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Tri-question Post

I wanted to post these three questions and my responses in one post so that I could provide credit to the "Talk Isshinryu Forum" where the moderator posed them to the group. I liked the questions and wanted to share my views with blog readers, here goes:

First, Do you think each kata is more difficult than the previous?

No, I don't. I think it is more a matter of fundamental principles of martial systems where a certain body type, body ability of an individual, etc. dictates whether a kata is either more difficult or easier to learn, etc. I found that some of the supposed higher level and difficult kata in Isshinryu were actually easier to learn than Seisan.

This urban legend of difficulty order is not anything more than the order in which Tatsuo Sensei decided to teach. There is no proof that he said one way or the other that Seisan is the easiest so it was first. We can assume many things. Since there is no actual written evidence directly related to Tatsuo Sensei then it is best to assume this is false.

In many writings I have had folks of other systems say that kata that are the same as ours are either advanced or basic depending on who and when you talked to that person. Subjective.

Difficulty is subjective to many mental and physical factors of the individual. A good Sensei will be observant, seeing, of a practitioner and then adjust teaching accordingly. Like a person who is sight dominant where seeing Sensei do it is efficient vs. a touch dominant who relies on kinetic teachings to really grasp the kata.

Second, Do you think each kata builds upon the previous?

I find this to be a kind of urban legend. In my view kata are separate and distinct. I have come to the conclusion that how kata ended up as many in one system or style is due to the early karate-ka studying several kata from several Sensei and deciding to blend them into a new and "better" system.

Tatsuo Shimabuku Sensei just followed the trend of his Sensei. He studied and focused on certain kata and techniques then pulled them all together and named the system Isshinryu. If you study and are familiar with the other systems you may find that they are merely the blending and changing of kata from various sources into one system then named by the person or by some specific trait of the new system, etc.

I am not saying this is bad but rather stating that when they pulled things together into the new system that all of them stood alone, distinct and separate in training and practice.

It has been said in Isshinryu circles that the upper/lower basics naturally lead to kata but I find that a bit hard to swallow as well. You can take any "basic technique" from any system and there will be connections especially in regards to the fundamental principles of all martial systems. To say that they were developed as a lead to the kata and to say that Seisan is a lead in to Seiuchin is not accurate. You can make the connections easily enough but in a most literal sense it is not accurate. Not wrong, not right - just different.

Is this saying that those who have that belief are wrong? Not at all, they are actually creating a nice metaphor or symbolism that is a great teacher and allows for maximizing learning the system - all bottles are good, they all serve a purpose!

Third, Do you feel that kata must be taught in the original order as the system master taught?

Teaching in a particular order is only a method of control and a method of teaching larger groups so you can evaluate, guide and control content and context. I would advocate that for "kyu grades" it is important to provide structure in learning. Once they achieve yu-dan-sha levels then it is also important to take them outside that structure/box and expand on a more "holistic" training regimen. I would say this transition is important.

In addition I advocate that even in the "kyu levels" it is important to make some adjustments that will be conducive to the individual where individual mentoring, i.e. small size dojo members of two or three maximum, is paramount. This means close observations and then when kata are to begin Sensei chooses that kata that matches the individual closely be the start. In Isshinryu you have eight empty hand kata to relate to the practitioner in this more classical training system vs. the school house large class member system.

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