In a recent posting on the Ryukyu Martial Arts (Research and General Discussion) FaceBook wall a person made the statement, " … each kata is a fighting system and curriculum in and of itself.’ Of course, there is more to his statement but this post is about this one perspective or perception, are kata actually a fighting system and curriculum in and of themselves?
In my very personal opinion, “Kata are NOT actually fighting systems or system as to each individual kata practiced both today and in ancient times. Kata are NOT a curriculum, i.e. lessons and academic content as would be taught in a specific course or program. I can see why one might consider them to be curriculum but in reality they are more of a teaching tool to convey certain concepts and principles that underlay the physiokinetics and techniques of a martial art. In addition, theses concepts and principles are indicative of all martial systems regardless of symbolic titles of style or the system themselves. In other words the concepts and principles are the same and immutable in every single system, style of type of martial art be it Kendo, Judo or Karate.
One glossary provides that “curriculum typically refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, which includes the learning standards or learning objectives they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning.”
Kata practice and training are the teacher rather then the guide for the teacher. Kata are those controls that allow a teacher to provide concepts and principles through the practice and training of said kata to emphasis and train both the body and mind to adhere to the fundamental principles of martial systems, i.e.:
PRINCIPLES OF THEORY
Universality, Control, Efficiency, Lengthen Our Line, Percentage Principle, Std of Infinite Measure, Power Paradox, Ratio, Simplicity, Natural Action, Michelangelo Principle, Reciprocity, Opponents as Illusions, Reflexive Action, Training Truth, Imperception and Deception.
PRINCIPLES OF PHYSIOKINETIC
Breathing, Posture, Triangle Guard, Centerline, Primary Gate, Spinal Alignment, Axis, Minor Axis, Structure, Heaviness, Relaxation, Wave Energy, Convergence, Centeredness, Triangulation Point, The Dynamic Sphere, Body-Mind, Void, Centripetal Force, Centrifugal Force, Sequential Locking & Sequential Relaxation, Peripheral Vision, Tactile Sensitivity, Rooting.
PRINCIPLES OF TECHNIQUE
Techniques vs. Technique, Equal Rights, Compliment, Kobo Ichi, Economical Motion, Active Movement, Positioning, Angling, Leading Control, Complex Forces, Indirect Pressure, Live Energy & Dead Energy, Torsion & Pinning, Speed, Timing, Rhythm, Balance, Reactive Control, Natural & Unnatural Motion, Weak Link, Non-Telegraphing, Extension and Penetration.
PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY
Mind, Mushin, Kime, Non-intention, Yin-Yang, Oneness, Zanshin & Being, Non-action, Character, The Empty Cup.
Kata are not meant to be fighting systems because the kata practiced today are actually either directly or modified version of the educational kata taught in the early 1900’s on Okinawa and Japan. These kata are based on sport competitions rather than combatives or fighting. Add in the complexities of both fighting and combatives the actual techniques, combinations one derives from the patterns, patterns, rhythms, cadences, etc. all are geared toward the more social types of both competitions and perceptions of violence/conflicts. It does not mean that they are not adequate in teaching toward a goal of self-defense (rather use the correct term vs. fighting - which is illegal, SD is admitting to a legal justification of an illegal act, etc.) Combatives, to my mind and perceptions, are those hand systems used by military in combat situations and have no use what so ever in a civilian system.
Kata are the tools that allow a more tactile approach to teaching how the body should move, how it aligns itself properly to apply techniques properly and how to develop a body, mind and spirit that will allow it to achieve its goals toward application of principles. Most kata are missing to many aspects of reality to achieve a fighting/defense system but they go a long way to train the body and mind in those principles used when you add in that reality part that is mostly missing in MA training.
Now, if you are saying kata are not fighting systems but a form of moving meditation that conveys other more esoteric aspects of the fundamental principles to be a traditional WAY discipline for the training of the self as a means of improvement toward enlightenment then I would concur and accept that kata are that type of method toward enlightenment, etc.
Note that this post is not a complete and comprehensive explanation as to why kata are what they are vs. what they are not because one would have to write an entire book, of which many martial artists have already done, and even that book may not convey the full picture of the kata toward teaching and learing a martial art.
Lastly, kata are a great tool and provide a huge spectrum of examples toward teaching, training, practicing and learning that are unparalleled in most disciplines that are physical today. Regardless of what your personal perceptions are as to kata, don’t discount them entirely because you may or may not perceive value in their use, they are useful in many ways no matter what you believe they are and used for and so on.