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"Ideally, your self-defense will never get physical. Avoiding the situation and running or talking you way out - either of these is a higher order of strategy than winning a physical battle." - Wise Words of Rory Miller, Facing Violence: Chapter 7: after, subparagraph 7.1:medical

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Warning, Caveat and Note: The postings on this blog are my interpretation of readings, studies and experiences therefore errors and omissions are mine and mine alone. The content surrounding the extracts of books, see bibliography on this blog site, are also mine and mine alone therefore errors and omissions are also mine and mine alone and therefore why I highly recommended one read, study, research and fact find the material for clarity. My effort here is self-clarity toward a fuller understanding of the subject matter. See the bibliography for information on the books.

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Is it mandatory one keep true to the original kata taught?

Caveat: This post is mine and mine alone. I the author of this blog assure you, the reader, that any of the opinions expressed here are my own and are a result of the way in which my meandering mind interprets a particular situation and or concept. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of other martial arts and/or conflict/violence professionals or authors of source materials. It should be quite obvious that the sources I used herein have not approved, endorsed, embraced, friended, liked, tweeted or authorized this post. (Everything I think and write is true, within the limits of my knowledge and understanding.)

A recent posting brought this question up with the following quote that, for me, stood out prominently. It speaks to one of modern karate’s issues that I personally feel leaves most karate-ka in the past rather then in the now especially regarding self-defense martial arts or self-defense karate. The concern was thinking that if one changed the kata or lost a technique of the kata that the resulting bunkai or technique would also be lost or changed. The quote:

“Kata was wrong therefore the bunkai will be wrong” 

Here is how I would respond to the question:

First, kata cannot be wrong. It may be done differently than you but that does not make it wrong. Second, bunkai also cannot be wrong. It may not work in a particular situation or circumstance but it might work the next time around. It all comes down to what works in a real fight for self-defense, not sport or competitions but in self-defense. That is a whole nother ballgame there and most bunkai today is simply a creation of folks who have not had to find out if it works or not and it is a creation of folks who have not had to apply their self-defense except maybe is some socially driven monkey dance and that was probably not martial arts based. 

Changing or removing techniques has nothing to do with what works and what does not. It means that particular technique won’t be passed along to students in that kata. Remember, kata is not about fighting or self-defense or combatives or competitions but rather a blueprint of techniques strung together it a form that makes it easy to pass things down to students especially when those students have no fighting or combat experience to draw on.

Kata are the creation of those who came before, our ancestors in the martial arts communities who had to take their combat experiences and teach those with no experience so they may go to combat and at least survive to gain some semblance of experience to continue to survive. They created kata in a form that provided a symbolic representation of individual techniques then they put them together in a rhythmic and inter-connectiing form that made it easy to learn but most of all importantly, to remember.

Kata were not created to remain exactly as their creator created them. Since they pass down his experiences in combat you can expect that they will change, not just for changes sake but due to the students personal experiences, studies and accumulated knowledge toward making them relevant to the times of that person. That person living in more modern times where the old ways may or may not be relevant to the current situations and times. 

Kata are meant to be fluid according to the times, the cultures, the beliefs and the experiences of present day practitioners BUT DO NOT CHANGE KATA OR BUNKAI simply for changes sake. If you don’t experience actual social and asocial violence applying your ability and knowledge thereby learning what didn’t work just like you wanted and changing it so it will work at least mostly consistently over many events and situations then DON’T CHANGE THE KATA AND BUNKAI.

Too many of us make changes we “think” are going to work based on assumptions and knowledge learned second or third hand, this is dangerous. 

Bunkai are simply primers toward learning combatives, if you are military, or self-defense, if you are a self-defense martial artist, and are not set in stone. Think more in terms of concepts and principles. 

Concepts such as those taught by professionals who have accumulated many, many experiences with violence. Admit it, most of us have minimal experiences in violent encounters and many of us have almost no asocial violent experiences but that does not mean we should not study and learn self-defense martial arts because like the military, recruits have to begin somewhere so they may or might survive their first combat encounter thereby allowing them to learn from their personal experience and the guidance of senior military with experience.

Concepts are not about specific techniques but rather conveyed experiences that promote better ability to apply any relevant action that will get you through violent conflicts. It has and always will be about learning second hand those concepts, principles, strategies and tactics that will get you through all three phases of self-defense, i.e., the before, the during and the after. Look at specifics found in kata and bunkai as forms that actually refer us physically and mentally to underlying principles of martial systems, i.e., structure, centeredness, sequential locking and unlocking, etc. then let those basics and fundamentals apply toward the concepts of self-defense, i.e., like the before, during and after and so on. 

