Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Healthy Kata Debate

Since posting The Efficacy of Kata, there have been a number of excellent responses at CoCA, and a new post by Charles. Please read them over. After Charles new post, my response:

Hi Charles, etc. First of all, let me say that I greatly respect your opinions, but still disagree, and both are OK.
I want to add:

  1. Kata are an important training method for many styles, but not all. Some have no kata at all, and few would argue that that they are viable fighting methods.
  2. Kata are, in the history of personal combat, or warfare, as defined by Charles' post and common practice, a relatively recent method of training method, and not widely adopted in that sense. As far as I know, only asian fighting arts practice them in the way that we're discussing it, and truly doubt that they are practiced widely as a formal training method by their police or military forces. Neither are they used as a primary training method by any police force, paramilitary, or combatives (military) training system. Since my own training is not almost entirely in a DT/combatives focus, I am sensitive to what I perceive as being practical for that type of training for myself and my students, many of whom are, or have been in law-enforcement/public safety. My LEO students at my TKD schools seemed to appreciate poomse for what it was, TKD, but asked for scenario-based training, and so saw the "traditional" within the TKD as a supplement to that training. I look at this as akin to range-only shooting, as opposed to the "aliveness" of tactical course and, now airsoft scenarios. Which is better? The innovation of the tactical training by modern equipment will never supplant the fixed target practice on the range, but instead focus on building the true combat skill. Would an officer who went through just fixed target, or even the same course of pop-up target be more effective than one who ALSO trained versus live, resisting opponents in airsoft scenarios? I think not.
  3. Even the staunchest advocates of kata do not seem to claim that kata are the best method of training for combat, but a part of that training, or one of many methods. It seems that those advocates posit that they're the "encyclopedia" of their art's techniques.
    I agree.
  4. I read through Maj. Morgan fine book over ten years ago, shortly after it was published, and agreed with much of it, though not all. I will definitely review it again, and pay a great deal of attention to his opinion on forms, and may post again at that time.
  5. My position, and be clear that it is only mine, and from my experience, is that kata are not the most efficient means to the end of training for combat. I stated in the reasons for my original opinion (Are Kata/Poomse Important?), "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."
    Ok, obviously it was not enough said, and it was also a poor example of anything other than those fighter's preparation for sport competition, not combat, but to support that point, our Marines, Navy SEALS, and Army infantry, don't have kata included in their training regimes for a reason. If they were the most efficient means to prepare for combat, they'd be included. Perhaps in the future those forces, as well as civilian defensive tactics would include them, but I don't think that will happen.
I don't expect to change anyone's mind, but I think that every opinion posted in any forum should be backed up with the reasons for the belief. If they are convincing reasons, they may convince. Charles, BBM, and others have tried to give those reasons, and for that, have earned my respect.
There are definitely well-formed lines of disagreement here. To me they are not a disagreement of substance, just of degree. Excellent thread, and worthy discussion. The only thing I would hope for, more input from practitioners of systems or styles that do not include forms, but have done them in the past. That's probably too much to ask, though.


Nathan Teodoro

TDA Training

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I see the kata as part of the language. In literature, you learn prose and poetry. Kata are the flowery poems, ornate yet succinct, encapsulating the art of the system. Sparring/fighting is the prose. To learn a complete martial art, you can't have one without the other.

However, I believe that kata also are rooted in cultural dynamics. Take Chinese martial arts. Rote memorization has been practiced from time immemorial, from the early scribes to the Mandarin intellectual class to most schools today. Chinese students can see a form once and repeat it, then work it to perfection. In the West, I believe this practice is dilutive.

Compare forms to shadow boxing. Shadow boxing is dynamic, free form, you have your 1-5 punches, footwork, defense, bobbing and weaving, but it isn't part of a memorization pattern and it's better suited to muscle memory. Possibly, given boxing's evolution from fencing, it also is more rooted in the Western psyche?

I see great benefit in kata from a learning, discipline, stance-strengthening, flexibility and learning perspective. Again, the poetry adorns prose. There are moves that can be extracted, just as great prose (think of the Irish authors) almost borders on poetry. But outside of this metaphor, and outside of kata/forms as a means to learn some moves, I believe they are impractical for fighting. Forms take movements to extreme lengths, bordering on dance. They always follow a set pattern; they are not free-verse poetry, such as shadowing boxing can be. Forms/kata have their purpose, but from a sparring/fighting perspective, I would equate their efficacy with trying to employ yoga.

Over-emphasis on forms, in my belief, dilutes fighting, self-defense and overall practicality. It's a learning tool, and it's expansive for meditation and fitness, but unless one extracts moves for application, you end up with dojos and kung fu schools whose actual fighting looks like bad '80s-era kickboxing.

In conclusion, forms complement the study of an overall martial art, but are not applicable to sparring/fighting because they rely on rote memorization, often employ extreme movements that would leave one off-balance and susceptible to attack and aren't a justifiable expenditure of time if one's true focus is sparring/fighting or preparing for a competition.