This is the first thread I've started on these forums after lurking for ages and signing up recently. This posting is prompted by the How a Kata Records A Style pod cast that was reposted today. I say prompted because the subject matter has been inspired by the examination of our school's syllabus over the course of the past three years. In that time I have really been looking at the kata we are teaching in the adult class.
That's a bit of background which frames this particular question for me personally that I may go into down thread, but I'll save that for now and simply state that I have my instructor's blessing to shorten or lengthen the list of kata we are teaching as we see fit. We originally taught a fixed list of 11 kata up to the grade of 3rd dan, with 4th and 5th left to a personal choice from a short list. 13 in all through 5th dan. Currently we are teaching 8, having culled some of the Hiean/Pinan kata (The first heresy of a traditional karateka?) with 10 total through 5th dan. My feeling, and that of the other instructor, was that in keeping our carriculum manageable, and with an eye toward teaching actual bunkai and giving our students a solid combative base, we would rather have less breadth if it meant more depth. I've proposed my radical stance kata list before consisting of Nanhanchi (perhaps the series as presented in Matsubayashi Ryu), Bassai/Passi, Kanku dai/kanku, Empi/Wanshu, meikyo/rohai, gankaku/Chinto to carry use through 5th dan. So a total of 6-8 kata for the entirety of the carriculum. Half of what we started with, 80% at best of what we currently do.
Back to Iain's pod cast and it's prompting of this post and the long ramble that came above to get down to this. If collecting large numbers of kata under the umbrella of a single system is a modern invention, and each kata representing a complete fighting system, is there a need to teach a large number of kata for a modern style of karate to be complete? Some styles have a long list of kata, more than twenty is many cases. Others have fewer, sometimes a dozen or perhaps less. What would you see as the number of kata that needs to be taught for a style to have a ligetimate claim to being a style? Would it be a bad thing to have a style of karate containing only 3 or 4 kata?
All of this stripping away is presuming that the focus of kata training is to learn to apply the techniques of kata and therefor gain an understanding of the underlying principles. For a long time it seems that part of karate training has devolved into the collecting of kata and the superfical learning of them in order to pass the next test/grading. This has been a large part of why kata practice is viewed so critically by those seeking effective self defense training. If we, as karateka, are trying to turn things around and return karate to it's practical roots, do we need large numbers of kata to practice? Could karate kata, in order to improve the health of the tree(Iain's oak that sprang from the acorn?), use some pruning? Cutting back what we teach so that it's stronger and of more use to our students?