Over the last few months, I’ve done lots of research on kata that have inspired a new method of teaching them and will stimulate a better understand of the kata for students.
But first… I want to give a little background on the evolution of kata.
What is kata?
Kata is specific series of techniques that are performed almost like a dance or gymnastic routine. Kata was original used by karate masters to remember and catalog self-defense moves. Each kata has specific bunkai or martial application.
I believe that these kata started as a formal Randori. Randori is a form of free sparring that uses self-defense techniques. Watch the video below.
As you can see, if the techniques were practiced without the opponents you’d have a kata.
Unfortunately, over time, kata diverged from self-defense. Now, most of the techniques with kata over the years have changed so much that they have almost esoteric meaning to them.
This divergence happens for many reasons. First, Funakoshi simplified the kata to teach school age kids and hide the dangerous self-defense moves so they would not use them for the wrong purpose. Also, during the build up period prior to World War II, Funikoshi taught thousand of student going into the military. He had so many students that the classes would spill into the streets. This resulted in further simplification in order to teach large groups of people effectively.
Some another reason from divergence of kata
• Lack of understanding – Karate masters kept much of their art secret and only passed to true meaning and secrets to senior students after many years of faithful training. Most of the karate masters had a book called the Bubishi that contained many of the true meanings of kata in it. This book was concealed from student and hand-written from senior student. Recently, this Bubishi was published and contains 48 figures that demonstrate techniques found in kata.
• Performed for tournaments – Over the last 50 years, tournaments influenced the performance of kata as a performance art. Since these changes are more for ascetic reasons, the kata performance diverged away from the original purpose of cataloging self-defense moves.
• Changed for reasons other than improving self-defense – Any changes to kata that were made for reason other than improving it’s self-defense application caused divergence that further the esoteric nature of kata. For example, changing the kata to define differences between karate organizations, make it simpler to learn, etc.
It’s my belief to breath new life into kata, we need to rediscover and catalog specific self-defense moves for each move in kata. With the discovery of the original Bubishi, I have seen a revitalization of teaching the applications of the kata.
Unfortunately, I feel that the kata at this point have diverged too much to ensure that we re-discover the true original purpose, but I believe we need to create applications for the current form of the kata and adjust the performance to conform and evolve them along self-defense lines.
Next, I will talk about Bunkai or the Martial application and recommend some Rules of Bunkai that we should adhere to when creating Bunkai. Also, I will recommend new way of teaching kata that is more effective, efficient, and exciting. In testing these methods, I found that you can teach a lower belt an advanced kata with excellent retention in a short period of time and they enjoy it the whole time.