Look at bunkai as a novice level doorway to create a more holistic concept to what you need to survive conflict and violence. It is similar to the upper and lower basics, they are a good start point but not the end of the road. Think concept, i.e., like understanding the concept of adrenal flooding and then learning how to make that work in your favor instead of against you. Think concept, i.e., like the “freeze” and how that can be overcome cause you are going to encounter it even if you gain experience, it is a fact of life. Think concept, i.e., like “mind-set/mind-state” where giving yourself permission to ignore every day societal well mannered courtesies that are often used against you to allow predators to attack, i.e., to collect some resource they need or to apply some process like they want to see you get hurt type thing.

Addendum: The reason why kata are beneficial to passing marital arts down through the ages. First, it is a form that is suited toward encoding into memory. It is organized in an order similar to some types of memory encoding, i.e., kata as a type of physical and mental mnemonic; where one has a physical, visual, and spatial oriented order with rhythm and associations such as two person kata that show how one movement when association to another different movement work in a specified way; certain positioning in space that leads to a natural order or flow, i.e., why techniques are strung together in kara forms; in an associative way that associations in memory that are associated with images or visualization intended as “examples” tend to cause such associations to encode into deep memory the kata and bunkai; the association of emotion with an image, i.e., performing kata while applying bunkai either by visualization or by two person drills that will result in said emotion and image to be readily recollected and connected in the need to apply it outside of training;  then there is repetition as a common process along with image visualizations and physical repetitive drill practices that play a role in the more complex toward encoding into memory; finally when the adrenal flood is used to train the holistic application of kata bunkai then it can be further emotionally and chemically encoded into the deepest of memory for retrieval later in a violent conflict that is the purpose of our studies in self-defense martial arts.

Kata and bunkai are used as a mnemonic teaching technique or device that aids in retaining the information passed down through the kata. Kata, being a physical manifestation of the discipline combines several senses to enforce retention, i.e., sight, smell and touch. These mnemonics in this form translate the necessary information of kata and bunkai in a way that aids in the transfer of that information, both mental and physical, into long-term memory. Look at the connectivity of kata, i.e., as each section of a kata is done in threes, that promotes memory encoding because of its use of spatial, personal, physical, emotional, etc. solidifying the lessons so they become instinctual.

Because of the kata form and function, kata itself creates its own system of spatial techniques or strategies that themselves consciously improve memory. The only piece often missed in this equation is the effects of the chemical releases due to fear and/or anger produced when confronted by violent conflicts. 

Primary Bibliography of Self-Defense:
MacYoung, Marc. "In the Name of Self-Defense: What It Costs. When It’s Worth It." Marc MacYoung. 2014.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Meditations of Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" YMAA Publishing. 2008.

Secondary Bibliography of Self-Defense:
Ayoob, Massad. “Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self-Defense”Gun Digest Books. Krouse Publications. Wisconsin. 2014.
Goleman, Daniel. "Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition [Kindle Edition]." Bantam. January 11, 2012.
Miller, Rory. "ConCom: Conflict Communications A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication." Amazon Digital Services, Inc. 2014. 
Miller, Rory and Kane, Lawrence A. "Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision-making under Threat of Violence." YMAA Publisher. New Hampshire. 2012
Miller, Rory. "Force Decisions: A Citizen's Guide." YMAA Publications. NH. 2012.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected." YMAA Publishing. 2011.
Elgin, Suzette Haden, Ph.D. "More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense." Prentice Hall. New Jersey. 1983.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Last Word on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1995
Morris, Desmond. “Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior.” Harry N. Abrams. April 1979.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1993.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Written Self-Defense" MJF Books. 1997.
Maffetone, Philip Dr. “The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness.” McGraw Hill, New York. 2000
Strong, Sanford. “Strong on Defense_ Survival Rules to Protect you and your Family from Crime.” Pocket Books. New York. 1996.
and more … see blog bibliography.

My Blog Bibliography

Cornered Cat (Scratching Post): http://www.corneredcat.com/scratching-post/
Kodokan Boston: http://kodokanboston.org
Mario McKenna (Kowakan): http://www.kowakan.com
Wim Demeere’s Blog: http://www.wimsblog.com

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