8 posts / 0 new
Last post
Stevenson
Stevenson's picture
Kata Specific Strategies

One of the reasons I wanted to join this forum was to ask this question:

What over-arching strategy or 'theme', if there is one, do you see in your katas?

For example, the kata's I am most drawn to are ones that have a definite theme or strategy underlying the bunkai that informs how the bunkai should be performed.

For example, Kata Sai-fa, means to tear and smash, the strategy is to tear free and smash. When sparring or examining the kata, it is easy to have this mind in order to make the bunkai consistent with the strategy. Then, when I want to spar in Saifa style, I can think of this over-arching strategy and the techniques appear without having to think about it.

Another example is Sepai, which has a circular theme to it, which I imagine as winding up rope or jamming something in a cleat. There are no straight punches in Sepai at all, and it's the twisting and turning to pin and jam that is all I need to keep in mind when I want to spar in that style, or tease out other bunkai possibilities.

But other kata are less obvious what the defining strategy is - or at least I can't quite get the sense of it - despite them having fantastic applications.

Does this matter? Or do you see yourself as having an over-arching individual style or strategy to which you make kata fit? Is that relative to your school or to yourself individually?

Jr cook
Jr cook's picture

This could be just my opinion but, i see the various kata as seperate "books" of fighting techniques. These techniques serve to communicate some valuable themes from the kata creator(s). Having a number of kata to identify ourselves with can be both a treasure chest of good combative applications as well as a confusing mesh of material. I dont think all of the kata (limited to my experience with Okinawan and Japanese forms) really fit together. Some are kind of stand alone approaches and others are very similar in nature. I guess what Im trying to get at is that the larger the number of kata you practice, the less likely they will all make up one seamless fighting method. With this in mind, I focus on my personal strategy first. I want a general plan that will work for a variety of situations (out sized, armed, unarmed, pre-fight, etc.), is built on sound combative principles (exit as a first priority, use of gross motor skills, fight from a stronger position than the other guy, etc.), and plays to my experience (the things that work best for me from training). I usually find that my study of kata leads to applications that plug right into this personal strategy but, not everything. There are some parts of some katas that I just dont use. Often because I have solutions from other katas that I prefer instead. When we drill in class I rarely think about what kata something is from or the strategy of that form. Instead I try to focus on the overall goal and hope that the right "stuff" comes out! So, to finally answer the Original question, I see my current strategy as follows: 1 Get out of the dangerous range. Either all the way in or all the way out. (if out, then find an exit, end fight by running) 2 Get the intiative and start controlling the fight. Control is often synonomous with doing damage. 3 Create space to exit. Limit attacker's ability to pursue. This strategy happens to be shared by quite a few other people I have trained with and talked to so it is by no means something I came up with on my own. But if others outside of my style have come to similar conclusions i hope that suggests it is a valid plan. Hope this is helpful and makes a little sense!

So, have you read "The Way of Kata" by Kane and Wilder?
Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

Jr, thanks for your reply. Very interesting and really well thought out.

In reverse - yes I have read "The Way of Kata" and attended seminars with Kris WIlder. I think your general personal strategy is spot on - very consistent with what I have come across. Sounds like it is straight from Sgt Rory Miller - would I be right in thinking you are familiar with his stuff?

Likewise there ar parts of each kata that I feel is redundant, I haven't figured out satisfactorily, or doesn't suit my body type or mindset.

Your approach is not unlike my own - I am acutely aware of my strengths and limitations so I pick out what I think is best for me from a suggestions Kata makes. However I wonder if we are getting into the semantic difference between strategy and tactic, and goal. The points you list are ultimate goals but what strategy do you use to acheive them? For example, controlling the Ma-ai (the dangerous distance) the stratgey in Sepai would be a twisting movement either "out" as in the first move or "in" as the reverse long stance, a few moves in, which are examples of different tactics.

