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Is Kata an Integral Part of Karate?

Caveat: This article is mine and mine alone. I the author of this article 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 article. (Everything I think and write is true, within the limits of my knowledge and understanding. Oh, and just because I wrote it and just because it sounds reasonable and just because it makes sense, does not mean it is true.) 

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Maybe is the simplest answer and yet due to the convoluted, incomplete and scarce historical factual data kata may actually be a new model for Okinawan karate. Many things we associated with karate don’t actually come from the indigenous system of Okinawan martial discipline called today “Ti (tea).” Those things associated or considered an integral part of karate may have been adopted in the span of time when the Japanese took control of the island in the sixteen hundreds. 

The Japanese seem to me as the source of kata. There is a term used to describe the cultural system that drives almost all aspects of Japanese life called, “Shikata.” 

Read about shikata here:
Read more here:

Shikata, comes from the Japanese feudal era where everyone and everything had its form and function. You could tell by the way one walked what they did professionally. A good example is the Japanese sitting in the seiza position, i.e., “The formal kata to sit seiza involves a transition through kiza to reach the final formal sitting position. Shikata, a form for reishiki or formal etiquette, has specific forms to sit and stand according to cultural position within the Japanese society.” It is also a part of the culture in Asian parts of the world where a strict adherence to shikata as a form that connects to such beliefs as shintoism, buddhism, confucianism, etc.

The Japanese used the term, "shikata," which fundamentally means every single small minute detail was given specific patterns, forms and rhythms to follow. There were no deviations allowed and this is both benefit and detriment to the culture and spills over into the martial arts that are traditionally practiced in all three countries, cultures and belief systems. Shikata meant that every detail of society was governed by specific kata or patterns. Everyone who was a specific discipline was governed by specified kata of that discipline.

Literally: The stake that sticks up gets hammered down.
Meaning: If you stand out, you will be subject to criticism.

When you consider these factors along with Okinawan karate’s introduction to the Japanese in the early nineteen hundreds, especially toward the educational systems, you will find possibly a connection toward the practice of shikata, along with the change of the name from China Hand to Empty Hand, was to become a part of Okinawan karate to placate and gain acceptance by the Japanese. Consider the positions held by both that acceptance of the formal shikata model meant, finally, acceptance into the tribe, if you will, the group that could, would and did facilitate the continued growth of the Okinawan Islands. 

Consider that everything done in those cultures from the feudal era onward and inherited later by Okinawans under occupation (also due to the mandate to modify karate and other martial disciplines toward the educational system) was held closely to specific patterns depending on a variety of factors where in martial arts bujutsu/bu-do governed. 

Just remember that prior to the early nineteen hundreds karate and the dojo, even if there were such a thing since dojo also is derived from Japanese influences, was held in a very, very “Informal” way where such shikata based etiquette’s literally didn’t exist then you get an impression that maybe, maybe kata is a fairly new thing. 

Regardless, a form of kata may have existed in a less formal and ritualized way for Okinawa as well as other disciplines of the world that can be seen as the more simplified “Set of Combinations” for fighting. Give some consideration that even in our modern boxing discipline there are short combinations taught that would fall under the heading of kata or forms. These shorter versions coupled to together in such a way that if presented as a whole would be similar to or look like karate kata, in a way.

We all make the assumption that “Kata” are an integral part of karate from the very beginning but in reality may be an addition influenced by Japanese assimilation of Okinawa into the fold where the more ancient forms of Ti practice may have been more or less a group of combinations for fighting and defense later blended and coalesced into the modern shikata driven kata practiced today. 

In truth, kata today is an integral part of modern Okinawan karate disciplines whether practiced as a “Way” or as a “Jutsu or fighting system.” In truth it has become and has grown into an important if not integral part of the practice of karate-jutsu/do. 

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