 years old, and was an Okinowan stylist, I think. He was so precise and focused with every technique, with every stance, that I was in awe of his basics. I graded him much higher than the 2o-ish competitors that did backflips and cartwheels and multiple high-kicks. Just me, but I want "martial" in my martial arts.
  5. Forms provide steady income for schools.
    Forms give martial arts schools a reason to give private lessons, extra classes, and the variety of belts (some schools/systems have as many as twelve belts before black). Forms give you a justification to have so many. Right or wrong, it's income.
  6. Forms break up the monotony of training.
    In defense of the income point, not everyone is a good fighter right away. Forms keep your interest and

What they aren't good for:

  1. Kata techniques aren't used in self-defense.
    I have never seen anyone fight like they perform a kata. I don't think I ever will. Kata are an exaggeration of the technique which one might use in fighting, but, as you perform the way you train. Some who are excellent at forms may dispute this contention, but I challenge them to send me a tape showing the forms in action. Granted, a few techniques will be used (knifehands, reverse punches, etc.), but they are all modified for real-world practicality. A good fighter doesn't chamber the pulling hand on the hip, unless he wants to get tagged in the head.
  2. Kata performance is not an efficient means of preparing for sparring, fighting, or self-defense.
    If it was, Lennox Lewis, Tyson, and all other fighters with millions on the line would be doing them, wouldn't they. Oh, they're boxers? How about martial artists? Did you see a Chuck Norris, Bill Wallace, Joe Lewis, Nasty Anderson, or Arlene Limas (dating myself, eh?) doing forms to prepare for competition? No, of course not. Enough said.

Kata aren't the most efficient way to prepare for unarmed combat, but are a great way to carry on the techniques of the past in your respective arts. I will continue to do them into the future because I love them, but I'll be training for battle in another way.

6 comments:

Dean Dieker said...

Hi Nathan,

I've been studying martial arts for about 6 years now, and I felt the way you seem to about forms (their combat applications being useless) until a few months ago. I'm currently studying at a Matsubayashi-Ryu School that emphasizes bunkai for Kata (applications) and links self-defense to Kata.

Now, you may think this is cheating, but you have to look at Kata as the tip of the iceberg of Karate. Each move is abstracted to be non-lethal, and to effectively 'hide' the true technique.

I don't want to keep talking forever about this, but a good book I would recommend is Gennosuke Higaki's (a pen name, not his real name) Hidden Karate.

Kata really are the encyclopedia of a martial art, and I bet if you looked hard enough (again, if you don't think viewing Kata as far removed abstractions of combat is cheating) you would see the combative moves you practice for self-defense 'hidden' in the Kata/Poomse/forms that already serve as valuable tools in your curriculum.

-Dean

Nathan Teodoro said...

Dean,

Thanks for the comments, and apologies for the delay in replying. I respect your position, and think I understand it. I am coming to this point of view after many years (30+) as a student of martial arts, and over 20 years teaching them. It took years before I learned the application of forms, then years before I abandoned them as a form of training for application. Here's a summary of my reason:
I agree, that hidden within each pattern/poomse/kata are self-defense techniques. I just question whether 1) they are all valid in today's world, and 2) whether kata are the most efficient means to their instruction.
You have inspired me to post on this again. I will try to locate "Hidden Karate" as soon as possible.
Please understand that my opinion is no more or less valid than anyone else's, even my own students'. It's just my opinion. It (my opinion) has changed before, and will probably change again on this very subject. Thanks for a great and thoughtful comment!

Rick said...

I've practiced Okinawan karate for 16 years. These kata are good for teaching self-defense techniques and principles of movement, against untrained attackers in a non-sport setting, in a class with a very small student : teacher ratio.

Any other application is outside their original purpose.

Modern kata (post-WWII) have simplified and exaggerated movements so one teacher can lead a large group. They are simply exercises one must go through to get the next belt. No one who spars competitively emphasizes kata in their training.

But all this is beside the point: Karate is not rational. Clearly there are more efficient ways to learn self-defense. It has a broader purpose, and when we get into nit-picking about kata efficacy, that's lost. It's like asking whether or not we can learn to write Japanese faster with a keyboard than with a calligraphy brush. Of course! But it's not the same thing, is it?

Nathan at TDA Training said...

Hi Rick, and thanks for the well-written comments. Please make sure you let me know when you get your blog up and running.

As to your comments:
"These kata are good for teaching self-defense techniques and principles of movement, against untrained attackers in a non-sport setting, in a class with a very small student : teacher ratio."

[TDA]: I agree, to a point. I guess it's a matter of degree. If you are teaching Wado-Ryu, Shotokan, or any other style, the kata is great for teaching that particular style's expression of the the items you mentioned. I would even posit that they are a great means of transmitting those art's techniques to a large number of students (with what level of quality is debatable).