Broadly speaking I am wondering about the value of adopting specific kata-based strategies and whether they can be discerned from one kata to the next. Another example might be Kururnfa - holding for a moment and then smashing - slightly different from Saifa but related. I think I am wondering more about how to guide my thinking in exploring bunkai. I get clear sense of strategy from some katas but not others - but not because I don't they exist in them - but because I just haven't grasped them.

Do you not have katas that feel themed? I mean to say that seem to explore specific self-defense situations such as tearing free from an agressor such as saifa? Or do they seem more generic approaches that could be applied to any self-defense situation?

Jr cook
Jr cook's picture

Stevenson,

I am familiar with Miller's work. An excellent resource. I haven't thought about it but if our strategies are the same or similar then that can only be a positive thing. As I said, it is not something I invented and numerous others I have trained with share a similar approach.

I agree that there is a lot of overlapping of kata applications. This makes sense considering the multiple sources of the katas. Some are identical and some are slight variations of a movement seen in other katas. In practical use, it is often a more subtle difference than we would think at first glance. Often the result of a personal preference from a past master (my opinion)

I also agree that we are probably blurring the lines somewhat between a strategy and a tactic as defined by Kane and Wilder. Personally, I favor the cover and crash method. I find influences of this in several kata such as Naihanchi, Kusanku, parts of Passai and Ananku. There are others I'm sure. My general plan is to avoid finesse in the early stages and try to make some sense of things with relatively safe and big movements. I take from the katas pieces that provide me with a good way to do this. I play with them and keep or discard the applications based on my success. The overall strategy does not change for me.

This being my preferred method, and one that I have used for some time now, I feel it might make me somewhat biased. Or perhaps it's just a lack of experience. I'm not sure that I read quite the depth into kata that you are describing with the Sepai and Kururnfa examples. Other strategies may be overlooked because I want to attack the opponent's attack like a large, dumb, brute. This in turn probably has an effect on my choice of applications from the kata. It can be hard to use an application from the position provided by an opposing strategy. When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail I guess.

So, as previously mentioned, my general approach is to crash in and stop the damage. Gain the initiative, etc. I plug the katas' lessons into this template. Now, I can move freely through kata applications as I fight. Not just confined to a single kata's "style" of fighting. I pick and choose the applications I like, despite where I learned them. I will admit that I may be missing out on alternative strategies but I stick with what I know and I have had no shortage of kata applications. And I mix and match them freely.

Finally, just a bit of clarification that will hopefully help explain how I use the kata. I try to limit my primary responses to a small catalog of techniques. As you are familiar with Rory Miller this would be equivilent to his "decision stick" concept. Beyond this point, I believe that a majority of the applications found in kata are better suited for what I call the mid-fight. Often I have found that a technique is problematic and difficult to use once things are moving hard and fast. Combat (in a self defense environment) has a natural tempo that is usually very fast at first, then contact is made and one side carries the initiative until it either ends or something is done to slow that initiative down. This struggle to gain and keep the initiative is the mid-fight. The tipping point where things can still go either way. If this is not true, then we have a LOT of kata techniques just for defending against a very small number of likely first attacks. It is this part, as things become less one sided and more of a struggle, where many kata applications really show their value. If you can survive this long, and gain a dominant position of some kind via technique or luck, you are much better off than simply swinging and hoping for the best.

Of course, there are other approaches. I can only explain my own. And poorly at that!

Joshua.Harvie
Joshua.Harvie's picture

Hi Stevenson,

As far as the Goju kata are concerned I think there are similarities between our approaches. My view is that many of the Goju kata behave kind of like filing systems for techniques. For example, all the grappling techniqes are grouped together under Seiunchin. Limb entanglement and control? file that bad boy under Seipai. In that regard there are 'themes' to the kata as such. However I don't think these particular kata count as strategies, strictly speaking. In fact adopting one as 'your strategy' for a given situation will impose more limit than liberation.

