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The actual process of practicing one kata as a physical means of close quarter self protection is something I have been doing for the last three and half years.
The kata is Naihanchi, and what I find is that even after this time it still keeps giving, and that with so much information available I never feel that everything has been nailed. You can't really put a timescale on things, and it never gets boring. I practice other kata, but in the main just for fun, I simply wouldn't have the time to study other forms to such a depth.
All the best,
I'm new to this list but to say the least it has some of the most intelligent conversation concerning the transmission of ideas and thoughts on kata and karate in general that I have seen in a long time.
It's refreshing to find a message board not full of slams and condescension!
With that being said, if I may add a bit to the ongoing convversation;
For a number of years I practiced a myriad of kata both empty handed and kobudo. The problem I found was not only one of redundancy, but also that of time.
It has come to my attention through researching history of okinawan karate that some styles originally taught quite a few less kata than we see in systems today.
There are several reasons that can be attributed to this; first, kata were developed or learned by past masters and passed on within their respective style. I would like to point out that these katas that were choreopraphed were done so not only as a means of practice but part of the masters teaching pedagogy to communicate the core technical and biomechanical merits of their respective methodology.
Secondly, it appears that some historical masters were curators of sorts in the fact that they often learned various kata to accentuate their own indigenous style, later combining them into their own particular ryuha.
Lastly and perhaps most recently, with the indoctination of western thinking and capitalism, masters began to standardize curriculums and form associations as a means to an end; to make a living.
While the first two are perhaps the most prominant, it was not unthinkable for masters to develop new kata or add kata to their core curriculum, and as a former member of a few prominant okinawan karate organizations I can attest firsthand to seeing this happen.
Today in my particular style, I teach a lot of application of theory. There is in many instances a gap in training that does not bridge from kata practice to practical application of the technical and mechanical merits contained within in many styles of karate, or perhaps it is better to say schools. My goal was and still is to avoid this and to fill that gap with real usable application of the theories containtained within kata. Other styles of martial arts have tried to bypass kata and go straight to technical training, however there is no foundation for fundamentals or development of gross to fine motor skills and eventually these styles end up creating kata of sorts to transmit technical and mechanical ideas and concepts. In addition, teaching kata with theories of application, allows us to teach not only "monkey see monkey do," it allows us to teach conceptually. It is much more important to teach the concept behind the mechanics of technique and movement and how to apply and identify those concepts than merely practicing a predetermined set of movments through rote memorization. While rote memorization has it's merits, it cannot replace strategic and higher orders of thinking.
I focus on the following kata as required learning in my curriculum; please note however I often teach other kata as supplemental or remedial training.
Hakutsuru - Paiho
These are the core kata I teach as required for rank, and teach others as supplementary kata such as
Naihanchi Nidan & Sandan
Young Chun Sanchin
Now, I know there are those that would agree, and some that might even criticize, but I think it is important to note that throughout history, practitioners of karate as well as other martial arts have continuously revised and changed their particular ryuha to fit their own design. Using what they had learned and adding to the art to make it their particular interpretation. Some of these trying infutile attempts to stop inevitable change by students who move on and make adaptations and changes through their own understanding and expereinces and forever arrest the stylistic boundaries.
I have in the last couple of years started to read and learn about Abernathy Sensei and admire what he has done in a revolutionary way. Heapparantly does not discard the logic of tradition or past expereince, however he also does not let it limit or stifle him iin his intellectual pursuits.
I was excited to find what he has been doing, because I finally thought "Here is a guy who gets it, and is not afraid to challenge the status quo".
The term Koshinkai is made up of three parts Ko - meaning traditional or classical, Shin - meaning modern or new and Kai- meaning to continuously improve and change.
The idea? To continuously strive and PROGRESS to achieve through learning through honoring traditional and time tested ideas mixed with new, eclectic and profound revelations of martial knowledge.
So, by what measure do we judge who is able to change kata curriculum or create new kata or how many kata to practice? By the needs of the student and the intellectual-martial goal of the teacher/student. I have used my expereince in education and education administration to help myself become a more productive teacher as well as a student. This includes devising and writing curriculum and finding a need in learning and discovering ways to meet these needs. In addition I have changed how I research material and better began to understand my learning style and that of my students as well.
Adhering to tradition for the sake of tradition is one thing, but adhering to tradition for the sake of learning is not always a good idea. If it were, we would still be using chalk boards in classrooms instead of smart boards and power point presentations. The concept is still the same but the presentation is more effective and efficient and often times has a higher degree of engagement with the student. Teaching, is the highest form of learning.
The main priority goal of my teaching and learning is self defense, then tradition and asthetics. While my roots are in traditional Okinawan Karate, I will not pretend to be a traditionalist or fundamental in my thinking or teaching in regards to adhereing to strict organizational or cultural protocals. My class is more geared to be a classroom that is democratic in nature and I see myself more as a facilitator than an authoritarian figure.
I came up under those auspices(Fundamentalist/Traditionalist) and while I appreciate them and implement them to some degree, I feel that you can teach culture and appreciation for asthetics without letting them become a detraction to the education process.....less pomp and circumstance and more learning and enlightenment thank you very much!
I say all of that to point out that not all blackbelts (including those of high rank and status) are good teachers...Some of them at the risk of sounding critical, are quite terrible. Furthermore, many of these people never develop beyond where they are because of stigma related to thinking "outside the box" or embracing techical theories outside their style.
One of the greatest revelations I ever received about kihon techniques, folding, and chambering never came from a karate instructor but rather from silat and filipino eskrima. While cross training in gunting and chasing hand drills, I came to understand that many of the same techniques and concepts are contained within karate and its most elemental techniques. This is just one example of expereinces I have had training outside the indigenous art identify as my grass roots style.
So to conclude, one kata, two kata, three kata, four? I say practice one kata if you like but don't limit yourself to anything. Practice tradition and asthetics for the sake of tradition if you enjoy that, but don't be stifled to that only, and do not have a misguided fear of being unloyal for learning outside the boundaries of your style. Ultimately, it becomes your art anyway.
The question you ultimately have to ask is "Why am I training?" is it for self defense, tradition and culture, or some other reason? Regardless of what anyone says, when it comes to the wire, it will be you standing facing your adversary with your knowledge and that will have the final say.
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