The Structure Of Kata


It’s nice to get away on courses with Sensei…….

He had been invited to teach on a course that includes many students and Instructors from different styles of Karate so it was interesting to see what their interpretations of the same movements that we practised were and also how they reacted to Sensei’s teachings.  It was also fascinating to watch Sensei’s diplomatic way of dealing with the differences……

Everyone was keen to share knowledge and were all patient with each other to get to the bottom of each interpretation.  Often with a lack of good instruction many of the attending Sensei had worked hard and researched well to obtain application and understanding to the Kata that they had been taught.

Some had explored atemi applications and had a vital points application not just for each move but even each part of a move!  Some of these were painful to learn but worth every twinge……

Others had researched Aikido and Ju Jitsu applications and had excellent blending, locking, throwing and dislocations to each move….

Some had gone to the Okinawan roots of their Japanese art and explored the additional training aids and weapons, also exploring the Bubushi, the much vaunted historical text of modern day Karate…….

Others had been to China and explored the Kung Fu roots, with fascinating Chi Kung uses of some of the moves and applications from Chinese grappling and animal forms, the philosophy and cultural explanations of the names and their applications was fascinating……

We were having a great time and the discussion and demonstration got deeper and deeper………

Finally someone got to ask Sensei what he thought were right applications…..

“They all are” replied Sensei diplomatically……

“Very diplomatic……”  replied one of the other Sensei.  “C’mon we’re all friends here, commit yourself……”

“You didn’t let me finish…..”  replied Sensei realising that his usual thoughtful pauses had been mistaken for a finish…..

“You have to be able to penetrate the underlying purpose for the construction of a Kata to find its underlying principles, when you have discovered those, then a myriad of application becomes apparent, in which case, most of the application we have seen today would be correct.”

“Nah….  That’s still diplomatic gobbledegook, you should be a politician – now tell us what you really think……”

“I still haven’t finished” said a resolute Sensei, determined not to be pushed into a “quick” answer.  “Some Kata are a complete system, remember that that when they were invented virtually no one could read or write so they are the product of an oral tradition.  Many teachings were passed on in story, song, dance or play form, rhythm also played an important role in memorising them, kata falls into all of these categories.  The myriad of techniques had to be reduced to a “shorthand” of mnemonics brought down to their body principles and condensed into sequences that taught advanced skills and strategies.  These training methods also had to be concealed from the prying eyes of adversaries.  Thus Kata like “Kushanku” and “Chinto” came into being, each one being a complete art or style of it’s own when the underlying reasons and principles are penetrated the body skills can be trained and then each skill has applications that include atemi, locking, throwing, dislocation, escaping and so on.

Just think – if you go to the roots and body skills of any of those applications, what have you all just proved?”

“That it’s the same movement?”


“Yeah, but what about the other Kata?”

“I was coming to them.  Other Kata isolate and categorise specific skills, for instance Sanchin works the postural alignment, different levels of breathing to enhance mental awareness and concentration – and the Chi Kung using spatial mental imagery for vital point protection and increased vitality.  Naihanchi categorises and trains the methods of obtaining power through the body like expansion, contraction, rotation of the waist against the hips, vibration of the hips and flexion of the spine so they are designed to work along with and empower the major Kata.”

“I’d never thought of it in that way…….”

“I haven’t finished yet”, Sensei was on a roll.  “Other Kata like Rohai are additions to to the major set in that they take specific skills that the inventor may have thought were lacking in his/her system so he/she created an additional form for their training.”

“So that’s why you are saying that you have to understand the purpose that the Kata were created for to understand their role in the system, their training principles and therefore the applications – it makes sense….”

“So how come you know all this?”

“I don’t.  You asked what I thought and that was just my speculation……”  said Sensei in his most annoying airy fashion……

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