In my opinion, Saifa is the strategy kata. I made a short video about this but I'll have to reshoot it when I get the chance. Saifa has good techniques in it but the point of it (in my view) is what it has to say about angles. For example, the wrist grab response is that you move away from the danger hand (right hand twice, left hand once, consistent with probablility) then it gives you some options, palm heel, back fist etc. Because of the pressure on the opponenents wrist they will likely step around and take a swing, which you brace with the step across movement before the kick. Whilst both limbs are controlled you attack the centre line with your knees and feet. The section before the double punch breaks balance, most likely thing for your opponent to do from there is tackle you, hammer first into the palm is a crushing blow to the skull.

Then the kata comes back to the side on position giving you options to end the fight before it gets to that point, giving you options dependant on what your opponent gives you. From there you can strike the crown, the change in angle after the second short punch jams you opponents arm with your body and the 'round block' type motion at the end is a strangle.

This was probably fairly anti coherrent but what it highlights to me is that it's teaching you how to build a tree drill which you can use to explore the other kata based on whatever is happening at the time. Thoughts?

DaveB
DaveB's picture

Stevenson wrote:

One of the reasons I wanted to join this forum was to ask this question:

What over-arching strategy or 'theme', if there is one, do you see in your katas?

For example, the kata's I am most drawn to are ones that have a definite theme or strategy underlying the bunkai that informs how the bunkai should be performed.

For example, Kata Sai-fa, means to tear and smash, the strategy is to tear free and smash. When sparring or examining the kata, it is easy to have this mind in order to make the bunkai consistent with the strategy. Then, when I want to spar in Saifa style, I can think of this over-arching strategy and the techniques appear without having to think about it.

Another example is Sepai, which has a circular theme to it, which I imagine as winding up rope or jamming something in a cleat. There are no straight punches in Sepai at all, and it's the twisting and turning to pin and jam that is all I need to keep in mind when I want to spar in that style, or tease out other bunkai possibilities.

But other kata are less obvious what the defining strategy is - or at least I can't quite get the sense of it - despite them having fantastic applications.

Does this matter? Or do you see yourself as having an over-arching individual style or strategy to which you make kata fit? Is that relative to your school or to yourself individually?

Hello, It is nice to finally encounter someone who has come to the same conclusions as myself. I look for the strategies in each kata and try to master implementing that kata as it's own fighting style. I have a personal system of 6 kata that I have settled on for myself but I still study the others. Seeking out over-arching themes has been the only way I have been able to develop new ideas and techniques not already known to me. Unfortunately I don't know Goju kata, (though I do have some ideas about the style), but I would encourage you to keep trying to evaluate each form as it's own system. That being said there are clearly some kata that are supplementary/foundational to a bigger system. Deciding which is just a matter of personal discretion. If your having trouble discerning a core strategy for a kata I would go back to the drawing board and start looking at the kata afresh, remembering that overall themes are sometimes harder to see the more detailed your scrutiny becomes. You have to look at big picture concepts to find the big picture of the form. Check any historical resources for insights into it's use. Try practicing the form without considering application, experimenting with different levels of speed and tension through the performance, and see if the feel of the kata and especially the use of motion, can offer any clues. Consider postural context, eg the different ideas behind being square to an opponent (sanchin dachi) or side on (some shiko dachi) and how the sequence of movements uses these and other postures. Only after looking at these things would I consider the applications themselves. I stick purely to the movements present in the form with minimum variation. If you can't find a pattern in them consider looking for other ones. I find that the more simple the app the better. A great example of a strategy in a Shotokan kata is empi. Follow the energy of the kata and it's strategy is obvious: using changes of height and direction to overcome an opponents defences. With that as a guide developed from the macro view of the form allowed me to build applications to the theme which made me look at some movements in a different way and come up with uses previously unimagined. Then to actually apply the techniques to a free fighting environment I have a rule that informs how I approach and respond to the opponent meaning I can go into any confrontation from the street to the ring and know immediately what I need to do to win.

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

Thankyou all for your extremely interesting and insightful remarks. I liked this from earlier:

Quote:
"I favor the cover and crash method".
This is Kururunfa, but your description is evocative and really stuck in my mind. This is what I mean by strategy. 

I also liked:

Quote:
"Goju kata behave kind of like filing systems for techniques."

