First and foremost, a master of Karate must become a master of the obvious. While mid-level belts are distracted by the novelty of obscure or secret kata applications, the expert must constantly return to his or her fundamentals.
Wilt Chamberlain is an intriguing example of this approach. Decades after his retirement from the NBA, he still dominates the record books. Wilt took the most shots, and scored the most points of any player in the league. (He was also very successful on the basketball court.)
Yes, Wilt Chamberlain was clearly a gifted athlete; but there is another important contributing factor to his success. Did you know he used a free throw kata?
It’s true. Not only that, but he remained loyal to this practice, despite clear evidence that his kata did not work.
There is a lesson here for every teacher and student of Karate. It’s a lesson about deep fundamentals.
Americans do not usually see themselves, when they are in the United States, as representatives of their country. They see themselves as individuals who are different from all other individuals, whether those others are Americans or foreigners. Americans may say they have no culture, since they often conceive of culture as an overlay of arbitrary customs to be found only in other countries. Individual Americans may think they chose their own values, rather than having had their values and the assumptions on which they are based imposed on them by the society in which they were born. If you ask them to tell you something about “American culture,” they may be unable to answer and they may even deny that there is an “American culture.”
(from Handbook for Foreign Students and Scholars)
A few minutes prior to the start of class, karateka (students) enter through the front door, immediately bowing to the sensei (teacher) and/or the kamidana (dojo shrine). The karateka remove their shoes, and enter the changing room to don their training uniforms.
BLACK BELT – That uniform accessory most coveted by students of martial arts, who, upon receiving it, pretend it never held any interest at all.
PRACTICE – To endlessly repeat the same sequence of movements, always hoping for different results. (See also: INSANITY.)
KATA – An awful form of dance, often assumed to divulge some hidden meaning after sufficient PRACTICE.
For how long should we continue to practice our kata? Many senseis would simply answer: forever. Personally, I do not have forever to spare. Neither do you, I’d guess.
What do you have? A long list of responsibilities and interests, including but certainly not limited to karate (or other martial arts). You have a desire to maximize the benefits of your practice, while minimizing the costs. And you want to know when, if ever, you should quit your kata.
Simply put, you can justifiably quit when the costs of practice exceed the benefits. Here are a few of the potential, proposed and actual benefits of kata training.
Benefits of Kata Practice
Kata as a Memory Aid
The most frequently cited justification of kata is as a mnemonic device. The kata serves as a living dictionary of fighting techniques and sequences.
Excerpted from Chris Thompson’s Black Belt Karate:
Karate kata (formal exercises) was the only way karate was taught up until the 1930s. In the kata, all the elements of correct karate practice are stored. The vast majority of kata that are practiced in the dojo today and used on the tournament circuit can be traced right back to China or Okinawa.
They appear to be dance-like drills, constantly repeated by students, yet hidden in these movements are hundreds of kakushi waza (secret techniques). These appear to be one form of technique, but in fact may be doing something completely different.
James Barton writes in,
I thought that you might be interested in the alternative martial art that I am developing. It is quite unusual and has a strong focus on character improvement. I would value your questions, comments and criticisms.
Readers, I encourage you to visit the Virtue Science website, read some of James’ material, and formulate your own opinions before proceeding to my commentary below.
This is a distillation of previous published interviews with Master Wang.
Having traveled across China, I know that Taijiquan has the most practitioners of any martial art. Upon hearing that this boxing method was handed down from Zhang Sanfeng, I despised him for a long time.
Taijiquan is far from the art of actual combat; they have nothing in common with each other.
Later on, I read the collected edition of Zhang Sanfeng’s teachings, and realized that he had progressed deeply into the great Tao—and I came to believe that Taiji was not handed down from him at all! Actually, it doesn’t matter; even if one is a descendant of Sanfeng, he is not worthy to talk about this method without first gaining its essence.