"Any other application is outside their original purpose."
[TDA]: I agree, and appreciate your point.

Modern kata (post-WWII) have simplified and exaggerated movements so one teacher can lead a large group. They are simply exercises one must go through to get the next belt. No one who spars competitively emphasizes kata in their training.
[TDA]: So true.

But all this is beside the point: Karate is not rational. Clearly there are more efficient ways to learn self-defense. It has a broader purpose, and when we get into nit-picking about kata efficacy, that's lost. It's like asking whether or not we can learn to write Japanese faster with a keyboard than with a calligraphy brush. Of course! But it's not the same thing, is it?
[TDA]: I agree with all of your points, especially that the point of Karate-do or even Jutsu is not the same as for a police officer, soldier, or even a self-defense student's. I think that on this we can agree. The question posed by the post is: Are Kata Important? And the answer, clearly, is depends...

Nice to hear from you, and thanks for the comments.

Rick said...

>The question posed by the post is: Are Kata Important? And the answer, clearly, is depends...

Good point. I skipped that part entirely, because as I was taught, "(Okinawan) karate is kata training." So, if you accept that premise, and you practice traditional karate, kata are vital. If you practice sport karate, they aren't.

Just to be clear, I don't think one style is better than another (traditional vs sport); they each have strengths and weaknesses.

If you accept my teacher's premise (a mainland Japanese who studied in Okinawa), that traditional karate = kata training, the question itself assumes a modern sport application... and to that, the answer is (I believe), "No, kata are irrelevant."

The sport karateka needs to perfect basic techniques and learn to spar within the rules of the sport, with a good coach and challenging partners. His time would be better spent at the gym than doing forms.

KarateFighter said...

Karate_Fighter ("KF") @ Nathan on "Are Kata/Poomse Important?"

KF looked @ your catagories list. There are 123 articles on boxing & 0 on traditional karate. Boxing and traditional martial arts can be combined successfully; there is a black-belt @ my traditional karate school who has done this.

However, in KF's opinion, boxing & karate are two different animals. KS believes your opinion about the limited usefullness of traditional karate kata is based on the false premise of athletic-type training typified by boxing practice.

Your two objections to kata, seen & voiced often, IMO show a misunderstanding of what kata practice is all about.

FIRST, there are numerous examples of kata movement & techniques being applied for self-defense all over the internet. A recent one KF came across is @ a site called "Dynamic Karate."

SECOND & more important is the false presumption that, "You fight like you train." While the statement is true as you have stated it; the conclusion you draw is only a partial truth--hence incorrect. The whole truth is that proper kata training bestowes a blend of physical & MENTAL ability not provided by sports-based, 'muscle-memory' methodology. Numerous traditional karate websites go into this concept in depth.

The arguments that claim traditional martial arts is ineffective for one reason or another, often by 'long-term' practitioners is because they have been training incorrectly or stagnantly. Doing something wrong for twenty years doesn't prove or dispprove anything.

KF knows that one might rebut my positions because of my strong conviction. KF will also be the 1st to say the traditional karates have some real problems, especially if the outward form of karate is taken too literal. But that is what learning is all about. Nothing's perfect.

Quite frankly, KF rejects or has modified some of the traditional karate practices @ my curent karate school. The flip-side is that everything KF does is based on traditonal martial art principles. True to principle, not rote form.

As far as Bill Wallace, etc., 'proving' kata isn't valuable to becoming a top fighter is completely false. KF has read Bill Wallace. He a karate expert & champion kickboxer. He is also so naturally gifted physically that most of us will never match his natural skill level in 5 lifetimes. What he says about kata, however, is wrong.

KF agrees with the truth you can be a great fighter without ever doing kata (Mike Tyson, et al). The real 'martial art' question is whether you can beat the great marital arts fighter who excels @ kata. It's an open question. Because Bill Wallace & Chuck Norris used a lot of boxing training in sport karate doesn't mean that kata training doesn't work. It only means they didn't rely on it for competition.

KF says that the generality, "You fight like you train," becomes true under traditional martial arts principles when it's changed to; "YOU FIGHT LIKE YOU HAVE PREPARED TO FIGHT"

The RELEVANCE of kata is that you don't fight with the training pace of kata, you fight with the physical & mental strength, the whole body coordination provided by kata training & its underlying principles. Kata training done right is highly sophisticated in the martial abilities it confers.

Certainly the boxing, Muay Thai, MMA crowd (generally) doesn't get this. KF would say the majority of those @ my karate school don't either. Becoming accomplished @ kata is not easy.

If you want to downplay or even discard kata, that's your choice. KF has taken the opposite road & heavily emphasizes kata in his training. KF's closing advice is to make sure you know what kata really is before you dismiss it.

Karate_Fighter