That has really given me food for thought. Gavin Mullholland's approach is not dissimilar. I know he posts here so I hope he chips in - I am fan of his "Four Shades of Black" where his approach is to take a systematic approach to kata and karate development. The idea is that as you develop you add greater subtlety to reduce the range. The Gekisai katas are primarily force against force and at relatively long range, then you add saifa and the range closes and introduces more escapes from grappling and sohpisticated techniques, and so on through suiyunchin, sanseru and sepai. It's a great approach with the aim of being able to get you able to defend yourself as quickly as possible right from the outset, and then developing your skill to be able handle a greater range of scenarios. 

Quote:
" I have a personal system of 6 kata that I have settled on for myself but I still study the others.,"

This is my approach also, but my plan was initially to limit myself to 3 kata that really speak to me and absolutely study them relentlessly. Interesting you have chosen 6. Out of interest what are they and why did you choose them?

There are 3 kata from shotokan that interest me and I know well, but don't speak to me as easily as some of the Goju kata, especially the 3 I have chosen (there is a 4th I have just started looking at on the recommendation of Kris Wilder). They are Empi, Bassai Dai, and Kanku Dai.

They each have some fantastic applications here and there but I struggle to find a cohesive idea that draws me in in the same way as I do for some of the other kata I have mentioned. As such I have piece-meal oyo and sometimes they tantalize me with an application I know is there, I can feel it, but the application just doesn't leap out at me. I don't intend that I should understand them deeply in a self-defense context (then again you never know), as I have other kata for that, I just want to understand them purely for the intellectual value.

@DaveB

Thanks hugely for your post. Extremely interesting. It's great advice, and one other thing to add to it is possibly to look at the way the kata is performed in differing styles to see if there are clues there.

So you see Empi as a changing heights (in and under, over and cover) strategy? Wow - that makes a lot of sense. I have experimented with some of Empi in kumite and now you mention it that would be what I am doing with it. I'd to love know what those 6 kata are that you have "settled on" and why.

DaveB
DaveB's picture

Hi Stevenson

You are right about checking other styles, I knew I'd forgotten one.

As far as Empi, don't just think of changing heights, but how changing direction of your body can affect your opponent. "If you want to hit east, first move west". If you push your opponent twice what happens if you pull him sharply instead on your third contact. This principle can be expanded into grappling, evasive or offensive movement, attacking combinations or counter striking and much more besides.

For my own system I use three training kata and three fighting kata. The training kata are exercise, moving meditation and mechanics practice. The fighting kata have been studied deeply to gleen a fighting strategy and useful techniques. I've tried to retain the essence of all my training while settling on a comprehensive and efficient core fighting strategy.

I start with the Sanchin of Shotokan, Taikyoku Shodan. This kata (for a long time I refused to call it a kata) trains the basic power generation and body mechanics of Shotokan. The form begs you to look at the mechanics, movement and timings in order to tease out application. It gives what I believe are the foundations of Shuri-Te, circular/angular evasion with linnear power striking. Also I find this form great for kihon practice because you can just add techniques into the sequence very easily.

Next is Sanchin, but it is one of the Southern Chinese Kung Fu versions. Occasionally I do my own version that is a hybrid of the Kung Fu form and my karate training. I train this form to practice structure and short power generation.

Then there is Tensho, this time purely my own version based on my Kung Fu training. This form offers the element of softness to the system through variation on the Sanchin footwork and exploration of the hand movements in different combinations, while still training structure and short power. To make them as challenging as possible I've retained the Iron body breathing of the Kung fu.

4 and 5 on my list are Tekki shodan and nidan. Tekki shodan describes the system, nidan describes some refinements/counters.

Kata number 6 is constantly changing. Tekki Sandan is the obvious choice but I waver between it being a vital expansion of the system and a redundant mess. Also contending is Chinto, useful, relevant to the Tekki system and technically difficult and lastly Nijushiho which I've begun practicing as a kind of tai chi and see as a potential Phd kata.